Donnie Wahlberg Interview

The actor talks about the horror genre, and playing practical jokes with corpses in Saw II

Donnie Wahlberg steps into the horror genre as Detective Eric Mason in Saw II. He's forced to play a cat and mouse game with the terrifying Jigsaw Killer (Tobin Bell). Wahlberg's not really a fan of the horror genre, but saw an exciting opportunity in making the sequel to Saw. He wouldn't comment on further sequels to the franchise, but this weekend's box office will be a sure indicator of a Saw III.

What can fans of the first Saw expect in the sequel?

Donnie Wahlberg: I don't want to speak for everyone, but I think it really picks up where the other film left off. It's true to the format. A lot of times, sequels get overblown for the sake of doing it. Even in the trailer, ‘there's eight people in the house', that's just the worst thing you can promote in a sequel. Two people, now there's eight, it's like Jurassic Park with the dinosaurs playing video games. How far can you take it? It's not really like that. It's bigger, there's more, it is crazier, there's more twists, but it's still true to the groundbreaking format that they conceived in the first film. It's smart, it makes you think. It's connected. It's not just random stuff for no reason. It's not a dude with an ice pick just chopping people up. It ultimately centers around one person who made a mistake, doesn't care anymore, and is forced to re-evaluate where he stands in life.

The first Saw was a huge hit with horror fans. Were you at all worried about doing the sequel and having it not be as good as the first?

Donnie Wahlberg: I was also a fan of the first one. I knew there was a danger in doing the sequel, especially like this. They have such a core audience for the Saw movies. The fans of the movie actually demanded a sequel. They were on the internet going crazy. I don't even go on the internet. I don't even know how all this stuff happens. But they wanted it and one the one hand that's good, because you know there's an audience. But on the other hand, they want it to be done right. They don't want it to be a piece of crap and I don't want to be the face that's out there in the front destroying this franchise. I read the script. And I met with these guys. I knew they were trying to make this better, or as close to the first one as possible. That's what I was all about.

Are you a horror film fan?

Donnie Wahlberg: In doses, like most people, I like all different kinds of movies. I like any movie that can take me somewhere and make me feel something. If it's happy, if it's sad, if it's angry, like ‘Liar, Liar', I've never laughed so much in a movie. Like ‘Crash', really affected me, ‘Hustle and Flow' really touched me. It took me back to me music days when we used to punch egg cartons on the wall for sound proofing in a ratty studio. Horror movies, if they're done well, they make you feel nasty or scared or relieved. In the case of Saw, it's more than just that. It makes you think, squirm, wonder. At the core of these movies, Saw One and Saw Two, it's a very real situation. A guy cheats on his wife and didn't value what he had. It's the same thing in my story. Being a dad and playing someone whose last words to his son were ‘go to hell'. I say to my son, the last thing I say is ‘I love you'. Imagine if I was in that situation. Would I cut off my foot? Would I be able to sit and talk with someone who's got my son in a room? Would I do it or lose control?

Tobin Bell (Jigsaw) had a minor part in the first film, but is front and center here. What was he like to work with?

Donnie Wahlberg: It was great. Tobin wasn't obligated to do the second film but he wanted to. I think they brought me into this film because there's a first time director, and my reputation is one of an actor who's there for the betterment of the project. I'm not there to better myself. I'm there to bring all my resources to the project to make it as good as it can be. In the end, that makes everyone look good. Tobin was just like that. We had serious concerns about the plausibility about these two guys sitting around a table talking to each other, knowing what was going on in this other place. The way it was written at first, we just didn't buy it. But we bought the concept, the overall picture. But that was the weakest point for us; we wanted to make it one of the strongest points of the movie. We went to work immediately. We would shoot all day and write all night and re-write and experiment and do the scenes in different ways. We would improvise whole passes. We just constantly worked, it's not an Academy award level film, but we worked as hard we could to make it plausible.

We've heard that you were adamant about the details of your character. Can you tell us about the situation with the tie?

Donnie Wahlberg: That may read more heavy than it actually is. I was more concerned that they put a few mustard stains on the tie. This is the kind of guy who doesn't have the time to deal with that stuff. He doesn't care. With acting, it's all about internalizing the character for me and doing all the preparation you can. So the day you first step into your wardrobe, you can walk like the person. That's really the moment where the light bulb goes off. You're nervous; any actor will tell you that. Robert Deniro will probably tell you the same thing. He may not want to share that with you, but he probably goes through it. That's why actors are so neurotic. We doubt up until the last minute that we can be this person. So everything matters, the more work you do, you get in touch with who the character is. If they bring me a Versace suit, and I'm supposed to be some cop who doesn't care anymore, then you better stain up that Versace suit pretty good. You can't have me looking like I just left the Sean Jean warehouse.

Have you seen the film? If so, were you happy with the final product?

Donnie Wahlberg: I've seen an almost finished product. I saw a rough cut two months ago.

Did it scare you?

Donnie Wahlberg: It makes me scared that I'm never going to work again! (laughs)

So you weren't scared when you saw the finished product?

Donnie Wahlberg: Scared like a regular audience member? A little bit, there are moments that surprise me. There are moments when I jumped. There are tons of moments where I'm cringing. Little moments that you'd never expect, that's the thing with movies. When you finally see it with an audience, things surprise you, what they react to. Like someone's dying and the audience is laughing. For me, I had three moments that I thought were going to be the nastiest. When Frankie G takes the bat out of Glenn Plummer's head. It didn't bother me when he put it in his head, but it bothered me when he took it out. The sound effects and stuff, it's nasty.

You're working with an ensemble cast. What was it like working with these actors? Have you worked with them before?

Donnie Wahlberg: No, I don't even think I've met them before. For me, it was mostly working with Tobin. It's a little different. The people in the house were drinking tequila and had their radio blasting between takes. They'd say ‘action', start screaming, crawling around on the ground and suffering and stuff. With me and Tobin, we were in a whole different movie. It made for more of a quiet atmosphere on set, but I found ways to have fan. I would take like the corpses, the body parts and stuff, and set it up in people's hotel rooms and trailers. Stick like a hand in the toilet. You open your toilet, go to sit down and there's like a hand jamming up your ass. You have to do something. The movie's so dark; you have to lighten it up just a little.

Initially the audience has sympathy, but as the film progresses, we see another side of your character that's repulsive.

Donnie Wahlberg: You can't dictate if a character's going to come off as sympathetic to an audience. I just tried to play it as honest as possible. A lot of times, I tried to make the choice that I think most parents would make and that most people could relate to. In terms of the bad stuff, I think most of the bad things this guy did are in his past. We don't see it. We don't see him be a corrupt cop or unethical person. We see him do whatever he has to do to get back with the person he cares about. I didn't worry about the other stuff. There are certain choices you can make that would suggest that he's unethical, but I played it as a parent first and a bad guy second. I hope it come out the right way.

Your scenes with Tobin are in a small room, face to face. Were they trying to recreate the claustrophobic feel of the first film?

Donnie Wahlberg: I was concerned that I wasn't stuck there. In a way, I was emotionally bound by circumstance as opposed to a chain. If someday took someone you loved and had them, and they were in really jeopardy, and then said sit down and talk to me; what would you feel like? I just kept thinking about that. The hardest thing to do was just sit there. I wanted to resonate to the audience off of my pores in my face that I don't want to be here. I want to kill him. The anger and confusion you would feel would almost paralyze you. I tried to connect to that like I was paralyzed. So it was like I was chained up. That again is why me and Tobin worked so hard, to make it make sense why I'm there.

There's been talk of a Saw 3?

Donnie Wahlberg: I can't say much or any relation I might have to Saw 3, because that might give away my fate in the film. But I've heard grumblings.

You've just wrapped ‘Annapolis'. What was it like working with James Franco and Justin Lin?

Donnie Wahlberg: Great, I think Justin is one of the smartest young filmmakers around. I look forward to working with him again. I haven't seen the film, but based on the energy on set, I look forward to see what he's going to do.

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