‘I am so ready to play a gay nightclub owner, a man who dances and has this great joie de vivre.”
Tobin Bell is pitching the idea that casting him against type – as, say, a doctor, lawyer, nightclub owner or orchestra conductor – would be pretty cool.
“An orchestra conductor,” he enthuses, embracing that. “ Thank you.”
Not that he’s not grateful for the work that’s come along. He was a 60-something character player from The Actor’s Studio when fame came calling, in the form of a little, low-budget horror movie that launched a genre – “torture porn” – and a franchise.
The tall, blond Bell, with his owlish eyes and judgmental whisper of a voice, has been John Kramer – aka “Jigsaw” – in six “Saw” movies since 2004.
The seventh, “Saw 3D,” opens in theaters today.
Bell, 68, plays a wealthy, dying man who conceives elaborate tortures for people he deems unworthy of life, putting each one in a deadly dilemma that requires them to do something awful to themselves or someone else.
The films have been so successful, coming out every year just in time for Halloween, that the little matter of Bell’s character dying in the series hasn’t stopped them, or even slowed them down.
Though the middle films in the series earned awful, even derisive reviews, “Saw VI” provoked praise from the Boston Globe for Bell’s “nasty moral philosopher and judge.”
“ ‘Saw’ has been a puzzle,” Bell says. “It doesn’t play out in a linear way. It goes forward and backward and sometimes what you think you’re seeing you’re not really seeing.
“Piecing it together has been a real challenge for every filmmaker they’ve brought in to do these, making those pieces fit.”
Tim Anderson, a writer for the horror site Bloodydisgusting.com, says Bell “really understands how to intone the moral certainly of the character … sympathetic, yet fearsome.
“Bell sitting across from Donnie Wahlberg in ‘Saw II’ and just talking for the entire film is a mesmerizing performance.”
Bell knows he’s been typecast, thanks to “Saw.” But he knew that upon coming to Hollywood.
He’d been a struggling actor on the New York stage for years, when his Actor’s Studio mentor Catlin Adams decided to have “the character actor chat” with him.
“She said, ‘You can take this any way you want, but you should go to Hollywood and start playing bad guys. You’d be good at it,’ ” he recalls.
“I was astounded. I thought I was going to play sensitive, intelligent romantic leads.”
But even if life isn’t working out as he’d planned, Bell has no complaints. Strap him to one of Jigsaw’s torture gadgets and he justifies himself this way:
“I coach my son’s Pony League baseball team, I hike the White Mountains, I play guitar. And I work.
“Remember what John Kramer always says: ‘Appreciate your blessings.’ ‘Saw’ has been a great blessing for me.”