A Character's Actor

Tobin Bell ’70 MA is best known for his role as the psycho killer John Kramer, aka “Jigsaw,” in the Saw horror film series. But long before he was torturing people on the big screen, he was earning his master’s degree in Environmental Studies at Montclair State.

Bell, then known as Joseph Tobin, received a fellowship to study at Montclair State, and spent time traveling the state as part of his coursework. “I felt great about whom I worked with and what I was studying,” says Bell. “It was quite an adventure.” After graduation, he worked at the New York Botanical Gardens, the Wave Hill Center and the educational program, Hudson River Sloop Clearwater, Inc.

While focusing on Environmental Studies in the northeast may seem like a far stretch from Hollywood, Bell, the son of an actress, doesn’t see it that way. “I had always been acting, even since before school, but I was hard pressed to make a living at it,” he says. And since he was keenly interested in environmental issues, he saw the fellowship to Montclair State as an opportunity to learn more.

However, he says, he always felt that there was “something left unfinished in the theater.” He was drawn back to acting and before long, he was appearing in various Off-Broadway shows. Even with this success, he still yearned to work in film.

In 1988, Bell was cast in his first feature film, Mississippi Burning, changing the trajectory of his career. He has also appeared in Goodfellas with Joe Pesci and played Ted Kaczynski in the TV movie Unabomber: The True Story. He has guest-starred in numerous television shows including The X-Files, The Sopranos, 24 and Alias. When it comes to playing villains, he may be cast against type, but it has worked for him. According to IMDB, he received an MTV Movie Award nomination for “Best Villain” and a nomination for “Best Butcher” in the Fuse/Fangoria Chainsaw Awards.

Away from the big screen, he continues to remain active in environmental causes.

Bell enjoys making the Saw movies and notes that he values the creative input he’s allowed to have in them. “The films are a collaborative effort, and they want to hear my thoughts and make them work. I like to keep them as smart as I can.”

Today, Bell works on three or four projects at a time, and hints that there might be another Saw movie in the future. “As long as there is a viable audience, I think we’ll keep making them,” he says.

- Stacy Albanese ’08