Tony Todd Discusses All Gone Wrong, The First Deep Breath, and His Love of Theater
Feb 1, 2023
Tony Todd has made an indelible impression on American pop culture for decades. The veteran character actor has starred in such film classics as Platoon, Night of the Living Dead (1990), The Rock, and Candyman, while also making memorable television appearances on everything from multiple Star Trek series to Beverly Hills, 90210. He’s a multifaceted talent that’s been a treasured staple of horror, sci-fi, animation, and video games. Todd is an omnipresent force in entertainment. His towering stature and distinct voice is easily recognizable, but he plays every character with unique distinction. Todd has thoughtfully avoided stereotypes and repetitive roles in a truly diverse career. He defies convention at every turn.
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I had the fantastic opportunity to talk with Todd in a wide-ranging interview. The initial thrust of our conversation begins with his next feature film, All Gone Wrong, where Todd plays Lamont Hughes, a powerful drug dealer searching for a former employee who stole a fortune in product. All Gone Wrong stars Jake Kaufman as a cop seeking truth after his young partner’s tragic murder. He goes undercover to expose deep corruption within law enforcement. Hughes is the puppetmaster based on a real person. All Gone Wrong was independently funded though Kickstarter, and is the passion project of Kaufman and St. Louis based writer/director Josh Guffey.
Todd graciously gave ample time during a break in his hectic schedule. He literally has one day off to rest and recuperate while currently rehearsing for Lee Edward Colston’s play The First Deep Breath at the Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles. Nonetheless, he was brimming with excitement, comparing the work to such masterpieces as Death of a Salesman and Long Day’s Journey into Night. Todd has found success in film and television, but his heart belongs to theater — he has a master’s degree from the Brown University/Trinity Square Repertory Theater Conservatory. He spoke about his love for the medium, spare time activities, decried talk of his retirement on Twitter, and the highly-anticipated launch of the Spider-Man 2 video game; where he voices Venom.
All Gone Wrong
Julian Roman: I’ve been a big fan of yours for almost my entire life. It’s an honor to talk to you.
Tony Todd: My pleasure, man. Thank you. I’m taking time out of a very busy schedule right now. I have this wonderful new play at the Geffen Playhouse. Tomorrow is my one day off. When you do theater, you get one day off. So I’m happy to share some of my time with you.
Roman: First things first, let’s jump into All Gone Wrong. It’s independently funded through Kickstarter, the passion project of filmmaker Josh Guffey, who is based out of St. Louis. How did you get involved with this film?
Todd: St. Louis is a very vibrant city. You got the St. Louis black theater company there. St. Louis has this history and time. I have a great manager, Jeff Goldberg. We’ve been together for thirty years. All scripts go past him. We have similar tastes. He knows how to weed them out. And this script like jumped off the page for him. It is a great character. I’m a character actor. So my goal in life is to make sure each job is different from the last, which goes back to my theater training. This one really struck a chord. And I love working with independent filmmakers. They are the future.
Roman: You’ve played so many great characters. What makes Lamont Hughes interesting as a drug dealer?
Todd: He doesn’t put his hands on the product. That’s the mystery of this guy. He is not an obvious drug dealer that’s got his pants ripped down, and has a three-year life expectancy. This is based on the true story of a man who had never spent a day behind bars. He was a master. There is a difference. That’s the crux of the story. If it was the straight-up police procedural, I wouldn’t be interested. It examines corruption and the effects of corruption on the human soul. That’s what’s interesting. That’s the core of the movie. And hopefully people see that as well as being an engaging tale.
Roman: Let’s talk about building the character. He’s such a suave guy and has this lizard hanging out with him. Whose idea was it for the critter?
Todd: You’ve never met a man with a lizard on his desk?
Roman: Not a man who’s taken my gun when setting me up as an enforcer. Was the lizard the director’s idea? Or was that you building the character?
Todd: It’s a collaboration. All films are a collaboration. You hire talent and directors. He has a floor plan and a doorway entry, but it’s up to the actor to embellish characters. So the lizard was definitely my idea. We made a good movie, and we’re proud of it.
Roman: What was it like working with Jake Kaufman? He’s an intense lead.
Todd: He and I are good friends. They have been developing this movie and that character for close to five years. So when they had that long to help it, you got to pay attention to detail. I thought he was very committed actor, very down to earth, and very grounded.
Roman: Going through my research on the film, it was shot in 2019, but the website said that was the first leg. Did you guys have any problems with COVID? How did that all go?
Todd: No problem, no COVID. They shot my sequences first. And then I think they had to do some financing to complete the film. But they got it done. It’s about to get dropped on all platforms, and is now currently number nine in terms of anticipated pre-orders. So I think they should be more than pleased.
Roman: Do you enjoy playing the good guy or the bad guy in a film?
Todd: I’m a human being. I like playing a kaleidoscope of characters. That’s why you’ll never see me on a TV series. I can’t. I don’t want to be the same guy every week. The world is vast and complex, a kaleidoscope of different kinds of people. That’s all I want to plug into. Which is why my first love is theater. Theater is where I started. I have a master’s in theater. That’s what I love doing and that’s what I’m doing right now.
The First Deep Breath
Roman: Talk about this new play.
Todd: It is called The First Deep Breath. It’s written by Lee Edward Colston. He’s a name that you’ll know. He was [a writer] for Fargo, I think for the season that Chris Rock was on. Chicago’s critics are calling it the next great American play. I play Pastor Melvin Jones. I am the head of a crumbling household if you will. It’s a massive play. We’re going to rock the theater world. This play has legs.
Roman: You sound very excited.
Todd: I just finished three weeks rehearsal. This is my only day off to publicize the film. I’m going to take a nap, then I’m going to work on my text.
Roman: When does the play come out?
Todd: We open in February. You want to see it, make the trip to LA. I won’t forgive you if you don’t come see it. You’ll hear if you don’t, it’s your loss.
Related: Tony Todd’s Best Performances, Ranked
Roman: Can you paraphrase what it’s about? What makes your character so interesting?
Todd: I come from a church background. Most pastors are complex. This guy is taken from a little storefront person to becoming the biggest mega church in a particular state, which happens to be Pennsylvania. The play’s set in Philadelphia. It examines massive amounts of power and the effects on the family. It’s rich. It is an African-American family, but it could be any family. This play’s being compared to Death of a Salesman, Long Day’s Journey Into tonight. I’m happy to be a part of this fantastic ensemble. Check it out, you’ll hear about it.
Roman: How do you prepare for a play as opposed to film?
Todd: You just do it. I prefer doing theater, but I don’t mind film. You definitely know how to maximize your time when you’re on site. You can multitask. And in both cases, you’re building a character. The difference with film is that you’re doing it one scene at a time as opposed to theater, where the whole story is revealed to an audience. You get the live experience. There are so many differences. Why do I love theater more? Because that’s why I started. It’s live, it’s immediate, it’s in your face, and you can’t escape it. Film, somebody can cut it off whenever they want.
Warner Bros. Pictures
Roman: I’m going to dive into your career as a longtime fan of yours. I loved Kurn, your character from Star Trek. You seem to play conflicted characters. They twist with emotion. They’re not fully good or bad. Is that something that appeals to you? Or am I just seeing that as an audience member interpreting?
Todd: That comes from my theater training. No character is either fully good and really bad. That’s the beauty of humanity. And that’s some of the traps that television does, it locks you into one side and avoids the other. So I’m happy with my life. I’m happy with my career choices. And we have so many films in the can that you guys will be entertained for years.
Roman: I looked at your Twitter feeds. There was some talk about you retiring?
Todd: I said on that day that I want to step back from doing only film. I want to include doing more theater in my life. That’s what I meant about retiring from pop culture. I haven’t gone anywhere, and I’m not going anywhere. That’s what I meant, to refocus. Theater gives me happiness. I love film, don’t get me wrong, but I love one more.
Roman: What’s been a standout experience that you treasure? The Rock, Platoon, Night of the Living Dead, Star Trek — there are so many things that you were so memorable in.
Todd: I’m a father. You can’t put one child above the other. There are more memorable moments. I’ll never forget my first film, which was flying to the Philippines working with Oliver Stone, and that wonderful cast, becoming lifelong friends with Forrest Whitaker and Keith David. So that’s the standout and of course, Candyman. You know, one secret to longevity, and people don’t understand it, if you are honored to be selected in the film, why not become friends with people that are involved? You’ll find I do a lot of repeat business with some of my favorite directors in the world.
Roman: Is there a particular genre you like more?
Todd: No, I don’t go out saying I want to do a horror film. We get scripts every day, and we go through them. My personal goal is to make sure that every film is different. It’s just the luck of the draw.
Roman: How do you make sure to be represented in a certain light and not be stereotyped?
Todd: It all starts with reading the script. You got to see if it agrees with your personal sensibility. And I’ve been lucky. I’m a historian of African-American culture, so I would never do anything that I thought was offensive.
Related: 6 Classic Plays That Need Movie Remakes
Roman: You’re a cult figure to so many people. What do you do in your spare time?
Todd: I’m a foodie. So I search out for exciting and exotic tastes. I cook, I rescue cats. I have a lot of hobbies — I play guitar, I paint, I have plenty of things to occupy my time, my PS5, fully charged in any given moment. I’ll pick up a joystick and blow some sh*t up. I’m an average person. I don’t kill people, I respect human life, and I don’t tolerate racism.
Roman: What kind of music do you play?
Todd: Well, everything starts with the blues.
Roman: I’m seeing that you have many more films in the pipe coming out. Anything you’re really excited about?
Todd: I can’t go there because I’m in play mode right now. You see my IMDB page. I am deep in theater mode. We just finished that three week rehearsal. We start tech tomorrow. Tech is 10 hours a day for six days. So that’s where I’m at.
Venom in Spider-Man 2
Roman: You do a lot of voiceover work, whether it’s animation or video games. Is that fun to do?
Todd: I wouldn’t do anything if it wasn’t fun or if I didn’t get joy from it. It took me 10 years to break into the voiceover market. We got a huge one coming out this year. I’m Venom in Spider-Man 2. It’s going to be friggin’ awesome.
All Gone Wrong will be released on January 27 to Apple TV+, iTunes, Amazon, Vudu, Google Play and Cable On Demand.
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