This Halloween, for couples looking to scare themselves silly (and into the bedroom), the options are nearly endless. Among the classics are Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, John Carpenter’s Halloween, Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining and any number of the late Wes Craven’s monsterpieces.
But watch these hallowed Halloween mainstays, and you’d be forgiven for borrowing some dialogue from another certain favorite fright flick: I see white people…
Apparently, British horror director Clive Barker agreed that the horror genre was overly Caucasian. In 1992, he cast African-American actor Tony Todd in the lead role of one of the decade’s scariest movies, Candyman. Barker found a natural scaremonger in the six-five baritone-voiced performer, and Candyman went on to gross more than $25 million in the U.S.
But it’s another role in Todd’s long career that fascinates us — that of Augustus “Preacher” Cole in The X-Files episode “Sleepless.” In this second-series Monster of the Week installment, Todd is a Vietnam veteran meting out vengeance on those involved in a top-secret U.S. military experiment. Without giving too much away, Todd’s character hasn’t slept a wink in 20-plus years, and he’s pretty fucking irritable.
We caught up with Todd on a Sunday morning to discuss this role, how he prioritizes sleep on the job and more.
Let’s start with your guest-starring role on The X-Files. Was it an important step in your career?
Everything emanates from The X-Files.... I went on to work with [co-executive producers] Glen Morgan and James Wong in Final Destination. And then [supervising producer/writer] Howard Gordon — that was his first writing assignment on The X-Files. That’s paid off terrifically. I appeared twice on 24, when it was at its peak; and currently, I have a gig on The Flash, whose executive producer is Howard’s nephew.
How was the shoot itself?
When I think of that episode, I only had a three-day window because I was just wrapping up on Homicide: Life on the Streets and getting ready to start Candyman 2 in New Orleans. They literally flew me from Baltimore to Vancouver, and we shot it… ‘Sleepless’ is so effective [because] it was so rushed.
Were you suffering from actual sleep deprivation while filming?
No. In order to do your best, you have to have rest. I was getting rest, but there just wasn’t time to absorb. Usually, when you finish a gig, you have that downtime to reflect, resonate. Actors always think that they could have done a better take, you know? Sometimes in TV, it’s so fast that you don’t have that luxury. So I just wanted to make sure everything was complete.
But I know I had to rest, I know I had to sleep. It’s essential for the body and the soul.
As a teenager growing up in the late ’60s and early ’70s, did you know a lot of guys that went to Vietnam and were you channeling them at all in the role?
The fact that I’d done Platoon certainly helped put me in that place. It certainly helped that I’d spent time in the jungle… Growing up in Connecticut, we had a lot of young men that left. I was a kid, so I didn’t really get the significance of it, but I knew every night, Walter Cronkite was telling us how serious it fucking was. I knew that I wasn’t going to go: A lot of us had exit strategies in place.
I remember seeing people come back, and there were a lot of drug problems related to that war. At that time, we hadn’t qualified a [group] called “the homeless,” but [when] you come from those kind of extreme battle conditions and you get air-dropped back into civilization, there’s adjustment problems. So maybe I pulled a little from that, that outcast-ness quality, which I think was important for [the role].
Two things that I get from people who have served time in the military: They loved that episode; and they loved Platoon, particularly the veterans. They just thought, if you’re going to tackle a subject that’s as deep and life-changing as that, you better be accurate. There’s little wiggle room for bullshit.
That first dream sequence in “Sleepless” smacks you over the head: dead Vietnamese villagers with blood all over their faces, holding machine guns and staring you down.
It was amazing. I tried to communicate with those people — those extras that we had, who were wonderful — but more than half of them didn’t really speak English. And that really helped. Because most of those people that had been excavated from Vietnam [were] now in the “Promised Land,” but still, [their] memories must’ve run deep. There was that great quality that it was real.
Will you be watching the X-Files reboot in January?
I haven’t made up my mind. I’m not a huge TV guy, believe it or not. I’m a huge David Chase fan, and I watched The Sopranos religiously. When I was a bartender in New York, James Gandolfini used to come in, and he was always depressed and talking out loud about, “What the fuck is it for?”
[There] was a camaraderie with actors in New York, and we always encouraged each other. I was happy for him when he found the role of a lifetime.
Where did you tend bar?
A place called the West Bank Cafe. I was able to do shows, and the owner would say, ‘Okay, that’s great; enough applause; go behind the bar.’ But I was happy. Lewis Black was my dear friend and the in-house comedian at the time. He and I spent many a Tuesday night with only 10 people in the house when he’d get on the stage and perfect his ranting.
Last question: Do you dress up as yourself for Halloween?
I avoid Halloween. Unless Vegas is going to fly me to some casino to meet-and-greet for an hour, no. I lay low on Halloween.
My Halloween is every fucking day! I go shopping for groceries after midnight… I love fan appreciation, but not when I’m choosing toilet paper, you know?