The actor follows his own blood trail right to our front door

It's Saw IV week, and it feels like Christmas. I'll admit it. I'm excited. Part III was the best one yet, and I could tell from its conclusion that Saw IV was going to continue its progressive trajectory. This is one of the few continuing film series that just keeps getting better and better with each passing film. It makes me wonder if Christmas was the same way. Sure, with that first Christmas there was the "idea" and "promise" of gifts, a tree, and Santa Claus. But maybe those elements didn't really pay off until 4 A.D. and the arrival of Christmas IV. The same goes with the Saw films.

I think Darren Lynn Bousman is going to bring the goods this time out. I really do. I have a very strong hunch that Saw IV is going to make us even hungrier for more. I love the perfect cliffhanger, and I truly want to see how this one begins and ends. Thing is, they aren't screening it for any of us. And those that have seen the film have only seen the first seventy-five minutes of it. The last two reels were missing. I don't know about you, but I kind of like that element of surprise. It's making me very antsy. I just gotta know what happened. And how Jigsaw has managed to survive his own death.

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To celebrate the opening of Saw IV, I was invited over to Lionsgate to listen in on a couple of conversations with the Cast and the Producers of the film. The first person we chatted with was Tobin Bell. Sadly, his Malibu estate is in direct line of the fire that is consuming Southern California. Literally. So, heeding evacuation, he was unable to meet with us in person. Instead, he got on a conference call from his home office.

Here's what he had to say in anticipation of this week's biggest release:

Tobin Bell: Hello. Good morning, everyone. I'm here.

Is it hard to focus with all of these fires going on by your home?

Tobin Bell: No. We are in pretty good shape here, now. I'll feel a little more comfortable when the winds die down a little. Sometimes the gusts are forty to fifty miles an hour. In any kind of fire situation, when the fire blows that hard, the fire can end up close real quick. We are okay right now. There is a fair amount of smoke in the area. So, how is it going there this morning? Where are you located? All over the country?

Actually, we're all in the Lionsgate Office in Santa Monica.

Tobin Bell: Oh, Okay.

And none of us have seen the film.

Tobin Bell: You haven't? Well, I haven't seen it either. We are all in the same club.

But you are in it, right?

Tobin Bell: I am. And I have read the script. So I can answer some of your questions. I'd be happy to talk to you.

This is your fourth Saw film in as many years. 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 play a role where the chraacter is a multi-faceted guy. I mean, he is a scientist. A very well read guy. A man of conviction. He is passionate about what he does. There is something Shakespearian about him in a way. Also, 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.

I think we can gather from some of the clips we've seen, and the trailer, that you are still carrying on with your same M.O. You still have the tape-recorded messages. I'm wondering, if he is dead now, why does he still have to disguise his voice?

Tobin Bell: Why does he still need to disguise his voice? You know, not having seen the film, you might rephrase that question. A lot of this stuff is done with special effects. It's a movie, guys. In terms of answering your question, the time frame in which these recordings were done is not clear. You have to ask yourself, "What was that time frame? What was his understanding of his liability when he made those recordings? Are all recordings made in that machine automatically distorted?" So, you know? I understand the logic of your question. But, having not seen the film, that is the best that I can do to answer it. It makes sense to me, that if that's his modus operandi that he wouldn't change it. He wouldn't make it sound more like something you'd hear every day. "Hi, this is John calling you." That type of thing. It probably has a basis in logic, and time. And it probably has a story basis also.

Will we see any tender moments in the flashback scenes? Maybe with you and your wife?

Tobin Bell: I don't think so. Tender moments? Somehow, tender moments in Saw movies don't work. I'll be interested to talk to you guys after you see the film. I think if there were a tender moment or two, it has to fit texturally in terms of the fabric of the Saw films. I think there may be one. Yes, perhaps. I hope that there are. I'm always looking to develop the human side. A more delicate side. After all, no matter how dastardly the deeds Jigsaw commits, or how a certain person views those deeds, you have to understand that Jigsaw was a child once. He had parents. Everyone comes from a certain beginning place of innocence. Obviously those moments you are talking about have to be successfully done. If they are not successfully done, then they might not fit. We always want something like that to fit. I look forward to seeing the final product. You know how much magic is created in postproduction and editing. I really look forward to seeing what the rhythms of the finished film are. And how the characters and relationships play out. Those are the things that I am most interested in seeing in a Saw film. The traps and the tricks are always staggering, and shocking. But if we can create another line at the same time, something that gives you a window into the moment that those traps lead up to, then you might care about the characters.

It's always interesting to hear you talk about the childhood of your character, and 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.

Tobin Bell: I think that anybody who goes to one of these films wants to care about the characters. I see no reason why you wouldn't want to care. 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 in 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 very highly of it as a genre. Many genre films of the fifties and sixties were interested only in the special effects. They were only interested in the scare factor, or the Sci fi factor. But, as you can, see, and I will give you some examples, there are smart films out there. 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.

Tobin, Halloween is coming up. Do you get dressed in a costume?

Tobin Bell: I generally accompany my kids. To answer your question, no. I don't usually dress up. But I do get together with friends, and I walk around with the kids. We celebrate the evening that way. I will tell you that my son and a few of his friends will be wearing Billy masks this year.

Have you seen people dressed up as Jigsaw or Billy?

Tobin Bell: Yeah, of course. I have. I see it all the time. I saw it last year. I saw several kids dressed up as Billy. I would always go over and say, "Hello." They are always somewhat speechless when I do that. A couple of them probably haven't even seen the movie. They got the mask, and they liked the mask. They had dressed up in the tuxedo. 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 bowtie. 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 ever Saw film, more and more Billy costumes are going to be out there. I think the pig masks are going to be out there too, this year.

What do the people think when they open their door and see you out there trick or treating?

Tobin Bell: Generally, a lot of parents in my neighborhood haven't seen the film. The audience for our films, even though it spans a pretty wide gauntlet, hasn't reached them. Some people go to Saw films, and others know about the films but they haven't seen them. I usually linger in the background to some extent. I let the kids get all of the attention. I'm back there with a baseball hat on. I go fairly unrecognized.

What is your opinion on the term "torture porn"?

Tobin Bell: It is a strong phrase. It is hard not to recognize it as such. I think there is a more intergraded fabric going on in the Saw films. Someone used the term yesterday, "Gornogrophy." I thought that was an interesting sounding word. So, yeah, it is very strong. Torture porn. I can't really comment on it beyond that. I don't think that is what we are doing at all. I think what we are doing is in the best tradition of horror. I am not an expert on the subject. I take what my fans, and the people I meet, tell me. I met people from all over the world at a convention in Whales. We went from seven in the morning until seven at night. And they didn't stop coming, just to talk about the Saw material. If you are doing torture porn, people aren't going to be this responsive. These were journalists, they were TV reporters, they were radio people, they were newspaper and magazine people. And Dotcom people. People do not travel that kind of distance to talk about torture porn. What they wanted to talk about was the richness of the film. They wanted to talk about why it works. They wanted to know about Jigsaw and his back-story. What they wanted to talk about had to do with elements of the film. The phrase that you mentioned tends to get a lot of atention because it has a lot of glitter to it. There are so many other elements. The fans that I talk to don't talk to me about that. They talk to me about what they like about the Saw films. That is gratifying to me. Most of the people that use that phrase are people in the press. Or people who aren't interest in drama. It has become this catch phrase that people throw around. Its like people asking me what it feels like to be a horror icon. People latch onto these things. It's all relatively blase. Its all really one word. These are phrases amongst a myriad of phrases that we attach to a Saw film. If you talk to the fans, people who have a more educated sense of what it is like to watch a Saw film, maybe they could tell you about their experiences watching them. I don't think it's terribly complicated. I think the reason people go to horror films is to be slammed back into their chair, in a certain type of fright. It's a visceral experience. It's not something you can intellectualize about. You go into the theater. You don't just sit there and watch. You have this visceral experience. That's why people go to these movies. I know that's a long answer to your "torture porn" question. But, you know, one thing leads to another.

Are you excited about getting to work with new directors for Saw V and Saw VI?

Tobin Bell: Yeah. Anything new is always a challenge. You know? It brings with it new energy and a bit of the unknown. I feel a certain sense of solace that we will be working with a lot of the same people that have worked on all of the Saw movies. Cast and crew that have been with us since Saw one. The cinematographer that has been with us since the original Saw is David Armstrong. We've had the same props guy. The same editor. There are pieces of the wheel that change. But there are also a significant number of pieces that will remain the same. As long as there is a strong story to be told, we can craft some of the same quality that we are used to creating.

Tobin, you've told us things about Jigsaw that only you know. Such as the fact that his name is Jonathan. I was wondering if there are other things that you know about Jigsaw that haven't been in any of the Saw films yet?

Tobin Bell: 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. I don't really want to get into it. But I think those two objects are simple things. 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 affect, and the tricycle has a certain affect 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 one? 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.

Thank you, Tobin.

Tobin Bell: Thanks for having me. And I hope all of you guys have a sense of satisfaction when you see the film. And you think the quality is up there. Have a great rest of the day.

Saw IV opens this Friday, October 26th, 2007. Go see it!