SHAWNEE SMITH on 'SAW 3' Contributed by Michael J. Lee, Executive Editor for Radio Free Entertainment
October 21, 2006
In Saw 3, the insidious Jigsaw (Tobin Bell) and his parter in crime Amanda (Shawnee Smith) return for a third and decisive round of twisted, gruesome games. Debilitated and bedridden by his terminal disease, the meticulous sociopath kidnaps a young doctor (Bahar Soomekh) to care for him, while Amanda monitors an unsuspecting man (Angus Macfadyen) as he navigates through a series of horrific tests designed to exploit his innermost desires of vengeance. But as Jigsaw's magnum opus reaches its crescendo, it becomes clear that he has masterminded a plot that is more intricate than his victims could have guessed.
A minor player in the first Saw and part of an ensemble in Saw 2, Shawnee moves into the role of a central figure in the third installment of the franchise--and without a doubt, she is the highlight of the film. Amanda graduates into a fully realized character, and Shawnee plays her with a perfect blend of insanity, fear, and rage, resulting in a screen villain with formidable presence--a woman scorned, who proves more unpredictable and dangerous than Jigsaw ever was. It's a surprising transformation that Shawnee's longtime fans will appreciate, and starkly contrasts the many sweet and comedic characters she has played in the past.
Saw 3 is directed by Darren Lynn Bousman, with a script from franchise co-creator Leigh Whannell. In this interview, Shawnee talks about the making of the movie, and some of the surprisingly comical behind the scenes moments.
MEDIA: Were you excited at how this script delved into the character of Amanda?
SHAWNEE: Are you kidding? Oh my gosh. And then it evolved, kind of like a Becker script, you know? It's a truly collaborative process, these Saw movies, which make them just so unique and satisfying for everybody.
Was it the plan from the very beginning of the series to make Amanda a central character?
Not at all...There seems to be a kind of force--like in the sense of "may the force be with you"--behind this...Saw philosophy. It's kind of got like this force of its own. It's as if...it was all meticulously laid out and planned, and all these threads were like purposefully woven into this rich fabric--this character [of Amanda]. Which is so hilarious, because I did Becker for years, but it was a joke that I never had an arc. [laughs] And now it's like somehow--and it totally snuck up on me--I have this arc that just has kind of no beginning, and somehow it all connects in a meaningful way.
How do you think your performance in Saw 2 connects to your performance in Saw 3?
There were a lot of things in Saw 2, choices that I made, that were just kind of intuitive, and I didn't really think about them a lot. And after doing Saw 3, I watched Saw 2 again, and it was really kind of freaky--you know, like choices that I made just kind of on an intuitive level made sense. Maybe it's that force thing. Or luck. Who knows?
How was it working opposite Tobin Bell this time around?
Tobin's like a whole other level, right? I'll never work the same after working with him. He raised the bar. And acting is a tennis match. So the better your opponent, the better you're going to be. If I was a superstar and could choose my cast, I would always choose people who were better than me, because then you [rise to their level]. And Tobin is incredibly industrious. I mean, he's instinctual, but he's also very meticulous mentally about it.
We understand this was a pretty friendly set. Did you join the boys on their late night drinking binges?
You know, I can party like a rock star. I really can. But Saw 2, I was pregnant, right? And I couldn't tell anybody. So they thought I was really anti-social. They thought I was like method acting in my chair, with my headphones on. I was just trying to not throw up and conserve my energy. [laughs] And then in Saw 3, I had this four-month old son, and my daughter, who turned 7 while we were filming. We had a great big birthday cake. Oh, it's great. I went from like some twisted scene to [my daughter's] birthday party at lunchtime. I'd clean myself up really quick, so she's doesn't see any kind of residue, and come out. And they were slicing the cake, and I'm saying, "Make sure you serve everybody." You know, it's like Little House on the Prairie. [laughs] It's hilarious. You know, but this is life. This is the substance of what's in this planet--I mean, there's the light and there's the dark.
Was there a lot of goofing off between takes?
Oh, please! You have to! I think about this all the time: I was a kid and I did Iron Eagle, and I was working with Lou Gossett, Jr. He was doing the scene where he was just intense. They'd say action, and spit was flying out of his mouth. I mean, he was so razor-focused. And they'd say cut, and he'd be like, [casually] "So, anyways..." Like in the middle of a joke! And I said, "How do you do this?" And he said, "Shawnee, if I tried to stay in this state all day long, I'd be wiped." You know, like you've got to be conservative about your energy. And the more you do it, the more confidence you get that it'll be there when you reach for it. And that's another gift of making these movies the way that we make them...In that kind of environment, you, as an actress, feel safe to relax, and play, and experiment, and grow, and take the chances. And that's such a gift. I mean, cut from that to my two different days on two different Michael Bay movies where I thought like, "Why the hell did I ever think I could act?" I mean, I had four lines, I couldn't say any of them. I'm like supposed to pour tea and serve, and he's like, "You're talking like an idiot! Talk to them like a human being!" I'm like, "Oh my God, I've got to go kill myself!"
How could your experience of doing a few lines in those Michael Bay movies differ so radically from your experiences as the lead in Saw 3, or director George Mendeluk's Undercover?
It's so much harder to be that day player and come in, and you see a totally different perspective. Like George is the warmest, nicest, kindest, most free creatively director you could work for, and there were moments where it just happened to be that he had the pressure on him, so he was kind of short with this actress and she like fumbled with the lines. And it's like it's so much harder to have the four lines in the movie on the day than to be the lead, and be a part of it. And there's also like a responsibility in that position of the lead to try and offer some warmth and a little humor, and make it as comfortable as possible. And I appreciate the leads in movies I've done, or directors, who make just that little bit of effort to let you breathe, to be able to give something.
Last year, for Saw 2, you and co-star Emmanuelle Vaugier told us a funny story about producer Gregg Hoffman taking one for the team and doing a stunt that involved him getting kicked in a "sensitive area"...
Any comical moments like that on Saw 3?
The joke theme of Saw 3 was definitely flatulence.
Apparently, there's a story about a deviled egg?
Oh, the deviled egg! I forgot about it. Like the incredible, edible egg, right? It's like a perfect food. It's so good for your body, and you're working, and it's something you can eat fast. Well, they bring out the eggs on Saw 2 at a certain time of the day, and then apparently, everyone would get really bad gas. In all my years, I've never put the two together until Mr. Bousman made a rule on set. I didn't know till I had an egg in my hand, and I was about to eat it, and he was like, "Ugh! Gross! Get off of my set! Don't eat that thing on my set, there are no eggs allowed!" And I was like, "What are you talking about?" And he was really like awful about it. And so he turned his head for a second, and I took the egg, and I scrunched it and dropped it in his side pocket of his chair, and made like I ate the thing, like defiantly. Like, "Screw you, I'm going to eat this egg!" [laughs] And for like hours, he kept smelling [the egg]...He says, "Shawnee, I smell rotten egg!" [laughs] I'm like, "Darren, you're tripping. I don't know what you're talking about...Do you mind if I go to finish my make-up for the next scene so we can stay on schedule and do our work?" Oh, he could not figure it out! He was so upset by it.
Did he eventually find it?
He found it. And then I took the thing and I emptied it and I scrubbed it and got all the egg smell out.
Being so familiar with Jigsaw's methods, were you surprised by Saw 3's ending?
I don't know how surprised I was, but I was devastated.
Was this the most emotional installment of Saw for you to do?
By far. Part one was just an utter horror, and Saw 2 was like being disconnected from everybody and hiding and working against caring...But part three is like a love story. I mean, [Amanda], with heart, mind, and soul, is devoted to [Jigsaw], and she loves him. He's her everything. And she's devoted to this truth, and this love. I know we're talking about horror, part three, but hear me out. [laughs] And 95% of her is capable of [having] the strength to serve this greater [truth]...For Amanda just to get to a point in life where she could serve another human being...I mean, for me, personally, that's a noble place to get to. Like something to strive for, right? To just serve another human being out of choice and sacrifice? That's big. And 95% of her is capable, but there's 5% [that is not]. And that's all it takes to bring down a house.