Bell at the 2007 Scream Awards
Joseph Henry Tobin Jr.
August 7, 1942
Queens, New York, U.S.
|Alma mater||Montclair State University|
Tobin Bell (born Joseph Henry Tobin Jr.; August 7, 1942) is an American actor. He is best known for his portrayal of John Kramer / Jigsaw in the eight films of the Saw franchise. After years of work doing stand-ins and background work on films, he got his first major acting job in Mississippi Burning (1988) and went on to star in made-for-television films and guest star in television shows throughout the 1990s.
A life member of the Actors Studio, Bell also voice-acted his Jigsaw character in two video games based on the film series, Saw and its sequel Saw II: Flesh & Blood. Bell's portrayal of Jigsaw has earned him five award nominations and two wins.
Before his breakthrough with Saw, Bell appeared in many notable films, including The Verdict (1982), Tootsie (1982), Mississippi Burning (1988), False Identity (1990), Loose Cannons (1990), Goodfellas (1990), Ruby (1992), The Firm (1993), In the Line of Fire (1993), Malice (1993), The Quick and the Dead (1995), Brown's Requiem (1998), a voice role in The Road to El Dorado (2000), and a narration role in Boiling Point (1993).
Bell was born in Queens, New York and raised in Weymouth, Massachusetts. His English-born mother, Eileen Julia Bell Tobin, was an actress who worked at the Quincy Repertory Company. His American-born father, Joseph H. Tobin, who was of Irish descent, built and established the radio station WJDA in Quincy, Massachusetts in 1947 and once ran for mayor of Gloversville, New York. Bell's maternal grandmother, Julia Gandon Bell, was born in Cork, Ireland. Bell has one sister and one brother. Bell studied liberal arts and journalism in college, with the intention of becoming a writer and entering the broadcasting field. He also has an interest in environmental matters, holding a master's degree in environmental science from Montclair State University as well as having worked for the New York Botanical Garden. He credits hearing a seminar by Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy at Boston University with inspiring him to begin an acting career.
Bell later joined the Actors Studio where he studied with Lee Strasberg and Ellen Burstyn, and joined Sanford Meisner's Neighborhood Playhouse. He played background roles in the late 1970s and early 1980s in over 30 films, including films by Woody Allen (Manhattan) and Martin Scorsese, while also performing in Broadway. Bell said that other actors at the Actors Studio thought doing stand-in and background work was "stupid or degrading", but he never felt that way.
Early work: 1982–1999
In 1982, Bell had a short uncredited scene in the Sydney Pollack film, Tootsie, playing a waiter at the Russian Tea Room. He told Movieline, "You know, when you're talking about Tootsie, it's the tip of the iceberg, because those other twenty-nine films I did aren't even on IMDb." He worked on The Verdict (1982) for two weeks as a courtroom reporter in the trial. He recollected it being a "great opportunity" watching Sidney Lumet and Paul Newman, while also learning the technical aspect of acting. For every role he plays, starting with the initial reading of the script to the final shot of a production, he keeps a journal of various questions about and motivations for his character. "I write all kinds of stream-of-consciousness things that help me."
In 1982 Bell landed his first speaking role in the last few moments of the drama Sophie's Choice, starring Meryl Streep. In the mid-1980s, Bell said "I was doing off-Broadway plays three nights a week, working on my craft. And a director at the Actors Studio said, 'You know, Tobin you've been doing that for a while. I think you should go to Hollywood and play bad guys.'" Bell moved to Los Angeles and was cast in his first feature film, Alan Parker's Mississippi Burning (1988), as a "tough, street smart, FBI agent". Bell played an assassin called "The Nordic Man" in another Pollack film, The Firm (1993). He went on to appear in an episode of the sitcom Seinfeld titled "The Old Man" playing a record store owner. He appeared in two episodes of NYPD Blue playing different characters.
In 1994, Bell played a hospital administrator in the second episode of the first season of ER and went on to appear in an episode of another medical drama Chicago Hope, playing a terminally ill inmate on death row. That same year, he portrayed the "Unabomber" in the made-for-television film Unabomber: The True Story. In 1997, Bell guest starred in an episode of La Femme Nikita and Nash Bridges. The following year, he guest starred in an episode of Stargate SG-1 and a two-part episode of Walker, Texas Ranger. He also appeared as the villain Peter Kingsley during the second season of 24.
In 2004, Bell was cast as John Kramer, known as Jigsaw, an engineer who wants others to appreciate the value of life via twisted "games", in the horror film Saw. The low-budget film was a box office success, spawning seven sequels: Saw II (2005), Saw III (2006), Saw IV (2007), Saw V (2008), Saw VI (2009), Saw 3D (2010), and Jigsaw (2017). He provided his voice for the Jigsaw character in the Saw video game (2009) and its sequel, Saw II: Flesh & Blood (2010), to which he provided his likeness. Even though Bell spent three weeks lying on a floor and had very few lines, his role was pivotal to the first film. For his role as "Jigsaw", Bell received MTV Movie Awards nominations in 2006 and 2007 for "Best Villain", won "Best Butcher" in the Fuse/Fangoria Chainsaw Awards and was given the "Best Villain in a Film Series" title at the 2010 Chiller-Eyegore Awards. Although he considers his role in Saw to have been "a great blessing", he hopes to soon have the opportunity to be cast against type. In 2016, he starred as hermit Yo Ling on the soap opera Days of Our Lives, revealed to be John Black's long lost father. He starred as the voices of the villain Doctor Alchemy and the malicious speed god and main antagonist Savitar on the third season of The Flash, in an uncredited role.
Bell has two sons. In January 2018, Bell's wife, Elizabeth, filed for divorce after 25 years of marriage. When not acting, he coaches a Little League Baseball team and flag football. His other hobbies include hiking and playing guitar.
|1979||Manhattan||Man on Street||Uncredited|
|1981||Tales of Ordinary Madness||Bar Patron|
|1982||Sophie's Choice||Reporter||Credited as Joseph Tobin|
|The Verdict||Courtroom Observer||Uncredited|
|1985||Turk 182!||Sergeant on Bridge||Credited as Joseph Tobin|
|1988||Mississippi Burning||Agent Stokes|
|1989||An Innocent Man||Zeke|
|1990||False Identity||Marshall Errickson|
|The Firm||The Nordic Man|
|In the Line of Fire||Mendoza|
|1995||Serial Killer||William Lucian Morrano||Direct-to-video|
|The Quick and the Dead||Dog Kelly|
|1998||Brown's Requiem||Stan the Man|
|Overnight Delivery||John Dwayne Beezly|
|Best of the Best 4: Without Warning||Lukast Slava|
|1999||The 4th Floor||The Locksmith|
|2000||The Road to El Dorado||Zaragoza (voice)|
|2001||Good Neighbor||Geoffrey Martin|
|Black Mask 2: City of Masks||Moloch|
|2004||Saw||John Kramer / Jigsaw|
|Decoys 2: Alien Seduction||Professor Erwin Buckton|
|The Haunting Hour: Don't Think About It||The Stranger|
|Boogeyman 2||Dr. Mitchell Allen|
|Saw IV||John Kramer / Jigsaw|
|Finders Keepers||Dr. Freeman|
|Manson Family Vacation||Blackbird|
|2016||12 Feet Deep||McGradey|
|2017||Jigsaw||John Kramer / Jigsaw|
|1988||The Equalizer||Episode: "The Day of the Covenant"|
|1989||Perfect Witness||Dillon||Television film|
|1990||Alien Nation||Brian Knox||Episode: "Crossing the Line"|
|Jake and the Fatman||Vic||Episode: "More Than You Know"|
|Broken Badges||Martin Valentine||Episode: "Pilot"|
|1991||Love, Lies and Murder||Al Stutz||Television film|
|The 100 Lives of Black Jack Savage||Tony Gianini||Episode: "Pilot"|
|Vendetta: Secrets of a Mafia Bride||Barman||Television film|
|1992||Mann & Machine||Richards||Episode: "No Pain, No Gain"|
|Calendar Girl, Cop, Killer? The Bambi Bembenek Story||Television film|
|Silk Stalkings||Emil Rossler||Episode: "Hot Rocks"|
|1993||Seinfeld||Ron||Episode: "The Old Man"|
|Sex, Love, and Cold Hard Cash||Mansfield||Television film|
|NYPD Blue||Donald Selness||2 episodes|
|1994||Deep Red||Warren Rickman||Television film|
|Dead Man's Revenge||Bullock|
|ER||Hospital Administrator||Episode: "Day One"|
|Mortal Fear||Dr. Alvin Hayes||Television film|
|1995||Under Suspicion||Ron O'Keefe||Episode: "A Haunting Case"|
|1996||The Babysitter's Seduction||Det. Frank O'Keefe||Television film|
|The Lazarus Man||Episode: "Among the Dead"|
|Murder One||Jerry Albanese||Episode: "Chapter Twenty-Two"|
|Unabomber: The True Story||Theodore Kaczynski||Television film|
|Chicago Hope||Luther Evans||Episode: "A Time to Kill"|
|1997||La Femme Nikita||Perry Bauer||Episode: "Love"|
|Nash Bridges||William Boyd||Episode: "Payback"|
|1998||Stargate SG-1||Omoc||Episode: "Enigma"|
|One Hot Summer Night||Vincent "Coupe" De Ville||Television film|
|Walker, Texas Ranger||Karl Storm||2 episodes|
|Vengeance Unlimited||Teddy Hix||Episode: "Bitter End"|
|1999||Strange World||Owen Sassen||Episode: "Eliza"|
|The Pretender||Mr. White||Episode: "The World's Changing"|
|2000||The X-Files||Darryl Weaver||Episode: "Brand X"|
|Harsh Realm||Slater||Episode: "Reunion"|
|2001||Once and Again||Man in Suit||Episode: "Aaron's Getting Better"|
|The Sopranos||Maj. Carl Zwingli||Episode: "Army of One"|
|The Guardian||Episode: "The Funnies"|
|Alias||SD-6 Agent Karl Dreyer||2 episodes|
|2002||Charmed||Orin||Episode: "The Eyes Have It"|
|The West Wing||Colonel Whitcomb||Episode: "Process Stories"|
|2003||24||Peter Kingsley||4 episodes|
|2004||Revelations||Nathan Volk||5 episodes|
|2007||The Kill Point||Alan Beck||6 episodes|
|2014||Criminal Minds||Malachi Lee||Episode: "Blood Relations"|
|2016||Days of Our Lives||Yo Ling|
|2016-2017||The Flash||Doctor Alchemy; Savitar (voices)||15 episodes|
|2009||Saw||John Kramer / Jigsaw|
|2010||Saw II: Flesh & Blood|
|2006||Fuse/Fangoria Chainsaw Award||Best Villain||Saw II||Won|
|MTV Movie Award||MTV Movie Award for Best Villain||Nominated|
|Scream Award||Scream Award for Best Villain||Nominated|
|2007||MTV Movie Award||MTV Movie Award for Best Villain||Saw III||Nominated|
|Scream Award||Scream Award for Best Villain||Nominated|
|2008||Scream Award||Scream Award for Best Villain||Saw IV||Nominated|
|2009||Chiller-Eyegore Award||Best Villain in a Series Award||Saw series||Won|
|2017||Daytime Emmy Award||Outstanding Special Guest Performer in a Drama Series||Days of Our Lives||Nominated|
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