Tobin Bell

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Tobin Bell
Bell, Tobin (2007).jpg
Bell at the 2007 Scream Awards
Born Joseph Henry Tobin, Jr.
(1942-08-07) August 7, 1942 (age 74)
Queens, New York, United States
Occupation Actor
Years active 1982–present
Children 2

Tobin Bell (born Joseph Henry Tobin, Jr.;[1] August 7, 1942)[2][3] is an American film and television character actor. He is best known for his portrayal of John Kramer/Jigsaw of the Saw film series. 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,[4] Bell also voice acted his Jigsaw character in two video games based on the films, 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).

Early life[edit]

Bell was born in Queens, New York and raised in Weymouth, Massachusetts.[2] His English-born mother, Eileen Julia Bell Tobin, is an actress who worked at the Quincy Repertory Company. His American-born father, Joseph H. Tobin, who was of Irish descent,[5] 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.[2][3] 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.[6] He credits hearing a seminar by Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy at Boston University with inspiring him to begin an acting career.[7]

Bell later joined the Actors Studio where he studied with Lee Strasberg and Ellen Burstyn, and joined Sanford Meisner's Neighborhood Playhouse.[8][9] He played background roles in the late '70s and early '80s in over 30 films, including films by Woody Allen (Manhattan) and Martin Scorsese, while also performing in Broadway.[8][10] 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.[11]


Early work: 1982–1999[edit]

Bell at the premiere of Saw 3D on October 27, 2010.

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 the IMDb."[12] 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.[12] 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."[9]

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".[11] 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 villain Peter Kingsley during the second season of 24.


In 2004, Bell was cast as the nefarious Jigsaw Killer, an engineer who wants others to appreciate the value of life via twisted "games", in the horror film Saw.[10][13] The low-budget film was a box office success, spawning six sequels: Saw II (2005), Saw III (2006), Saw IV (2007), Saw V (2008), Saw VI (2009), Saw 3D (2010). A seventh sequel, Saw: Legacy is scheduled to be released on October 27, 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.[14] Even though Bell spent three weeks lying on a floor and had very few lines, his role was pivotal to the first film.[15][16] 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.[17] 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.[18] 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 currently stars as the voices of cultist Doctor Alchemy and the evil speedster Savitar on the third season of The Flash, in an uncredited recurring role. He is confirmed to return to the role of John Kramer / Jigsaw in Saw: Legacy

Personal life[edit]

Bell is married and has two sons. When not acting, he coaches a Little League Baseball team and flag football.[19] His other hobbies include hiking and playing guitar.[18]


Bell at the 2010 San Diego Comic-Con.
Film roles
Year Title Role Notes
1982 Sophie's Choice[20] Reporter uncredited
1982 Verdict, TheThe Verdict Courtroom Observer uncredited
1982 Tootsie Waiter uncredited
1988 Mississippi Burning Agent Stokes
1989 Innocent Man, AnAn Innocent Man Zeke
1990 False Identity Marshall Errickson
1990 Loose Cannons Gerber
1990 Goodfellas Parole Officer
1992 Ruby David Ferrie
1993 Boiling Point Roth
1993 Firm, TheThe Firm The Nordic Man
1993 In the Line of Fire Mendoza
1993 Malice Earl Leemus
1995 Serial Killer William Lucian Morrano Direct-to-video
1995 Quick and the Dead, TheThe Quick and the Dead Dog Kelly
1996 Cheyenne Marshal Toynbee
1998 Brown's Requiem Stan the Man
1998 Overnight Delivery John Dwayne Beezly
1998 Best of the Best 4: Without Warning Lukast Slava
1999 The 4th Floor The Locksmith
2000 Road to El Dorado, TheThe Road to El Dorado Zaragoza Voice
2001 Good Neighbor Geoffrey Martin
2002 Power Play Clemens
2002 Black Mask 2: City of Masks Moloch
2004 Saw John Kramer/Jigsaw
2005 Saw II John Kramer/Jigsaw
2006 Saw III John Kramer/Jigsaw
2007 Buried Alive Lester
2007 Decoys 2: Alien Seduction Professor Erwin Buckton Direct-to-video
2007 Haunting Hour: Don't Think About It, TheThe Haunting Hour: Don't Think About It The Stranger Direct-to-video
2007 Boogeyman 2 Dr. Mitchell Allen Supporting role
2007 Saw IV John Kramer/Jigsaw
2008 Saw V John Kramer/Jigsaw
2009 Saw VI John Kramer/Jigsaw
2010 Saw 3D John Kramer/Jigsaw
2014 Dark House Seth
2014 Finders Keepers Dr. Freeman
2015 Phantom Halo Smasmouth
2015 Manson Family Vacation Blackbird
2017 Saw: Legacy[21] Jigsaw/ John Kramer
Television roles
Year Title Role Notes
1988 Equalizer, TheThe Equalizer Episode: "The Day of the Covenant"
1989 Perfect Witness Dillon Television film
1990 Alien Nation Brian Knox Episode: "Crossing the Line"
1990 Jake and the Fatman Vic Episode: "More Than You Know"
1990 Broken Badges Martin Valentine Episode: "Pilot"
1991 Love, Lies and Murder Al Stutz Television film
1991 100 Lives of Black Jack Savage, TheThe 100 Lives of Black Jack Savage Television film
1991 100 Lives of Black Jack Savage, The. Disney PresentsDisney Presents The 100 Lives of Black Jack Savage Tony Gianini Episode: "Pilot"
1991 Vendetta: Secrets of a Mafia Bride Barman Television film
1992 Mann & Machine Richards Episode: "No Pain, No Gain"
1992 Calendar Girl, Cop, Killer? The Bambi Bembenek Story Television film
1992 Silk Stalkings Emil Rossler Episode: "Hot Rocks"
1993 Seinfeld Ron Episode: "The Old Man"
1993 Sex, Love, and Cold Hard Cash Mansfield Television film
1993 NYPD Blue Donald Selness Episodes:
"Personal Foul"
"He's Not Guilty, He's My Brother"
1994 Deep Red Warren Rickman Television film
1994 Dead Man's Revenge Bullock Television film
1994 ER Hospital Administrator Episode: "Day One"
1994 Mortal Fear Dr. Alvin Hayes Television film
1994 New Eden Ares Television film
1995 Under Suspicion Ron O'Keefe Episode: "A Haunting Case"
1996 Babysitter's Seduction, TheThe Babysitter's Seduction Det. Frank O'Keefe Television film
1996 Lazarus Man, TheThe Lazarus Man Episode: "Among the Dead"
1996 Murder One Jerry Albanese Episode: "Chapter Twenty-Two"
1996 Unabomber: The True Story Theodore Kaczynski Television film
1996 Chicago Hope Luther Evans Episode: "A Time to Kill"
1997 La Femme Nikita Perry Bauer Episode: "Love"
1997 Nash Bridges William Boyd Episode: "Payback"
1998 Stargate SG-1 Omoc Episode: "Enigma"
1998 One Hot Summer Night Vincent "Coupe" De Ville Television film
1998 Walker, Texas Ranger Karl Storm Episodes:
"The Wedding: Part 1"
"The Wedding: Part 2"
1998 Vengeance Unlimited Teddy Hix Episode: "Bitter End"
1999 Strange World Owen Sassen Episode: "Eliza"
1999 Pretender, TheThe Pretender Mr. White Episode: "The World's Changing"
2000 X-Files, TheThe X-Files Darryl Weaver Episode: "Brand X"
2000 Harsh Realm Slater Episode: "Reunion"
2001 Once and Again Man in Suit Episode: "Aaron's Getting Better"
2001 Sopranos, TheThe Sopranos Maj. Carl Zwingli Episode: "Army of One"
2001 Guardian, TheThe Guardian Episode: "The Funnies"
2001 Alias SD-6 Agent Karl Dreyer Episodes:
"Time Will Tell"
"Mea Culpa
2002 Charmed Orin Episode: "The Eyes Have It"
2002 West Wing, TheThe West Wing Colonel Whitcomb Episode: "Process Stories"
2003 24 Peter Kingsley Episodes:
"Day 2: 2:00 a.m.-3:00 a.m."
"Day 2: 3:00 a.m.-4:00 a.m."
"Day 2: 6:00 a.m.-7:00 a.m."
"Day 2: 7:00 a.m.-8:00 a.m."
2004 Revelations Nathan Volk 5 episodes
2007 Kill Point, TheThe Kill Point Alan Beck 6 episodes
2014 Criminal Minds Malachi Lee Episode: "Blood Relations"
2014 Wilfred Charles Episode: "Happiness"
2016 Days of Our Lives Yo Ling
2016 The Flash Doctor Alchemy and Savitar (voice; uncredited) 3 episodes
Video game roles
Year Title Role Notes
2009 Saw John Kramer/Jigsaw Voice
2010 Saw II: Flesh & Blood John Kramer/Jigsaw Voice

Awards [edit]

Year Award Category Film Result
2006 Fuse/Fangoria Chainsaw Award Best Villain Saw II Won
2006 MTV Movie Award MTV Movie Award for Best Villain Saw II Nominated
2006 Scream Award Scream Award for Best Villain Saw II Nominated
2007 MTV Movie Award MTV Movie Award for Best Villain Saw III Nominated
2007 Scream Award Scream Award for Best Villain Saw III 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

Further reading[edit]


  1. ^ The Cross & Crescent - Google Books. Retrieved 2012-11-09 – via Google Books. 
  2. ^ a b c Barbuto, Dana (2008-10-24). "Weymouth native puts the buzz in Saw movies". The Patriot Ledger. GateHouse Media. Archived from the original on 2011-09-27. Retrieved 2008-10-28. 
  3. ^ a b "Tobin, Ex-candidate In Gloversville, Dies". Schenectady Gazette. 1977-09-05. p. 27. Retrieved 2010-07-19. 
  4. ^ Garfield, David (1980). "Appendix: Life Members of The Actors Studio as of January 1980". A Player's Place: The Story of The Actors Studio. New York: MacMillan Publishing Co., Inc. p. 280. ISBN 0-02-542650-8. 
  5. ^ "Genealogy of Tobin Bell's paternal family". Retrieved January 23, 2016. 
  6. ^ Rose, Lisa (2009-10-22). "Tobin Bell 'Saw' the future in horror series". Archived from the original on 2010-10-03. Retrieved 2010-05-25. 
  7. ^ Dobuzinskis, Alex (2009-10-22). "A Minute With: Tobin Bell of the "Saw" horror films". Reuters. Archived from the original on 2010-10-03. Retrieved 2010-01-31. 
  8. ^ a b Harrington, Richard (2007-10-29). "Cult icon born with 'Saw' star - Tobin Bell key to franchise's success". The Journal Gazette. Fort Wayne, Indiana: The Journal Gazette Co: 5D. 
  9. ^ a b Carroll, Larry (2007-10-22). "'Saw IV' Star Tobin Bell Reveals Method Behind Jigsaw's Madness". Archived from the original on 2011-09-27. Retrieved 2010-03-25. 
  10. ^ a b Buchanan, Kyle (2009-10-16). "The Only Tobin Bell Interview You'll Ever Need". Movieline. PMC. p. 3. Archived from the original on 2010-10-06. Retrieved 2010-01-17. 
  11. ^ a b Harrington, Richard (2007-10-26). "Tobin Bell: A Pivotal Piece of the 'Saw' Puzzle". The Washington Post. The Washington Post Company. 130 (325): 32–35. Archived from the original on 2011-09-27. 
  12. ^ a b Buchanan, Kyle (2009-10-16). "The Only Tobin Bell Interview You'll Ever Need". Movieline. PMC. p. 1. Archived from the original on 2011-09-27. Retrieved 2010-01-17. 
  13. ^ "Saw (2004)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 2010-10-08. 
  14. ^ Berardini, César (2009-07-04). "Konami Signs Tobin Bell To Voice Jigsaw In Saw Game". Team Xbox. IGN Entertainment. Archived from the original on 2011-09-27. Retrieved 2010-01-17. 
  15. ^ Heisler, Steve (2008-10-29). "Tobin Bell Random Roles". The A.V. Club. The Onion. Archived from the original on 2011-10-17. Retrieved 2011-10-29. 
  16. ^ Dirks, Tim. "Greatest Movie Plot Twists, Spoilers and Surprise Endings". AMC. Archived from the original on 2011-9-19. Retrieved 2011-10-29.  Check date values in: |archive-date= (help)
  17. ^ "Dread Central at the 2009 Chiller-Eyegore Awards and Halloween Horror Nights". DreadCentral. CraveOnline. Archived from the original on 2011-09-27. Retrieved 2010-09-02. 
  18. ^ a b Moore, Roger (2010-10-24). ""Jigsaw" Tobin Bell would rather be cutting a rug". Orlando Sentinel. Tribune Company. Archived from the original on 2011-09-27. Retrieved 2011-03-04. 
  19. ^ Koltnow, Barry (2008-10-25). "Tobin Bell carves out a niche as 'Jigsaw'". The Orange County Register. Freedom Communications. 
  20. ^
  21. ^ Squires, John. "[Exclusive] We've Got the First 'Saw: Legacy' Plot Details; Tobin Bell Returning!". Bloody Disgusting. Retrieved 2 March 2017. 

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