The actress comes back for the third installment of the horror series
We last saw Jigsaw's faithful assistant, Amanda reveal herself at the end of Saw II - and just as the mastermind of Tobin Bell has returned, so has Amanda in Saw III. Shawnee Smith has now made it through four torturing sessions with writer Leigh Whannell in the horror franchise (if you didn't know, Leigh used the scene with Shawnee stuck in the jaw clamp to pitch the original idea).
So by now, Shawnee's used to going through pain and torture. But for me, she'll always be the ditzy assistant, Linda, of John Becker (Ted Danson) on the CBS sitcom, Becker. After a long and exhausting day of answering the same questions over and over again about Saw, she had one more interview - me. It's such a treat to talk to talent who are so willing to talk about anything.
And that's exactly what it was like at the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills at 5pm on a Saturday night. Here's how our chat went:
How did you go from a sitcom like Becker to the horror genre?
Shawnee Smith: My manager was at Evolution at the time, which was a management company and a production company - Twisted Pictures and Evolution. They were managing writers, producers, and talent, and also looking for scripts to do themselves and Gregg Hoffman brought them Saw. And Mark (Burg) and Oren (Koules) put their own money up to do it. They're really good about using their own people, which never happens, but they're really good about it; and they basically offered me the part. And I guess Leigh knew me from the 80's, and he was down with it; so they sent me the script and I was horrified. I said, 'Can't do it,' because I knew I would have to live it out - which is probably why I get hired for these things. It's real, what's happening is real; and that's how I ended up in 1, and that parleyed into this and parleyed into the part of a lifetime I didn't know I had until it was over. It totally snuck up on all of us.
And you have become a part of this franchise.
Shawnee Smith: Like Linda! And it's cool to have two totally different characters - it must be my split personality.
So have you become more involved in the story making?
Shawnee Smith: By three, and because the basic story of three, was based on the relationship between John and Amanda, and because we have been building these characters over a couple years now. And we're the type of actors to get into something like that, we got to really help shape the movie in that way. Work that we went off and did on our own; and it might not even be a word, but it added a substance to it, and some of the script it pushed and pulled. But in Saw II, it was the same; there were re-writes going on. I don't know if this scene made the movie, where I address all the weapons in the room, and why Bahar doesn't, Lynn's character - any question that might be going on in the audiences mind would be going on in our mind. We'd be standing on set going, 'But why wouldn't she be doing this?' And we'd start answering these questions, and Leigh happened to be on set that day. Leigh wrote that scene in ten minutes, and I learned it in ten minutes, and we shot it.
So what's the environment when Leigh is not on set?
Shawnee Smith: I think there's a good balance, a useful balance. But mind you, the stage is set with actors who have been these characters, and a director who's on his second one. It's very painful, I would imagine, for the writer to step away; the discipline of writing and the act of it is such an incredible effort. You create this thing, and you have to just turn it over. We've all been together long enough, you don't bother so much with sensitivities; we'd be doing rehearsals and be like, 'I would never say this; what kind of human being says something like this?' And Leigh would be, 'I'm sitting right here.' So he was a trooper. And it was useful for when he wasn't there, and less painful for him and useful for when he was there.
Would you like to get into the writing and producing and behind the scenes part?
Shawnee Smith: I really enjoy being a more proactive process and the overall process, and I found I had some things to offer in different ways. And I found it really difficult to go back to auditioning and walking into a room with a scene from someone else's project. Just two totally opposite approaches; I definitely do better with the former. I think being a part of the whole process - I've got those wheels turning.
Would you go the comedy route or drama?
Shawnee Smith: I think 'story story' and 'character character.'
So speaking of story, where do you think the story for Saw IV could go?
Shawnee Smith: I can't imagine, I couldn't imagined II, and I certainly couldn't have imagined III, and here I am again. I won't be surprised, and I will be surprised at the same time when and however I come across their next concept.
Would there ever be a situation if they came to you and said 'this,' it'd be a 'no' from you?
Shawnee Smith: That would surprise me; we're kind of all on the same team, and serving something bigger than ourselves, and making Saw III was the best professional experience I've had in a pretty decent, length wise career. It's just so great in so many levels.
Seeing your daughter outside, are family films something you'd like to get into?
Shawnee Smith: Yeah, I would love it; I have a friend who sent me a script that's one of those little treasures that's sweet and funny and just a little movie you could make for a little bit of money. And I've just been going so fast. There's a couple of projects; one is really dark I just read. It's a writer I met in Arkansas, and we kind of came up with this concept together, and he and his partner came up with and I started reading the draft on the plane here this morning - and it's dark and it's good And there's also this really sweet, family school, little movie and I like 'em both; and it'd be great if Saw III does so well, maybe I could be helpful in getting these movies made, and work hard again - I like to work hard.
What's one thing you would say about this movie?
Shawnee Smith: It's for them with our humble gratitude!
See all the tricks of the trade in Saw III opening in theaters October 27th; it's rated R.