"Oh yes there will be blood," and considering the annual profits being raked in by the Saw series, there might very well be blood every October for the rest of time. Regardless of your feelings toward them, there's no denying these folks have gotten the formula down cold for budget filmmaking that yields fattening returns. Of course it helps that the movies are mostly starless (no offense, Donnie Wahlberg), with the sole exception of Tobin Bell, a character actor who's appeared on roughly 40 percent of all the world's television shows and has become famous as the face of the franchise. It's no wonder that his character Jigsaw, the diabolical madman who teaches people how to appreciate life just in time for them to die, is back for Saw IV despite meeting a grisly end in the last chapter. We visited with Bell in his lair (OK, hotel suite), where he told us about interactions with fans and the time he read his young son the Saw script as a bedtime story. Well, sort of.
Cinematical: Do you get recognized much for your playing Jigsaw?
Tobin Bell: Oh yeah sure. But you know, I'm always amazed... I took my 11-year-old to an oceanography camp and these girls came over to me, and my son was like "Oh here we go, Dad," because they had been looking. They were like, "You're the guy, aren't you?" And I said, "Well, maybe." They said, "He is, he's the guy on Charmed!" They were like 13, and Charmed was their favorite show and I did one episode of Charmed as this blind guy. Sometimes people will say "You're the guy on Stargate." Or, "I loved you on Seinfeld." So I get recognized depending on where I am. Saw is a particularly popular film with 14-30 year olds, so I'll be at a playground and meet six or 10 skateboarders who just wanna talk about Saw. They don't want to talk about Seinfeld but they are just very excited about Saw. I'm always psyched about that because seeing something that engenders as much enthusiasm amongst young people as Saw does is a very interesting experience.
Cinematical: What do you think drives that fascination with 'Saw'?
TB: I remember meeting a girl in New York some years ago and she went to horror films all the time. She was very reserved, very presentable, a personal assistant type, extremely articulate, very well educated. She went to horror films and I asked her, "Why do you go to horror films?" Because I never personally was drawn to being frightened in the theater. She said it's because it's such a visceral experience. It's not something you can intellectualize. You can't control it. So she liked that. That always stuck with me. When I sit in the theaters and watch the Saw films and watch the audiences' reaction, it's true. You can't control what your body does. Like the last moment of Saw 1 when I get up off the floor, it induced this sort of universal reaction that people had to this moment. It was like "Ahh!," and their little asses came right off their seats in that moment. Their bodies would rise out of the chair. And there are other moments like that.
Cinematical: Has your son seen any of the Saw films?
TB: No, he has read some of the scripts. He hasn't read any recent scripts, but when he was 8 or 9 I read him the first couple of pages of Saw 1; and it reveals that it's dark in the room, the lights go on, the fluorescent harsh light, the guy comes out of the tub... He was fascinated. He totally got the situation and all of a sudden he realizes he's locked in this thing and there is another guy locked on the other end. I don't know how far he got. I think he fell asleep. We were just reading the first two or three pages. He hasn't seen any of the movies nor has he asked me to see any of the movies. As a matter of fact, when the trailer runs on TV, he's like "Okayyy." I've talked to kids his age whose parents let them see the film. And they come and say, "Hey I saw the film, is there going to be another one?" And I say, "Well, weren't you scared?" And they say, "Ehhh." I thoroughly don't think the films are appropriate for kids but it's up to the parents to decide based on who their kid is, and how tightly the kid's head is screwed on.
Cinematical: At what age do you think you would show it to your son?
TB: It would probably be when he asked. But I see no reason, because he's seen me in lots of other things but the movies for some kids are probably outside the realm of possibility. Some people are drawn to them, maybe for the reason that my friend in New York was. That's not to say I don't watch horror movies and thrillers, like Jacob's Ladder, which is a very smart and intelligent film. I watched The Descent. It was very well done, very frightening. I liked the pacing of it. I really liked how they introduced the characters first. I'm a character and relationship guy and even with the Saw films it's special-effects people's jobs to create these scary things. It's not my job. My job is to bring some sense of humanity to the character, no matter how evil he may be. The script is going to take me there. I mean John Kramer [Jigsaw] was a kid once.
Cinematical: What do you make of all the fuss over so-called "torture porn"?
TB: I've heard that several times. You know, they are going to come up with phrases for whatever, the horror resurgence is into its sixth or seventh year so there's been some time. It's like fashion. New words and phrases come up. We call it hip culture talk. Do I understand it? Sure. Do I think there is some merit in it? Yeah I do. Look at Hostel. You don't have to go see it. Don't go see it. Don't let your kids go see it. If you wanna go see it, it's a free country, go see it. Anything that exists on the human pallete, is from my point of view, fair game for artists to portray. You don't have to go see it if you don't want to, so don't go. I'm more concerned about the real porn. I don't mean porn-porn. I'm talking about the violence, the real violence, the real poverty, the real way that we approach many problems that we have in this world, in this country. That's porn in my point of view because we aren't using all of our resources to approach it in a smart way. So I'm not worried about artistic or factious porn, or torture porn.