Cary Elwes solves puzzles in this week's horror thriller, SAW
What would you do given this situation?
I would probably do what the character did. I’d do anything to save my family, even my close friends.
But he’s generous. Most people would kill Adam right away if their family was at risk.
I think he’s suspicious of him and we portray that in the film. There’s very little I can do to kill Adam when I’m chained to a wall. There’s very little one can do. If I did want to do some grievous bodily harm, there would be very little I could do chained to a wall.
Were the chains real?
Very real. I had quite a sore on my leg for a while. I actually got locked to the wall mistakenly because the pin that they used got stuck, so I was stuck there for a bit. So that was interesting to know what that was like. I found out that I did suffer from a little bit of claustrophobia.
How long was that?
Just 20 minutes while we pulled some tools in.
How heavy were they?
Very heavy. Very thick chains. I actually asked that they put some padding in there because I was starting to get lacerations on my skin.
Is it difficult to act across the room from somebody?
No, I really enjoyed it. I love acting and I love acting with people. It doesn’t matter whether you’re in a room or outdoors or in a car, it doesn’t matter. I just love doing it.
Being so far apart, you can’t have a face to face?
It was rather like a play. That’s what I really was intrigued by when I read the script. It was really like a play where two characters were stuck in this situation and had to make the best of it. I relished that opportunity because it was extremely well written and the characters were really well drawn. And the circumstances allowed both Leigh and I to try many different things on film. And James was very encouraging of that. He really encouraged us to explore different things and different takes.
Different things than were in the script?
Yeah. Just levels of intensity and levels of trust. You know, all the issues that come up when we deal with two characters who are, like I said, forced into this unique type of situation as this film does.
How did the script read, was it as graphic as it plays on screen?
Oh, very graphic. Very graphic. I mean, it was a real page-turner. I read it in one setting and knew right away this was going to be a very unique film.
How did the set smell?
Didn’t smell great after a while. The clothes that I wore, obviously you know when you wear the same clothes in a film for a certain period of time, there’s only so much they can do to wash them without breaking continuity. So they began to take on a life of their own after a while.
You didn’t have any alternate outfits?
I think in the end, near the end, they made a separate shirt for me. They matched it to the other one. I asked for that because it was starting to reek a little bit.
How much of the set was real grunge?
It was very real.
But not real sh*t I presume?
No, but it was very real, very realistic. It was an extraordinary set. Now, James designed these himself by the way. When I met him, he had a portfolio in his arm and he proceeded to show me pictures and drawings that he’d made of the sets, the costumes, of the doll, of the reverse bear trap which he showed me the blueprints for and I asked him, “Does this thing work?” And he said, “it’s fully operational.” So the amount of work and detail that this guy put into this project was really extraordinary. I was taken not only with his personal charm but with his passion to put that vision up on the screen.
Did you do a lot of ADR or was the sound okay?
The sound was great. We had a great sound crew. The entire crew were terrific actually. We had a very small crew because we didn’t have a lot of money, and as such, we had a very tight schedule and there wasn’t a lot of room for sitting around. There were no big trailers or fancy catering or anything like that. Everybody showed up and just rolled up their sleeves and got right down to it and that really created an atmosphere of extraordinary camaraderie when you’re in that kind of a setting.
Did you learn any medical things in your research to play a doctor?
I did. I spent time with a neurosurgeon at UCLA who helped me a great deal. So just so I could make the scenes where I was playing a doctor believable. But for the most part, since there were very few scenes that dealt with that, for the most part I just invested my time studying the character and where he was from and what his flaws were. I enjoy playing characters that have gray areas and I think that there’s no such thing as a black and white character.
Do you usually do research on technical professions?
Oh yeah. I think if you’re going to play a role that requires a technical know-how, then you should definitely spend some time studying that. Otherwise, what’s the point. You’re just going to wing it?
Did the doctor research help you playing all the off duty scenes?
It’s nice to know. It’s nice to know that it’s there if I needed to draw on it for a scene. It’s always nice to know that it’s there. That’s why I say I think it’s important, whether or not you end up playing a scene. If you’re playing a doctor or a surgeon, if you end up playing as scene where you actually perform surgery, I think it’s good to know a certain amount of what that entails so that you’re believable.
What scares you?
I think what scares everybody which is the unknown. I tell you what scares me. War scares me. War that’s spiraling out of control. The way the world is heading right now. That seems to be very scary to me. I think this election is probably the most important election, if not in this country’s history then in the world history. We’re facing very real dangers now and people need to make very informed choices. So I want to tell your users to if they haven’t registered to vote to please register. I think it’s a very important presidential race that’s taking place right now.
Are you a citizen?
Not yet, but I’m looking forward to. But because I am a guest in your country and I consider myself British by birth but American by choice, I’ve really adopted this country and I love it very dearly and I’m truly grateful for the opportunities that it’s provided me. And as such, I am deeply, deeply concerned about this country’s future. And that’s why I said I think this race is very important.
Who would you vote for?
I shouldn’t really say that, because I don’t want to be [an advocate.] But like I said, I would really encourage anyone who might be apathetic at this point to really not only get informed, but to register to vote because every vote counts.
Would you have been able to figure out all the clues along the way like your character does?
Me personally? I think if you’re given a certain amount of time and you’re chained to a wall and there are clues in a room, I think that we would probably all be scratching our heads after a while. When it’s a question of life and death or your family or being tortured or kidnapped or whatever, I think that you’d be surprised how quickly you will respond to finding clues that might be left for you that might help save them or save yourself.
Have you ever played those problem solving video games? It was kind of like that.
Yeah, it’s interesting. I have. The ones that are more complicated, I tend to get bored with very quickly. But I just was playing a game the other day, an Xbox game that has to do with hitmen. I think it’s called Hitman. And you have to learn the layout of the villa where you have to rescue the victim, you have to learn where all the good guys and bad guys are, you have to learn what weapons to use so it involves a great deal of thought and I think that’s good. I think a game that requires you to think, or a movie that requires you to think, any entertainment that requires, that encourages you to think is a good thing.
It’s nice to see you play a good guy because you’re usually the villain now. When did you become the stock villain? Did you pursue those roles?
I don’t necessarily pursue villain roles, no. I tend to seek out roles that I think are challenging and if it happens to be that people see me in the role of a villain, then there’s not a lot I can do about that. I think there’s been a great history of British people playing villain’s roles in films dating back to the beginning of the industry. Why that is, I don't know. Maybe it’s our accent or our demeanor, I don't know. But it seems to be that myself and people like Alan Rickman and others tend to get those roles more than playing perhaps the hero or a victim.
But your first role was ultimate hero.
Yes, I know. Again, these are the powers that be and who am I to question why.
Are villains more fun?
They’re definitely more fun. You find that with villains, there’s a lot more going on. You get to play subtext a lot more because you have to figure out what their motive is. They always have the best lines at any rate, and they tend to be characters that are more complex and that’s obviously much more fun for an actor to do.
Can you believe the life that The Princess Bride still has?
I’m blown away by it. I’m actually truly grateful for that opportunity. I think that the film has taken on a life of its own. It’s funny, when it came to theaters, it really didn’t do much box office, but once it hit the video market, it took on a life of its own and I’m truly grateful for the response that it’s gotten.
Weren’t you sought after for more romances after that?
I was offered a lot of medieval type fantasy roles and I really wasn’t interested in doing that, so perhaps it was partly my own making, but I definitely will always seek out roles that I think will challenge me and push me further. So, if they happen to be villains, than so be it.
Have your kids discovered it yet?
We don’t have kids yet, but I look forward to it. Thank you for asking.
Do other kids recognize you now still?
Yeah, I get that from time to time. It’s wonderful.
What is it like to get that so long after doing a movie?
Like I said, I’m blown away by the response and I’m grateful that there are people out there who are introducing their children to a film that perhaps they were taken with so long ago. So it’s become kind of a family heirloom kind of a thing and it’s wonderful.
What do you have coming up?
I did a film called Edison with Justin Timberlake, Morgan Freeman and Kevin Spacey, and LL Cool J. That’ll be coming out next year. That’s a drama. And I did a comedy with Jon Bon Jovi called The Trouble with Frank and that’s a National Lampoon movie. Like I said, I try to seek out diverse roles.
Is that a slapstick comedy?
I think it has moments of slapstick but I think for the most part it’s a very intellectual comedy which I like more. I tend to try and stay away from farce if I can help it, if it’s too farcical. But you know, there are some moments of farce in it of course. But for the most part, the character I play is a very real guy and he’s more of a straight guy to Bon Jovi’s character, so it was fun.
Did you enjoy doing farce like Hot Shots and Robin Hood: Men in Tights?
Yeah, but those are satires more and I tend to stay away from satires now. I think satire is tricky. This business sometimes can be very narrow minding. Casting directors have a lot of power over what kind of roles you get to play in many cases. They tend to poo poo satire, so it was quite hard for me after I did those films to get these casting people to take me seriously. So I try to steer clear of those if I can help it.
Did you need to do a comedy after Saw?
Yeah, I sure did. So I welcomed that.
How long were you in that set?
28 days. Chained to a wall. I don’t recommend it.
Was it hard to go home after those days?
I took a long bath and slept like a baby, I can tell you. I had lots of bruises and cuts. My wife was quite perturbed by that, but it’s all in a day’s work.
Edison is quite a cast. What is that dynamic like?
Oh, it’s phenomenal. And the director, David Burke, he wrote the script as well. He’s a supremely wonderful director and an extraordinary writer. You’re lucky if you get a great director to work with who nourishes talent and encourages the actors to explore different things. And he couldn’t have been more nurturing with me. He really allowed me and freed me up to try things that I might not have tried. So I was really grateful for that.
How old should kids have to be to see Saw?
Oh, I don't know. I think they’d have to be 18. I wouldn’t take any kids younger than that. It’s a traumatic film. I actually got to witness a couple of screenings in Sundance and I watched some people being escorted out who just couldn’t handle it, and these were adults, so I don’t really recommend if you’re thinking about taking your kids to see this film, it’s not a good idea.
But kids tend to be the main audience for horror movies.
They do. Then we should probably get into discussing what we would consider being a kid. I would say anyone under the age of 17 wouldn’t be a good idea. I believe it’s rated as such, so hopefully theater owners will be responsible about that.
How did you find working with a first time director?
He seemed like a veteran in that he had shot lists and he, as I said, was extremely prepared. He’d made this short. He made a 20 minute scene, you know the scene with the reverse bear trap? He shot that with Leigh, the screenwriter who plays Adam in the movie. And 20 minutes of some of the most intriguing footage I’ve ever seen on film. I immediately knew that this was going to be a unique film just because of the visual aspect of this little short he made. And so that itself, I had worked with first time directors who didn’t have a clue where to put the camera or tell you what the character was supposed to be going through at any given moment. So, I try to stay well clear of those kinds of directors. Occasionally, I’m unfortunate enough to be put in that circumstance, but it was immediately gratifying for an actor to know that you’re in the hands of a director who not only has a singular vision but also includes you in that vision in terms of being collaborative and encouraging you to try things and understands character. I think that’s key. And he had all those qualities.
Could you ask character questions of the writer in between takes?
Yeah, we had huddles. We had moments where we huddled and chat about stuff. I’m a very curious person by nature and I guess that’s probably why I’m an actor. I love exploring characters. I don’t like to overanalyze it because I think you can get into problems there, but it was actually really wonderful having the screenwriter being opposite me because I could tap his mind occasionally for things that I might have questions for that maybe James couldn’t answer, but from what I knew, James could. Or if James was busy, let’s say, or if James would say to me let’s ask Leigh. So that was wonderful and they have a unique relationship. They’re like brothers, these guys. They’re literally almost connected at the head. They both have this very singular vision as I mentioned.
What was a question you had about your character?
It wasn’t any specific question. It was relative to a particular scene we were shooting. I’d ask him about the background. Background is very important. You have to know where your character is coming from so you can understand where he is and then where he’s trying to get to. So they were more probably background questions.
Is there anything you’re looking to do that you haven’t done yet?
I’d like to do a play on Broadway some day.
You’ve never done Broadway?
No, I’ve done off Broadway, but not Broadway yet. Someday. Or even the west end.
Would you move to New York for that?
Not permanently. I’ve lived in New York for 10 years. I’ve done that. I love it here.
Dont't forget to also check out: Saw