The groundbreaking, record-breaking SAW series continues with the seventh and final entry, SAW: The Final Chapter. Returning to the successful horror franchise he helped originate is Cary Elwes playing his iconic character Dr Lawrence Gordon once more. Last seen severing his foot to escape a bathroom trap, Gordon now joins other Jigsaw survivors seeking counselling from a self-help mentor whose similar past as a previous victim figures directly in each one’s fate.
“I never expected SAW to be such a hit”, remarks the ever-debonair Elwes, star of THE PRINCESS BRIDE and the upcoming THE ADVENTURES OF TINTIN: THE SECRET OF THE UNICORN and YELLOW SUBMARINE remake. “It was just another acting gig sent to me by two hungry Australian filmmakers, (director and co-writer) James Wan and (co-writer and co-star) Leigh Whannell. Their pitch was amazing, coupled with a short film they had made visualizing the ‘reverse bear trap’, and I was sold. I try to get involved in projects that intrigue me and SAW was so inventive and well written I was immediately hooked. They were extremely prepared and had a specific style they wanted to use, which hit the trend at the time for harder edged horror. Don’t ask me why, because the horror genre really isn’t my thing really, but I just got the whole concept”.
Elwes became fast friends with Wan and Whannell as a result of SAW and continued to keep in touch with them throughout their meteoric rise up the horror ranks. “They’re good guys they really are and it’s great to see people come up in the world whose hearts are in the right place and deserve their success. I kept abreast of what was happening in the series regarding my character (SAW III showed an unconscious Gordon not played by Elwes, SAW V revealed him being set up as a possible Jigsaw suspect) and I was flattered the scriptwriters saw Gordon as important enough to the through-line to keep me in the loop”.
Elwes is back in SAW because of that continuing plot relevance and because the fans campaigned heavily for his return. “It seems like a lot of pressure was put on the filmmakers to bring Gordon back from bloggers, emails, letters and websites”, he acknowledges. “I don’t know what I did to be championed by them so strongly but they have my eternal gratitude. So I did have an inkling I might figure in SAW 3D because of that groundswell of public opinion. When I eventually got ‘The Call’ asking if I would consider bookending the series naturally I was thrilled and couldn’t wait to read the completed script”.
He continues, “Although I said in the SAW DVD commentary that Gordon wouldn’t have lasted two blocks with his bleeding stump where he severed his foot, I was agreeably surprised by how he does indeed survive. In SAW 3D you see me crawl to a hot pipe where I cauterize the wound. Clever and inventive but I can’t tell you any more about the story as I’m contractually obliged to reveal nothing that might spoil audience enjoyment. Let’s just say I saw the completed movie recently and I was shocked at how brilliant it was. I called up producer Mark Burg straight after and told him to send over some sedatives as I was never going to be able to sleep that night!”
If Elwes likens the first SAW to acting in a play – “Because it was shot very fast on one economical set” he recalls – then SAW: The Final Chapter was the complete opposite. “There was clearly more money to play with in the Toronto studio because of the franchise success, the production values were far better and we had time to explore different avenues in character terms. Some of the SAW 3D cast – Tobin Bell, Costas Mandylor, Betsy Russell – were series veterans like me so it was great to discuss and celebrate the plot machinations together. Although I had spent time with real doctors at UCLA for SAW I didn’t feel I needed to do any more medical research this time out. And because we had all grown up through the series, there was no messing around. We knew what was expected, we knew what was needed to make the scenes effective and we knew the director shorthand endemic to the series to ensure we upped our game”.
There wasn’t much difference in approach between SAW helmer James Wan and returning SAW VI director Kevin Greutert according to Elwes. “Both are sweet people and very gentle souls. That always amazes people when I say that, as they think they’d be the complete opposite. Both have a keen eye, a great sense of story and are wonderful with actors. Kevin made the grade from editing the entire SAW series to directing it so he knows even more about fine-tuning performance to get exactly what he wants. Not that I was in the opening sequence (where a grisly Jigsaw trap tableau takes place in a department store window) but I think that shows how much the series has evolved and matured. No one in the growing crowd is phoning the cops, they are all filming it on their mobiles! If that isn’t a statement on how much of a rubber-necking society we’ve become then I don’t know what is”.
Filming in the 3D process didn’t mean any change in acting style for Elwes either as he reports. “I didn’t have to adjust my performance in any way. Nor did anyone else. Obviously the director and the cameraman were working out points-of-view more conducive to the dimensional technique. There were certain depths of field they wanted to play around with and moved us into position to achieve that. But as far as performing went, it was as natural as anything. Do I like the 3D trend? Yes, when it can be applied so brilliantly to something like a SAW movie. The process does seem to lend itself well to the horror fantasy genres; the reason why so many of the classics are being looked at with regards possible upgrades. THE PRINCESS BRIDE would be a fun one to reformat, especially regarding the swordfights!”
Cary Elwes couldn’t have been happier to re-enter the SAW universe. “It was just so fantastic being welcomed back by so many old friends on the studio floor. It was like stepping back into a familiar pair of shoes, comfortable and very relaxing. I feel really blessed to be a part of the most successful horror franchise in history, especially when it has been so inventive. I mean the torture traps in SAW 3D are so outlandish and messed up, they are amazing. The series has run its course now and, although I would never say never, this last one is definitely the best”.