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Tapping his killer instincts

September 10, 2006|Melissa Pamer | Times Staff Writer

FORMALLY trained actor Tobin Bell has empathy for even demented killers. At least one, anyway. Jigsaw, the psychotic mastermind he plays in the "Saw" movies, will be back in time for Halloween in "Saw III," opening Oct. 27, and Bell is delighted.

"I always try to remain on the character's side," says Bell, who spent 28 lean years working in theater in New York, much of that time at the Actors Studio. With Jigsaw, he's hit the jackpot. The first movie was made for $1.2 million in 2004, and the franchise has since grossed more than $250 million worldwide.

"He's a technician and a philosopher," Bell generously says of the film's sadistic killer. "But he obviously takes things to an extreme."

With his frosty blue stare and cropped white hair, the 59-year-old Bell fits the character-actor bill well. And despite his theater training -- and not watching horror movies himself ("I don't like being scared in the theater") -- Bell doesn't disdain the genre.

"I consider it a challenge to be working in horror, to try to bring something surprising to it," he says. It doesn't hurt that his 10-year-old son's friends think he's the ultimate in cool for playing the part.

The last "Saw" installment seemed to leave Bell's character near death after a brutal beating by a police detective. But the first rule of horror, of course, is that the killers always find a way back. The surprise ending revealed that Jigsaw now has an eager assistant to help him create his sadistic games -- in which victims must discover their own survival instinct, usually on the other side of a puddle of blood, or die trying. Very often, it's the latter.

The producers are keeping the plot of "Saw III" under wraps, but Bell said Jigsaw, a cancer patient, is on his deathbed in the new film. Nonetheless, Bell can see himself continuing to play Jigsaw far into the future, he said.

Could "Saw 4ever" be coming soon to a theater near you?

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