LOS ANGELES Tobin Bell plays the killer named Jigsaw who ensnares victims in deadly games for the "Saw" horror film franchise that has captivated audiences with the same fervor Jigsaw dedicates to his bloody traps.
"Saw VI," Bell's latest Halloween date with moviegoers, opens on Friday, looking to add to the $665 million in ticket sales the franchise has generated at worldwide box offices since the debut of the first film in 2004.
DVD sales have surpassed 28 million units, and as a result of the films' success, the studio behind the franchise, Lions Gate Entertainment, is now a top horror movie maker.
Bell, 67, got his first break as an actor with a role in the 1988 civil rights drama "Mississippi Burning," but he is best known for playing Jigsaw, a mastermind who forces victims to deal with their own faults and fight to survive.
He spoke to Reuters about what scared him as a child, what inspired him to be an actor and the success of the Saw franchise.
Q: Do you think that Jigsaw has truly noble intentions in some way to get his victims to change for the better, or is he simply using that as a veneer to be cruel?
A: "He's not using anything as a veneer and he's sincere in what he says and what he does. Jigsaw, he doesn't lie. You may not like what he says, or what he does. But he doesn't lie."
Q: Who is the first person in your life you remember, or the first thing, that you ever feared?
A: "The Wicked Witch of the West in 'The Wizard of Oz.' And my father, depending on how much he had had to drink and what he had in his hands. Bless you dad, wherever you are."
Q: Did he ever beat you at all?
A: "Did he ever beat me? No, no, no, no. Did he hit me with a rubber boot one time? Yeah he did. But that's because I had left them in the hall, and he stumbled over them. I lived in Massachusetts so we got a lot of snow, so there was always rubber boots in the hall, ready for action."
Q: Has anyone you've known for a long time told you that they viewed you differently after seeing you as Jigsaw, and that they were more scared of you as a result?
A: "No. I know that's not a very long, flowery answer. But it's very true. No one has said that to me at all."
Q: I'd guess you didn't start out to become a horror film character. When you were in college, what did you study or what were you initially planning to become?
A: "Liberal arts and journalism, I was going to become a writer and be in broadcasting ... And (one) year I went to see a seminar, an evening with Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy that was held at (Boston University), and the two of them sat on stage and talked to theater arts students. I snuck in at the back ... and was just fascinated by their career and by their enthusiasm and their gentility.
"I guess in some part of me, I must have thought that I was going to miraculously go to New York and be catapulted into the lovely fame of a Hume Cronyn or a Jessica Tandy, and it doesn't work like that. So 20 years later, I was still working in restaurants and loading trucks and parking cars, and doing all the things that keep actors in the game. I worked, but I wasn't able to make a living as an actor for 15, 18 years, until Alan Parker hired me to do 'Mississippi Burning.'"
Q: I've read that you viewed yourself as more of a romantic lead, not necessarily a horror star. Would you have rather be cast in something like 'Sleepless in Seattle' or 'Saw'?
A: "'Saw,' no question about it ... You can spend 40 years in this business and never be part of as successful a series of films. And commercial success -- after all this is called show business -- commercial success is fleeting. So to be part of something that has been as successful commercially as 'Saw' is rare, so I kneel at the 'Saw' altar.
(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis: Editing by Bob Tourtellotte)