Tony Todd, for millions of horror fans, is a modern-day John Carradine or Vincent Price. He’s played the hook-wielding killer in The Candyman features, the creepy Bludworth in the Final Destination franchise, the sleep-deprived, mind-controlling Augustus Cole in the “Sleepless” episode of The X-Files, and many more vivid, disturbing characters across 150-plus film and TV appearances. He’s so good in such roles that it’s easy to forget he’s also a respected stage actor, that he’s portrayed a few good guys and normal folks, that his credits include Platoon, The Rock, Chuck and 24, and that he made several memorable Star Trek guest shots. He was Worf’s brother, Kurn, in the TNG episodes “Sins of the Father” and “Redemption, I and II,” and in the DS9 hour “Sons of Mogh;” touched fans with his turn as the older Jake Sisko in the DS9 installment “The Visitor;” and popped up on Voyager as the Alpha Hirogen in “Prey.” Todd also provided the voice of Ensign Korban in the Trek video game Elite Force II. StarTrek.com recently caught up with Todd for an interview in which he recounted his Trek experiences and updated us on his current projects.
You’ve described Kurn as “Shakespearean.” In what ways do you view him as Shakespearean?
Todd: The language was always very carefully chosen and written for the Star Trek characters. It was elevated. My take on Kurn is that he was an estranged Klingon, a man without family or honor, who was searching for family and honor. That’s very Shakespearean. It’s kind of like Coriolanus, who’s a man without a country, without his family, and who is not living up to his expectations. Kurn was a larger-than-life guy who humans looked at as being perhaps strange, but from his point of view, it was vice-versa. He thought it was the humans who were strange, and he just happened to be in the wrong universe. That’s a common thread in a lot of Shakespeare’s work.
Actors playing brothers, even estranged brothers, have to have chemistry to pull of their scenes. How did you and Michael Dorn work to make the relationship between Kurn and Worf, strained as it was, believable?
Todd: Michael made that easy. The good thing about my whole Trek association was that I’d auditioned several times before I landed Kurn. I knew they wanted me and they knew I wanted to be a part of the show. I don’t think anybody really knew how big it was going to be. I got the job the same day I auditioned. I was literally walking off the Paramount lot and the casting director came running after me. It was one of those Hollywood moments. By the time I got to the set, everybody – Michael, Patrick (Stewart), Jonathan (Frakes) and Wil (Wheaton) – made me feel completely at ease. Michael and I just locked into each other very quickly, and he was happy to finally have an extension of who he was represented. It was just very easy and comfortable. I gave him respect and we had a lot of commonality in terms of people we’d worked with, and we were able to go from there.
You later played the older Jake in “The Visitor,” one of DS9’s finest episodes. Did you know, just from the script, it could be something special?
Todd: I did, actually. “The Visitor” changed my life, not just in terms of convention appearances, but at the time that episode was done the Internet was just exploding and I remember sitting for hours just basking in the glow of the love that was being written about that single episode. The story behind my doing it is that the woman who raised me, my aunt, was a single woman, and she’d passed away at the beautiful age of 82. I’d just finished Candyman 2 and it devastated me because she was a person I talked to every day. Fortunately, she was able to see some of the beginnings of my success. But I was in a state of shock and I wasn’t able to work for four months. They sent me the script for “The Visitor.” It wasn’t a complete offer, but they sent it for my consideration and wanted me to come in and see them. So it was the role that got me up off the bed, out of the house, and into the producers’ office. When I went in, I saw a lot of actors who I felt were of the age and who were people I respected. But I went in and I got it. So that was sort of my homage to the parental figure in my life that I loved and cherished.
Did Cirroc Lofton ever say anything to you about your performance, about how it complemented his portrayal?
Todd: Over the years, he certainly has. I know when I saw him on set (at the time) the very first thing he said was that he wanted to do it. That’s youthful bliss, but the producers convinced him that he, unfortunately at the time, didn’t have the age or gravity to pull off the older character’s life experience stuff. He got that. But some of the research I did in preparation, I asked them to send me some key episodes that featured Cirroc so I could have a point of reference. It was just uncanny that there was a physical resemblance between us and I was able to study it a little bit and then try to make it my own. And (years later) there was one moment (at a convention) when Cirroc and Avery (Brooks) and I were down in, I think it was Tulsa, Oklahoma, at the same place and at the same time. It was during Avery’s Q&A and he called for both of us to come up on the stage, and I’d never ever, ever heard such a tumultuous round of applause.
You auditioned for the role of Benjamin Sisko. Did you and Brooks ever trade notes about that?
Todd: No. We never discussed that. I know he knew. Avery and I, we both come from theater. He’s a distinguished professor (now). Years before, he did a spin-off of Spenser for Hire called A Man Called Hawk. It was one of three jobs that I was ever fired from. I remember when it happened. It was just before Christmas. We were in Washington, D.C. He felt so bad about it. He came to my hotel suite and we went for a walk. It was snowing. He insisted that he wanted me to express how I felt about it, but I wasn’t raised that way, in terms of being upset, that I would demonstrate to somebody. So when I got (DS9) a little bit of me was like, “Oh, I hope this doesn’t happen again.” I think that may have added a little sense of urgency in making sure that it worked, and it did. It worked.
Your makeup as the Alpha Hirogen on Voyager couldn’t have been any more different from your Kurn costume. What do you remember of that experience?
Todd: Of all of the prosthetic work I’ve done, it was the most uncomfortable stint, playing that character. Not only was it a four-hour makeup process for the face, it was an hour-and-a-half costume application as well. I don’t know if you’ve ever been in a situation where someone has to tell you to give them notice 20 minutes before you had to pee. It’s hard to pee on demand. But I knew the makeup and costume looked effective. And I just wanted that trip ticket, to be able to be in all three of the shows.
IMDB has you down for 20-plus films coming out between now and next year. Do you ever come up for air?
Todd: Well, this is what I do and I’m one of the fortunate people who keeps getting work. I’m into my third decade of doing it and it’s still steady. What’s beautiful about where I am is that I’ve managed to be under the radar, in terms of being hounded, yet I’m still able to make a living and put my kids through college. It’s a great thing to be able to look back and say, “Wow,” because I know how tough it is as an actor. I really didn’t do that in the thick of it, because it wasn’t tough for me, but I see friends that are now re-thinking what they do, thinking about career paths other than acting, and I see what I’ve done as an accomplishment that I’m proud of. So it’s that on one level, and on another it’s lonely, because people I’ve worked with or went to school with didn’t get the same deal of the cards.
Let’s talk about a few of your upcoming projects. You’ll be back as Bludworth in Final Destination 5. How’d that come about?’
Todd: I was supposed to be in the one before this and New Line got bought by Warner Bros., and when it was time to hire me they actually called and said they’d lost the original contracts and weren’t aware of what they’d established as my quote. When we reminded them, it was too much, and they balked. I said, “Really? A multi-million-dollar franchise?” And we didn’t accept that offer. That film did what it did and they decided to reboot. No matter what they do or who’s at the helm, the Final Destination films always seem to open at number one. They finally came back for this fifth one. I have more to do than I’ve done before. They keep making him a mystery. I can’t reveal much, but on my exit day I was riding the elevator with the producer and he said, “You know, Tony, if this opens at number one we’re going to try to do 6 and 7 simultaneously.”
Hatchet II is on VOD now and it’ll be on DVD in February. What did you make of it being pulled from theaters right before its theatrical release?
Todd: I thought it was a gutsy move on (director) Adam Green’s part to stick to his guns. One of the reasons it was sensitive was not necessarily because it was pornographic, but just that some of the violence is over-the-top. Adam is constantly winking at the die-hard, old-school horror fans. One of the prideful parts of that movie is that it’s all practical. There’s no CGI. It’s all old-fashioned imagination and “How can we make this effect work?” There’s a total of 16 kills and each one tops the other. I certainly had a lot more to do in Hatchet II than I did in the first film and Adam is an up-and-coming young director. He has a vision and I’m proud of him.
Another of your films is A Night at the Silent Movie Theater, directed by Tim Russ. How did that go and what’s happening with it?
Todd: It’s a little disappointing because they haven’t gotten a distribution deal yet. We shot it a year ago. I’m proud of it. We shot it at a famous silent movie theater in Hollywood, which has a lot of storied history, that it’s haunted. I play an ex-rock n roll guy. Think something like Sly Stone working as a janitor and nobody knows his secret. It was a nice stretch because it’s a comedy with a dark underbelly. I got to work with Tim and he was good, and Ethan Phillips is in it. So it was a reunion of a few Trek veterans, which was cool. I think that when they get distribution, people will like what they see. And I got to sing in it, even though I’m not a singer.