Actor Tobin Bell

Joseph Henry Tobin Jr. (born August 7, 1942), known professionally as Tobin Bell, is an American actor, best known for his portrayal of John Kramer / Jigsaw, the central character of the Saw franchise. He appears in the first eight films in the series, and also voices the character in the two video game adaptations, Saw (2009) and Saw II: Flesh & Blood (2010). His portrayal of Jigsaw has earned him five award nominations and two wins.

Bell is a life member of the Actors Studio. After years of work doing stand-ins and background work on films, he got his first major acting job in Mississippi Burning (1988) and eventually went on to star in made-for-television films and guest star in television shows throughout the 1990s. Before his breakthrough with Saw, Bell appeared in many notable and various 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).

He is sometimes credited as Joseph Tobin in the various 1980s films such as Sophie’s Choice and Turk 182.

Early life

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). The same year, he played Mendoza in In the Line of Fire, where he attempts to taunt an undercover Clint Eastwood into proving his loyalty by murdering his partner, played by Dylan McDermott. 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 / Jigsaw, an engineer-turned-serial killer 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 eight sequels: Saw II (2005), Saw III (2006), Saw IV (2007), Saw V (2008), Saw VI (2009), Saw 3D (2010), Jigsaw (2017), and Spiral (2021). 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 also 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, Bell 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

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.


Year Title Role Notes
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
Tootsie Waiter
1983 Svengali Waiter
1985 Turk 182! Sergeant On Bridge Credited as Joseph Tobin
1988 Mississippi Burning FBI 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 Freddie Roth
The Firm The Nordic Man
In the Line of Fire Marty 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 ‘Stan The Man’
Overnight Delivery John Dwayne Beezly
Best of the Best 4: Without Warning Lukasz Slava
1999 The 4th Floor The Locksmith
2000 The Road to El Dorado Zaragoza Voice, Grouped under “Voice Talent”
2001 Good Neighbor Geoffrey Martin
2002 Power Play Clemens
Black Mask 2: City of Masks Moloch
2004 Saw John Kramer / Jigsaw
2005 Hacking Away at ‘Saw’ Himself Video documentary short
Saw II John Kramer / Jigsaw
2006 Going to Places: The Rise and Fall of the Slasher Film Himself Documentary, Archive footage only
Saw III John Kramer / Jigsaw
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 Boogeyman 3 Dr. Mitchell Allen Voice, Uncredited
Saw V John Kramer / Jigsaw
2009 Saw VI
2010 Saw 3D
2014 Dark House Seth Also co-producer of the film
Finders Keepers Dr. Freeman
Saw: Filmmaker Q&A Himself Video short
2015 Run Man At Bar Short film
Phantom Halo ‘Smashmouth’
Manson Family Vacation ‘Blackbird’
Unbelief Frank Short film, Also executive producer of the film
2016 Rainbow Time Peter
2017 Jigsaw John Kramer / Jigsaw
61: Highway to Hell The Devil
12 Feet Deep McGradey
The Sandman Valentine
Belzebuth Vasilio Canetti
My Pretty Pony George Banning Short film, Also executive producer of the film
2019 The Way We Weren’t Jerry Also producer of the film
Ice Cream in the Cupboard Pop
Gates of Darkness Monsignor Canell
2020 Let Us In Mr. Munch
The Call Edward Cranston
A Father’s Legacy Billy Ford
2021 Spiral John Kramer / Jigsaw Photo only
American Boogeywoman Lewis Fell Post-production
TBA Awaken Cooper Mason Post-production, Also co-producer of the film
Wolf Mountain Dr. Avery Post-production
Liberty General Volker Pre-production
The Rogue V.P. Williamson Pre-production
Ghostkiller Special Agent Lee Tarkington / 1862 Herbert Tarkington Announced, Also producer of the film
Mouth to Mouth TBA Pre-production
Year Title Role Notes
1987-1988 The Equalizer Unknown 2 episodes
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 Unknown 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 Detective Frank O’Keefe Television film
The Lazarus Man Unknown 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 Major Carl Zwingli Episode: “Army of One”
The Guardian Unknown 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
E! Live from the Red Carpet Himself Episode: “The 2003 Screen Actors Guild Awards”
2005 Revelations Nathan Volk 5 episodes
2006 Scream Awards 2006 Himself Television special
Casino Cinema Himself Episode: “31 October 2006”
2007 The Kill Point Alan Beck 6 episodes
07 Spaceys Himself Television film
2009 Starz Inside: Unforgettably Evil Himself Television film documentary
Made in Hollywood Himself 1 episode
2010 14th Annual PRISM Awards Himself Television special
IMDb’s 20th Anniversary Star of the Day Himself Episode: “Tobin Bell”
2011 Twist & Shout: The Saw Story Himself Television short documentary
2012 Visionado obligado ‘Jigsaw’ Also known in English as Forced Viewing, Episode: “Primer”, Archive footage only
2014 Criminal Minds Malachi Lee Episode: “Blood Relations”
Wilfred Charles Episode: “Happiness”
2015 Skin Wars Himself – Guest Judge Episode: “Emotional Rollercoaster”
Nerd Nation TV Himself Episode: “Tobin Bell”
Cinerockom Himself – Silver Award Best Actor Winner Episode: “Cinerockom Beverly Hills 2015 Festival & Awards”
2016 Days of Our Lives Yo Ling 4 episodes
All Access Pass Himself Episode: “Tobin Bell – Wizard World Comic Con Portland”
2016-2017 The Flash Doctor Alchemy / Savitar Voices, 15 episodes
2017 Demented Pictures Himself Episode: “Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Saw”, Archive footage only
2018 Demented Top Tens ‘Jigsaw’ Episode: “Top Ten Twist Endings”, Archive footage only
Eli Roth’s History of Horror Himself Episode: “Slashers Part 2”
2019 Creepshow Chief (segment “Gray Matter”) Episode: “Gray Matter/The House of the Head”
2020 MacGyver Leland 2 episodes
2021 The Gloom Dr. Lasher 8 episodes, post-production
Year Title Role Notes
2009 Saw John Kramer / Jigsaw Voice
2010 Saw II: Flesh & Blood Voice
2020 Call of Duty: Modern Warfare (2019 video game) Voice

Further reading

  • 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.
  • External Links

    Actor Tobin Bell – Wikipedia

    About the author

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *