Actor Tobin Bell
“The Seven” interview by Vanessa Mapes
Q1: What was your experience like during the photoshoot?
It was a relaxed, spirited crew, which always makes a huge difference. We had fun and moved along quickly. I almost fell off the roof a couple of times, but except for that… haha. Working with Fabien Martorell is always a treat. We’d worked together previously on his film Unbelief, which was well-received. He’s a brave soul… I credit him with being the first director to let me to sing in a film! Haha. He’s organized, thoughtful, quietly artistic… not a lot of blah, blah, blah.
Q2: How would you say your eminent role in the Saw and Jigsaw series affected your career?
I’d been in the acting business for thirty years before SAW. I’d worked on at least a hundred films and television shows, and I did a lot of theater in New York, but when you play the central character in a popular series like SAW, people get to know you in a different light. It boosts your visibility and popularity. I’m very grateful for that. Mostly, I appreciate all the Saw fans and their love for our story. Horror devotees are smart, dedicated film-goers.
Q3: What first drew you to acting?
I was moved by actors on the screen at a very early age. I wanted to do what they did, live in their world, effect others the way I’d been effected by them. Those artists truly touched my heart... Gary Cooper, Montgomery Clift, Marlon Brando, Geraldine Page, Karl Malden, Ellen Burstyn, Al Pacino, James Dean, Eva Marie Saint. They revealed their soul to me. Their skill was magical… love, belief, caring… all in one. Shakespeare described the actor’s craft as “a dream of passion.” I wanted to find a path to that dream. Also, the thought of a 9-5 job repelled me.
Q4: Where do you derive your inspiration from as an actor? What are some of your favorite movies?
I delve deeply into what my character “means” by what he says. The same words can mean lots of different things. It's often the subtleties that define. I ask myself in preparation… Who am I? Where am I? What do I want? When do I want it? How am I going to get it? I paraphrase my character’s words with my own words. In addition, I attempt to truly connect with my fellow actor in the scene. The camera sees everything, especially “real connection”.
Some of my favorite films are School of Rock, High Noon, Wolf Creek, Love Actually, On the Waterfront, The Descent, Dog Day Afternoon, The Wizard of Oz, The King’s Speech, Hostiles, The Breadwinner & Hans Christian Andersen with Danny Kaye. I also love the recent releases Adrift with Shailene Woodleym and Tully with Charlize Theron. They’re powerful must-sees. Talk about connection… check out Shailene Woodley’s relationship with Sam Claflin in Adrift.
Q5: How did growing up in Massachusetts help shape you as a person?
I grew up in Weymouth, a working class, shoe-factory town on the south shore of Boston, where high school football was king. It was a time when children were more independent, not so many worries… crime, kidnapping etc. There were no “minivan Moms” giving kids rides everywhere. A lot of parents worked two jobs or had long hours. I walked and RAN places a lot… to school, drum lessons, cub scouts, football practice, church, home for supper, home before the street-lights went on. I walked two miles to school everyday in sleet, rain, blizzards, snow drifts, sheet ice, slush of the New England winter. I feel like I sound like an old fuck saying that…but it’s true. Massachusetts’ weather doesn’t cut you any slack. When I think back it was kind of cool, a kind of adventure. And, in the summer, the humidity often reached 100%, we went from one extreme to the other. I adored Weymouth, it instilled values of hard work, team-play, respect for others and persistence… all of which came into play on the road to becoming an actor.
Q6: What has been your favorite role you’ve played so far in your career?
FBI agent Earnest Stokes, in the film Mississippi Burning. In 1985, British director Alan Parker pulled me off the streets of New York and brought me down to the Deep South… to be part of his important film about the 60’s civil rights movement. It was my first speaking role in a major motion picture. It was the culmination of the 22 years it took me to get there. To be part of an important story like Mississippi Burning was amazing, and to be working with actors like Gene Hackman, Francis McDormand, Kevin Dunn, Willem Defoe, Brad Dourif, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Michael Rooker was breath-taking. I was being paid to visit the Mississippi Delta where the Blues was born, to observe the rich Civil War history there. it was overwhelming for me. It’s deeply etched in my memory.
Q7: How do you go through creating and becoming your character? Is there a certain ritual you do before your scene in which you step into your character’s persona?
I stay focused when I am on a set. Many actors like to relax, take a break, goof-around a bit a bit between “takes”, blow-off steam. Everybody has their own approach to their work. I like to stay within the skin of whatever my character’s doing or feeling. I usually know instinctually when a “take” is special and something real has occurred. I rarely look at the monitors that are on most sets. Of course, there are lots of technical problems and glitches to overcome on any set. One has to remain patient and not become frustrated. There are lots of factors involved… sound, focus, camera angles, lighting, timing, etc.
As far as having any “certain ritual”, years ago my mother gave me an 18 karat gold Saint Genesius medal. He’s the patron saint of actors. It travels with me in a small pouch. Before I go onto a set, I hold it in my hand, say a prayer, ask for guidance and thank all the teachers who’ve helped me over the years. Then, I zip it back into its pouch and enter the world of make-believe.