The Featured Presentation

Laura Vandervoort

Photo By: John Bregar

*This feature originally ran on 10/27/17

Horror fans are committed to their genre. Some love the suspense. Some love the gore. Others fall skull over calcaneus (heel bone) for a franchise that puts the terrifying fate of both elements in the hands of a charismatic celluloid psycho. There were plenty of those rising up from their own credits-rolling ashes throughout the 70s and 80s, from Freddy Krueger to Jason Voorhees, but recent years have only given viewers a small handful of newly-minted madmen to keep them up at night.

John Kramer, aka Jigsaw, is one such character.

No stranger to rabid fandoms thanks to memorable turns in “V” and “Smallville,” Laura Vandervoort is set to get her feet wet within the horror genre with a starring role in the latest installment of the Saw franchise, “Jigsaw.” As captivating in conversation as she is on screen, the Toronto native recently wrote a letter to her younger self in Backstage, sharing her discovery of confidence and self-acceptance in a career where so much of a person’s individual success can be decided upon by both fate and other people.

We recently sat down with Vandervoort to discuss that perfectly-penned letter, how the person she was writing to would have handled her current experience with “Jigsaw,” and why she had a difficult time finding an understanding in her character’s horrifying actions.

TrunkSpace: We read your recent letter to yourself that was published in Backstage. It was very personal. In the process of writing it, did it all just pour out of you or did it involve some self-discovery as well?
Vandervoort: I would say it was a bit of both. When I started writing, it just poured out, but as I went, I realized a lot about myself that I guess I really hadn’t given myself an opportunity to think about, or things that I knew I should have been doing more of that I hadn’t been. As I was writing, it was sort of cathartic for me and it was important because, only in the past five years have I found a new way to approach this business.

I started when I was a kid. I’m sure there are books out there, but there’s no real manual on how to get through the process as a child growing up and becoming an adult actor and being a female in this business and the rejection and the pressures and all of that.

TrunkSpace: And now with social media being such a big factor, it must add an entirely new dimension to it all.
Vandervoort: Oh, 100 percent! I mean, first of all, social media has become a separate job, I think, for a lot of people in this industry. It is a way to promote things you believe in, your work, organizations, but also, it can be evil. You can go down that rabbit hole of negativity so quickly. If you’re in the business or not in the business, it’s not the healthiest thing, but it’s sort of a necessary evil in a way. On the positive side, it’s a way to connect with fans, talk to people, and put out a message that you believe in.

And I think for young women, too, it’s dangerous for them to compare themselves to things online, in general. We can say it a million times, but you just learn as you grow up. You discover who you want to be, not who people want you to be.

TrunkSpace: That’s what drew us to your Backstage piece. You don’t have to be an actor to relate to it. There was a section in there where you talked about not always having to be perfect in what you were doing, and for many people, that resonates regardless of the industry.
Vandervoort: Yes, and that can be on many different levels. I was specifically writing it about the auditioning process. You don’t have to go in and have a polished performance. Again, this is my opinion and experience, but I used to just kill myself over trying to get everything word perfect and exactly what I thought that they wanted to see. That’s not the case. You can go in and you can discover while you’re in the room, and you can hold the lines in your hand. I just think, in a way, there’s something more interesting in that because they’re seeing an unpolished human, which is more interesting to watch than someone who’s got their shit together. It just makes you relatable.

But, it could also be seen in that, as a woman in the business, you don’t have to be perfect. You don’t have to be exactly like everyone else. Everyone has their own look. Everyone has their own style and that’s what makes you interesting as an actor. That’s what you put into the character – you. Because, like I said in the article, that’s something that you have that no one else has. You.

TrunkSpace: Perfection is an illusion that everyone is chasing.
Vandervoort: Yeah, you’re constantly going to be chasing that unachievable goal and you’re going to either exhaust yourself, just give up, or you’re going to have a frustrating journey.

Just accept that you are you, and you are the way that you’re supposed to be, and you find your own path and you perform the way you want to perform. But again, it takes time, too. You can’t just read something that someone wrote and go, “Okay. I get it.” You have to go through the process.

Vandervoort in Jigsaw. Photo by Brooke Palmer – © 2017 – Liongate

TrunkSpace: So would the Laura you are speaking to in that letter, would her experience on “Jigsaw” have been different for her than it was for you today?
Vandervoort: Yeah, but really, only in what I’ve learned over the years. I didn’t know that I could relax and have fun on set. I didn’t know that it was okay to laugh. You don’t have to be serious all the time. You can find your own moments in those scenes. You can disagree with someone.

As a kid, everyone always said, “You’re so mature. You’re like a grownup.” And I always thought that was a great thing until I realized I didn’t have any fun. All those years went by and I didn’t joke around. And now, I do. I take time out of the day to just be where I am, not to be so tunnel-focused and just enjoy the experience and the process, the ups and the downs.

I really wish I hadn’t been like that. I think I could have had so much more fun.

TrunkSpace: Because for us, the viewers, we remember the end product. But for you, the memories are going to come from the experience, right?
Vandervoort: Exactly. And I couldn’t tell you a lot of the experiences growing up as a kid on set, because I only thought about my scenes, and the directors, and what the director said. I remember bits and pieces of things, like moments with actors. Caroline Rhea, when I was on a Disney movie with her, she had a heart to heart with me, but that rarely happened as a kid. And now, I’m making long, lifetime friendships with actors and producers and directors, and being my true self.

TrunkSpace: You mentioned having fun on set now and taking the time to enjoy the process, but looking at the trailer for “Jigsaw,” your character seems like she’s in some really serious situations and sort of, more or less, focused on survival. From a performance standpoint, does that force you to remain in a heightened fight-or-flight mode?
Vandervoort: Yeah, the majority of the scenes in “Jigsaw” were high stakes. I definitely still had to be in a somewhat focused head space for some of the particular scenes that you’ll see in the movie, that I as a human being couldn’t quite wrap my head around. I mean, some of the things that my character has done, they were hard to shoot those scenes. And, when I was in the traps, obviously it’s very physically and emotionally draining. But that’s what it needed to be, and all the other actors all just went for it. And then, in between takes, we joke around and get back to it.

I used to think that that would hinder a performance if I relaxed, especially with a movie like this, but I actually think it helped because it would refresh your mindset and you go back to the scene and something different would come forward. You’re not just in this robotic state, doing the same thing.

TrunkSpace: Is it hard not to bring that heightened level of performance – the racing heart experience – home with you at the end of the day?
Vandervoort: I tend to not take that stuff home. With this character, with any other intense characters, I do mentally prepare and prepare with my script weeks in advance and however much time I have, and sometimes will come up with a playlist that I think that the character would relate to, or that helps me get into that mindset. But the minute that you’re done, you’re done. That’s the end of the day. You go home and that’s you. That’s your life and then you get back into it the next day.

TrunkSpace: One of the things that the Saw franchise has always been good at is being inventive within the genre itself. In a place where fans have sort of seen everything, what does “Jigsaw” have that people may feel like they haven’t seen before?
Vandervoort: Well, one of the things I was excited about, aside from being a part of the Saw franchise, which is one of the biggest franchises out there and I’m a huge fan of, was Michael and Peter Spierig, the directors. I was already a fan of their work. I watched “Predestination” recently and thought it was just brilliant, and visually they’re so talented. They’re just incredible directors to work with, and I knew that before even meeting with them. And so, I think that the fans of the franchise will get everything that they’ve always loved about the movie – Kramer and the traps, and people making amends and apologizing for their behavior and whatever they’ve done in society, but with Peter and Michael, I think just visually, this is going to be a different film. They delve deeper into characters and their pasts. You really get to see more of a glimpse into why they did what they did, why they deserve to be there, and they have more, I think, of a note on humanity than the other ones might have. To me, it’s just a different style of the feature. They have their own take on it, but it still has all of the things that people will expect as well, it’s just a heightened version of it.

TrunkSpace: From a performance standpoint, did you have to go anywhere with the character that you didn’t anticipate when you first signed onto the project?
Vandervoort: They were a little secretive about the character when I first signed on. I had a rough idea of who she was, what she might have done, but the big reveal of what she truly did didn’t come until I got the script. And they actually only released pages that were necessary for the actors to see. So, because I had a rough idea, I knew what I was in for. But when I read it, it was sort of horrifying. It’s something that I had to think about once I read it. “Do I really want an audience to see me do this?” And then I thought, you know what, I’m telling a story. For what she’s done, she had a reason. I just tried to understand her reasoning because I was going to be playing her.

It was real f’d up trying to get on her side to play her, to understand why she felt she had to do this, so that was an adjustment, for sure. And once people see what it is, they’ll be like, “Okay, I can see how that was a little odd.”

Jigsaw” opens October 27.

Featured image by: John Bregar

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Chilling Out

Kevin Greutert


Chilling Out is where TrunkSpace talks all things horror and genre with those who work in the projects that give us the thrills and chills to keep coming back for more. This time out we’re talking with director Kevin Greutert about his latest film, the thriller “Jackals” starring Deborah Kara Unger, Stephen Dorff, and Jonathon Schaech.

We sat down with Greutert to discuss the process of working on a large moneymaking franchise like “Saw,” how he was the only creative person to contribute to all eight films, and why he always edits the projects he directs.

TrunkSpace: You have worked on big franchises and with original content that no one has ever been exposed to before. Does each offer a different kind of excitement throughout the production process and prior to an audience seeing them?
Greutert: The movie series I’m most closely associated with is “Saw” and during the main run we were blessed with a large and ardent fan following, people who closely followed the complex storyline and did their best to make predictions about upcoming sequels. Naturally those of us on the inside tried to anticipate and satisfy these expectations, though this wasn’t always a smooth process because producers, actors, directors and writers often have very different views of the best way forward with a story. So the creative team (writers and directors) often had to struggle for a long time to convince the producers and studio that our way forward was the best. And naturally each director had different opinions from the others about what to do as the series developed. The directors had a lot more power over these kinds of decisions in the early years, and by the time we got to the seventh, well… things got pretty tough for me. I didn’t think I’d ever see another “Saw” set after leaving Toronto in 2010, but they managed to figure out a way to get me to return to at least the editing room for the latest, “Jigsaw,” so I guess miracles can happen. I think there’s some audience excitement to see this new installment, but not nearly on the level of the previous films, though this is difficult to gauge since the cruel removal of the message boards from IMDb, as well as the erasure of House Of Jigsaw, the main “Saw” series forum.

TrunkSpace: In addition to that, does each have a different set of storytelling hurdles? For instance, with a long-running franchise like “Saw,” does continuity become a focus?
Greutert: I did everything in my power to make sure the “Saw” films made consistent sense from one to the next, and even used “Saw VI” to clean up some messy business from the earlier installments, such as the notorious letter that Amanda reads in “Saw III,” that was shot for the sake of creating intrigue without any plan for where it would go. All franchise film and TV series creators have the same kinds of hurdles, and sometimes you have to let some errors go and just hope that nobody notices. It also makes sense to maintain the cinematic style set early on, despite an individual director’s desire to set his or her own mark on a project. You have to find ways to do that while staying true to what has come before you.

TrunkSpace: You are wearing multiple hats on your new film “Jackals,” tackling both directing and editing. Does editing a project that you also directed help to further cement your cinematic vision on any given project? Are you giving away control on a project when someone else is serving as editor?
Greutert: I have edited or co-edited all of my films. I would lose my mind if I didn’t have the opportunity to go through all the footage and feel my way through the scenes. It is absolutely essential to me – if I don’t look under every stone, I’ll feel I did a disservice to my project. I wish I could be less of a control freak about this, but I can’t.

TrunkSpace: “Jackals” has been circulating throughout festivals before officially releasing on September 1. Have you been able to sit in on any of the screenings and what is it like absorbing an audience’s reaction in real time?
Greutert: I’ve been working on a film in China since June, so unfortunately I have not been in any audience screenings. Even while I was editing the film, we only had one test screening and I was out of the country at the time. It’s sad to never see your film with an audience, but that was my unfortunate reality with this project.

TrunkSpace: One of the things we always hear is how some of the best moments in horror cinema came about through happy accidents or because there was a need, either due to financial means or creative failures, to adjust on the fly. Were there any moments like that in the filming of “Jackals” where you had to alter the game plan, but actually preferred the outcome?
Greutert: Well… not really. This film was shot in 15 days on a budget of under a million dollars. That is already such a severe constraint that it’s hard to think of any further restrictions that might have yielded a happy outcome. I had a lot of creative ideas I would have liked to have pursued with the script and storytelling, but was blocked from these for political reasons rather than physical ones. That said, we did make a lot of adjustments to the dialogue on the fly, but that’s pretty standard for me.

TrunkSpace: You’ve been involved with the “Saw” franchise in various capacities since it kicked off in 2004. You’re back as editor for the upcoming “Jigsaw.” What is it like from the inside seeing a franchise grow and evolve over such a long period of time, particularly from the mindset of an editor who has probably seen more of the footage than anyone else ever will?
Greutert: It was pretty exciting, I have to tell you. From the first day of footage on “Saw” 1, which happened to be the opening of the movie, it felt like we had something special on our hands. Even so, I never dreamed it would be such a success, though I joked about it a lot with the writer and director. I was the only member of the creative team to work on all eight films, and for this reason I felt like I always wanted to have some involvement, if for no other reason than to try to be a kind of gatekeeper for the through lines. I’m pretty sure I have more close knowledge of all the details of the story and characters than anything else, so the series is like an unruly child to me, a child that has the potential to turn out very, very wrong if you don’t give it lots of guidance. That said, the only installment where I had much true creative control was “Saw VI.”

TrunkSpace: When you were cutting together that first film, did you have any idea that you’d be here today nearly 15 years later, still talking about it?
Greutert: No. Not even close. That franchise made my career as both editor and director. I truly don’t think I’d be working in film anymore if I hadn’t gotten that lucky break back in 2003.

TrunkSpace: Your career has spanned a wide variety of genres, but in recent years you have spent most of your time in the horror/thriller world. Is that by design? Do those particular projects have a greater pull on you than other genres?
Greutert: Getting the “Saw” editor gig was a freak accident. I’ve always loved the great horror films of the past, but didn’t have deep knowledge of the genre as a whole, though my artistic tastes in general run very dark. I’ve tried hard to get films off the ground in other genres, but I’ve been pretty severely pigeonholed as a Horror Guy. That’s why I’m so excited to be doing a science fiction film here in Beijing.

TrunkSpace: Horror continues to be a popular genre in film, and while a handful of horror series have succeeded on television, most fail or never get produced. Why does horror have such a hard time finding its niche in the world of TV?
Greutert: I’ve never worked in television, so I don’t have strong opinions about that. So much of horror is about pushing the audience to imagine the worst in order to create a sense of dread. Sooner or later this anticipation has to pay off. Suspending it for even ten consecutive minutes in a feature film is insanely difficult, however, so how you might prolong this over whole seasons of television is a daunting thought for me.

TrunkSpace: As you look back over your career, what project do you feel you learned the most on in terms of how a production works and how to keep things running smoothly?
Greutert: Prior to directing “Saw VI,” I had spent almost no time on any film sets. So it was a real trial by fire, and I had to learn a huge amount about the process of guiding a film both creatively and physically. Fortunately I had a great assistant director, production designer, and line producer to help me out. With each film I learn a huge amount more. Every project is different, and you learn to anticipate what aspects are going to be most challenging. Now that I’m working in a country where the methods are radically different, I’m much more conscious of what I have learned, and how it can be applied in new situations.

TrunkSpace: Do you feel like you’re still learning “on the job” due to every production having its own set of needs and unexpected difficulties?
Greutert: I’ll never know half of what I feel I need to be a great film maker! It’s one of the hardest undertakings you can embark on, making a film, and there are so very few people who have really mastered it. I’m just grateful I’ve been able to have my shots at it.

TrunkSpace: When you look at your career moving forward, what would you like to accomplish? Do you have bucket list items that you want to check off in your career?
Greutert: I’ve got several projects I’d still like to make, most of them outside the horror genre. One is a historical sea adventure, one is a comedy about a Russian spy in the 1950s, and in general I’d like to do as much science fiction as possible – that’s my favorite genre.

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