Saw celebrates its 10th anniversary this year. Let that sink in for a minute. Now, reflect on how far its creators – James Wan and Leigh Whannell – have come. The former is currently in post-production on Furious 7 (the seventh installment in the Fast & Furious franchise) following directing gigs on horror hits like The Conjuring and Insidious. The latter also has Insidious to thank for his continued success; he penned the first two entries as well as the third which he directed.
These are exciting times for Wan and Whannell and, recently, they took time out of their busy schedule for a Saw reunion press conference at Lionsgate. In attendance: producer Mark Burg and Oren Koules, Shawnee Smith and Tobin Bell.
Later, I sat down with Wan and Whannell briefly to reflect on the last decade of their respective careers. The two speak candidly about the success of their working relationship, the original Saw and any possible regrets they may have had.
Ryan Turek: How do you look at Saw now? Like a stepping stone? With perhaps a hyper-critical eye?
Leigh Whannell: I think we look at it with a lot of affection. it kick-started our careers and made our dreams come true. When we met in film school, all we talked about was going to Hollywood and making a film. There are many people who have those dreams and desires, so it seems very out of reach – especially in Australia – and at least for me there was a rational part of my brain that would whisper to me, “This is not going to happen.” Nevertheless, when we got together, we just talked about it and made plans. When I look back at Saw, I know it’s the reason I’m here talking to you now.
James Wan: We’re not blind either. When I see it, I see a movie made by a kid with inexperience. I see the imperfections. Leigh and I look at it and we chuckle at a lot of things in it. It’s just the sense of humor we have, we’re very self-deprecating. The movie isn’t perfect. It’s rough and cheap and indie, but there’s something in there that makes us look at it with a lot of affection.
Whannell: When I look back at my acting for instance [laughs] I’ll look and say, “What was I thinking?” But, the film – the idea behind the film – to me hasn’t aged. That is not hokey. To this day, I’m still proud of the story of Saw. I’d probably write dialogue now, but the story itself…in the world of film, a great story can get you there. You might not have the biggest budget or resources or cast, but if you have a great story, people will latch onto it. I think we look at the film’s low budget quality with the safe affection that Sam Raimi would look at the Evil Dead films today. When he sits down to watch the film he probably laughs about it, but not in a derisive way.
Turek: Were there any times in the last 10 years where you felt the urge to slip back into the director’s chair for a Saw entry?
Wan: I’ve entertained the idea, but more from a fantasy standpoint. Maybe going back and doing another Saw with Leigh again, but that’s more of a fantasy. It’s a story Leigh and I really like, but who knows?
Turek: But how about through the original run, during the sequels?
Wan: I think I’ve mentioned this to Leigh, it just hit me not too long ago, a long period of my life and career, everyone saw me as the director of the Saw films. No one really cared I didn’t do the sequels, I was to them as the guy who did the Saw films. I didn’t get out from under the shadow of Saw until it was finished. Saw 7 came and went and then I came out of the shadow and broke out with Insidious. For several years, I made two other movies. Looking back in hindsight, I thought you know everybody thought I made the Saw sequels, maybe I should have done it and made a ton of money directing them.
Whannell: It would have been smarter.
Wan: Much smarter. I do look at it from that perspective. But if I had done that [Darren] Bousman would not have a career. [laughs]
Turek: That’s right! [laughs] But don’t hurt his feelings.
Whannell: We’re all friends here. [laughs]
[Editor’s note: This is an in-joke in the horror community and Wan is merely poking fun!]
Turek: You guys have a great working relationship – what’s the glue that has held that together?
Wan: I’ve been in this business for 10 or 11 years and there’s still no one I get along well with as I do with Leigh. We just have a great working relationship and are on the same level. We’ve been buddies for so long. We can say things to one another or throw dumb ideas as one another without offending each other. If we do get offended, we laugh it off. I think that has a lot to do with it. We are working together, but in different capacities. I’m technically now Leigh’s producer [on Insidious Chapter 3]. Hey, I just realized I’m your boss! Fuck man, you better not fuck this up. [laugh] But we still have that creative relationship, but now he’s the director. That’s kind of cool.
Whannell: There was a period last year where I felt adrift. I felt like it was a bit like the band breaking up. James, as long as I’v known him, has been wanting to work on this huge scale, like Terminator 2 and films he loved. I was admiring the fact he achieved that goal. Then it hit me, he wasn’t coming back. It was a scary time, I had to recalibrate because I was losing my partner in crime. I’d write a script, he’d direct it. This was prior to Insidious 3. I wrote a blog post about it. [laughs] I can’t release a solo album, I’ve always been in this band! But in directing myself, I ended up loving the job of directing. Now, one year later, I feel I’m in a different place. It’d be awesome to get together again – I’d write a film and he’d go off and direct. I have a newfound confidence thanks to him.
Turek: You guys have a nice creative marriage, and I think that still exists, you’re both being separately adventurous to keep that relationship fresh.
Wan: [laughs] I tell Leigh there’s nothing wrong with Ringo.
Whannell: I’ll take it, I’ll take it.
Saw returns to theaters everywhere beginning tonight – check your local listings to see if it’s playing near you.