Pillow Talking’s Interview with TONY TODD
Someday Productions LLC and Pillow Talking blog are pleased to present the following interview with stage and screen icon Tony Todd
Currently appearing in Sunset Baby
Tony Todd is a true icon. Instead of the parlor game Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, we should be playing Six Degrees of Tony Todd because he has worked in just about every medium with everyone in the business. Theatre-goers know him from such plays as Athol Fugard’s The Captain’s Tiger, August Wilson’s King Hedley II and Fences, Othello, Aida, and most recently, Hartford TheaterWorks’ Sunset Baby. TV fans know him from shows like Chuck, 24, and most recently The Flash, as well as his countless guest appearances. Soap opera viewers know him from The Young and the Restless. Tony also is a voice-over veteran, voicing many characters in animated TV programs, films, and video games including Call of Duty. Film enthusiasts know him from such classics as Platoon, The Rock, Lean on Me and many others. Sci-fi and horror buffs know him from Candyman, Night of the Living Dead, the Final Destination franchise and many others.
Tony has a commanding presence and velvety smooth voice. He is an intelligent, well-read humanitarian and consummate artist who brings an intensity to everything he does.
Pillow Talking was THRILLED to catch up with Tony during his stint in the powerful drama, Sunset Baby. Like pistachios, his interview is filled with delicious nuggets covering everything from acting, directing, and the Meisner technique to his journey from Hartford to Hollywood and back again. This is a keeper.
PT: Thank you so much for granting us this interview!
(Stephanie) I need to start off by telling you that we usually do a little bit of research before we see a show, but our schedule has been so hectic lately that we didn’t have time – therefore we didn’t know what to expect with respect to Sunset Baby. But we love TheaterWorks and have never been disappointed! So we were sitting at a table right before the show, having a drink and looking at the program when Wayne nearly jumped out of his seat with excitement saying, “Do you know who is in this play? Tony Todd! We have to interview him!” (laughs).
(Wayne) I have been a fan for years and years. I couldn’t believe you were going to be here.
TT: (Laughs) I didn’t believe it either. Most of my friends in LA were asking me, “Why are you leaving LA and going to Connecticut in the middle of the winter?”
PT: So tell us, how did that come to be?
TT: Well, number one, this is my hometown [Hartford]. I had just been offered Piano Lesson at Hartford Stage. I’ve done like three August Wilson’s, but I haven’t done that one. I was working at HBO for this project Room 104 and it was a matter of two days and they couldn’t work it out. I kept reading it and reading it. Lila, my better half, said, “Put it down. It’s over.” And about two weeks after my HBO project ended I got a call from Laura Stanczyk, the casting director, asking if I would be willing to have a Skype session with Rob, the director [of TheaterWorks] at 11:00 a.m. PST; and by noon I had an offer. So we cleared the schedule, rearranged some voice work stuff and came out.
And thank you for your dual reviews by the way. Actors don’t usually look at the reviews, but I wanted to know how the play was being received and I did take a look at yours.
PT: It was our pleasure! You gave a stunning performance and the play was absolutely riveting. (Read Pillow Talking’s review of Sunset Baby.)
TT: It’s grown. Actors should never be judged on opening night. I firmly believe that. But somehow we get through it and if the work is good you see the seeds. But it’s grown immensely.
PT: We don’t know how much it can have grown. Opening night was incredible.
TT: We’ve settled into. We’re not trying to prove anything to anybody. It’s tight. It’s sharp and everybody is emotionally committed to it.
PT: (Stephanie) We were talking to Rob [Ruggiero] earlier about plays in general and he said he doesn’t want things to be static or the same every single night. You have to go with whatever is happening that night – as in with the energy of the audience.
TT: Yes, the energy of the audience, the news of the day, all these things go into it.
PT: (Stephanie) Yes, it makes for a more nuanced performance.
TT: It’s real. It’s not fake.
PT: We were blown away by it [Sunset Baby]. It’s very indicative of the type of work that Rob does here. It’s very moving and meaningful and relevant.
TT: Yes, It’s great. I think it brought a whole new diversity of audience to TheaterWorks. The purpose of theater in my mind is to get people that aren’t necessarily exposed to the arts and not just watching a rerun of Good Times – no offense to Good Times (laughs), but you know what I mean, something deeper and more lasting and no commercials.
PT: Were you familiar with Sunset Baby before you got the call?
TT: No. I had to research it.
PT: What did you think when you read the script?
TT: I loved the family dynamic. I have a beautiful daughter. My relationship is completely different from the one in the play, but she did spend one year when she was fourteen not speaking to me at all.
PT: (Wayne) I am going through something like that right now. I have a fifteen-year-old daughter (laughs).
TT: (laughs) so you know what I mean. That 14-, 15-, 16-period is tough. Maybe it was because during her earlier years I had to go on the road a lot. I had to go places like Australia, New Zealand, Paris for six months one time. All over the globe; one of the perks in my business. For family and child development though, is not necessarily good, because they change so quickly. I come back and things changed, shoe sizes are different, attitudes change.
PT: (Stephanie) Like a total personality replacement (laughs).
TT: Yes. So for that one year it was hurting me so much because she wouldn’t even say “Hi” to me. And this was before texting even started. But now we are best buds. She actually came last Sunday and it was one of my highlights. I asked her, “How was it?” and she said, “It was okay” (laughs).
PT: (Laughs) That’s how our kids are!
TT: (Laughs) She said, “You didn’t embarrass me,” so it was all good.
PT: (Laughs) We get 400- to 500-thousand visits a month to our blog and our kids don’t even read it. (Wayne) Other people tell our kids, “I heard your mom and dad did so and so.”
TT: Wow! (laughs).
PT: (Stephanie) Although I did say to my fourteen-year-old son, “Guess what we’re doing today?” He asked, “What?” and I said, “We are interviewing Zoom from The Flash!” And he asked, “Why didn’t you just tell him to come here?” meaning to our house (laughs)!
TT: (Laughs) Where do you guys live?
PT: Danbury – but we have three crazy dogs and seven kids between us so it’s not conducive to interviews (laughs). We told them we were interviewing you at the theatre.
The first show we saw and reviewed here was Sex with Strangers and we’ve been hooked ever since.
TT: It’s a great intimate theatre.
PT: Yes, it is.
TT: Rob runs a great organization here and everybody loves their positions. And of course the stage manager, Kate works every show. Usually they have alternates, but she does every show which must be exhausting.
PT: Yes, but that’s so good for continuity.
TT: Yes. There’s continuity and she gets to see each show which is a completely different world – that’s the beauty of theatre.
PT: (Stephanie) And l love this space because it makes you feel like a voyeur at times. In Sunset Baby, here is this woman in this tiny, little bare bones apartment
TT: Tiny and barebones, but very detailed.
PT: (Stephanie) Yes, very much so! I always love the details. But it feels as if somebody just peeled the wall away and that you are watching something that maybe you shouldn’t be watching. There’s that intimacy there that you’re like, “WOW!”
TT: I heard a gentleman last night. He must have been in his early eighties. He said it was “tremendous, powerful.” Then he said, “I need to go home and take a sedative.” So that’s how close he felt.
PT: It was very powerful. We want to see it again!
TT: You should bring your fifteen-year-old. How many kids do you have?
PT: We have seven between us!
PT: (Stephanie) And all of them except I think, Sarah [Wayne’s 15-year-old], watches The Flash and know who you are.
(Wayne) And Sarah knows who you are from the TV series Chuck. We were big fans of the show. We even named our rabbit after it.
TT: That was a fun show. I would have been there the whole time. I loved being on it but I just didn’t have enough to do. And then in Season 2 I got an offer to be on 24. I tried to work it out, but both producers said, “Well you’re playing a bad guy here and we don’t want you to be a good guy there.” And, “You’re playing a good guy here and we don’t want you to be a bad guy there.” So I had to choose 24.
PT: (Wayne) When they killed your character off, we were all very upset. I turned to my kids and said, “How dare they kill off Tony Todd!”
TT: (Laughs) Well, they did bring me back for that one flashback, but I had a lot more to do on 24.
PT: We were going to ask you about 24. So tell us about your background and how you got into show biz. You’re from Hartford?
TT: I’m from the north end of Hartford. I was raised by the most magnificent woman in my life, my Aunt Claire who rescued me when I was three. I had an abusive mother who is now a reformed born again Christian pastor. She has no recall of anything that was traumatic. But, anyway, my Aunt Claire couldn’t have children and just said, “I’m taking him.” So between her and my grandmother, I shuttled between them. In between I would stop at Main Street. At that time they had the newsstand kiosk. So my passion at an early age, if you gave me a dollar, I’d get like four giant comic books and I’d be set for a couple of days. So that’s when I started, I think, of the inner beginnings of acting and living things out. Skip ahead to high school where I had a growth spurt.
PT: (Stephanie) A little bit?
TT: No, it was about six or seven inches.
PT: (Stephanie) (Laughs) I was joking! [Tony Todd is 6’5”]
TT: My voice changed and I grew tall but I was totally uncoordinated and totally inept socially to talk to girls. So I’m bumping into hallways. Coaches are shaking their heads, “You’re useless” [they’d say]. But this English teacher handed me this copy of The Tempest. To me it was like a graphic novel come to life. And that started it. So I auditioned for some plays. I didn’t get the first two, but they made me a curtain puller. And I was the best curtain puller in the world.
PT: (laughs) That was in high school?
TT: Yes. Hartford High. And the smart and good thing that my aunt did to navigate my upbringing was that every summer I was in a different program, whether it was in the Children’s Museum, Boy Scouts – she kept me active. I never had to join a gang. I avoided gangs. And with each successive play in high school I said, “This is it. I can do this. People appreciate what I do. I feel comfortable in my own skin.” After that, they had this beautiful program called CONNTAC which is from Dr. John Norman where you take kids who are on the bubble and bring them up to UCONN for the summer so they could get used to the college experience. It was extraordinary.
TT: But also the Boy Scouts helped because I was a Life scout, two merit badges short of being an Eagle Scout, but they sent me to World Jamboree. It was a plane trip to Tokyo.
TT: So at fourteen-years-old – thirteen-and-a- half – it opened up my eyes. And then I went to UCONN but dropped out because I don’t do musical theatre. But I stuck around and worked with Jerry Vogel who had this environmental theatre up there so I did a lot of Sam Shepherd, a lot of Beckett, a lot of Ibsen. And then somebody handed me a brochure to the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center. And I said, “I can’t afford that.” I called them and they said, “Come up we want to see you.” They had us doing fencing at five in the morning.
PT: (Laughs) Yikes!
TT: They gave me a complete scholarship. All the instructors came from New York, so they were working professionals.
PT: That sounds fantastic.
TT: My early mentor started the program at the Hartman Theatre Company [in Stamford, CT]. I went there for a year and then went to Providence [Rhode Island] to Trinity Rep Conservatory — that’s where I got my Masters. I came back to Hartford and wanted to exercise what I had learned in the form of teaching kids – Associative Artists Collective in the North End and formed my own teenage theatre troupe where they told me they were all incorrigible – that they were useless.
PT: We had no idea you did something like that. That’s fabulous.
TT: I taught for a year in the school system. And then my wife at the time and I decided to go to New York. We broke down in the Saab that we had on 158th street. Fortunately her cousin was on 153rd and we managed to get our stuff there without any incident. I got the Village Voice and said, “Where are the auditions?” I looked at the back. There was an audition happening for this theatre group called Working Stage Theater and they were paying. I ran over there, did a monologue of the cuff and got hired. And so I got my Equity Card in three days.
PT: Wow, what a story. Things like that don’t usually happen.
TT: But those things should happen. At Trinity I was surrounded by wonderful actors. There were only two of us who were working professionally at 23. And people call and ask, “How is it?” First of all, you can’t have fear. You have to be fearless. You just have to know that there is no timetable. It may be a year. It may be two years, may be three years. You just don’t know so you prepare for that inevitably. It was the first time I got to travel the country, in a car – a station wagon. I was the only straight, single man in the group, so I would inherit the car at night and I would explore cities like Chicago, Atlanta, and doing plays. And that was it. I had the bug. I bartended for a couple of years in New York at a theatre bar. So I would be doing these plays. And I did this play by Dalton Trumbo, Johnny Got His Gun, a famous anti-war piece.
TT: Oliver Stone’s people got wind of it. The next thing I know I’m meeting with him on a Saturday and by Monday I got the job to go to the Philippines to shoot Platoon. And it ended up winning four Academy Awards and everybody in it got on the list – and the cast was incredible as you know.
PT: (Wayne) So many people were launched by the film Tom Berenger, Johnny Depp—
TT: It was Johnny Depp’s second film, Forest Whitaker’s second film.
PT: It was a great film. (Wayne) I’ve followed your career since Platoon. I have to disclose that I am a big horror fan and have followed your work in films like Candyman, Night of the Living Dead, Final Destination and so many others. In fact, when I was [working] at Arrow Entertainment years back I was talking to John Russo (who co-wrote the original Night of the Living Dead screenplay with George Romero) about doing a project together.
TT: Yes, of course.
PT: And Tom Savini who starred in the second feature film shot on video – The Ripper – and was close to Romero and did everything from acting to make-up to stunt work, directed you in the remake of Night of the Living Dead.
TT: Yes. As a matter of fact, I just got a message from him this morning. He’s in Atlanta doing a [horror] convention and said, “Why aren’t you here?” And I said, “I’m doing theatre.” And he said, “What’s that?”
PT: (Laughs) (Wayne) Film and horror buffs like myself are very familiar with your work as are millions of television viewers who watch shows like Chuck and 24. Theatre-goers know you from your theatre work. But you also have done some other cool things like doing voice overs for video games. (Stephanie) And soap operas like The Young and the Restless.
TT: There’s a reason I did that. It was my aunt’s favorite soap.
PT: Really? That’s great.
TT: One of my first jobs in terms of television when I first got to New York I did a stint on Loving. I was right out of school. So I’d go to the set and I started asking the producers and directors questions like “Who am I?”, “Where am I going?”, “What do I need?”, “What do I want?” And they looked at me like – “Huh?” And in two days they had written me out.
PT: (Laughs) (Stephanie) You were too much work!
TT: (Laughs) I was asking for too much information that didn’t matter, but that was how I was trained. So that was one of the first times I got fired. Everybody gets fired at some point. So when The Young and the Restless came up there were two things [I considered]. It was my aunt’s favorite show and I’m not going to get fired from it.
PT: (Laughs) That is a great story! Speaking of training, what is your training? How do you prepare for roles?
TT: Well if you boil it all down in comes back to Meisner because it’s all moment-to-moment and you get what you get on stage. It’s all based on truth. You determine what the character’s point of view is, how they feel about themselves in a positive way, what it is they want, what is their objective. I do a lot of sensory work. For example, like in the Candyman, people say it’s a horror film – no, not really. I had this sketch pad where I had colors – things that I could open up and get some sort of impression and then dive into the work. If you had a good strong life, and I’ve had a very interesting life, you can always pull something from somewhere that relates to the character, but still make it you, make it truthful.
PT: Yes. We are familiar with the Meisner approach.
TT: There are roles I can’t wait to play on stage. A lot of people think theatre is a stepping stone to film and TV. I don’t think of it like that. No more than two years goes by before I go back to the stage. My agents hate me when I do that (laughs). Right now it’s pilot time.
PT: That’s right. It’s February.
TT: So in the midst of doing this I’ve had to do a couple of tapings and such. I’m a character actor first and foremost. Every role that I do I try and make sure that the next one is completely different from the last one.
PT: (Wayne) Well, I thought I was the biggest Tony Todd fan ever and had seen you in everything, Final Destination—
TT: Did you see me in Boston Public?
PT: (Wayne) Yes. I even saw you in a Matlock episode. I’ve just dated myself.
TT: (Laughs) Matlock – another one of my aunt’s favorite shows. I even did Murder She Wrote because it’s one of her favorite shows.
PT: (Wayne) But while I’ve seen a lot, I realize that there is a lot I haven’t seen.
TT: Have you seen Sushi Girl?
TT: That’s one that I produced. It’s got Mark Hamill, Noah Hathaway from NeverEnding Story, Andy Mackenzie, Jimmy Duval, who is a great independent actor. It’s a great little gangster film on Netflix. It gets violent – just so you know
PT: We are putting it on our must see list.
TT: Great. I had to do research on what a true sociopath is. I talked to a few psychiatrists. With a true sociopath, as long as you agree with them everything is okay.
PT: (Stephanie) My background is psychology so I understand (laughs). We actually know some unhealthy people.
TT: (Laughs) I know some unhealthy actors. I also know some self-destructive actors. They have a great gift and for some reason they keep trying to mess it up – end of story.
PT: (Stephanie) Playing a sociopath or a psychopath – those two terms are practically interchangeable – must be interesting. We talk about people in real life and they wear that mask of sanity and as soon as something doesn’t go their way, that mask lifts. In so many ways, actual sociopaths are actors because in so many ways they really are just pretending. So it must be interesting being an actor who is playing a sociopath.
TT: Yeah, yeah. It takes a special breed to be an actor. You have to have resiliency and you have to have a great capacity for disappointment. For every [one] thing you see on IMDb there’s seven things you didn’t get. Here is my great dedication to the theatre. I was working with Athol Fugard – the great Athol Fugard – you know his work?
PT: Sure do.
TT: He came to Trinity to lecture us. At the time he was drinking. So there he was at nine in the morning with a bottle of wine and he’s chain smoking. We just thought that was amazing. What a brilliant guy. Twenty years later I got to work with him on stage. We spent two years in a play called The Captain’s Tiger which started at the Kennedy Center and finished at the Manhattan Theatre Club. So we’re in the middle of the run and I kept getting calls that Quentin Tarantino wanted to see me; and I said, “I can’t leave Athol.” It ended up that it was for Pulp Fiction.
TT: It’s okay. Another time I got the same call for The Green Mile.
PT: Wow. And you passed that up as well.
TT: But it’s okay. Everybody is supposed to do the role they’re supposed to do. Obviously both of those films are great, but I believe the best is yet to come.
PT: (Stephanie) Wayne is a big advocate of the saying, “Everything happens for a reason.”
TT: It does. It really does.
PT: You’re such a talented, experienced actor who works all the time.
TT: (Laughs) Not all the time. It just looks like that. I love my off time. Lila and I were talking about what we are going to do when this is over. We are going to go slow and fly back. We have two cats and we have a cat sitter and we make her send us pictures every two days. So we don’t get back ‘til midnight and we are already fantasizing about how they’re going to greet us.
PT: (Laughs) That’s great! We love it!
TT: Yeah, so I’m looking forward to at least a week of just laying on the couch (laughs) until my agents call and say, “You have to get over here and do this or whatever.”
PT: (Wayne) So I’m going to put you on the spot a bit. Out of all the projects and directors you’ve worked with, do you have any favorite ones?
TT: The best way to have longevity in this business is to do repeat work. Earlier in my career, if I didn’t like somebody, I’d let them know, had to curse a few people out and I never worked with them again. But as time went on, I mellowed out. So to answer your question, Bernard Rose, who directed Candyman. He and I are great friends and we’ve done two or three projects so far and hopefully that will continue. He’s definitely one of my favorites. I also learned a lot from Clint Eastwood just because Clint doesn’t like auditioning actors. He doesn’t like being in the same room. He knows the pain sometimes that an actor has coming in the room with [their] butterflies and how they really can’t do their optimal work. So he has somebody put them on tape; and he’s such a seasoned actor that he can tell whether or not someone is right for the role. He only does ten-hour days which is a rarity in film. And he never does more than two takes. He casts so well. He knows exactly what he wants and that the person can deliver. So that’s a favorite experience. Then there’s Oliver Stone, who is completely different. He likes long hours.
PT: (Wayne) And [he likes] a lot of coverage. I gave one of his frequently-used editors their first professional job in the business.
TT: Yes. A lot of coverage, a lot of coverage. But it works for him. But the very first day we shot, I remember I was so eager to be part of this war movie – so I was jumping around from boulder to boulder. He embarrassed me. He stopped me and said, “Tony, you stop John Wayne-ing. Walk down the path.”
PT: (Laughs) That’s a great story. So different from theatre.
TT: Because theatre is a three-, four-week process with rehearsal. You really get to know the cast, you really get to know the material. Each director in theatre is so different. And they are so intelligent. I worked with this great director, Harold Scott. We did Les Blancs together which is one of Lorraine Hansberry’s lesser-known plays. A three-hour opus. We did it at Arena Stage in DC and we built this extraordinary drawbridge over this rock and dirt floor on the stage. I played an African man who had gone to Oxford to educate himself and he comes back for his father’s funeral and gets drawn into the middle of war so he has to become a King again. And that was a great experience. Very insightful.
PT: How do you prepare for a role?
TT: Today you have dramaturgs who supply actors with background material for work. That didn’t exist twenty years ago. And neither did Google. So between Google and dramaturgs it’s completely different now. When I did Sunset Baby, I was able to Google the Black Panther experience in Connecticut specifically. And I found all these incredible FBI files that they conducted on black activists. That was my template for how to begin with this thing. You know, this man had to spend twenty-five years in prison and what did he lose? Separation from his family, the death of the love of his life, and the ostracization of his daughter who doesn’t even know him. He has to try to reclaim that. To me, those footprints of psychology are so interesting – it’s like a treasure map. In my own life things may be imperfect, but with these characters, I can become that complete person (laughs).
PT: We know you produced a film. Are you looking to expand beyond acting?
TT: Yes. I want to direct. I have two scripts in my back pocket. They want me to direct a horror film, but I don’t want that to be my first directorial debut, not that I don’t like and respect horror films. But I have one project called Providence. It’s a little gangster thing. I spent time in Providence and up on Federal Hill and I know how that works. And I want to shoot a film in Hartford as well. I met with this group just last week I did an interview with Public Access and I met this wonderful group, Women Against Violence. I don’t know if you know about them, but all the women have lost a son primarily to gun violence. Just looking at their faces reminded me of my aunt and how she would have felt had something tragic like that happened. They’re all just carrying on. They have this strength, yet this vulnerability. They gave me this calendar and in the centerfold of this calendar were all these young men no older than 33 most of them 22 – all – fallen. There’s a piece in there that I want to develop somehow and I want to be able to give back and provide jobs for kids. Come on, you know – you’ve been on a film set. There are so many positions.
PT: That’s a great mission. We would love to help in any way. That would be a big departure from doing horror movies. You do have countless horror fans including myself.
TT: I did two strong horror movies, Candyman and Night of the Living Dead.
PT: And the Final Destination franchise.
TT: Yes, Final Destination as well. But in terms of my body of work, horror is only about 30 percent. If you look at the history of cinema, every time Hollywood is in a slump, it’s been a horror film – particularly with the classic horror films from Universal – has always saved it. But it’s always been the bastard stepchild in terms of the art of cinema. But you look at somebody like Donald Pleasence who did his share of horror films, but he’s also done other great stuff. So I don’t look for a horror script or turn my back on one. I look for a great script. For me it’s about the role being different and where are we shooting. I don’t particularly love LA. My heart belongs on the East Coast and we’re looking to come back here.
PT: (Stephanie) You also are so well known by the younger generation because of shows like The Flash and video games. That must be so invigorating for an actor.
TT: Yeah, it’s great. I do about seven conventions a year.
PT: You mean like Comic or Horror Con types of things?
TT: Yes. Again, it’s about location. Anything in Chicago I’ll go to because it’s my second favorite city. But it’s a new generation of fans. I did [the voice of] Darkseid once and that just opened things up. It was a Lego thing, so I had three-year-olds coming up to my table (laughs). I just finished doing voice over work for Scooby-Doo which hasn’t come out yet. It’s a new TV series called Be Cool, Scooby-Doo! and that will be for a whole new generation.
PT: You do a lot of voice-over work.
TT: Yes. Frank Welker who is the voice of Scooby-Doo was telling me all these stories about doing voice-over work in the old days before it was unionized. And all these artists like Mel Blanc would do 16 voices a day and their throats would be raw. He was the original Scooby-Doo and then of course Casey Kasem did it. Voice-over work is the hardest to get into even if you have a track record. My voice is a little distinct—
PT: (Stephanie) It sure is (laughs)!
TT: Yeah (laughs) So when I go in, it has to be the character or the product first instead of the other way around. So there’s a lot that I lay down and don’t get. I was fortunate to do Call of Duty, one of the biggest video games ever. I’m a gamer, too, and when I did it I had to sign a non-disclosure agreement for six months. Do you know what that was like? I couldn’t even tell any friends or family, because if anyone slipped…(laughs).
PT: (Wayne) You know, I think that is the secret to longevity in this business. You have to keep recreating yourself. My big symbol is the Phoenix. I teach communication and filmmaking classes and I mention Paul Newman and maybe one person will say, “Oh yeah the salad guy.”
TT: So sad. I know, you have to do YouTube videos these days. We are losing our continuation of culture. We were watching The Barefoot Contessa last night which is the one Humphrey Bogart film I hadn’t seen.
PT: (Wayne) I haven’t seen it either.
TT: It was with Ava Gardner. Joe Mankiewicz directed it and he did a similar film with Kirk Douglas – The High and the Mighty. I believe it was about a famous producer and the point of view of the three people that had contact with him. It was a similar theme and shot in Italy which is one of my favorite countries mainly because my better half is from there.
PT: (Wayne) Ahhhh. You know your films. I could definitely see you teaching film, theatre, and acting.
TT: That’s something in my mind. I’ll be doing a class – an artist collective before I leave. The more you teach the more you know. If you get one student whose eyes go bing! then you’ve done your job I think. One of my dreams twenty years ago was that when I retire I would teach theatre at college, teaching theatre; you know, wear a jacket with those patches on the elbows, have a pipe—
PT: And you have to have a scarf—
TT: Yes (laughs)!
PT: (Stephanie) (Laughs) That’s Wayne’s theatre thing!
PT: (Laughs) So what sage advice do you give young performers coming up?
TT: Don’t get in the way of the work or yourself. Listen first. Don’t say your line before you listen.
PT: (Stephanie) And don’t jump on the boulders.
TT: (Laughs) Yeah. Like Spencer Tracy said, “Don’t trip.” There’s a great book called [Acting:] The First Six Lessons. [Richard} Boleslavsky wrote it. It’s actually based upon Stanislavsky’s classic techniques. But he makes it between the teacher and the creature. The creature comes to the teacher’s lair and says, “I want to know about acting.” The teacher sends her away, but she keeps coming back. And basically it comes down to five terms: ease, form, entirety, truth, and beauty. All of those elements have to be in the work. There are exercises in the book to get people to just be comfortable in their skin. Having it beautific but still masking the ugliness, and the entirety of the work. When you’ve become somebody who understands at least two of the principles, you’re halfway there.
PT: That’s fabulous. It’s so simple. Beautiful.
TT: It is simple. Acting is simple. There’s an early exercise that a great acting teacher, Tony Stimac, gave. He said, “I want you to go to the stage and pantomime what you do in the morning – just the brushing your teeth part.” You’d be surprised that something we do every day – when they have to do it in front of people they can’t do it. If you can master the simplicity of that, you’re halfway there. Just being honest, having a political point of view as a person and a world view. One of my favorite things to do when we go to a new city is to go to that city’s museum to see the way things are laid out. Just seeing art and being able to flash back to it is important.
PT: We know Tony Stimac. He was Artistic Director of The Bijou Theatre for a while in Bridgeport.
TT: He was great. I’ll never forget his vocal techniques – I still do them before every show. At the Eugene O’Neill they brought in Alfred Drake to work with us for one day a week for four weeks – Sir Alfred Drake! And Suzanne Shepherd, do you know her?
PT: Yes, we know her.
TT: I spent three years with her mastering Meisner. I thought I was this big shot actor, but she wouldn’t let me get out two lines before she would use me as an example. She said, “Whatever you think is right is false.” Until you have that hesitancy, it’s not real. If it’s too easy, it’s not right because life is not easy. Life is much more complicated.
PT: You bring that to Sunset Baby. We saw real truth in your performance. In fact, the entire cast was so real.
TT: Yes, the cast is great – Carlton Byrd and Brittany Bellizeare. They’re young and they keep me on my toes.
PT: (Stephanie) In looking them up on the internet and at their bios after the show, they are nothing like the characters they played on stage. Totally transformed.
TT: No, they are completely different. That’s because they are so well-trained.
PT: What about mistakes or regrets in terms of your career?
TT: There’s been a few mistakes in my career. I did a version of Jekyll & Hyde that I thought was going to be good. I got a chance to be both characters. It turned out to be horrible. They put a monkey head on me at the end. You’re only as good as you’re weakest link. Before you say “Yes,” you’ve got to be able to say “No.”
PT: (Wayne) That’s a great quote – “Before you say yes you have to be able to say no.” I think I’m going to have to steal that one.
TT: (Laughs) I think my grandmother said that to me. I remember I used to be in her house sitting on the floor watching The Edge of Night. This was in the sixties. There was some drug thing on the show. This was long before I became an actor and she said, “Whatever you do, don’t go Hollywood because all they do out there is do drugs.” (Laughs) And I’ve come to find out that may be partly true, but you know how to avoid it if you’re smart. Hollywood can be a trap. You have to be very grounded if you want your sanity. I’ve been very fortunate.
PT: Here is a question we ask a lot of our interviewees. If you didn’t become an actor, what do you think you’d be doing?
TT: Probably teaching. (Pause) For a more obscure answer – a cop. I have a lot of cops in my family. Three of my uncles were homicide detectives in New York. They’d make these twice-a-year sojourns to Connecticut, they’d be regaling us with stories of dead bodies and sh*t. They’d say, “You’re gonna be tall kid. You could do this.” And I’d say, “I think I want to be an actor.” And they’d say, “What?” (laughs).
PT: Wow. A completely different role, or persona one has to play.
TT: I played a couple cops. I remember I did NYPD Blue and I called one who I was very close to (he’s gone now) and I said, “Give me something that’s not TV. That’s like, instantly a cop watching would know.” And he said, “It’s all about the pinky ring. And it’s how you question a person. You’ve got to assume everyone’s guilty.” But you know, I don’t want to live my life like that (laughs). Assuming you’re lying (laughs).
PT: Well, we know you are under a plethora of non-disclosure agreements for things in which you are involved. But non-disclosure agreements aside, what can you tell us about your future agenda after Sunset Baby?
TT: I have two horror films coming out this year. One is called Requiem where I play a professional exorcist – someone who is used to going around, he gets calls, and then he stumbles on a case that is the end of that. It’s pretty deep.
TT: And then I have one called West of Hell. I play a former slave who watched his family get massacred and I’m left for dead. And the question is, am I dead or am I alive? And I’m on a train towards Purgatory as the audience finds out. So it’s me, Lance Henriksen, Michael Eklund. Both are done from relatively new directors. West of Hell is directed by a new filmmaker, Michael Steves, right out of USC. It’s a really powerful story. Everybody that you need to have in the story is on the train.
PT: (Wayne) I always think of analogies and thematically it sounds like a somewhat underrated 1944 film, Between Two Worlds, with John Garfield where these characters are on a ship and you don’t know if they are alive or dead and you find out that they are in something like purgatory.
TT: I know that one.
PT: You do?
TT: Yes, I remember it.
PT: You’re really good!
TT: I love film, man. You can’t go wrong with a John Garfield film.
PT: We know how important your down time is and you have a show tonight, so we have one final question that we ask everybody. If you were to sum up your life and career to date in one word what would it be?
PT: (Stephanie) We don’t make the last question an easy one!
PT: (Wayne) You’ll have to explain that one.
TT: Pistachio flavor is so complicated. It looks green even though it doesn’t taste green and it’s nutty and I love the crunch. And it’s delicious if it’s made well. Pistachio. I’m thinking imagery. Pistachio. Not everybody likes pistachio.
PT: We love them!
TT: (Laughs) Yes, people that are educated [said in jest] (laughs)!
PT: (Laughs) That’s probably the best answer we’ve ever heard! Love it! Pistachio!!
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