Since the first Saw film debuted in 2004, the franchise has gone on to make over $665 million in worldwide box office, making Lionsgate the leading studio for horror today. Originally following terminally ill cancer patient John Kramer, aka Jigsaw (Tobin Bell), on his quest to teach those he believes have ceased to value and appreciate life the game of survival, the series has continued thanks to his apprentice Amanda (Shawnee Smith) and his disciple Mark Hoffman (Costas Mandylor).
After spending almost 30 years appearing in movies and television shows, Tobin Bell was cast in the chilling role of Jigsaw in the Saw franchise. Mastermind sat down with student, as Bell joined Costas Mandylor, at the film’s press day, to talk about making this long-lasting film franchise, soon to be turned into 3-D in its next installment.
Bell: It’s nice to be working.
Mandylor: It’s been a pleasure. And, everybody’s still here. It’s good.
Bell: It’s pretty amazing, given that when we started, we didn’t know any of this was gonna happen. After we did the first one, I forgot about it.
Is it like returning to a family in Toronto, every year?
Bell: It’s great. It also solves a lot of problems because of the continuity. People know where we’ve come from and what we were doing in that time frame. The films jump around so much that it’s important to be able to create that continuity. We’re working with the same hair and make-up people, costume designer, lighting designer and special effects. All of that is great, when something is as disjointed as the Saw films are. It helps a lot.
Do you guys have a familiarity of what you may be getting into, from one installment to the next? Best on what you did in the previous movie, do you have any idea where that might be headed, or is it a surprise every time?
Bell: They work very hard, after the previous film opens, to decide where they want to go, based on the fans’ reaction to the previous film. I think they’ve got some ideas, based on conversations that I’ve had, but those ideas don’t become finalized until that period after the film opens. In the wintertime, when we go to Toronto, is when the script comes together.
How will Hoffman change, in this film?
Mandylor: Hoffman learned from the master. He passed him the baton, so to speak, and you see that he’s a much more mature creature over what he does. He gets into a little bit of trouble and thinks he loses his way, which makes it a little bit exciting. Hoffman’s got some problems in the film.
Why can’t Jigsaw get a disciplined pupil?
Mandylor: He did his best. He gave Hoffman all the advice and warned him. I just think that it just makes it a touch different that Hoffman is a fool. He’s not as smart as his mentor.
How did Kevin put his signature and style on this film, as the director?
Bell: I’ve seen a rough cut of the film and the rhythms are so unique to Saw. I’m sure that Darren Bousman had a hand in creating those rhythms, but Kevin has had his hands on the wheel since the first film. He knows the rhythms of these films, he knows the way the music works and he knows what the potential is, in the editing room. I think some of the best directors have come from editing, from Alan Parker, all the way to Scorsese, who did a lot of editing in his formative years. So, I think Kevin’s experience in the editing room was a giant help, in terms of knowing what he needed to shoot. Nobody knows these films like he does. Kevin Greutert knows these films better than anyone because he has spent hour after hour in the editing room. If you’ve ever spent any time in the editing room, it’s grueling, and half the process is keeping fresh because you’re looking at the same thing, over and over and over again. So, no one was better prepared or better trained. Kevin knows these films inside and out, and he knows their rhythms. I just think he was a natural choice. He was ready to do it, and I think he did a great job. Kevin’s very smart.
Because the continuity of this film series is created through the use of the flashbacks, is it difficult, as an actor, to keep track of where you are, how you should be feeling, what’s happened prior and what’s happening next?
Mandylor: I’ve always gotten great help from the directors because they’re so involved. Even Darren Bousman, as manic and as crazy as he is, he knew what he was doing and he would fill in the gaps. When I first got there, I was just trying to stay out of its way. But, the directors always keep track of everything. And, I get phone calls, late at night, from Tobin, who has been a great help, too.
Bell: That’s where all these technicians and department heads come in. We’ll be just about to shoot something and someone will come running in and say, “No, your hand wasn’t there. It was here. Wait a minute, you don’t look the same. It’s not gonna cut together.” John Kramer has four different looks, so they’ll be like, “Your hair has got to be whiter. We used more of that powder, so we’ve gotta fix that.” The continuity people and the script supervisors are essential because you can really fuck up and you won’t know until they start to cut it together and find out that it doesn’t work at all, and somebody missed it. Saw fans are manic, when it comes to details, so they’re going to say, “Wait a minute! Why is that like that? It wasn’t like that before.” And, they’re right.
Mandylor: That’s when you’ve got egg on your face.
Bell: So, when you jump around, as much as these films do, it’s great to have people who have been there and can back you up, not that they hold actors responsible for that. Ultimately, it comes down to department heads and script supervisors, but it’s great to feel that sense of support.
Mandylor: We get a lot of back-up, from every angle.
What is the craziest or most memorable fan reaction you’ve gotten from being a part of this franchise?
Mandylor: My friends, that I grew up with, just laugh at me because they know me. But, some of the young fans come up and shake my hand, or I give them a little hug, once in awhile, and they shake a little bit. That’s the weirdest thing. They’re not sure how to say hello.
Bell: I was in my hotel in Toronto and threw on a hoodie, late one night, because I hadn’t eaten. I went down to this little restaurant on Queen Street, to get something to go, and it was pretty much empty ’cause it was late. I knew it was about 15 minutes before the to-go orders were done, and I went up to the bar and there was this little girl cleaning up the bar. She was about 5’4″. So, I looked at the menu and said, “I’ll have an arugula salad,” and she saw me and said, “Oh, my God!,” and she fled to the other end of the restaurant. I was like, “Wait! It’s just a movie!” She was terrified. It was the most overt reaction that I’ve had and, frankly, I haven’t had many of those. But, I had put on a sweatshirt and I had the hoodie on, and it was late, and she was alone. Had we been on a crowded street, she wouldn’t have been so scared. So, we became good friends, over the next couple of years. I said, “I’m Tobin, how are you?,” and she said, “I’m Sarah.” So, by the time I got my arugula salad, we were okay. It was a very scary moment. And, the TSA people in the airports are big Saw fans.
Mandylor: The airports are crazy.
Bell: They know they’ve gotcha. For those few minutes, they know they own you. I’m in their trap, and they milk it. They ask me questions while I’m trying to put on my shoes, but they’re always very friendly and enthusiastic, as most Saw fans are.
Mandylor: When I go in and out of L.A., I’m just doing my thing, obeying their orders, and they’re like, “Oh, man!”
When you guys get on set and you see what these traps are, are you still surprised at the inventiveness of them?
Bell: I like the ones that are related, in some way, to the person’s history. I particularly thought the needle pit for Shawnee Smith’s character was simple, but great. The trap that I mentioned earlier is on the poster, and it’s pretty cool.
Do you ever feel like any of these traps go too far, or is it all just horror movie fun?
Bell: It’s horror movie fun. It’s entertainment. It’s interesting mechanical stuff. Stuff happens. When I was doing that trap with the see-saw in Saw 4, that had the knives in the front of it, it didn’t work, so we had to re-work and re-design it to get it to work better for the scene and the camera movement. So, these traps are always in a state of evolution. It’s a pretty light set. Something that’s this intense, it’s pretty relaxed, until the camera rolls. It’s lots of fun. There are lots of good people.
Since these films are part of horror movie history, have you saved any mementos from them?
Mandylor: I took the pig nose. I’ve always wanted to get one of the little dolls, but I haven’t done that yet.
Bell: I have one.
What can you say about Saw 6 to entice viewers to see the film?
Mandylor: It’s going to be exciting. It’s a good ride. It’s still a Saw movie, but it’s a touch different, in its dynamic.
Bell: It’s very scary. There’s one trap in it that’s right up there with the pigs falling from the sky and the refrigerator room.
Are you excited about the prospect of seeing yourselves in 3-D for Saw 7?
Mandylor: I might have to get a nose job.