Tony Todd chuckles heartily. “Why in the fuck would I go to a mirror, with me in the mirror – the actor who played the role – and call out my own damn name five times?” I have just asked the dumb – but obligatory – question of whether he has ever dared utter Candyman’s fatal invocation. Todd played Daniel Robitaille, AKA the Candyman, the hook-handed, bee-spouting yet swoonsome spectre from the 1992 horror classic. “I have never waded in that water. I don’t even listen to people when they come to me and say that. I cut them off. They try it; they want to me stop them or something.”
Todd is probably getting quite a bit of this right now. Candyman was already enjoying a critical revival in the last few years as Black Lives Matter and other social movements gathered headway; despite, or perhaps because of, its white director (the Englishman Bernard Rose), it was able to smuggle in a theme that was exceptional for a 90s horror film: the psychic cost of centuries of oppression of African Americans. Now, after the George Floyd protests and with a Jordan Peele-produced sequel imminent, interest in this unusually sensitive piece of Hollywood product is white-hot.
The new film – now delayed until next year – revolves around the gentrification in Chicago of the area where the deprived Cabrini-Green housing project depicted in the original was torn down. When gentrifying its own film properties, Hollywood normally has similar levels of respect for former residents. Remarkably, though, Todd is returning in his most celebrated role – though he still seemed unsure of this as late as three months before shooting began in August last year. It’s a testament to his brilliant performance first time round, the lordly elegance he brought to what could have been just another movie bogeyman.
He can only drop a few tantalising titbits about the new version. “I’ve seen it and it’s brilliant. It definitely has a feminist touch. I know that Nia [DaCosta, the film’s director] is a fan of body horror – you know, disfigurations à la The Fly.”
Todd is talking from his home in Marina del Rey, Los Angeles. The 65-year-old is still on semi-lockdown, just popping out every other day for supplies. During confinement earlier this year, he collaborated again with Rose on a “massive” improvised project, currently clocking in at over two and a half hours, and being shopped to Working Title. Other than that: “It’s the down days, when you let your mind wander.”
Perhaps his mind wandered to the film that gave him his first big break: Platoon. It’s the subject of an exhaustive new making-of documentary, Brothers in Arms, which details the gruelling 30-day initiation the ensemble – which also included Charlie Sheen, Johnny Depp, Forest Whitaker and Willem Dafoe – were put through. “I’m not going to name any names,” says Todd, “but I saw grown men cry.”