Robert Kojder chats with Renata Vaca about her role in Saw X…
Tobin Bell and Shawnee Smith are Saw X‘s beloved returning faces, but there wouldn’t be a Saw movie without victims and traps. One of those victims is a junkie named Gabriela, played by relative newcomer Renata Vaca (her first American production), a fan of the series sincerely happy to have a role in the tenth entry, but also a crucial component to why the story is effective (director Kevin Greutert seems to agree, apparently telling her that her character is the heart of the narrative.) It’s also easy to believe that; if no victim deserves empathy that even Jigsaw and his associate don’t care for, it would be easy to check out of the moral drama the film tackles.
More than a fan of the movies she grew up watching with her uncle, Renata Vaca proves herself as a capable performer here, successfully making us care about her character. She clearly took this role seriously, developing a report with Tobin and Shawnee, exploring her character and how to make the story beats resonate, and wants to excel as an actor.
As such, speaking to Renata Vaca about Saw X, her character, preparing for certain scenes, the series as a whole, her relationship to the horror genre, and other projects she has on the horizon was a pleasure. Please enjoy the interview below:
It’s nice to meet you. The movie is good, and I enjoyed your performance in it.
I am so happy you liked it. Thank you very much!
This is your first time appearing in an American production. So can you tell me what made this different from what you are used to?
This was also my first horror movie ever, so it has been a crazy ride and a challenge for me as an actress, but I’m very happy to be part of it. Very thankful!
Kevin Greutert is very knowledgeable about the Saw series, having directed a couple of them and edited many of them. Would you have signed on to the project if the director had no prior experience working on Saw movies?
I definitely would still be part of the movie if that were the case. But having Kevin work on the movie is super special because he knows what he’s doing, knows the whole Saw world, and edits the movie too. He knows what he wants, and he’s amazing. I’m very happy he was the director.
These films appear to have sympathy for drug addicts. Amanda survives her trap, and technically you survive your trap. You don’t have much dialogue with Amanda, but that thread and theme are still there for viewers to think about. You get to play more than a victim. There’s an actual character for you to play here. Was that part of the appeal to play Gabriela?
Yeah, that was important for everyone involved in the movie. Kevin told me when I first met him that Gabriela was the heart of the movie because the victim makes a bond with Amanda and Jigsaw (and, of course, also the little kid at the end.) So that definitely was something I was very excited about.
Did you speak with Tobin Bell and Shawnee Smith outside of shooting the film to help build your character?
Yes, I had the opportunity to before we started shooting the movie. They were super open to working with me and with all of us. I remember the day I met Shawnee; she said this is important for us. We must work hard to build this relationship because this is important for Amanda’s character. And Tobin, he’s the best person in the world on set. Even when Kevin said cut, he was still working and would come to you and talk to you about the scene and work with you to make it better. I love him. I’m a huge fan of his.
Did you learn anything from him as an actor that you will take forward moving into everything else you do?
Definitely. I think that when you think about someone as famous as him and working on these things, you would imagine that maybe he can be a diva. Some people are like that, but he is super focused every time and cares about what he’s doing and his character. He had these huge monologues and got to the set every day, having it learned by heart; he’s just the best. I really wish when I’m his age, I have a successful career as he does. And I feel like I will if I work hard like that and try to better my craft every day.
I hope you have a long, successful career too.
Back to the theme about drug addicts, is there another sin, crime, or mistake you would like to see a victim survive a test and move on from in the Saw movies?
Oh my God! I think characters like Amanda’s, where you know they’re not mean people and want to help them. It would be super interesting, though, to see someone super young. For example, someone as young as the kid that appears at the end of the movie but finding a legitimate reason for it to happen. I know it’s crazy. Maybe that’s horrible.
[Both of us laugh]
That’s fine, and I like what you said about characters that they mean well and go down the wrong path and being empathetic. Anyway, what kind of preparation did you do to play an addict?
I read a lot of stuff about what the substance that Gabriela takes does in the body. Or watching movies for further reference. Also, something that really helps me is writing letters in Gabriela’s words. They’re not part of the script or anything, but writing letters and relating to the character really helps.
You can imagine acting out your trap all you want, but everything changes once you’re on set and shooting that scene. So how did you prepare for the trap scene, and what changed from the script to acting it out?
That’s a good question! The only thing you can do is, of course, like work, work, work and read, read, read, and try things out. For the screams and the crying part, when you’re doing a scene like that, you’re not ready until you’re there. It’s like Meryl Streep always says, that acting happens or it doesn’t happen. Your previous work helps ease you into the present and do whatever you want. At the same time, you are never prepared for that emotion, and your body gets tired from doing that for around 12 hours and many weeks. But it’s something very exciting that I would do again.
There’s a scene where you and a group of characters pull on intestines as a rope. What did that feel like, and what was it made of?
Oh my God! That was disgusting! I remember when even the people watching the monitors were like, “Ugh!” They were really disgusted by it. We were all wondering what we were doing, but it was fun. I don’t know what it was made of, but touching it was crazy.
What was your history with the Saw movies before this, and do you have a favorite trap?
Wow, that’s a good question! My uncle is a huge fan of horror movies and said I have to see Saw. He was sometimes scared to watch horror movies alone, so he said, “Come on, stay with me and watch this movie.” I said okay and was maybe 10. But I liked it! That was the first time I saw a Saw movie. Then I think my favorite trap, I mean the first trap that appears in this movie, is very painful [referring to the eye-suction device shown in the film’s marketing]. But I also like the one in the second movie at the beginning, where the guy has to open his eye and take a key out of his eyeball. That was insane!
What were some of your other gateways into horror?
There is this Spanish movie, and I don’t know the name of the English, but it’s called El Coleccionista [I believe she is referring to this film, titled The Collector when translated to English]. There is also one, I think it’s from Taiwan, called They Are Among Us or Among Us. And there’s another one that’s called 30 Days at Night [She mentions that these titles are translated from their original language]
Those are unique choices and not what I expected. But I love the answer. I saw you’re working with Diego Calva on an upcoming project. I loved Babylon. So I’m curious about what it’s been like working with him so far?
I’m happy that you know his work! He’s very good. We did a series called Midnight Family, which will hopefully be out on Apple TV next year. It’s a huge and an amazing project. This is the second time I have worked with him. He’s an amazing actor, and he’s an amazing friend. On this series, because we were there for six months working, we had the time to really get to know each other, not just as actors, but as friends. He’s always thinking what he’s going to do next. I’m honored to act alongside him.
This is the 10th Saw movie. Why do you think the series has endured and stayed around for this long?
Ooh, good question! I think it’s because they are so open with gore and blood but were doing creative things with the violence. Also, the John Kramer character is just fascinating. He has some crazy beliefs, especially in how he operates, but he is very interesting. And they are fun to watch, even though they’re painful to watch. It’s pure entertainment. I’m happy they are still here and that I was able to be part of the 10th movie.
I agree with you, and I think this shows John at his most interesting. Thank you for taking the time to talk.
Thank you very much. I’m very happy that you enjoyed it!
Many thanks to Renata Vaca for taking the time for this interview. Read our review of Saw X here.
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com