Each year for over a decade and half, the New York City Horror Film Festival has handed out its Lifetime Achievement Award to an icon of horror cinema. The festival was created and organized by the late Michael J. Hein back in 2002 and the first two recipients of the Lifetime Achievement Award were George A. Romero and Tom Savini.
Perhaps fittingly this year’s recipient was Tony Todd, who broke into the horror genre in Savini’s 1990 remake of Romero’s classic Night of the Living Dead. Two years later, he became a true horror legend when he played the titular hook-handed Candyman in Bernard Rose’s film based on the Clive Barker story The Forbidden. Since then Todd has used his massive 6’5″ frame, size-16 shoe, and deep voice to leave a lasting impression on the horror industry with appearances in the Final Destination franchise, Hatchet 1 & 2, Masters of Horror, and more. Saturday night at the Cinepolis Chelsea, The Candyman showed up to a sell-out crowd (with probably 50+ others standing in the aisle) to accept his award and partake in a Q&A.
Joined by his wife, manager, and an entourage of friends and collaborators, Tony Todd accepted his award around 10PM. The award was presented by festival director Ronnie Hein, whose touching introduction reflecting on Todd’s friendship with her late son brought the actor to tears. Todd reflected on his career, from his childhood in Hartford, CT, with his Aunt Clara to his time in acting school where he “cut his teeth.” He is a passionate lover of live theater, a veteran of two Broadway shows, and he discussed his upcoming one-man show, Ghosts in the House, about the life of boxing champion, Jack Johnson. He also hyped an upcoming film, Immortal, as well as a reality TV project he has coming out. He then took over 20 minutes of questions from the audience.
He delivered some great advice to all the actors in the crowd: “Another key to success, I’m not saying you have to consciously become friends with your directors, but yes it’s easy to become a friend. Just smile and enjoy your work, folks.”
Audience Question: Has Jordan Peele approached you about the remake of Candyman?
Tony Todd: I love Candyman, it’s been great to me. It firmly ensconced me into the horror community and for all the support I’ve gotten at various different cons, the love for that character is genuine and long lasting. I’m happy they’re remaking it, I thought it should’ve made it ten years ago when I really wanted to do it. The release date is June 12th, 2020, and here’s a secret, June 12th is also Aunt Clara’s birthday, may she rest in peace, so I’m not worried about the universe offers up. I know we’re going to be a part of it one way or another, there’s no way we cannot.
Audience Question: What has been your biggest challenge and for all the actors in this room now, what advice would you give them?
Tony Todd: Embrace disappointment. Trust me, in the over 200 roles I’ve done for each one there are seven I didn’t get. Or they contacted me and I was unavailable, most famously Pulp Fiction and The Green Mile. Rejection is a huge part of our business. I know people who call me when they didn’t get something they really wanted. I had an acting coach named Larry who said ‘Every time you get an audition write down ten reasons you don’t want the job so that when you go in there you’re not focused on worrying about having to get the role, needing it, wanting it, etc.’ Do your work, prepare yourself because most of the time they’re not going to call you. But when they do call you, it’s time for celebration. When I got Platoon, I’ll never forget, I’m on 5th Avenue around 37th street. We had to check in, we had a beeper system back then. I got the news, they said Tony they want you, you have to go to the Philippines and I remember I did my best Gene Kelly impression. Dropped the phone, clicked my heels, all six foot five, and that’s the joy that you get. Just like those moments of disappointment, hold onto those moments of joy. Just like in any occupation except we do it live and in person. And work on your instrument, always work out, eat healthy, drink water and do what you have to do.
Todd was funny and introspective. He shared his favorite restaurant (Providence in Los Angeles), and how his drinking tastes have matured from cognac to fine European wines. He also, for all his horror pedigree, kept coming back to his love of indie films, like his 2012 film Sushi Girl, and live theater, which is his true passion. After the Q&A, he spent another 2 hours hanging out and mingling with guests and fans. With his 64th birthday coming up on Tuesday, December 4th, the folks at NYCHFF brought out an amazing Candyman-themed birthday cake and sang Happy Birthday. I can now say I have eaten a slice of Candyman’s birthday cake!
Tony Todd was a proper highlight and amazing guest, worthy of his Lifetime Achievement Award. He has several projects listed in post- and pre-production on IMDb, as well as the Jack Johnson one-man show. The NYC Horror Film Festival wrapped up its 16th festival Sunday and it was a rousing success. Follow up with Geeks of Doom for more reviews of my festival favorites.
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