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If it's Halloween, it must be Saw. And it is. So it must be. Cinematical attended a press junket this week for Saw IV. It consisted of three interviews, with reporters from various outlets throwing out questions. The first was with Jigsaw himself, Tobin Bell (phoning in because he lives in Malibu, so wish him and his family well). The second was with Lyriq Bent (Rigg), Scott Patterson (Agent Strahm), and franchise producer Mark Burg. The third was with Costas Mandylor (Hoffman), Betsy Russell (Jill -- Mrs. Jigsaw), and franchise producer Oren Koules. Lionsgate hadn't screened the movie for critics (or even the actors!) as of this junket, as the representatives are extremely secretive about its plot, particularly a final twist. All we know is, despite having seemingly died at the end of Saw III, Jigsaw is back. Oh yes, and we know that there will be blood. Lotsa blood. We discussed what makes the franchise so popular, the phrase "torture porn," and the future of the Saw series.
Can you tell us what attracted you to the role yet again?
Tobin Bell: He's a big character. There could be nothing better for an actor than to have an opportunity to play a role where the character is sort of a multi-faceted guy. I mean, he is a scientist and a very well read guy and a man of conviction and passionate about what he does. There is something Shakespearean about him in a way. And there is a lot more story to be told. I feel like the Saw story doesn't play out in a linear way. It doesn't happen in sequence, necessarily. Whenever you have the opportunity to develop a guy like this, it's a blessing. It's what actors become actors for.
It's interesting to hear you talk about the thought process that goes into creating his back-story. Because if you ask an audience after they see a Saw film, they were there for the gore. They want to see someone's guts spill out on the floor. Are you rationalizing the character for yourself? Or do you really care about the characters in these films?
TB: I think that anybody who goes to one of these films wants to care about the characters. I think you can accomplish the same thing in the horror genre that you can accomplish in any other genre, whether it's a period piece, or a romantic comedy. I think there is an opportunity in a drama of any kind for the viewer to get involved with the characters. If you sell out completely on that, and I think that is what the horror genre has done for many years, people will not think of it very highly as a genre. Many genre films of the fifties and sixties were interested in the special effects, or interested in the scare factor, or the sci-fi factor. Jacob's Ladder is a very smart, well-crafted script. It is very scary. The Dead Zone with Christopher Walken. On its face, you have a man that looks at things and lights them on fire with his eyes. Look at the film. Christopher Walken draws you in. He makes you care about him. That's what makes the film work.
Halloween is coming up. Have you seen people dressed up as Jigsaw or Billy?
TB: I saw it last year. I saw several kids dressed up as Billy. I would always go over and say hello. They were somewhat speechless when I did that. A couple of them probably haven't even seen the movie. They got the mask, and they liked the mask. One of them looked like he was about ten years old. I'm convinced that he had not seen the film. But he had on a little tuxedo, and a little white shirt, and a little red bow tie, and a Billy mask. Everyone seemed to know who he was, too. They would say, "Oh, that's Billy the puppet." I think with the passage of every Saw film, more and more Billy costumes are going to be out there. I think the pig masks are going to be out there this year also.
Are there other things that you know about Jigsaw that haven't been in any of the Saw films yet?
TB: Yeah. You guys said that you have not seen IV. So, I just don't want to give anything away as far as your experience with the fourth film. I can tell you that the tricycle that has appeared in all four Saw films has a very simple and human explanation to it. I hope that in V and VI, we will both understand and have a window into that. The origins of Billy will come with a meaning of that. You will see with IV, that we have started to enter into that area. I think there is some marvelous storyline left to be told. Everyone has seen Billy since the beginning. But, what is that? And why? These things that you don't think about. They just have their affect on you. Billy has a certain effect, and the tricycle has a certain effect when it enters the scene. But its origins are interesting. I'm interested in showing what those origins are. Do you remember the scene in Saw III, where you saw the moments right before I laid down on the floor in Saw? There was a brief moment with Amanda and I. I think fans are really interested in knowing what the origins of very specific moments are. Especially Saw fans. They are into the details. They just are. I am always impressed with that.
Why have we not been allowed to see the film?
Mark Burg: We've been so secretive about the ending of Saw IV, because we think it's that good. Having produced all the movies, this is far and away my favorite of the four. I think it's the best of the four, the story's the best, the characters are more developed, and three quarters of the people at Lionsgate haven't seen the end of the movie. Even the actors, when we shot it, unless they were in the end scene -- even then we shot two different endings so that nobody really knows the ending.
Did you know ahead of time that you were going to do six of these?
MB: We started out wanting to make one good movie, and when it worked we were like "Maybe we can do a second, and maybe we can do a third." And now this is the only time we started developing story ideas before a movie came out. And we have a really good take for where we want to go with the next one. My goal is to have another Saw movie next year, but if the script doesn't come together, then we won't.
Is there any kind of box office catastrophe that could prevent a Saw V from being made?
MB: Yeah, if nobody turns out on Friday night, then we'll say "Guess what? Nobody likes our movies anymore, maybe we shouldn't do it." But I don't think that's gonna happen.
Do you feel a sense of responsibility for adding to the level of acceptance of violence in society today?
Lyric Bent: From a thespian's point of view, I try not to judge my characters. I think this franchise actually has a lot of positive things that it to brings to our attention, that people maybe don't look at because of the genre, which I think is a big mistake. I think there's a message in there that's profound, and that people can walk away from it with a positive look upon life. If you want to take the bad, you gotta take the good as well.
Scott Patterson: Maybe you're not asking the right question. Maybe the right question to ask is "Why do people go to horror films?" Mark and Oren have figured it out, it's a very simple formula. You ratchet up the tension in such a way that throughout a two hour experience, people get several opportunities to feel relieved. That's what a horror film is. People get addicted to that relief. They're not there to feel the tension, they're there to feel relieved. That's what a horror film is. Intellectually, we could be aware that people are only coming to see the traps, and the blood and the gore, but that's not for us to judge. We're in a dramatic piece.
What do you think of the phrase "torture porn?"
MB: I don't look at our movies as "torture porn." I look at our movies as, here's a guy who is going to people and saying "You don't appreciate life. Look at how good you have it. Look at all the good things that you're just throwing away. You got a wife, you got kids, you got a family. Do the right thing." And we always give people a way out. It's not like we're just torturing them to kill them like I think some other films have...We think it's on a different level than Hostel.
What criteria do you look for in a director to carry on this franchise?
David Hackl, who has been the production designer on the last three pictures, he's gonna direct Saw V. He's really the person who has been coming up with all the traps, and he's done some second unit directing on some of the Saw movies, so he's well situated to be that person.
Is it true they're shooting V and VI back to back?
MB: It was an idea of ours, to try and keep the cast together. It's not out of the question, but it's going to be really hard for us to get the screenplay for Saw VI where we want it to be in order to be able to do that.
Betsy, what is your relationship with Jigsaw in the film?
Betsy Russell: I'm his love interest. I can say that, right? Our story does explain a lot of his story. He is a complicated character, and you do learn a lot about him through me.
There is no definitive ending for films anymore. There's always a director's cut...
Oren Koules: Yeah, but our director's cut is really to get the best movie. Its not about leaving people hanging for more. Our director's cut is basically more of an MPAA problem than anything else. Our director's cuts aren't different logic. The MPAA is tough for us...Basically, we have to give them an "R" and an "Unrated." But the Unrated is just what we didn't get away with, with the MPAA. It's stupid. You are with a fifty year old housewife from Reseda arguing about how many times someone can get hit in the head. And that's the truth. I don't want to say too much, because it will cost us next year. When they do a press conference at Sundance talking about Saw, it kind of opens the door for debate.
How do you categorize this film? We've had an ongoing debate on whether it's "torture porn" or...
OK: You know what? What was Se7en? It was a psychological thriller. And that's what this is. You had freakin' Gwyneth Paltrow's head in a box at the end of the movie...Watch the movie again. That has more brutal stuff than we ever did. Fincher will be the first to tell you. When we bought Saw I, we though we were making a little twisted version of Se7en. If you think of the deadly sins, and where those people were when they went through that journey. Think of the sins, and think about what those scenes were. We tried to make that movie. If you go back and watch that movie, it's no different from our movie. But because Fincher did it and Brad Pitt was in it and Gwyneth Paltrow got her head chopped off, it's a thriller. I'm serious. If you tell kids that it's a thriller, they wont go. I don't understand the whole "torture porn" thing. That's something Nikki Finke and a bunch of reporters made up...If you read what people like about our films, you'll see that they like the cleverness. They like the traps. They like Jigsaw. We pour over what people like, because that's how we develop our projects. Nobody is saying they love the blood. Do we have fun with it? Yeah. But you don't see some guy just chopping arms off and limbs flying, and blood spurting. We really try to use logic and cleverness. And a lot of "what if?" And I think "what if" is scarier than seeing someone's arm chopped off.
BR: The movie is whatever you want to call it. Whatever gets the adrenaline pumping. Is that what porn does?
Costas Mandylor: When I first saw I and II, isn't it about redemption, and repenting? Sins, and things like that. The people are trapped. What gets you to the point of the trap? You find out that somebody is a pervert. A needle is going to be stuck into his eye if he doesn't dig the key out of his head. Does anybody ever talk about that? About people redeeming themselves, and how far are you willing to go? What gets them to the torture? It can't just be about chopping off an arm.
Saw IV opens in theaters today.