Editor's Note: This was originally published for FANGORIA on November 3, 2005, and we're proud to share it as part of The Gingold Files.
7th Heaven star Jessica Biel shot to big-screen fame by facing down Leatherface in the Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake. So it stands to reason that her TV co-star Beverley Mitchell was following in Biel’s footsteps when she took the role of Laura in Saw II, which followed in Chainsaw’s footsteps with an opening-weekend gross in the $30-million range. But Mitchell says that’s not the case, and in fact she reveals, “There was a period when I was being offered nothing but horror movies,” all of which she turned down. “When Saw II came along, I finally decided that if I was going to take a horror film, this was the one to do.”
Nor did she seek advice from Biel about performing in a genre entry. “Our friendship isn’t about acting; it’s purely about being friends,” Mitchell says. “That kind of advice doesn’t come into it. We’re definitely supportive of each other, but I don’t go telling her how to act and she doesn’t tell me. It’s better that way, because we keep a balance, and it’s like, if your friend plays sports, you don’t tell them how to swing a baseball bat.”
That particular activity isn’t part of Mitchell’s role in Saw II (Franky G’s Xavier fulfills that function); Laura is the most scared of the film’s ensemble of victims, an apparently well-to-do young woman trapped with seven others in Jigsaw’s house of horrors. Another of the group, Addison, is Laura’s opposite, a tough girl played by Emmanuelle Vaugier, a Canadian actress with a long string of horror credits. As opposed to the constantly contentious relationship between the characters on screen, both actresses recall the Saw II shoot as a happy experience.
“It was definitely fun, having those eight personalities in one room,” Mitchell says. Vaugier adds, “We were all so different, and it was funny how we clicked, and it really, really worked. Because it could have been a disaster; eight totally different people of varying ages—“
“In a very small room,” Mitchell continues. “When we first got up there, we all met and had a get-together, to get to know each other, kind of like, ‘Hi, I’m going to be spending three long weeks in a room with you.’ It was great, and we were also able to have rehearsals. It was nice to size up and see what the other actors were bringing to their characters. And I had to step up my game, because I was like, ‘Damn, everybody’s really good!’ ”
“You’d look around and think, ‘Wow, that was really great. I’ve got to go home and work on this stuff!’ ” seconds Vaugier. “And in the beginning, when we all got to Toronto and sat down around a table together, we talked about our characters and what our various backgrounds would have been, and how that might relate to what’s going on in the script. A lot of that wasn’t necessarily to play out in the movie, it was just stuff we kept to ourselves to have a deeper understanding of what was going on with everybody. You don’t always have the opportunity to do that, and it was a nice luxury to have those couple of days beforehand, so that when we got to shoot on the first day, we all knew what we were doing, and had a common goal. It worked very well.”
It also helped, according to Vaugier, that the housebound portions of Saw II (intercut in the film with Donnie Wahlberg’s detective character questioning Jigsaw) were shot in sequence. “That was wonderful,” she says, “because you could go through the day and be like, ‘OK, this is what happens now, this is what happens next.’ It kept you from the confusion of shooting out of sequence, which is usually the case, and having to remember where you were and how heightened your senses were at that point, as opposed to what you did two weeks ago in the same scene. Also, it helped the continuity as far as the blood was concerned!”
Both actresses recall the filming of Saw II as three weeks of heightened emotions and intense physical activity, which took its toll as the shoot went on. “Originally, when we first got started, I was trying to work out, to meet Emmanuelle in the gym,” Mitchell recalls. “I believe she actually succeeded more than I did, because by the end I was just like, ‘Damn it, I can’t get there, I’m just too tired!’ ”
“My body was shot by the end of most days, and I was just dragging myself to the gym,” Vaugier says. “It was the last thing I wanted to do. Some days it would give me a bit of energy, just getting through it.”
“Once you were there it was OK,” Mitchell adds, “but just getting there was very difficult—and it was funny because it was only two floors down at the hotel!”
“That’s true,” Vaugier says, “although the fire alarm kept going off, and that would get us up and moving around a little bit. One night, it actually turned out in our favor, because we got lovely bottles of wine from the hotel management the next day.”
“It went off like six times in one night,” Mitchell laughs, “and finally I called Emmanuelle and said, ‘Are you going down?’ and she said, ‘No!’ ‘I’m not either. If the fire’s up there, you let me know, and if it’s down here I’ll let you know!’ ”
Despite all the problems, the actresses successfully completed the shoot, though at the time of this interview, only Mitchell had seen the finished film; Vaugier was waiting to view it with friends and family. “She doesn’t know the ending!” Mitchell chuckles, and Vaugier responds, “I don’t want to know it. I could have read the ending, but while we were filming those were the red pages, the secret pages.”
“We had to, like, sign our lives away to get those,” Mitchell recalls.
“So I didn’t do it,” Vaugier continues. “I just thought, ‘You know what, if I don’t need to know the ending for any reason…’ I actually asked, ‘Is it necessary that I know something about the ending, will it change anything?’ and they said it wouldn’t. So I thought, ‘All right, I’ll be surprised.’ ”
It’s no surprise, on the other hand, to find Vaugier in Saw II; the actress has a long string of fright features on her résumé, including the sequels The Fear: Halloween Night, Wishmaster 3: Beyond the Gates of Hell, the cable project Return to Cabin by the Lake and the recently wrapped House of the Dead II: Dead Aim. She believes that the latter has a good shot at improving on the widely derided original. “That was all about zombie-killin’, trying to save the world, that kind of stuff,” she laughs. “It should be a fun movie to watch; it doesn’t take itself too seriously, and we had a great time shooting it, so hopefully that will come across.”
Among her earlier Canadian chillers, she has the fondest memories of Ripper, which cast her as one of group of college students terrorized by a modern incarnation of the infamous murderer. “That was a good time. All of those horror films were unique in their own way, but Ripper was shot on Vancouver Island, and it was so beautiful there. It’s always great when you’re shooting on location, because you bond a lot quicker with the rest of the cast. Everybody hangs out together and you have fun, and I really enjoyed that whole experience.”
She also has positive recollections of one of her earliest genre projects, Renee (Massacre at Central High) Daalder’s Hysteria, set in an insane asylum where the inmates are subjected to bizarre medical experiments. Despite an eclectic cast headed by Patrick McGoohan and Amanda Plummer, the film has yet to see release. “I don’t know what ever happened to that film,” Vaugier admits. “A few people have asked me about that: ‘When can we get a copy?’ and I’m like, ‘I have no idea, I don’t even have one!’ It was an amazing experience working with Amanda Plummer, because she had just come off Pulp Fiction, and she’s such a wacky, crazy character in real life; she’s so interesting. She was actually a large part of the reason I went down to Los Angeles. She helped set me up with my managers and my agent at the time, and was very instrumental in that move.”
Most recently, Vaugier has been shooting Unearthed, a creature feature that marks writer/director Matthew Leutwyler’s follow-up to the zombie romp Dead & Breakfast. “That’s about a small town in New Mexico where there’s a horrific accident on the freeway, the only road in or out of the town,” she relates. “I play the sheriff, and I discover this weird crablike thing in the grille of the tanker that crashed. I bring it to a DNA specialist who lives in town, and it’s unlike anything she’s ever seen before—an unnatural organism, as she describes it. So through the course of the film, cattle and livestock start getting eaten up and nobody knows what’s going on, and everyone is trapped in the town because there’s no way in or out until the tanker is moved and the gas is able to get to the only gas station in the middle of nowhere. It’s sort of along the lines of Aliens and John Carpenter’s The Thing, where we’re fighting this creature that may end up destroying the human race if we don’t destroy it.”
It also sounds similar to Tremors, which Vaugier admits she hasn’t seen, though she notes that as opposed to that comic/horrific desert-monster film (and Leutwyler’s previous movie), “Unearthed has its moments of lightness, but for the most part it’s played straight. Dead & Breakfast was very comedic and light, and sort of a spoof on the whole zombie-movie genre. I found that very entertaining, actually; the zombie line dance was great. This one is much more serious and focused on the reality of the situation.”
While Mitchell’s résumé isn’t nearly as horror-heavy, she does have one supernatural sequel on it: The Crow: City of Angels, in which she appeared when she was just 14. “That was interesting,” says the actress, who hadn’t seen the original Crow when she took the role. “Nowadays, I would definitely watch the first film, but at the time I just went in and did my thing. I actually think that was better, because it was so pure and real that that’s all I knew. I was in it for a short amount of time; in fact, I was originally only supposed to be in one scene, but they kept calling me back to shoot more stuff. Vincent Perez was amazing, but it was definitely spooky. I was so young when I did it, so I was kind of terrified of what was going on around me. I remember I had a scene with a cat, it was just tearing me up. The cat did not like me, which was awful.”
At an even earlier age, she took part in 1994’s Killing Obsession, the late writer/director Paul Leder’s remake of his grindhouse favorite I Dismember Mama. John Savage stars as a psycho who gets out of a mental institution and leaves a trail of corpses as he stalks women named “Annie”—one of whom turns out to be Mitchell’s character. “God, I was so young when I did that,” the actress remembers. “It was definitely an intense film. It was a little frightening, playing a young girl being captured by this man who thought of her as someone else, and it’s not something you want to do when you’re 12, having a guy holding a knife to your head. It was kind of scary. Saw II was a lot more fun!”