SAW IV directed by Darren Lynn Bousman, written by Patrick Melton and Marcus Dunstan, with Tobin Bell, Scott Patterson, Betsy Russell and Lyriq Bent. A Maple Films release. 108 minutes. Opens Friday (October 26). See review Monday (October 29) at www.nowtoronto.com/film. Rating: NNNNN
Call it the Alien vs. Predator debate about movie serial killers. Go online and you'll find all sorts of threads arguing whether the Saw movies' Jigsaw Killer is more frightening than The Silence Of The Lambs' Hannibal Lecter.
Me, I wouldn't want to be stuck in a room with either of them.
Which makes a one-on-one with Tobin Bell, the pale, ghostly sexagenarian who plays the Jigsaw Killer, a bit of a nightmare.
He's in Toronto promoting Saw IV, which has been screened (minus its final reel) for a bunch of journalists. The hallway outside the room is dark and foreboding. Is this a gimmick or for real? Was that a scream in the room or laughter? All I know is, if at any time during the interview he brings out a tape recorder that says, "Let's play a game," I'm outta here.
No need to worry. Bell comes across as a perfectly friendly guy with an intense yet roundabout way of talking. He takes himself a bit seriously which is cool. He's earned it.
After decades of character work, including everything from a recurring spot on Seinfeld to villains in The Firm and the title role in Unabomber: The Real Story, Bell's become a household name or at least a household face.
"I probably did 50 films before I even spoke onscreen," he says about his career. "I was a stand-in or in the background. The acclaim's wonderful, but I care more about the quality of the work than I do about anything like stardom. I know how fleeting all that stuff is. It's a roll of the dice."
At the end of Saw III, Bell's Jigsaw who had a brain tumour died in a not very pretty way. Saw IV, although it's set after the previous film, also acts as a sort of prequel, filling in Jigsaw's backstory, including why he got the urge to kill in the complicated, sadistic ways he does.
"The backstory's important, but only if it's good and it works," says Bell. "It can't be too much, and it can't be too little. That's what [director] Darren [Bousman] does just right. He has a good sense of balance. I appreciate that about him. He keeps me safe. One of the director's primary responsibilities is to protect his actors from things like overacting or underacting."
Bell takes up a huge chunk of our interview dismantling myths about the method acting and effective memory techniques he learned at Lee Strasberg's Actors Studio and Sanford Meisner's Neighborhood Playhouse.
The clock's ticking as if I'm one of Jigsaw's victims stuck in a trap. He mentions Natalie Wood in Splendor In The Grass.
Okay, okay. I get to blurt out one last question. Bell manages to scare a lot of people; what scares him ?
He pauses a long time and then sighs.
"You mean apart from watching a National Geographic special about the possibility that some meteorite is going to destroy the planet and kill us off like the dinosaurs?" he laughs.
"I'm terrified that people are unable to learn from their experience," he says, "that we are going to continue to create in the next 1,000 years what we created in the previous 1,000. We need a blue ribbon panel to figure out how we're going to change all this around. And letting women rule the world might be a good beginning."
Is that a roundabout endorsement for Hillary Clinton?
"No," he says, after some thinking. "I'm endorsing Natalie Wood."
Additional Interview Audio Clips
On what he does in Toronto while filming the Saw movies (note: the Godmother Café on King is The Queen Mother Café on Queen):
On being recognized as Jigsaw (same note about The Queen Mother):