Tony Todd Still Thinks Candyman Is 'The Whole Damn Hive' And He's Right [Interview]

Candyman made Tony Todd a legend, but it works both ways. The incredible actor — who originated the role in the 1992 film and has reprised his part in three subsequent films, including Nia DaCosta's 2021 reboot — did just as much to catapult his character into the horror zeitgeist as the character did in putting him on the map as an actor. There's no denying that simply no other actor could've truly played Candyman in the way that Todd did — nor would anything less be as satisfying. Todd played the role with swagger and calculation, not to mention despair, dread, and sorrow. His performance is one of the most nuanced and layered in horror history and it's no surprise it has withstood the test of time.

It has also afforded Todd an incredible career in the genre that has loved him and his work. Naturally, I adore "Candyman," but one of my favorite long-term roles of his was his part as Death in the "Final Destination" franchise. He is so memorable and mysterious in every role he plays that it's hard not to latch onto his part in a project, no matter how small. He most recently appeared in a great cameo spot for one of the six short films that make up "Horror Noire," the new Shudder film — based on the 2019 docuseries of the same name — that highlights Black storytelling in horror. 

He is also the focus of one of the six episodes of "Behind the Monsters," another Shudder docuseries spotlighting six of the most memorable horror villains. You guessed it: Candyman, Chucky, Michael Myers, Freddy Krueger, Pinhead, and Jason Voorhees. The character is basically horror royalty at this point — which is why I was so deeply honored to speak with Todd in honor of the releases of both of these exciting projects. He was as gracious and chill as I hoped he would be, and it was clear he still appreciates hearing how much these films mean to people (don't worry, I told him).

"It's the society at large and their perceptions of what is and what isn't."

What do you think drives Candyman's victims to become his prey? There's a real sense of surrender here.

His main objective using the first one as my example is Helen. I mean it's an unrequited love. He's allowed to slip to a portal, transfer from the 1800s to the modern times, 1992, and to continue his search for the perfect person, the person that even though they were romantically involved and romantically connected, they were separated, so as an example of unrequited passion. So that's his influence. I mean he wasn't born a killer. He was made a killer, right? He was an artist first. He was lynched, castrated and now, God help us, he's back and nothing will stop him from his pursuit.

Absolutely. Kind of thinking about that, what do you think is the most common misconception about Candyman?

Well, he's not a boogeyman. I mean he's as far from a boogeyman as you can get. First of all, he's not in the woods. He's not attacking teenagers. He's not at some sleepaway camp, just to name a few. It's a modern tale and it was set in an urban landscape, which I think really resonated with people because they felt that, "Oh my God, this is something that can really occur." Particularly with the choice of being in Cabrini-Green. I have so many people that live in the Chicago area that talk to me about, particularly residents, former residents of Cabrini-Green, how they felt it was absolutely real because it was possible for the imagination.

Yeah. That's definitely, in my opinion, certainly some of the scariest parts about the film and certainly about your performance and certainly about how we almost feel, as the audience, kind of on the same side as Helen. It's just incredibly unsettling.

And then Helen represents, I think, the audience. Helen is a part of our people. And I think she, through her telling the story and through her search for the truth, is a representative for the common person.

Yeah, definitely, especially white people who have the wool over their eyes. [Todd laughs] It's for real, though. It's real.

I hear you.

That's exactly what it is. They have the wool over their eyes. They're not tapped into that and—

They're not woke. Let's just say it.

They're not, though. They're not aware and having Helen as sort of this launching point is I think a great way to ... It's almost a great equalizer in a certain way.

She goes into the mythology. She goes into the story with her eyes wide open. And I think Bernard, the pacing of his direction carefully allows you deeper and deeper into the insanity that is not within either Candyman or Helen. It's the society at large and their perceptions of what is and what isn't.

"That led to all kinds of pajama parties and Candyman screenings."

Certainly. And it definitely makes you think, especially as an audience member. You come out of it and you're very much analyzing your own part in something like this. You know what I mean? Because it's now part of the zeitgeist, even if it's not real, even though you're Tony Todd and not Candyman.

Yeah. You'll be surprised how many people — sometimes when I'm out in public, people call me Candyman. I have to tell them my name is Tony. And yes, I can be in the toilet paper aisle. It's true.

Obviously, you've been living with this character since 1992, which by the way is the year that I was born.

Oh, congratulations.

Thank you very much.

We're the same age in a way.

And so you've been with this character for a long time. So I'm very curious: what is something that still surprises you about Candyman and his legacy?

The genuine terror that people have towards it. I do conventions and people [wait] in line only to tell me that I scared the bejesus out of them when they were kids. And that used to bother me because I went back to Bernard [Rose, director of "Candyman"]. I said, "Did we make a kids' movie?" And he says, "Tony, anybody that saw the film when they were young will remember it forever."

When did you see it first?

Oh my gosh. Sadly, I came into it late. Honestly, Tony, I've been like very scared of horror movies for the majority of my life. I started to get into horror movies when I was just out of college, so it was actually quite late. So I saw it way later. So I was scared as an adult. So I hope that's complimentary at least.

Ohhh! Well, okay. You're allowed.

Yeah. So I was a late bloomer on that front, but you're absolutely right. I mean if a kid is seeing it, it's going to stick with them forever.

I've [had] people come up to me and I said, "How old were you when you saw it?" Some people have said, "Four." And the average age is between seven and nine, and apparently that led to all kinds of pajama parties and "Candyman" screenings and daring the challenge. And I said, "Okay, that's great." My kids never saw it until they were in college as well. And that's partly because they didn't want to confuse who dad was. They heard the whispers. They heard the writings on the wall.

I wouldn't want to confuse it either. No, a little too scary for my liking. I don't need to think my dad is now going to come out of the mirror and so, no, thank you. I'm good.

No, we left them to Disney world. And for years I tried to break into a voiceover for Disney and it wasn't until they were both grown that I finally cracked the voiceover market but it's all good.

That would've been perfect. That would've completely cleared it.

Yeah, Beauty and the Beast, a little Lion King, whatever. It would've been great.

"I had this great image of a Nor'easter and Candyman, snowing, snowing, snowing..."

I'm curious: Obviously we've had "Candyman" films set in Chicago, in NOLA and LA. What other cities could you see him in? Could you see him in New York? Like I'm in New York right now and I feel—

Well, I love New York.

Thank you very much. We love you. I'm just going to say it. I'm going to speak for New York and say we love you.

I spent 10 wonderful years there. I had pitched them an idea because I'm from New England originally and I'm also a teacher and I had an idea that would've taken place in an Ivy League women's college.

Yes! I did see this.

Yeah. And I had this great image of a Nor'easter and Candyman, snowing, snowing, snowing, and there he is standing on a New England road. That would be my ideal destination.

That would be really cool.

We don't want him on a cruise ship. We don't need that. We don't need him on a train.

No, no, but I think a gritty city like New York, I think it has such a similarity to Chicago in that way.

Absolutely. There's boroughs to choose from. There's subways. And just Candyman lost in Times Square if we add a little "Midnight Cowboy" element when Times Square had some character, you know, just one of those minions walking down there and maybe walking down 12th Avenue and then going into the Village and then all the nightclubs and stuff.

That would be so fun. I'm all about a Candyman in New York City movie. That would be pretty creepy. And I also just feel there's such a rich history of the Black community here and everything, and it would just be another great locale for that.

Well, just think of all the immigrants arriving and how that affected all-white neighborhoods, how the poverty always sank to the bottom and so forth.

One hundred percent. That changing of the neighborhoods and stuff like that, I think that would be very fun. You're going to have to ... I'm just saying maybe just bring it up to Nia.

I think you should submit something to Monkeypaw and see what they say.

Literally. I was just going to say. Bring it up to Nia DaCosta. I mean, just saying.

She did a fantastic job by the way.

"We'll give strength to the line that Candyman is the whole damn hive."

She did. The new film was so incredible and I had such a fun time with it. My last question for you leans into both Candyman and your character with "Horror Noire." I loved that great little cameo that you had. It was so fun. It was clear that you were having a lot of fun with it. That whole segment was a ton of fun. I love Rachel True. So it was awesome to see her in that role. It was such a great little [piece] and Tananarive Due is just such an incredible writer.

She's a great writer and shout out to my boy, Malcolm Barrett, who played the newest member of my congregation.

Yes! Everyone was so fun in it. I had such a blast with it. And one of the things that I think is so fun about both Candyman and this preacher role, even though it was like a little cameo, something that I think they have in common is that the horror of them almost in a way is that they're just regular men, right? Or at least, by all appearances, they're just regular men. And that's something that can be almost more terrifying than like you guys spoke about—

Like a costume.

Right, exactly, like the original look of Candyman in the story. So my curiosity is that these are both pretty powerful characters, it's very clear. If we put them in a Coliseum of sorts, who's coming out on top?

Well, Reverend Pike uses the power of the mind and persuasion and Candyman gets right to the point. No pun intended. Just hook it, right. I mean obviously Candyman is going to win, but Reverend Pike, he'll try to form his own congregation. I guess we'll give strength to the line that Candyman is the whole damn hive. Right?

That is true. That is true. He's a one-man congregation in and of itself.

That's right. And most social packs are like that anyway.

Yeah. Maybe they team up. Maybe that's what actually happens.

There you go. Candyman needs a front person.

"Horror Noire" and "Behind the Monsters" are both available to stream on Shudder now.