Leigh Whannell & Darren Lynn Bousman Interview

The writer and director of the horror sequel, Saw II, tell all, well not all, but some!

I first want to warn you when you read this. There are a few mini-spoilers about the plot of the film. It doesn't give anything away from the awesome twists and turns this movie takes, but Leigh and Darren really talk about some internal stuff dealing with the story line.

As for this film, Jigsaw returns to his old ways - conjuring up his wicked and deadly games for a whole new batch of victims. That's about all I want to tell you about the story. But I will say suspect the unexpected.

Leigh Whannell also returned to help write the script of the sequel with newcomer Darren Lynn Bousman, who also directed the film. They both opened up about the pressures of making the second movie and how to keep the cast unaware of what was going on. Read on if you dare:

What did you think of the remnants of your past character in this one?

Leigh Whannell: Ah, I haven't looked that good in years; I think it's some of my finest work. Actually, I had a lot of legal tangles with that dummy to play myself. He ended up winning; he had a better team of lawyers.

Darren Lynn Bousman: He really did, we were really going to use Leigh and they wouldn't let him.

Leigh Whannell: I just think they thought the dummy could put on a better performance.

How much time has gone by since the first one?

Leigh Whannell: Seriously, we kind of want to keep that mysterious; it could be a couple months, it could be a year, but I think it's a matter of months.

So how did this all come about; you wrote a script for the Saudi's?

Darren Lynn Bousman: Yeah, I had written a script called The Desperate, it was very similar toned and themed to Saw. It was kind of scary because everyone who was reading it was turning it down because ‘it was too close to a movie called Saw at Sundance; not interested.' Everyone was saying that except for this one company, this German company and they were going to make it in Germany for $1 million. They were going to make this American movie with me and an American DP (director of photography) and American actors, so I was meeting with DP's and David Armstrong was the first one who walked in. He was like ‘Why are you doing this in Germany and why is this only a million dollars?' I said ‘They were the only ones who would do it.' He said ‘Uh uh. Can I share your script with somebody?' I was like ‘Alright.' The next day, Greg Hoffman called me, the producer, and was like ‘You're not doing this in Germany; you're going to come to my office tomorrow.' And originally, it was going to be its own movie, for the first three or four months I was dealing with it, it was going to be its own movie. And then Saw came out and did the numbers that it did and it was so similar, theme wise, to it the natural progression of it – it's funny, cause you can read the script without drawing comparisons.

Leigh Whannell: We changed so much to it.

Darren Lynn Bousman: Yeah, the character names are the same

Leigh Whannell: The character names are the same, but everything inside the house, the Jigsaw story stuff; we worked really hard and it's unrecognizable to Darren's original script now.

Do you like Jigsaw?

Leigh Whannell: Yeah, I love him. I think he's awesome. Someone smarter than me said ‘You've got to love your villains to really write them well.' Somebody loved The Terminator, somebody loved Hannibal Lecter. Without love, you can't create this sort of one-dimensional view. Actually, at the time I wrote the first Saw, I agreed with Jigsaw's world view, not his methods, but his world view, kind of. I was going to the doctor, suffering from anxiety; when you're suffering from anxiety, you think it's physical. It's hard to believe a doctor when he tells you you're just stressed out. I was going to have all these MRI's to find out what was wrong with me and I felt strongly about what Jigsaw felt; I felt just sort of shattered in this mortality. But if it turned out something bad, what would I do, how would I feel? And that's where Jigsaw came from. I definitely love the guy.

Did you model the character of Jigsaw after any particular serial killer?

Leigh Whannell: No, I really didn't; I wanted to model him after an experience; I wanted him to be unique. I think we achieve that to some degree; he's a comic book villain in some respect, but he's also got a complicated world view, which I think is great.

Did you feel a lot of pressure to write this film after the success of the first one?

Darren Lynn Bousman: Oh yeah, I had panic attacks every night. If I was going to make The Desperate coming off my first film, the expectations would have been down here; no one had seen what I had done before. So if I make a good movie like Saw, people would see it; if I make a bad movie, it goes to a shelf and no one sees it. When you go into a movie like Saw 2, the fan base is ridiculous, the die hard fans of Saw, there are so many of them. I was telling him (Leigh), there are people dressing up for Halloween as characters from the first Saw; they sell masks at the store. So coming here, there's expectation for what Saw 2 should be. For a while there, my email address got out, and I was getting letters from people begging me not to kill the franchise, don't make a PG-13 Saw 2, don't do this, don't do that. Yeah, there was a huge weight on my shoulders, but there was support from everyone who worked on the first one. James and Leigh were giving me support, David Armstrong, the DP, Charlie Clouser, who did the score, Kevin Greutert, the editor. It really eased tensions because he had everyone who made Saw what it was there as well.

What's your all-time favorite horror movie?

Leigh Whannell: For me, I'd probably have to say "The Shining", still; simply because it scares the sh*t out of me. If that's the job of a horror movie, there's not many that live up to that criteria out of the number of horror films that actually scare you. I'm not talking about movies that gross you out, with limbs coming off, I'm talking about films that you can't watch alone, The Shining is kind of the pinnacle.

Darren Lynn Bousman: It's a hard question because there's so many genre's, there's the horror, there's the grind house horror, psychological thrillers; one movie that disturbed me more than any other movie, I believe from the 70's called Seconds, John Frankenheimer, Rock Hudson starred in it. Just the presence of it, it didn't end happy, and I love movies that don't end happy, where the good guy doesn't always win, because in life, the good guy doesn't always win. I think it was the first film I saw that took risks and it stuck with me. That's an extremely dark subject matter for the time it was put out. But each sub-genre has it's favorite –

Leigh Whannell: Yeah, you break it down, and it becomes this food pyramid. Like Jaws scarred me for life, having gotten into my subconscious, I'm sure it still effects some people. So I really think Jaws had this ripple effect on people that go in the water, or they think about it; and it has this instantaneous iconic effect. If you're swimming around and someone goes ‘duh, duh, duh, duh' (in the tune of the Jaws music), all of a sudden, you know what they're talking about; I'd say that's a pretty good effect for one film to have.

Darren Lynn Bousman: The movies that scare me the most are the ones set in some kind of reality, where something could actually happen. A movie I always reference, and it's not my favorite, in fact it was a pretty horrifically bad movie, but it's what it does, and that's Last House on the Left. It's so violent and raw and in your face, that happens; there are people out there like that. Any movie that shows men becoming monsters, it's what people are forced to do. Straw Dogs, when you're pushed to extremes, they just stayed with me.

Leigh Whannell: Yeah, you can present hard-core gore in a certain light, but it could be a little more safe, or safer; there's a little light for that. And for all the blood that's spilled in Saw 2, I think it's still entertaining, which if you go see a movie like Salo, the Italian film, that it just –

Darren Lynn Bousman: It's hard to handle.

Leigh Whannell: You could have a whole discussion on that because I am completely repulsed by it and it's not presented in an entertaining fashion. But (Pier Paolo) Pasolini's whole argument with that film is ‘why should violence be presented in an entertaining fashion? What happens in that film, happens to real people, isn't that how you should really present it?' For some reason, people can't buy into that so when a movie like Irreversible comes out, ‘How dare you have that rape scene on film?' And you saying like the millions of rapes that go on every day. In that scene, if we stab someone and the lighting is good, is that any better than that Irreversible rape scene.

What were the challenges of coming up with a new game for this film?

Darren Lynn Bousman: I think Leigh and I knew where we wanted to go with this. And it's question of what game it is. And without giving up too much, there are many games being played there. I think that's what we wanted to do; you want to do something here, but have the audience look over here. And what's the game here, is it the game in the house, is it the game with Donny and Tobin? So yeah.

Leigh Whannell: I was just going to say on many different levels, you have to look at the film - all the visceral stuff that the fans would get into, like the little traps and things, which are kind of gritty and gory and fun, but you don't want to film to be a series of vignettes, a series of gore scenes strung together by a thin story. You want to film to work as a whole, so the easy part was coming up with new, little traps for Jigsaw to trap his victims in. The hard part was framing them all through a story that arched through the entire story. That was the idea, was when Donny and Jigsaw went down to the house, that's what really gave this film the arch of the film.

Darren Lynn Bousman: What I like about this film is everything that Jigsaw says is very ambiguous; it could really mean two different things. Upon seeing this movie again, Jigsaw says everything right up front, everything.

Leigh Whannell: He really lays everything out from the beginning.

Darren Lynn Bousman: Everything, he tells him where his son is at the beginning, here's what you have to do to get your son back, here's how long it's going to take to get your son back, and if you don't do this, you're going to die. He says everything right at the beginning, but he says it in very flowery words and you think he's talking about something else. I think that's another thing you might miss, but from the very first line, he tells him where his son is. But he tells him everything he has to do, everything he says is a clue to what's about to happen, he just says it and you think it means something else. I think that's a game Jigsaw is playing.

Did you always know the numbers game was just a red herring? Was there ever a time where it paid off?

Darren Lynn Bousman: There were times, once again, you want the audience to look over here, what's the rainbow.

Leigh Whannell: It's really a slight of hand; with the first Saw, we were really dangling the carrot. Talk about dangling the carrot in the audience's face, we were like – well, I guess the cat's out of the bag now – it was the guy on the floor. I think I can safely say that now; for those of you who haven't seen Saw, sorry. When we were first coming up with that, we are literally posing the answer to the audience in the first shot, saying ‘here it all is.' And I said to James ‘How are we going to disguise this?' And he said to me ‘That's your f*cking job, you're the writer.' So I went off, and tried to think. If I said to you the treasure is somewhere in this room with a big ‘X' on the table, how do I have you look away from that, like Darren was saying, with this slight of hand. And the trick with Saw was to have people placing blame in other places, until you come full circle and you finally say ‘tah dah' it was right in front of you.

Will the alternate endings be in the DVD? Did you shoot any of this?

Darren Lynn Bousman: There were many things written, and the actors didn't know; most of the actors didn't have the full script.

Leigh Whannell: That was more about keeping the ending secret from everyone.

Darren Lynn Bousman: Yeah, we could have ended the movie in a couple different places and ended it a different way; we combined a couple things to make the ending the way it was. There was a different ending that was shot, and yes, it's still in there, but it's edited in a way to make it appear that it's not the end. So there will be more on the DVD.

Were you able to get away with everything you wanted?

Darren Lynn Bousman: We were very lucky on this; there were some scenes that we had to trim back on, you can probably figure out which ones they were to the movie.

Leigh Whannell: There were a couple death scenes that we wrote that we couldn't –

Darren Lynn Bousman: Oh yeah, there were some scenes that were written that the producers were repulsed by. The first time we had a roundtable discussion on the script, Greg was there with a black magic marker – you don't want to see that. So he opens the first page of the script and he makes a big ‘X' on the page and rips it out. ‘You can't shoot that.' There were two scenes in particular.

Leigh Whannell: Yeah, yeah; the producers are smart enough to know what was good about the first Saw. So for them to come to us and say ‘you can't do this,' it wouldn't have been very smart because the freedom they gave us on the first film is what made it so good and they gave us freedom for me and Darren to come up with this crazy sh*t, otherwise they may have second guessed themselves into a bad film.

Darren Lynn Bousman: All in all, they really stepped back and let us do our own thing.

Leigh Whannell: It's the benefit to low budget filmmaking; low budget means creative filmmaking. It's like what do you value more, big toys, which means more money, which means less freedom or do you want to be doing things with a handheld camera in a freezing little studio in Toronto, but you're allowed to do what you want. And I'm realizing more and more that creative freedom is much more valuable to me.

So are we going to see Saw 3?

Leigh Whannell: Not yet, we haven't really discussed any story lines yet. I mean, of course people want to know what's up with Saw 3, and we haven't thought about a story.

Darren Lynn Bousman: Yeah, we haven't talked, but we actually want to go back and do Adam's back story.

Leigh Whannell: The story of Adam, that's going to be good.

So would you want to do another one?

Leigh Whannell: Yeah, what broke it for me is Darren's coming into this as a first time filmmaker, probably would have made any film to get that first film under his belt, he was so excited. For me though, I was coming at it in a different angle; I was coming at it in a more suspicious view point like do we want to soil this first film with a sequel that doesn't live up to it. It took me a while to warm up to the idea, that finally broke it for me, to finally go ‘yes, I really want to co-write this and I want to be involved' was having Jigsaw being captured in the first 10 minutes of the film. That night in bed, I couldn't stop thinking about it, from a sequel that had an ok idea, it really came up on its own, that's a really good idea.

Darren Lynn Bousman: When you capture Jigsaw in the first part of the movie, where can the story go? A lot of people on the message boards were saying ‘I'm not going to see this movie if I know who the serial killer is.' And that's the great thing about it; you know who the serial killer is, he's captured right away. He's surrounded with guns and can't get away, so where can this story go? Where is the story at this point, and so where can this story go when Jigsaw's locked in a room with SWAT guys around.

Leigh Whannell: We also love the idea of someone sitting there, cancer ridden, completely immobile, weakened, yet, holds all the power in the room over guys with guns. And that question of ‘how do you have all the power with you're sitting in the room in a wheelchair when there's guys holding guns?' That is what drove the whole story – all the cards Jigsaw has in his hands, and every time they have one card, he pulls out another one – ‘Ah, but you missed this.' And we love that, twisting it up all the time.

Where did you shoot this?

Darren Lynn Bousman: Toronto

Where did you shoot the first one?

Leigh Whannell: LA.

Why did you go to Toronto to shoot this one?

Leigh Whannell: Mainly because Silence, the other film I wrote, that James directed, that was in Toronto. And I think the producers were able to go back and forth. You can imagine the nightmare of flying from two different cities to check on two different films. So the production offices were literally next to each other, so they would just run from one production office to the next. It was like one of those Jerry Lewis movies where he's trying to keep two dates running from restaurant to restaurant. They would run into one office - ‘Everything good, everything good, money all set? Good;' go over to Saw 2 - ‘Everything good, everything good?'

Darren Lynn Bousman: They're good at multi-tasking.

What about the franchising of products like the mask?

Darren Lynn Bousman: I like wearing the Jigsaw underwear. It's soiled, it comes pre-soiled.

What else is out there?

Leigh Whannell: There's a comic book out there. The first one obviously took a while for anything to come out to this point, but now they've got this comic book out, which is the coolest thing ever. They've got these action figures; this guy came up to me at Comic-Con and asked me about the action figures and I grabbed him by the lapel and said ‘what action figures? Show them to me now!'

You didn't know about this?

Leigh Whannell: Who knows, someone owns the copyright. I've got a couple copies upstairs; they're available in stores. It's just about the back story; the Jigsaw back story, how he went from this normal guy to this. It's really fascinating; the happiest day of my life will be when I get my hands on those action figures. I'm going to have them in my house.

Did you know someone bid on Ebay for your soiled boxers?

Leigh Whannell: Oh yeah, I'm going to start selling off my clothes.

The film is really filled with twists that will keep you guessing until the end. And they might not be writing a third in the series yet, but believe me, it will happen. Saw 2 is rated 'R;' it hits theaters October 28th, just in time for Halloween weekend!