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Candyman, which returns Aug. 27 to terrify audiences in an all-new version directed by Nia DaCosta and co-written by Jordan Peele, began as the short story “The Forbidden” by Clive Barker, first published in 1985.
English writer-director Bernard Rose optioned the story — about a hook-handed urban legend that comes to life — and relocated it from Liverpool to the Cabrini-Green projects in Chicago. Rose further reimagined the title character, who appears when his name is uttered five times into a mirror, as being the ghostly son of Black slaves, attacked by a lynch mob for fathering a child with a white woman. They cut off his right hand (hence the hook) and smeared him with honey, resulting in death by bee stings.
“I didn’t audition. I had to pass what they called ‘the personality test,’ ” recalls Tony Todd, who was 38 when he first played Candyman in 1992. “[Rose] saw me in a movie I had done in South Africa called The Last Elephant. He told the studio, ‘That’s who I want.’ The studio was hesitant.” Rose fought hard to sign the 6-foot-5 actor and TriStar Pictures eventually signed off.
Classically trained and with a master’s degree from Trinity Rep, Todd had already dabbled in horror, appearing in 1990’s Night of the Living Dead, a remake of George Romero’s 1968 zombie classic. The Candyman shoot was not without its hazards, particularly when it came to the real bees that accompanied the killer.
“The bees had their own trailer,” Todd remembers. “Two days before we shot, [the wrangler] took me in there and said, ‘Tony, these are your co-stars.’ And he started naming them: ‘This is George. This is little Lloyd. Watch out for Larry — he gets upset.’ ” Todd was stung 27 times over the first three films. “But your adrenaline is pumping, you’re doing something you went to school for, and it’s coming true,” he says. “So what’s to complain about?” As for the remake, in which he reprises the role, he couldn’t be more pleased with the results: “I carried this character for 30 years. It’s always been a fan favorite. But this year is off the chain.”
This story first appeared in the Aug. 18 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.
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