Exclusive Interview: Actress Shawnee Smith on the SAW Legacy

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SHOCK snares an exclusive interview with SAW series legend Shawnee Smith.

For a generation of kids raised watching movies in the 1980’s, seeing actress Shawnee Smith show up in director James Wan’s 2004 sleeper indie hit shocker SAW was the chief reason we stuck around. Smith’s presence in the cult 1987 comedy SUMMER SCHOOL (a lighthearted romp that featured characters in love with horror movies and gory FX) secured her status as one of the cool kids and then, with her lead role in Chuck Russell’s 1988 flesh-melter THE BLOB, the deal was done: she was officially one of the cool kids.

And though the ensuing years saw Smith appear in all manner of genre works (including the Mick Garris-directed Stephen King miniseries’ THE STAND and THE SHINING), it was with her appearance in SAW as Amanda, one of the few surviving victims of John Kramer aka Jigsaw’s mad morality flesh-shredding plot (and would-be murderous successor), that pushed her star into the sadistic stratosphere.

Now, with iTunes Digital offering the complete, uncut run of the SAW series as well as the newly produced documentary GAME CHANGER: THE LEGACY OF SAW, SHOCK felt the time was right to circle back and trap Lady Smith for a few serious questions about her role in the house that Jigsaw built.

SHOCK: Making a long running series like SAW, the cast and crew must become like a family; do you miss your SAW family?

SMITH: Yeah, you know, yeah, I do. I started acting when I was a kid and I was lucky enough to have been on several TV shows and like that, the SAW series is, you know…it’s such a weird life. To have this family then suddenly it’s over and you all disperse and it’s impossible to keep up with everyone. It’s never the same without that common purpose in the work. So yeah, I do miss it but I sure have great memories.

SHOCK: When you signed on to do the first film, obviously there was no intention of launching a franchise…

SMITH: Oh, no way. The first film was like “We have NO money and we want to make a movie, so lets get creative and put two guys in a bathroom!” No one had any idea it would become what it became.

SHOCK: Was your appearance in SUMMER SCHOOL the reason James wanted you? I know he’s a fan…

SMITH: Yeah, that was how James was aware of me for sure and then my manager for two decades was at Mark Berg’s company and so that’s how my name came up. James was a fan of those 80’s films like SUMMER SCHOOL and THE BLOB…

SHOCK: Amanda goes from victim to villain in the span of three pictures. At the end, did you think she was ultimately an evil character?

SMITH: She’s tragic. SAW III is a love story with a tragic ending and a near Shakespearean misunderstanding at its core. I always search for the humanity in a character but in hindsight I kind of wish Leigh (Whannell) had pushed me into super evil mode (laughs).

SHOCK: Did you have any wiggle room to contribute to Amanda’s character arc?

SMITH: I think it was a totally natural process. Whether it be in a sitcom or something like this, it’s just natural for the writers to work off the actor.There’s a synergy. The director steers the ship but there’s a relationship between the actor and the writer that is at the heart of the character development.

SHOCK: SAW was always controversial; do you think starring in an extreme horror film franchise hindered your career in Hollywood?

SMITH: Oh, not at all! I don’t really think in terms of that. Life is life. Sometimes you have a job, sometimes you don’t. Sometimes you have money and sometimes you don’t; that’s just living. So why would I have a shred of regret? I was part of film history.

SHOCK: Horror film history at that…when horror fans love you, they love you for life.

SMITH: Yeah, exactly. And that’s why when you asked me that, I needed to stress that I don’t view my role in SAW as part of the bigger picture of Hollywood, I see the role I got as a gift; a treasure in one of the holy grails of horror films. It’s its own universe.

SHOCK: Nothing really graphic gets to me in horror anymore, but the liquefied pigs scene in SAW III was truly one of the most revolting things I’ve ever seen…

SMITH (laughs) Funny you say that…not too long ago, my daughter and I were watching a film about Ben Carson and we get to a scene where we’re watching him conduct brain surgery and I’m watching it and going, ugh, why does this look familiar to me? Why is this ringing a bell? And I didn’t connect it at first but then, he saws the top of the head open and removes the square part of the skull and I’m like, oh my gosh! I performed that procedure! I was ready to throw up and ready to fast forward until it dawned on me that I had performed the same thing on John Kramer!

SHOCK: You worked with FX wizard Francois Dagenais on those gory scenes. Francois is one of the great gore artists and yet, I’m sure you weren’t grossed out while in the moment…

SMITH: That’s the trip. I remember walking through the set of SAW III when I first got to Canada (all of the SAW sequels were shot in Toronto) and I was so disgusted; but then Tobin and I started get into it and rehearsed together and we’d walk the streets of Toronto like John and Amanda would; we’d have meals, talk philosophy. We became the characters. So then I came back to the same set and I found comfort in what I previously found disturbing.

SHOCK: You became Amanda…

SMITH: I did and, I mean, hey…Amanda’s twisted.

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Weekend: Sep. 26, 2019, Sep. 29, 2019

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