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INT: Shawnee Smith

Oct. 25, 2006by: JoBlo

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.

Smith 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 Shawnee still knocked us out with her charm and wit.

Shawnee Smith

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?

Not 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 franchise,
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?

Luck.

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.

You 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 in Hollywood . And I really appreciate- - I mean, hey, they're appreciating it all the way to the bank, too, but they've kept it on this [level]. It would have been easy on SAW II to make it big, easier on SAW III. And I mean, our budget's got a little bit bigger. But it's the quality of the approach.

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?

Yeah. 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 Hollywood is spent in the audition room, which is just the absolute antithesis of [creativity]. I mean, every element that could work for having this interesting, spontaneous, rich exchange is working against you. It's awful. I mean, come up with how you could strip every possibility of this thing happening, and that's the audition. And on top of that, there's only a few parts you're really right for.

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?

You 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?

[Laughs] 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
substance.

Do you guys goof 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 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, 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, 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.

It's 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 Michael Bay movies where I thought like, "Why the hell did I ever think I could act?" I mean, I couldn't hold a drink, I had four lines, I couldn't say any of them. I'm like supposed to pour the tea and serve, and he's like, "You're talking like an idiot! They're right here! Talk to them like a human being!" I'm like, "Oh my God, I've got to go kill myself!" But I just did this Lifetime movie, right? And it was the lead and they offered it to me and I got to come in and like sit down with the director. It was great. George Mendeluk.

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?

The 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, four o'clock , 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.

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!" 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, " Shawnee , I smell egg! I smell rotten egg!" I'm like, "Darren, you're tripping.

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?

There 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, " Shawnee , you have to see this scene in the editing room. You farted." I said, "Darren, my God. I've been married for seven years, he's never heard me fart. Like I'm going to fart? Believe me, I'd remember if something slipped while we were filming this incredibly emotional scene! Like, it
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 eight o'clock . I stayed and worked out with our insane locations manager Roger, who's a Muay Thai trainer, till ten o'clock 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.

We'd 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 9:45 , 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
whoopie things.

So 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 you, Shawnee ? Where are you? I'm trying to find you." Finally, I just said, "Tobin, I'm trying to do a fart joke. Here it is. I can't make it work!" And I said, "I gotta do this to Darren, to get him back for this torture over this whole movie about this scene. Can you do it?" So then he tries to do it. He can't. He doesn't know how to do a whoopie cushion, like at all. It was a total failure. And Darren didn't even have his headphones on, to hear it. [sighs] Oh, it was very anti-climactic.

Was this the most emotional SAW movie to do?

By 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.

I 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.

Source: JoBlo.com

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