Jigsaw is back and more devilishly chilling than before. As for actor Tobin Bell, he relishes the character and what he has to say, as he explained to Paul Fischer in this exclusive interview.
Question: When you got the first Saw, what kinds of expectations did you have with this character and just I guess this franchise in general?
Bell: First of all when I read the script it seemed very theatrical to me you know 3 characters on a stage the curtain goes up and there’s the 3 characters. So even though I was the one in the middle who didn’t say anything it didn’t make any difference to me because I liked the picture, I liked it to a painting; the silent guy is still there. Plus you heard my voice throughout, I was hooded and caped but you didn’t connect me to the guy on the floor and I liked the gag at the end and I thought if they shoot this well it will be shocking, because when I read the script there was no anticipation so when I got to it I was surprised. I thought if they shoot this well people will be really surprised by that and so I tending to be a person who lives in the present anyway expected nothing from it beyond the experience of lying in a pool of blood for whatever that would be and sort of being part of a 3 character play, which was a good number for 3 guys…if you’re going to put people on a stage 3 characters is not a bad number.
Question: So when the movie was successful and they talked about doing a sequel what did you think of that initially? Do you think that there was a need for the sequel at the time? Where you sort of reticent to sort of do another one, did you think that it was hard to top the first one?
Bell: I liked that you actually found a lot about what the motivations were behind this guy in the first one because the tape recordings talked about some of his complaints.: The treatment of the terminally ill by the medical community for instance, so he had very specific things that were disturbing him like people who didn’t appreciate what they had with tossing away their families. So I thought it’ll be really interested to see where they go with him.
Question: Do think he has a moral centre?
Question: Yet he’s amoral in the way he handles that morality…
Bell: Yes right yeah. How it manifests is something else, but the things he dwells on and his thought processes about survival and the fact that the world’s going to hell in hand basket because its become survival of the mediocre. He thinks about very interesting concepts and ideas and you know something what’s even more important to me is when I have six skateboarders walk up to me and say, ‘you’re the man’ and I say, ‘well okay’ and they say, ‘when’s the next Saw out I can’t wait to see it’ and I say, ‘oh a week a week an a half something like that’ and they say to me, ‘oh we can’t wait, we’re so excited about it oh what it is?’ and you say, ‘well it’s this and it’s that, it’s this and it’s that’, ‘and it teaches you stuff’ and I’m like, ‘what do you mean it teaches you stuff?’ And they say, ‘well you know what when you said to the guy ‘if you knew the exact moment of your own death how would it change how you live life? This was in Saw 2. How would it change?’ He says, ‘it would change’ and the fact that you’ve got 15 year olds thinking about these things, amidst all of that intensity and all of that horror, the issue that Jigsaw raises, we don’t provide the answers to it, but the fact that he raises these issues and then they’re resonating with 16 year olds is interesting to me, it means we’re doing something right, that our voice is kind of being heard…
Question: How important was it for you with this third one to give him much more of a back story or did you already have a back-story pretty much figured out from the get go?
Bell: Well you know I certainly developed it more with Saw 2 than I had…I began to work on it I remember a note book that I had for Saw 1 and it listed a wheel…it had a wheel inside the front cover of the things that were bothering him, you know things that were disturbing him and that list just continues to…sometimes the things that bother him are connected you know and so no I continued, you never stop developing that back story because you never are finished. You start up here at the top of a pyramid and you begin to ask questions and the questions multiply and they just go and they get bigger and the pyramid just keeps getting bigger and then the camera roles and you still are not done, but you hope that the questions that you’ve answered sufficiently inform what you’re doing so that you can say things and know what you mean.
Question: What sets this third Saw apart from its predecessors and do you think it’s a fitting finale to this trilogy?
Bell: I think you start to get a window into his personal connection to Amanda where as in 2 it was somewhat impersonal, corrupt, violent, dirty cop that he was dealing with. In this you get a little window into a more of a window into his humanity.
Question: Now in some way you’ve become an iconic figure, I mean there’s been Mike Myers, there’s been Freddy Krueger and now there’s Jigsaw. Do you feel a part of that company and how does that make you feel?
Bell: Well I’d better start looking into it because it comes up all the time and it makes me feel great to be talked about in that way. The alternative to that is that your not that and this is a difficult business we’re in, so the fact that people would even mention me as having gotten a certain recognition on that level is all to the good. At the same time so in one sense I’m very thrilled about that in the other sense it means nothing to me because I don’t relate to that in anyway I only do what I do and the rest of that is out there somewhere…
Question: But is there a downside to that kind of cult like idealisation in that you really do need to make sure that agents and producers are able to divorce you from that character?
Bell: This is a business and if I want to make them divorce themselves from that character its my responsibility to create another character that I can replace that with. If I’m a jazz musician who wants to play rock and roll I’d better play rock and roll marvellously because they’ll say, ‘no he’s the jazz musician he can’t play rock and roll’ you know what I mean? So am I not going to become a horror icon because I’m afraid that somehow I’m going to be one? No I don’t think so. I think I’m going to take something as far as it goes and then if I want to change it it’s my responsibility to change it and I can’t count on anybody else to do that.
Question: You had a couple of other films that you’ve completed since doing this right? How different are the characters in those movies?
Bell: Well way different to…I did a film called Buried Alive where the guy’s a Vietnam Veteran who he’s kind of a kooky character who lives in a trailer at a lodge and these college students come to the lodge and he’s got a sense of humour, he’s a former Vietnam guy he’s just kind of out there on the edge but he’s rhythms, he’s from Mississippi he’s a totally different guy. I’ve played so many different characters but the people remember you for whatever they remember you for, whether its Mississippi Burning or The Firm. I was on a field trip with my son at Catalina and these girls come up to me from another school that was there at the same time and they were like, ‘you’re the guy’ and I was like, ‘well yeah’ and they said, ‘you were on Charmed’ and I said, ‘yeah I was’ I did one episode of Charmed and they were big Charmed fans. So whatever is in people’s heads and I’ve sort of made it a policy to do everything that I do as well as I can do it and people remember things according to what their fans are. I did one episode of Star Gate and people come up to me and say, ‘you were Ohmark , and I’m like, ‘you’re right I am’. But people just they remember.
Question: Do you think there will be another of these Saw films or do you think this is the end of this?
Bell: It depends on I would think if Saw 3 is well received and the fans are enthusiastic about it I have no doubt that they will do…if there’s more story to tell.
Question: A prequel I guess is the way to go now right?
Bell: I would think in some where prequel to somewhere along the story line unless they have some miraculous way to resurrect me.
Question: Are you happy to come back and do it again?
Bell: It has to do with the writing. If there’s a story to tell I would be. This is the new generation so you know so its to me its very fun and exciting to be part of something that is as successful as this is and that has resonated with the new generations.
Question: Why did you want to become and actor?
Bell: Because I felt I could do it well. I always sensed I could do it well when I was virtually unemployable for 15 years before Allen Parker plucked me out of a restaurant on the Upper East Side of New York and hired me to do Mississippi Burning and that got me moving and I always hoped that someone would see what I thought I could do and he did and so that got the cart rolling down hill.
Question: Thank god these crazy Australians came along and put you in their movie.
Bell: That’s right.