Actor Tobin Bell had a long career spanning four decades, initially in uncredited roles in some of Hollywood's most memorable films like Tootise (1981) and Sophie's Choice (1982). It wasn't until he reached his big break in 1988's Mississippi Burning along with his memorable turn in the TV series The Equalizer that things really picked up for the venerable character actor. Whatever film or TV series needed his service, no matter the genre, Bell keeps leaving his indelible mark with his presence on screen. I spoke to the actor about his latest role in the family sci-fi thriller film as Frederick Munch in Let Us In; what intrigued him about the role, working with his younger co-stars, and dealing with the enduring legacy of the Saw franchise.
"I like Munch's House, and he has this wonderful house where he's going to meet with these two kids, and I like the texture of that," Bell said. "It took us aside from the kind of loner guy; then you get the fresh energy deals of two young kids. That makes it dramatic in and of its own right. This recluse of a guy with these innocent young kids, I liked that. I knew some of Craig Moss's work. I knew he was a very good director and producer who works really well with kids. So I had no doubt that he would hire some kids who could do the job. I had a window and could do it, I was on my way to Connecticut at the time to do another film, but I had like four days that I was able to stay and get this done. It was a confined schedule for me on this film, so it all fit."
Let Us In Synopsis and How It Appealed to Tobin Bell
Let Us In, based on an urban legend, follows a spirited 12-year-old girl and her best friend, who start investigating the sudden disappearances of several teens in their small town and realize that there might be something deeper happening. Bell feels the film, as an appropriately titled horror film, offers a gateway of sorts into the genre. "When I looked at the results of the film, I thought, 'Wow, this is something that some of these grandkids could watch for as long as they're not too young for the scares,'" he said. "It's more in the traditional vein of horror rather than the 2000s when we had the era of when things a lot more intense. So this is more interesting to me how many different levels there are for horror. I said 'gateway film' because it's a really good introduction. It's perfect for young adults and teens who don't have a lot of experience with horror, certainly with the kind of intense horror that is around these days. Kids are work with, and I had a chance to dive in with them. I was happy to do it. Actors act."
When it comes to the reputation Bell might have within the horror genre, and if he feels typecast, the actor responded that it's part of the job and the labels are on those who place them. "Determining what is something that's a particular genre or not," he said. "It's not my job. My job is somebody calls me and says, 'We want you to be in our film.' I look at the material. I see. 'Can I do something with this? Can I make this better? Is something interesting about it? Can I bring some humanity to this character?' That's all I do. I'm not worried or thinking about shaping some kind of image of myself. That's for other people to do. I'm an actor. People call me and asked me to play a particular character if I think I can do it well." Bell references said humanity in another upcoming film he's in called A Father's Legacy, where he plays a man who tries to instill wisdom to his son, who's on the lamb.
Working with his younger co-stars like Makenzie Moss and O'Neill Monahan, it's the spontaneity he appreciates. "They were very connected. They were quite independent. I left it pretty much to Craig Moss, the director, to deal with that. Sometimes after a take, he would pull one of them aside and have a little chat with them, and they'd come back and do something different. I love this spontaneity, and you just never know what kids are going to do. They're impulsive, but the two that I was working with were amazing, real pros even at their early age."
With over 120 credits over the span of four decades, the Saw franchise is the one Bell is most associated with. Through nine films with its latest in 2021's Spiral, Bell's John Kramer is the original mastermind behind Jigsaw. The actor remains grateful for how much the franchise still resonates with fans. "Saw's been an amazing experience for me," he said. "I look forward to many more creative conversations about John Kramer, a.k.a. Jigsaw, and we are having those conversations as we speak. Meaning that there's just a lot of creative minds involved in the Saw franchise. I'm always in contact and talking with them, and we'll see what happens moving forward. One of the lessons of doing [the film] has been that I've been able to bring as much to it as I have in terms of the ripeness of the John Kramer character."
"[John's] a multi-level guy, and I really appreciate that," Bell explains. "Every character is different, and John Kramer's sort of came to life through his eyes, and that's why you become an actor to play guys like that. I'm not exactly sure what you're asking me with that question, but I have nothing but gratitude for the level of affection that fans have for the Saw films. I met fans by the thousands and thousands, and they're very devoted and appreciative of some of the themes of those films. I don't minimize that. When you become an artist, you become an artist to have an impact on the viewers, whether you're a painter or a musician or whatever it is. If something has an impact, then you're doing your job, and that's all I can ask." Samuel Goldwyn Films' Let Us In, which is written by Moss and Joe Callero, also stars Sadie Stanley, Heather Ann Gottlieb, Lauren Stamile, Sky Alexis, and Siena Agudong. The film comes on digital and on-demand on July 2nd.