Leigh Whannell

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Leigh Whannell
Whannell in 2018
Born (1977-01-17) January 17, 1977 (age 47)
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
  • Actor
  • screenwriter
  • producer
  • director
Years active1996–present

Leigh Whannell (/ˈli ˈwɑːnɛl/;[1] born 17 January 1977) is an Australian filmmaker and actor. He is best known for writing films directed by his friend James Wan, including Saw (2004), Dead Silence (2007), Insidious (2010), and Insidious: Chapter 2 (2013). Whannell made his directorial debut with Insidious: Chapter 3 (2015), and has since directed two more films, Upgrade (2018) and The Invisible Man (2020).

Whannell and Wan are the creators of the Saw franchise. Whannell wrote the first installment, co-wrote the second and third installments, was producer or executive producer for all the films, and appeared as the Adam character in three of the installments.[2] He was also the writer of the Saw video game (2009), and co-writer of the 2014 film Cooties.



Whannell in 2010

Whannell was born 17 January 1977.[3]

A writer since childhood, Whannell worked as a reporter and film critic for several Australian television shows, including ABC's Recovery, a Saturday morning youth-oriented program that was hosted by Dylan Lewis. Whannell has described the show in a 2011 blog post:

The result was that instead of following the usual MTV ideal of what teenagers want in a TV show—“Hey kids, coming up next we’ve got some seriously WICKED windsurfing moves!!”—Recovery managed to tap into the so-called “alternative” movement that was in full swing at the time by giving teenagers what they actually want: genuine, unpolished anarchy.[4]

Whannell had originally auditioned for the host role, but was later employed as a reporter; Whannell's first interview was with Jackie Chan and he has stated that "Recovery is the best job I've ever had ...".[4]

Whannell appeared in Episode 4, Season 1 of the RMITV production Under Melbourne Tonight presents What's Goin' On There? on 10 June 1998.[5]


Whannell filming Saw III in 2006

In 2003, Whannell appeared in a minor role in The Matrix Reloaded, as well as in the video game Enter The Matrix as the character "Axel".

While in film school, Whannell met James Wan. Together, the two wrote a script for what would become Saw. After making a short film in 2003 to showcase the intensity of the Saw script, the feature film version, directed by Wan, was made in 2004 and became a low-budget sleeper hit. Whannell played Adam in the film, one of the main characters. The popularity of Saw led to a sequel, Saw II, which was directed and co-written by Darren Lynn Bousman, and on which Whannell co-wrote and revised Bousman's original script, titled The Desperate. Whannell also served as an executive producer.

Around the same time, Whannell returned to collaborate with Wan; they wrote a film called Dead Silence, which Wan directed. It was originally slated for a 2006 release, but small problems with the title pushed the release date back to March 2007. In 2006, the duo composed the story for Saw III; Whannell wrote the screenplay for the third time. It was again directed by Bousman and was released on 27 October 2006. Whannell has a featured cameo, reprising his role as Adam. Saw III grossed $33,610,391[6] on its opening weekend, making around $129,927,001 worldwide (after 38 days in cinemas) and is currently the most successful Saw film to date.

Whannell's writing partner, Wan, was chosen to direct the film Death Sentence, the first feature film with their participation that they did not write themselves. Whannell has a small role as Spink in Death Sentence.

Whannell (right) and James Wan (left) attending the Saw 3D premiere on 27 October 2010.

In 2008, Whannell took off his "writing hat" to perform alongside Nathan Phillips in Dying Breed, a low-budget Australian horror film about a team of zoologists exploring the Tasmanian wilderness to locate a creature thought extinct, the thylacine, or Tasmanian tiger. Instead, they wander into the domain of cannibals who retain their ancestor Alexander Pearce's taste for human flesh, and become prey.

Before and during the production of Saw, Whannell sought medical treatment. "I was going through a bit of a tough time healthwise and suffering anxiety," says Whannell. "The anxiety manifested itself in physical ways. I was suffering headaches everyday for nearly a year. It was serious stuff and really started affecting my life." Spending time in a hospital inspired him to endow the lead antagonist of the Saw series, John Kramer / Jigsaw, with cancer. "It was weird to be 25 and sitting in a neurological ward and I'm surrounded by people who actually had brain tumors. It was very scary and it was my first proper look at mortality. I really wanted to get my health back and it really hammered home how important good health is. If you've got that, you've got everything".[7]

Whannell wrote the script for and acted in the 2011 paranormal thriller film, Insidious, which was directed by Wan and produced by Oren Peli.[8]

In relation to the Saw franchise, Whannell stated, also in 2011:

It's hard to say definitively, because we don't own the copyright for it. The producers could make 10 more if they wanted to. But, if we're to take them at face value, they told us that they were definitely done with it. They're pretty exhausted. They've been making one a year every year for the past seven years, so I think they need some time off.[9]

Media reports were published in mid-2013 in regard to Cooties, a film project that Whannell is an executive producer, actor and screenwriter for. The film's plot concerns an extreme virus that infects an isolated elementary school.[10] Whannell made his directing debut on the sequel Insidious: Chapter 3 (2015), which he also wrote.[11][12]

In 2014, Whannell expressed possible interest in returning to the Saw franchise;[13] however, in a November 2013 post on his personal blog, Whannell described a new chapter beyond his partnership with Wan, as the director had finally reached his goal of making epic-style blockbuster productions. Whannel explained: "Now, he's off making the films he's always wanted to make - the big ones. I have no doubt that his name will be added to that special club of film directors that he's always admired very soon. I'm so happy for him, like a proud father. And that is why it is the end of an era." Whannell also added that he doesn't rule out collaborating with Wan again, but he felt like he needs to direct a film for the first time.[14]

Whannell was writer-director of the science fiction body horror film Upgrade, which was released by Blumhouse Tilt and OTL Releasing in 2018 to positive reception. Whannell next wrote, directed, and co-executive produced a retooling of H.G. Wells' book The Invisible Man. The film starred Elisabeth Moss and Oliver Jackson-Cohen, and was released in 2020 to universal critical acclaim. In July 2020, it was announced that he is working on a sequel to The Invisible Man. Whannell is currently working on a reboot of Escape from New York. He is also producing and directing a sequel series to Upgrade. In June 2022, he was in talks to direct a reboot film based on the Green Hornet titled The Green Hornet and Kato from Amasia Entertainment and Universal Pictures[15]


Short film[edit]

Year Title Writer Executive
2003 Saw 0.5 Yes Yes
2008 Doggie Heaven Yes No
2018 Home Shopper Story Yes

Feature film[edit]

Year Title Director Writer Executive
2004 Saw No Yes No
2005 Saw II No Yes Yes
2006 Saw III No Yes Yes
2007 Dead Silence No Yes No
2010 Insidious No Yes No
2013 Insidious: Chapter 2 No Yes No
2014 Cooties No Yes Yes
The Mule No Yes Yes
2015 Insidious: Chapter 3 Yes Yes No Directorial debut
2018 Insidious: The Last Key No Yes No Also producer
Upgrade Yes Yes Yes
2020 The Invisible Man Yes Yes Yes
2023 Insidious: The Red Door No Story No Also producer
2024 Wolf Man Yes Yes Yes Pre-production

Executive producer only

Acting roles[edit]

Year Title Roles Notes
1996 Neighbours Stuart Maughan 2 episodes
1996–2000 Recovery Himself ABC Music TV series
1999–2000 Blue Heelers Jared Ryan 2 episodes
2003 Saw David Short film
The Matrix Reloaded Axel [16]
Razor Eaters Nick D.
2004 Saw Adam Stanheight
One Perfect Day Chris
2006 Saw III Adam Stanheight
2007 Death Sentence Spink
2008 Dying Breed Matt
2010 Insidious Specs
Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole Jatt (voice)
2013 The Pardon Clement Moss
Crush David
Raze Elevator Guard
Insidious: Chapter 2 Specs
2014 Cooties Doug [16]
The Mule Gavin
2015 Insidious: Chapter 3 Specs
2017 The Bye Bye Man Larry
Keep Watching Matt Miller
2018 Insidious: The Last Key Specs
Aquaman Cargo Pilot Cameo[16]
2023 Insidious: The Red Door Specs

Video games[edit]

Year Title Role Notes
2003 Enter the Matrix Axel Voice role[16]

Music videos[edit]

Year Artist Song Roles
2021 Deftones "Ceremony" Director[17]


  1. ^ "Leigh Whannell (full interview)". YouTube. 5 June 2015. Archived from the original on 13 December 2021. Retrieved 11 September 2020.
  2. ^ "Leigh Whannell - IMDb". IMDb. 2 June 2018.
  3. ^ Rose, Mike (17 January 2023). "Today's famous birthdays list for January 17, 2023 includes celebrities James Earl Jones, Jim Carrey". The Plain Dealer. Retrieved 17 January 2023.
  4. ^ a b Whannell, Leigh (10 July 2011). "My Years In Recovery: A Sordid Tale Of Celebrity, Anarchy And Graffitied Footwear". The Word in the Stone. Leigh Whannell. Archived from the original on 18 December 2014. Retrieved 9 October 2012.
  5. ^ "UMT list'98". Archived from the original on 15 January 2014.
  6. ^ "Saw III". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 31 October 2009.
  7. ^ Dercksen, Daniel (2007). "Facing Up To The Fear". The Writing Studio. Daniel E. Dercksen. Archived from the original on 20 October 2007. Retrieved 2 October 2012.
  8. ^ Barton, Steve (5 February 2010). "Saw Creators Get Insidious with Paranormal Team". Dread Central. Dread Central Media, LLC. Retrieved 2 October 2012.
  9. ^ The Infamous Billy The Kidd (30 March 2011). "The Kidd Goes 2-On-1 With The Creators Of Saw, James Wan & Leigh Whannell, To Discuss Their New Film Insidious". InfamousKidd.com. InfamousKidd.com. WTF Productions. Archived from the original on 2 April 2011. Retrieved 2 October 2012.
  10. ^ Matt Molgaard (15 July 2013). "Leigh Whannell's 'Cooties' Cast Grows with Rainn Wilson and Alison Pill". Best-Horror-Movies.com. Best-Horror-Movies.com. Archived from the original on 16 January 2014. Retrieved 17 July 2013.
  11. ^ H. Shaw-Williams (November 2013). "'Insidious: Chapter 3′ Scheduled for a Spring 2015 Release". Screen Rant. Screen Rant, LLC. Retrieved 21 February 2014.
  12. ^ "James Wan on Twitter".
  13. ^ Pollard, Andrew (17 October 2014). "Leigh Whannell and James Wan to Return for Another SAW?". Starburst. Retrieved 25 October 2014.
  14. ^ Leigh Whannell (8 November 2014). "Goodbye to a friend, and hello to....something". The Word in the Stone. The Word in the Stone. Archived from the original on 18 December 2014. Retrieved 23 November 2014.
  15. ^ Kroll, Justin (23 June 2022). "'Invisible Man' Director Leigh Whannell Eyeing 'Green Hornet And Kato' Pic At Universal". Deadline. Retrieved 12 June 2023.
  16. ^ a b c d Bell, Amanda (28 January 2021). "Why Axel From The Matrix: Reloaded Looks So Familiar". Looper. Retrieved 23 February 2023.
  17. ^ Blistein, Jon (21 April 2021). "Deftones Team With 'Invisible Man' Director Leigh Whannell for New 'Ceremony' Video". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 23 February 2023.

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