Tobin Bell

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Tobin Bell
Tobin Bell At For The Love Of Horror 2019 (cropped 3).jpg
Bell in 2019
Joseph Henry Tobin Jr.

(1942-08-07) August 7, 1942 (age 77)
Other namesJoseph Tobin
EducationBoston University
Alma materMontclair State University
Years active1979-present
Known forJigsaw/John Kramer (Saw franchise)
Spouse(s)Elizabeth Warren (1993 - 2018)

Tobin Bell (born Joseph Henry Tobin Jr.;[1] August 7, 1942)[2][3] is an American actor and singer. 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,[4] 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), a narration role in Boiling Point (1993), The Firm (1993), In the Line of Fire (1993), Malice (1993), The Quick and the Dead (1995), Brown's Requiem (1998), and a voice role in The Road to El Dorado (2000).

Early life[edit]

Bell was born in Queens, New York and raised in Weymouth, Massachusetts.[2] 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,[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 1970s and early 1980s 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 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 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.[10][13] 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.[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 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.

Personal life[edit]

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.[19] His other hobbies include hiking and playing guitar.[18]


Bell at the 2010 San Diego Comic-Con.
Tobin Bell film work
Year Title Role Notes
1979 Manhattan Man on Street Uncredited
1981 Tales of Ordinary Madness Bar Patron
1982 Sophie's Choice[20] Reporter Credited as Joseph Tobin
The Verdict Courtroom Observer Uncredited
Tootsie Waiter
1983 Svengali Waiter
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
Loose Cannons Gerber
Goodfellas Parole Officer
1992 Ruby David Ferrie
1993 Boiling Point Roth
The Firm The Nordic Man
In the Line of Fire Mendoza
Malice Earl Leemus
1995 Serial Killer William Lucian Morrano Direct-to-video
The Quick and the Dead Dog Kelly
1996 Cheyenne Marshal Toynbee
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
2002 Power Play Clemens
Black Mask 2: City of Masks Moloch
2004 Saw John Kramer / Jigsaw
2005 Saw II
2006 Saw III
2007 Buried Alive Lester Direct-to-video
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
2008 Saw V
2009 Saw VI
2010 Saw 3D
2014 Dark House Seth
Finders Keepers Dr. Freeman
2015 Phantom Halo Smashmouth
Manson Family Vacation Blackbird
2016 12 Feet Deep McGradey
Rainbow Time Peter
2017 Jigsaw[21] John Kramer / Jigsaw
The Sandman Valentine
2019 Belzebuth Vasilio Canetti
TBA Let Us In Mr. Munch
Tobin Bell television work
Year Title Role Notes
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
New Eden Ares
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"
Wilfred Charles Episode: "Happiness"
2016 Days of Our Lives Yo Ling
2016-2017 The Flash Doctor Alchemy; Savitar (voices) 15 episodes
2019 Creepshow Chief Episode: "Gray Matter"
2020 MacGyver Leland 1 Episode
Tobin Bell video game work
Year Title Role Notes
2009 Saw John Kramer / Jigsaw (voice)
2010 Saw II: Flesh & Blood

Further reading[edit]

  • Voisin, Scott; Roebuck, Daniel (2009-05-25). Character Kings: Hollywood's Familiar Faces Discuss the Art & Business of Acting. BearManor Media. ISBN 978-1-59393-342-5.


  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 2012-03-01. 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 2009-10-26. 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 2010-01-24. 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 2012-11-05. 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 2013-01-03. 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 2012-11-11.
  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 2013-01-03. 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 2011-06-05. 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 2012-01-18. Retrieved 2011-10-29.
  16. ^ Dirks, Tim. "Greatest Movie Plot Twists, Spoilers and Surprise Endings". AMC. Archived from the original on 2011-09-07. Retrieved 2011-10-29.
  17. ^ "Dread Central at the 2009 Chiller-Eyegore Awards and Halloween Horror Nights". DreadCentral. CraveOnline. Archived from the original on 2012-02-03. 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 2011-09-26. 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. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2017-02-06. Retrieved 2017-02-06.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  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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