Tobin Bell has had a career as an actor that any aspiring performer would assuredly be jealous of. Bell has amassed more than 100 credits throughout four decades in front of the camera. And the man behind the Jigsaw killer in the Saw franchise isn’t done yet. His latest movie, Belzebuth, a dark, terrifying new tale of demonic possession, is here.
Belzebuth is directed by Emilio Portes, from a script co-written by Portes and Luis Carlos Fuentes. Aside from Tobin Bell, it stars Joaquin Cosio and Tate Ellington. The movie centers on Special Agent Emanuel Ritter, who leads a police investigation into a series of shocking deaths. But after a priest from the Vatican finds a link between the murders and an ancient demon, a descent into horror ensues.
I was lucky enough to speak with Tobin Bell recently in honor of Belzebuth‘s release. We discussed his legacy in the Saw franchise, what still keeps him going at this point in his career and much more. Enjoy.
We’re here to talk about Belzebuth, your new movie. Just for our readers’ sake, if you don’t mind, in your own words, how would you describe the movie?
Tobin Bell: Well, it’s an amazing mix of the marriage between demonology, which is an ancient part of Mexican culture, going back to Aztec and Mayan religion in some way. So it’s a mix of demonology with a more modern, Catholic religion. It’s fascinating in that way. A study in spirituality. That doesn’t sound terribly exciting for a horror movie. But I mean, the character that I play is father Vasilio Canetti. He is a former Vatican priest who discovers that a messiah is on Earth and he’s a small child, and he goes and he tells his superiors what has been revealed to him. They don’t listen.
So he takes off his collar and he vows to try to find this child himself, to try to protect it. That’s his jumping on place. He travels the world and eventually discovers that the child is in a third-world country. He ends up in Mexico and finds that there are evil forces that are trying to find this child at the same time that he is trying to find them. These evil forces are trying to kill him, kill the child, and so he aligns himself with the forces. These demonic forces believe he is one of them, and his intent is to try to find this child before they do. That’s the jumping off point for my character.
It’s just an amazing mix. You learn a lot about demonology. About ancient culture. Some of the things that modern-day religion has grown out of. I mean, we still have elements of that when you look at things like exorcisms. There are marvelous actors in the film… We got to work in so many amazing locations. I got the chance to be on the stage at Churubusco studios, which is a historic studio in Mexico City… Some rural locations and some very urban locations. Good stuff.
Especially in your more recent career, you’ve had a long and very successful career, you’ve done a lot of genre movies and a lot of horror. What is it as an actor that is attractive about the horror genre to you?
Tobin Bell: For me, it’s all in the writing. It’s the writing. I mean, I really have not done that much horror. I was integral in the Saw films… I haven’t really done that much horror. But I’ve rubbed shoulders with a lot of horror fans. And I have great appreciation for what can be accomplished in the horror genre. You can accomplish as much in horror as you can in any other genre. It comes down to the writing. If the writing is great, assuming that the other elements are there, but the writing has got to be there.
Otherwise, you’re gonna end up with a one or two-dimensional film. Without sufficient character development or relationship development. That’s why the genre has been sort of the weak sister. traditionally, as far as Oscar nominations and that sort of thing, because not enough emphasis was put into the writing.
Only because you touched on it. Again, you’ve had a long, just incredible career. But you are probably best known now as John Kramer from Saw. What was it like for you getting this iconic role that helped define this modern horror franchise after you had already been working in the industry for so many years?
Tobin Bell: Well, when you become an actor, you want to do the best work you can do. Fortunately, I had an opportunity to work with producers, directors and other actors who were willing to shape and develop scripts that we would start out with and try to improve, and make them better, and create layering in the film. Because they obviously have a great ability regarding the special effects.
The traps, the scares, the twists and the turns. But when it comes to character, when it comes to relationships and motivation, the things that make you care about people in the film sometimes that needs some finessing. So I was fortunate to be able to be part of a team that wanted to do that.
You asked me what it feels like to be so well known for that. When you become an actor, if you have that opportunity once in a career, it’s a wonderful thing, no matter what genre it is in. When you look at John Kramer, he is huge. The character, in terms of John’s Wound, I mean a little bit of a philosopher, a theologian, he reads a lot, he loves music. He’s interested in archaeology. He’s an architect. He was trained as a mechanical engineer. He’s got so many qualities. That’s why you become an actor.
To play a guy like that, when you get a chance. And in the case of John Kramer, it was gradual. I mean, I did Saw and then went to the Czech Republic to do a series for NBC, completely not even thinking about Saw anymore. Then Saw II came around, we did some work on that, and it became what it became. You never know when you say yes to something where it’s gonna go. So, I recommend saying yes if you can.
In broad terms, if you don’t mind, you’ve been doing this a long time, and, correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think you have to do this anymore. So what is it that keeps you going? What is it that keeps you energized? What is it that makes you still want to show up and do a movie like this, this far into your career?
Tobin Bell: I want to do good work. I want to bring what I have to a project and try to make it better if I can. There are other elements involved that make you say yes to different projects. It’s about work with committed artists. A particular actor you never worked with. I did Saw because I really was a fan of Danny Glover, and I had never worked with them. That’s a good reason. Or maybe the location. Somebody wants you to go to the Mississippi Delta.
Where you’ve never been. Where the blues was born, and rock ‘n roll. Why would you not go? Maybe the writing is not great in the project that you’re in, but there are enough elements to make you say yes. Then you go down there and you do your best work, and you try to help make something better. As a matter of fact, you learn more doing things that aren’t that good because you have to be better. You try to elevate the piece and do what you can in that way.
Belzebuth is available on VOD, Digital HD, DVD and Blu-ray from Shudder and RLJE Films now.