Bell puts the buzz in 'Saw' movies

Dana Barbuto

Hollywood might see Tobin Bell as pure evil, but the Weymouth, Mass.-raised actor said the horror genre is not his favorite.

“When I used to go down to the theater at Weymouth Landing that is no longer there, it never was my favorite thing to duck down behind the seat in front of me or to cover my eyes as a child,” Bell said.

Decades later, the down-to-earth guy who calls his 90-year-old mother at least twice a week is one of cinema’s iconic villains, up there with Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees.

Bell plays Jigsaw, the vicious killer in the “Saw” franchise. “Saw V” opened Friday, and in it Jigsaw is again up to his grisly killing, this time targeting a murderer who has to decide to crush his own hands or die from a swinging pendulum.

For the uninitiated, Jigsaw (aka John Kramer) began setting traps for his victims after being diagnosed with incurable cancer. This was Jigsaw’s way of getting his victims to appreciate life. Bell said there is more to Jigsaw than just a psychopathic killer – there is a human side to him.

“That’s how you make a character interesting. You go the opposite way,” Bell said. “Too much of one thing is one-dimensional. You want to add layers to the personality of the characters you play. I always try to do that with Kramer.”

Bell, who was born Joseph Tobin but changed his name at Hollywood’s request, began acting in summer theater in Upstate New York. He studied with Oscar-winner Ellen Burstyn in New York City and now splits time between there and Los Angeles.

He was born in Queens but was raised in Weymouth, where he lived from age 6 until attending preparatory school at age 15. The “Saw” franchise is the biggest-grossing horror film series of all time and it’s projected to rake in $30 million this weekend.

“That would be good,” Bell said. The enduring appeal of “Saw” movies, Bell said is they are not average slasher pictures.

“When you see a good horror film it has elements in it that make it more attractive than just a scary film. I think the ‘Saw’ films do that. I think there are some concepts in those films – like appreciating your blessings and people who have everything but appreciate nothing.”

Apart from the special effects and plot twists, Bell said there is an intellectual aspect to the “Saw” movies.

“‘Saw’ is like a puzzle and doesn’t play out in a linear way. Pieces of the puzzle come into perspective in ‘Saw V,”' Bell said. “This amazing scene with Detective Hoffman will reveal a lot about Kramer’s relations with him and some of his motivations.”

Bell is certainly Hollywood’s go-to guy for horror. Of his next three films, only one is not in that genre. “Bump” and “Stalked” are due out next year. “Highway 61,” a rock ‘n’ roll road comedy, is slated for release later this year.

Reach Patriot Ledger writer Dana Barbuto at