INT: Shawnee Smith
For the first two SAW movies, Shawnee Smith only did interviews paired with a costar. For SAW I, it was Danny Glover, and that was fine because she was only in one scene. How much could she say. Even as a lead in SAW II, they paired her with Emmanuelle Vaugier, and it seemed for good reason as all Smith had to share were one-liners. Something must have gotten to her about SAW III because she’s now on her own, opening up about everything.
In her third turn as Amanda, Smith gets to play a role in the traps the entire time. From SAW II, we now know that she became Jigsaw’s assistant as soon as she broke free from his jaw trap. No longer keeping a secret from the audience, we get to see their relationship play out in front of us in the third film.
was bright and happy in person. We commented on her Jennifer Garner
cheeky smile, to which she replied that she’s been around a lot
longer than Garner. So Garner’s got the Shawnee Smith cheeky
smile. A petite little thing, tough girl
Were you excited to get the script, which goes into far more detail about Amanda?
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.
You were involved from the beginning. Was it the plan from the start to make Amanda a central character?
at all. And that's what's so kind of beyond like...There seems to be
a kind of force, like in the sense of "may the force be with
you." There's like a force behind this, I hate to say
because then it kind of puts these connotations on it. But we'll go big and say this philosophy, this SAW philosophy, right? But it's kind of got like this force of its own. I mean, I haven't seen part
three yet, but the bits that I've seen edited, and what I know we filmed, it was all meticulously laid out and planned and all these threads were like purposefully woven into this rich fabric. This character, which is so hilarious, because for years, I did "Becker, but it was a joke that I never had an arc. And now it's like somehow, and it totally snuck up on me that I have this arc that just has kind of no beginning, and somehow it all connects in a meaningful way.
How do you make the move from "Becker" to SAW?
How do you feel about doing the sitcom versus something like SAW?
I think like the light and the dark in this world, they're both useful. And it's the quality of the work that is fulfilling in that way. It was the level of quality in "Becker", the approach, that was really, I would say, it's as good as it gets. And it's the same quality, [but] different, you know, the dark instead of the light. But it's the same approach to the work, and the same kind of repertory feel.
know, having the same crew and the same writing team and the same
producers, except for our buddy [producer Gregg Hoffman]. But you
know what? His presence is still very much a part of, and was very
much a part of, SAW III. You know, his substance is still a part of
this. So these kind of artistic happenings, they're rare, especially
Could you approach this one differently since you didn't really have to keep a secret?
Yeah. It was funny, like I'm a pretty intuitive actor. Like I'll meticulously search for truth. And Tobin, [laughs] 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 raise to [their level]. And Tobin is incredibly industrious. I mean, he's instinctual, but he's also very meticulous mentally about it. So there were a lot of things in SAW II, choices that I made, that were just kind of intuitive. And I didn't really think about them a lot. And after doing SAW III, I watched SAW II 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?
Tobin was very impressed by you, especially the scene where you grab Bahar by the hair. So you can be that way, too, evidently.
You know, I'm like never really sure what's going to happen.
It just comes out?
When the elements are aligned, you know? It's so rare to be able to
work that way. Most of life as an actress in
Maybe more than a few, but you're not right for every part. And you're either what they're looking for or you're not. So when something like this happens, where, you know, if I had to audition for the part of Amanda in SAW III, I don't think I would ever get it. First of all, my audition would suck because I'd be reading with a casting director, or the assistant, and they'd be like this [holds papers in front of her face]. Sometimes you get like an actor, the casting director's an actor. And there's great casting directors who aren't actors. They can tell a good actor.
But so you're like this, and in an office, right? And I'd be like, "Oh, God, I gotta be tough!" And it would never happen. It's just in hindsight, because it was just all this process. But that's just life, you know? It's just the work, whether it's in this forum or in my personal forum, or whatever. It's all the same stuff. You know, the same kind of substance, and just looking for these kind of exchanges that might build a meaningful life at the end.
Did you go out on the Friday night binges with the guys?
know, I can party like a rock star. I really can. But SAW II, 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, which my headphones on. I was just trying to not throw up and
conserve my energy. And then in SAW III, right, I had this
four-month old son, and my daughter, who's seven. Well, she turned
seven while we were filming. We had a great big birthday cake. Oh,
it's great. I
went from like some twisted scene, right, to Verve'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". 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.
Were you looking at the cake knife with a whole different perspective?
Yeah. Totally. It's great. And it's so great to work in repertory. I
told Peter [Block] it would be a dream to just kind of keep making
movies with the same group of people. And it's useful, too, like as
human being, because you have history. So you've got to behave, and
you want to help each other. And everyone's really good at what they
do, so we're on kind of like a shorthand Communication. I guess it
just comes back to substance. There's more quality in the
Do you guys goof off between takes?
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 just full of [rage], and they'd say cut, and he'd be like,
"So, anyways..." Like in the middle of a joke. And then,
"Okay, rolling, action!" Right back there. And I said,
"How do you do this?" And he said, "Oh my gosh,
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, and the feeling of like, I mean, I hope Darren Bousman never has a bad movie experience, but to start his movie career with these two films, it can't get better. It can get bigger, but that's going to be tricky, right? That's probably where it's going to get awful. Somehow, when it gets bigger, whatever it is, right, the quality of it just dissipates.
the approach, maybe. In that kind of environment, you, as an
actress, you 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
Is that film UNDERCOVER?
Yeah, UNDERCOVER. George Mendeluk, man. He's like, [claps hands] "Come on, let's get on the ankle express!" [laughs] "The what?" He says, "Yeah, you know, the ankle express!" He's like right out of the '40s or something. It was hilarious. But he's got creative control, because he's got a history of making successful movies. 171 scenes in 13 days. But we got to like search for truth! You know, we got to do like a little polish on the script over 2 days, and filming 9 pages a day, and we would play every scene, and laughed, and had fun.
But then the day players would come on, right, who just had 3 lines. And I was like, "Oh..." 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 like 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, oh, it's so much harder to have the 4 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. You gotta make your day, right? But it's nice, and I appreciate the leads in movies I've done, right? Or directors who make just that little bit of effort to let you breathe, to be able to give something. Like you had all this stuff to offer, right? And you just like drop the tea, scream the line, and then it's over. [laughs] It's awful.
But were there any practical jokes on SAW III?
joke theme of SAW III was definitely flatulence. And 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, right? And you're
working, and it's something you can eat fast. Well, they bring out
the eggs at a certain time of the day,
, whatever, and then apparently, everyone would get really bad gas.
In all my years, I've never put the two together until Mr. Bousman,
he made a rule on
set. I didn't know until 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.
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!" And for like hours, he kept smelling,
he's like, "I told you I'd smell that..." I'm in the
make-up room, and one of the ADs, she comes, she says, "Darren
wants to see you on set." I said, "What, I'm getting
make-up done. I've got to get ready for the next..." "He
wants to see you." Come in, and he says, "
I don't know what you're talking about." And they were filming. Everything had to be documented on SAW III, behind the scenes. So I said, "Darren, 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. I still have yet to see it, but the video guy, I told him, "You've got to stick around and be here for when he finds this." He found it. And then I took the thing and I emptied it and I scrubbed it and got all the egg smell out.
Did flatulence ever mess up a scene?
was a scene, the fart scene, a very emotional scene between Tobin
and me. And I don't know if it made it in the movie or not. But
there's a moment I'm like sitting, and Darren says, "
wasn't me." He says, "Just come watch." So we watch on the screen. It says, big insert, "Nothing has been altered." It's the scene, I'm very upset.
And at one point, I just kind of went like [inhales]. And there's this very obvious sounding fart sound. So Darren took it to the grave. Actually, at one point, he said, "I put it in." But he said, "Then it was Tobin!" He'd bring Tobin in. He said, "Tobin, did you fart?" So there was like, now it was out, and there were high-tech whoopie cushions stashed here and there. He had things, like elaborate plans, but then like somebody would click their walkie and it'd make the thing go off. I stayed, like I could have gone home at . I stayed and worked out with our insane locations manager Roger, who's a Muay Thai trainer, till because Darren had planned this fart joke. I forget who it was on, but it sounded so good, right? The whole plan was so great, I stayed until ten. I'm at work getting abused in our workout room.
have like ab and salsa class at lunchtime. It was hilarious watching
Darren try and like move his hips. That was funny. That should have
been filmed. That would have been the priceless footage. And at
, I hear this big commotion on the set, because I said, "Don't
do this without me. Don't do this without me." Well, somebody,
one of the PAs had pushed the walkie and it set off the fart
machine, and my big fart moment was at the end of the movie, my last
scene. And Tobin was trying to make, like he does with everything,
he's like looking for the truth in the simple, human thing. And I'm
standing there. I don't have access to these high-tech
I just have this old school, like remember? You lick the thing, and
it makes like a wet fart. It's really great. And I fill it up, and I
get it behind my wardrobe, and I'm standing there, and I couldn't
get it to go. And I'm holding in my laughter, and Tobin doesn't know
if I'm crying or laughing. And at some point, I said, "I'm
sorry, Tobin." And at some point, he got, like, "Where are
Was this the most emotional SAW movie to do?
far. I mean, part one was just an utter horror, and just pick one
thing that you care about in this world to stay here for it, and
then fight. There you go. SAW II was like being disconnected from
everybody and hiding and working against caring. For me, by far, the most upsetting scene in SAW II was when Beverley's character died in my arms. Well, the absolute end of it was questionable, but she was headed there anyways. But part three is like, it's a love story. I mean, she, with like heart, mind, and soul, she is devoted to John, and she loves him. He's her everything. And she's devoted to this truth, and this love.
know we're talking about horror, part three, but hear me out.
Whether it's this other human being, which for her, John's serving
something even bigger. But for Amanda, like just to get to a point
in life where she could serve another human being, for me,
personally, that's a noble place to get to. Like something to strive
for, right? If you do it once in a life, aside from your children, which is kind of God's gift that you just do it innately, but to just serve another human being out of choice and sacrifice? That's big.