As Jill Tuck, ex-wife to the scheming puppet master Jigsaw, Betsy Russell has had a major role in the Saw series for the past several years. A busy actress throughout the eighties and nineties, Russell took a break from the industry to raise a family but achieved cult stardom when she became part of the Saw cast. But more than just your average scream queen, Russell believes the films work on a number of different levels. During a recent trip to New York to promote Saw 3D, the actress shared her personal feelings about the series…
At what point in the process, going back to Saw IV did you know what was in the box and where that was going to take the character?
I didn’t know there was a box; I don’t think any of us did until V so you never know until you read the script and there it is and think, ‘Oh my gosh, I can’t believe this is happening!’ So every time, it’s a new experience every time I open those scripts. And a lot of cast members don’t get the last 20 pages so most of them don’t even know. But I’ve been privileged, I’ve been able to read the end each time when a lot of them haven’t. It’s quite mysterious.
As an actor, how do you channel the fear and emotions needed to play this character?
I’ve had a lot of drama in my life and I think I’ve used it well. I’ve had a lot of pain and a lot of break-ups and miscarriages. When I was 20, I didn’t have all of that to pull from so I’m grateful that my life has been topsy-turvy. I really use that a lot in my character study, for sure.
Was there an added sense of responsibility, knowing this was going to be the final chapter?
I was definitely feeling the pressure with this one, just to do a great job and to end on a high note in a way; to be the best Jill I could possibly be.
Who are the fans of Saw if you had to describe them?
These fans get it. They get that Saw has a heart and soul and a life of its own. Seriously, I read these things and tears are falling down my face. I do spiritual psychology and these people are very spiritual and they are getting the message behind Saw, which is, appreciate your life. Be grateful for every moment and make the best choices you can and forgiveness.
If you really read between the lines and listen, that’s what I take away from Jigsaw and his plan, putting people in traps because we’re doing things the way that he doesn’t believe is the way they should be done. He has an opportunity, having cancer to say, ‘Okay, I know the end of my life is coming; these people don’t necessarily know when it’s going to happen, but if they did and the time is now, what choices would they make differently?’
So are you saying Jigsaw is a force of good?
I think behind everything that he’s doing, in the end his message is ‘Gratitude’ and ‘Making the right choices!’
What was the experience of shooting the film in 3D like?
Betsy: We weren’t really saying, ‘Okay, this is 3-D; we’re going to have to look this way or that way! It was just that every scene took hours to set up. Everything took forever and the cameras were huge. The whole process was very slow, but it was cool. They would say, ‘We have a little bit of stuff cut together; do you want to check it out?’
I would go to a corner where there was a big screen TV and we would put the cool little glasses on and watch the scenes cut together and think, ‘This is so cool!’ I haven’t actually seen that many 3-D movies, but it’s actually like being in the scene.
Do you have any good stories about working with Tobin (Jigsaw) Bell?
Tobin is great. It was nice to see him again after so long and work with him again. For a guy who’s playing a serial killer, he’s actually a big softie. He has a son a year younger than my kid’s age and we live in the same neighborhood. My son recently said, ‘Mom isn’t it weird that you guys both live in this little community? If there are Saw fans out there, don’t you think they should come to this neighborhood?’ Anyway, his son plays baseball and he’s the coach to his eighth or ninth grade son’s baseball team, so he’s get into the huddle with them and start doing the Jigsaw voice so he’s really into it.
As an actor, to be working with somebody like him is a dream. I would say, ‘Tobin, what are you doing here sitting next to me having lunch?’ and he’ll say, ‘I didn’t really come down to have lunch; I just think we should really talk about our scene and how we’re going to approach the producers about getting a little more time with this or rewriting that.’ He’s engrossed and obsessed and wants to make it the best movie it could possibly be. That’s why they’ve kept him around for so long, because he’s so great at what he does and he gives a thousand percent.
Have you started thinking about the legacy of Saw in terms of the genre?
I think about it all the time. I think that my grandkids are hopefully going to be in love with Jill Tuck saying, ‘Oh my God, that’s my grandmother up there!’ or, ‘That’s my great grandmother up there!’ I’m hoping that my kids are going to be studying Saw at college; hopefully they’ll go to college, but it’s incredible to be an actress anyway and to hopefully leave something to the world and to leave a legacy like this for our fans. It’s a great feeling and I’m really grateful.
You can take away from Saw whatever you want to take away, but subconsciously I think people are getting the message, that there is a message, like, ‘Think about it before you make that choice to go steal or rip people off or run over that person and be a hit and run driver.’ Think about it: Jigsaw could be after you!
Saw 3D is released October 29, 2010