10 Directors to Watch: ‘Saw’ Scribe Leigh Whannell Takes ‘Insidious’ Reins

He cut his teeth on 'Saw.' Now the horror actor-scribe is stepping behind the camera to direct 'Insidious: Chapter 3.'

10 directors to watch
Matt Sayles

After getting in on the ground floor with two of the past decade’s most successful horror franchises, “Saw” and “Insidious,” Aussie spine-tingler Whannell finally found the nerve to direct.

For much of that time, Whannell, one of Variety‘s 10 Directors to Watch, has simply been trying to keep pace with the momentum of a lucky film-school partnership: He met “Saw” director James Wan at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, where the friends hatched the idea for the horror pic. (Whannell played the man with a rusty beartrap clamped to his head in the original short, graduating to co-write the first three pics.)

“Deep down I always wanted to direct, but I was scared, and I avoided it for a long time,” admits Whannell. “I was very happy being a screenwriter and acting.”

But when Wan was tapped to helm the upcoming “Furious 7,” series producer Jason Blum asked Whannell to helm “Insidious: Chapter 3.”

“Yes, it’s as hard and stressful as everyone warned me, but far more of an intimate experience than I expected, and really like an extension of writing,” he says. “You don’t just write about a doorway; you get to choose the door’s color and deal with every last detail.”

Anxious to broaden his horizons beyond horror, Whannell has already lined up several more projects: He wrote tongue-in-cheek “Cooties” — about a rabid schoolyard outbreak — with “Glee” co-creator Ian Brennan (“It premiered at Sundance, and it’s as much a comedy as a horror film,” he says) and also has a sci-fi project called “Stem” up his sleeve.

“I realize that starting with such an established franchise gave me a very cushioned debut as a director, and now I’d like to create whole new worlds and move into different genres,” he says. “I’ve got to make up for lost time.”