You play an arrogant surgeon in Saw. What was the most appealing to you about this character?
I like the fact that he was a guy who had become complacent in his life and who had taken his life for granted. And I like that it was a dark morality tale. I mean here was a killer who was torturing these people or be it with the auspices of getting them to appreciate their life and I thought that was a very twisted way of looking at a morality tale. I don’t think I’ve ever hear of anyone doing that before so I thought that was unique. I also thought that the filmmakers and their vision of how they wanted to bring the script to the screen--[director] James Wan sent me a little DVD--riveting, with Leigh [writer/actor] Whannel playing the role that Shawnee plays in the film with the reverse bear trap on her hands and I’m watching this thing and a little puppet comes out on a tricycle and I’m like “What is this? What is going on here?” and I was so intrigued that by the time I’d read the script, which I read in one sitting, I already knew that these guys were definitely on to something.
How did it help you to get into character to be in one solitary place?
Well there’s only so much you can do chained to a pipe [laughs]. It really has to do with the emotional content of the character and James and I worked together. In the script it wasn’t really written that my character has that manic breakdown and I thought that would be interesting only because in the movie you start out and see Dr. Gordon as being somewhat of a paternalistic character, he’s sort of trying to calm Adam down, and he’s the more smooth and calm one. I said to James that I thought it would be interesting if they swapped roles halfway through so that by the end of the movie Leigh’s character would be the calmer of the two and that Gordon had just lost the plot. I thought that would be interesting. But other than that we filmed what you saw from the script. These guys have worked long and hard on the script and there wasn’t much room for adding or taking away.
Was it weird working with the fellow who wrote it as a fellow actor?
I’ve had that question before and it’s a good question. No, on the contrary, I thought it might be. Leigh is a fun guy. I met him and I knew I was in for some fun. He’s not precious at all, he’s not precious about anything. He’s a self-deprecating very funny man who is talented as an actor, I already saw that in the DVD when James sent it to me. And to see the two working together is great because they’re really like brothers, they absolutely think alike. Working with them must be like working with the Cohen brothers because these two would finish each others sentences and they absolutely understood the intricacies of the character in the scripts and that was extremely helpful especially if James happened to be busy at one moment you could always go to the other for questions. That was wonderful.
When you read it did they have the same vision of your character as you did?
Very much so; I think we all decided this. I think it was a very simple scenario of one of us coming to the table and realizing we all had the same vision. It’s a wonderful thing to work with collaborative filmmakers. Sometimes as an actor you’re just asked to show up, hit your mark, and say a line and the directors can be very demonstrative, dictatorial and very precious with their material and sometimes that can be very challenging for an actor because you feel constrained. The worst thing you can do to an actor is to not let him or her express themselves, so when you come across a director who will allow you to express yourself it’s a blessing.
Many directors are relatively new--what do you look for to know that it’s right?
Well a combination of seeing the short that James had made with the script. When I met him he had a great big portfolio under his arm and I said “what’s that?” and he proceeded to open it and show me all the wonderful drawings and painting that he’d done. He’d drawn the sets already himself, he knew exactly what the set was going to look like right down to the hanging overhead lights. He drew every little costume, the pig head, every little ball, he even brought out this blueprint of the reverse bear mask and I said “what is that?” it was so detailed with all these intricate little rues and nuts and bolt and he said “yeah, that’s because it’s operational”[laughs] and I went “OK”. So one thing you look for in a director is their preparedness. I’ve been unfortunate in that I’ve not asked the right questions in the past and found myself in situations that I don’t care to repeat. I’ve learnt over the years that there are important questions you might want to ask a first time director and if they’re smart enough to have made a short like James did than already 90% of the fears the actor might have are taken care of.
What were some of your favourite roles?
That’s a good question. I think the ones that have been most rewarding for me, obviously not the ones where I’ve worked with director who are incompetent, I think that I’ve been blessed and those were few and far between so for the most part most of the roles that I’ve played have been very rewarding for me so I come away with so much after finishing filming a movie. I find that it’s a wonderful gift what I get to do for a living. I get to study the aspect of being an astronaut, learning from an astronaut--Dave Smith/Apollo 14. I get to learn how to race cars from Dale Earnhardt. I get to do all kinds of things that I normally wouldn’t get to do.
Did you go to heartless surgeons who don’t know anybody’s name for this one?
No, I based that based on people I run across in life. It’s truly sad when you come across that. I was fortunate enough to be able to spend time with a real neurosurgeon at UCLA and he was extremely helpful to me in helping me prepare for the role. As far as the qualities that this character possessed, his complacency and indifference, I just based that on people that I’ve come across in life. I know I’ve been guilty of being complacent.
You’ve had a lot of successes and you’d think as an actor you’d get to that place?
Sure, I’m just as guilty as the next person. I don’t think any of us are incapable of becoming complacent at one time or another.
How do you get yourself off of that?
I now tend to focus on counting my blessings as much as I can, that helps to keep me a little more grounded.
Do you like horror movies?
I do. I tend to lean on people who say this is a horror movie. I’d say it’s more of a psychological thriller that happens to be very graphic and then people say ‘well if it’s that graphic then it should be called a horror movie’ and I say “well I don’t think so, I think that it’s a lot more intellectual than that.” I think that most horror movies you tend to see that are in that generic genre tend to be movie in which women are objectified or victims scantily clad waiting to be killed by some slasher with a knife. That’s not this film at all and I don’t tend to watch those kinds of movies. The only one that really appealed to me when I was a kid was Halloween, the very first one, and even though Jamie Leigh was he victim and she played the vulnerability she also brought and enormous amount of strength to the character and I think that was the first person to bring that quality to that role. That’s why I say that this is more of a psychological thriller it just happens to have a lot of graphic.
What was your favourite torture?
The most creative not favourite, you mean the ones I try to practice at home?[laughs] I thought they were all extremely creative. I remember reading it and thinking “that should be interesting. I wonder how they’re going to do that?” The guy in the cage really disturbed me and I remember seeing a film when I was a kid and it dealt with each different character in the insane asylum and one of the characters was relating a story about--he was blind--he was relating a story about how in this blind peoples home this new president arrived to take over the blind people’s home and replaced this very compassionate guy and this new guy that came in was a real hard-ass and he started treating all the guys like they were in the army and cutting off their privileges and really tormenting them and so one day they kidnap him and knock him out and blind fold him and while he’s blind folded and the screen goes dark you can hear all this hammering, finally the screen comes on and you can see the guy and they remove the blind fold and you can see all this barb wire in front of him and there’s just one exit and as he walks towards it they switch off the lights. When I read this I wondered if James had seen that because I remember seeing it as a kid and it really stayed with me. Very creepy.
What do you think your character did when the camera stopped rolling?
Oh I don’t know. I think he probably bled to death [laughs].
That was your idea for him to lose it?
Yeah, I thought that was a good way for him to go out. His lesson was learned the hard way. No happy endings here. Thank God there was no studio going, “we should test that and reshoot that.”
Have you made anything since?
I did a film called
Isn’t that the film that Justin Timberlake is in?
Yes, and he’s wonderful in the movie. He truly is. Justin plays a young idealistic reporter who goes to work for a little town gazette in the fictitious town of Edison and his mentor is Morgan Freeman and through the course of the story he starts discovering the level of corruption in the city and he wants to do something about it and of course nobody wants to help him and it’s about his trials and tribulations. That’s Justin’s role. I play one of the corrupt officials. Great fun. Kevin Spacey’s in it.
Do you like to play the bad guy?
I’ll take any role that’s interesting but the bad guy parts tend to be a lot more juicy and there’s much more gray area to play with.
Is there anybody you particularly like to work with, or something you’d like to explore as an actor?
There are many. I’d like to do a play. I haven’t really done a play. I’ve done one off Broadway called “Exonerated” but I’d like to do one on Broadway or the
Do you live here?
Yeah. I live in LA, so it’s hard. I’d have to move to
Do you have a favourite genre?
I like historical pieces. History was my favourite subject in school, it was the only subject I excelled in. All the others I absolutely just sucked at. I love the idea of history and the idea that we may have the opportunity to learn from our past mistakes.
Is there a part of history that you think has been misrepresented?
I think that Glory was a wonderful example of that. Here’s a textbook that never made it into anybody’s curriculum and a great story. A great movie and a true story, and one that had been completely left off the books, so I was very proud to be involved in that. It dealt with a piece of history that very few people knew about.
Ella Enchanted, the movie with Anne Hathaway, was that a lot of fun?
Oh yeah, great fun. The director really just said there’s the level you can go to, there’s the level you should go to. [laughs] I realize when you’re working there’s no over the top. I was working with a CGI snake there wasn’t much I could do to underplay this part. We filmed that in
What was it?
Have you been there? It’s gorgeous. I did a film with Billy Baldwin it’s called Sakura. I’m not sure when it’ll be released but it was a period piece, civil war era of Japan- American civil war, I play the first ambassador to
Do you find that people remember you from The Princess Bride?
Yeah, I’m grateful for that. I think that as an actor you’re lucky to be remembered for one movie and if that’s it I’m truly blessed. It’s a wonderful film, it has a lot of heart and I’m glad I’ll be remembered for something that’s positive rather than negative.
(by Staci Layne Wilson)