Ma de in Britain
From the cartoon street-violence of Pulp Fiction. to bloodspilling amid the heather in Rob Roy, TIM ROTH is making his presence felt in the film world. He speaks to Nigel Floyd.
ack in the early 9(1s. before Quentin 'l‘arantino‘s Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction had transformed him from a hard-working British character actor into the hip star of American independent movies. Tim Roth was asked how he saw himself. His typically matter of fact reply was: ‘1 see myself as employed or unemployed. And when I‘m unemployed. l'm depressed.‘ Ironically. Roth first made his name acting unemployed. as the fearsome skinhead Trevor in Alan (‘larke’s 1982 television play Made In Britain. and as the out—of—work Colin in Mike Leigh‘s ,‘Wt'antnnv. liven in his first American film. .lanipin' At T/lt’ lianavan/ (1991). he played a jobless Irish-American father. Nowadays. unemployment is one thing Roth does not have to worry about.
Perhaps because of those early off-screen image has been that of
roles. Roth‘s an angry
young prole. a laddish persona the chain- smoking 33-year-old actor perpetuates with his unkempt appearance and a faded white 'l‘-shirt revealing a tattooed arm. Yet there is not the slightest hint of belligerence in his matey manner. perhaps because. in reality. Roth grew up in middle class Dulwich. the son of a journalist father and a teacher mother who painted. llis route into acting was equally conventional: he dropped out of art college. did some drama classes. worked on and off. and finally got his break in Mat/c In Britain. after auditioning ‘for a laugh‘. When Roth’s sister. Gill saw him as John l-lurt‘s hit man side-kick in Stephen lirears‘ The Hit. she remarked tellingly that she had seen. ‘a tough street cred person that
1 could not reconcile with his middle—class Dulwich roots.‘ 1n the States it was Roth's substantial.
uncompromising body of work rather than his
Tim Roth ln Little Odessa . . .
social background that interested filmmakers. When Roth moved there it was not to star in glossy Hollywood pictures. but to continue making the kind of innovative. low-budget movies he had been making in Britain. ‘1 love American films.‘ says Roth. “especially the early 70s when they were making extraordinary films like .S't‘art'crow, Franc/i (mutation and Mean Streets — all character driven and pretty low-budget. When I went to the US. that was kinda happening again and 1 was really lucky in getting involved in a couple that suddenly made me accessible to all these young independent filmmakers. But acting‘s a job and if they were making films like that over here then I‘d be working here.‘
When ls’t'sw-voir Dogs producer Lawrence Bender first showed the film to its financial backers. he asked them what they thought of the linglish guy. ‘What linglish guy‘." was the puzzled reply. Roth. who had worked hard on his American accent. appreciated the compliment. But was it true that Roth later took his revenge on exacting dialect coach Suzanne
(‘eleste'.’ ‘Yes.’ he admits with a grin. "Suzanne‘s wonderful but she‘s the dialect
Hitler. she's infuriating. So 1 said to Quentin: "(‘ould Suzanne play the woman in the car who shoots me?" So then 1 got to kill her.‘ If Roth had a game-plan for working in the States. it was to master the accent in order to avoid being typecast as the British Baddy. ‘I wanted to play American. to see if 1 could get casting directors to almost think of me as American. so I wouldn‘t be excluded from certain parts and so I wouldn‘t end up like Alan Rickman after Die Hard and Robin Hood. Although it was good for him to get that huge exposure. 1 think it was bad for him as an actor. because that‘s how people came to think of him and afterwards they just wanted him for bad guy roles.‘
‘I don’t get to do sex scenes on rafts at sea in the south of France, I get to do them in toilets.’
Despite the acclaim for his role as Mr ()range in Reservoir Dogs. Roth returned to London soon afterwards. to make ('aptivt's with first- time feature director Angela l’ope. ('aptives marked a change of pace for Roth. who as a prisonerinvolved in an impossible romance with Julia ()rmond‘s visiting dentist revealed a softer. more vulnerable side of himself: ‘lt was different for me. I'd never done anything that had any element of romance before. But it was also like coming home. because Angela was trying for a kind of realism in those prison scenesf
It was also the first time Roth had ever done a sex scene. a prospect he approached with some trepidation. The setting for this rough. reckless. emotionally charged union? A cramped cubicle in the ladies‘ toilet. ‘Yeah. I don't get to do sex scenes on rafts at sea in the south of France. 1 get to do them in toilets. It felt very odd to me. ljust kind of let rip. But 1 had the camera above my back a lot of the time so I had to be very aware of revealing Julia’s face. so you could see the emotions she was going through. As with any scene you‘re involved in. you’ve got to get carried away with it. you‘ve got to try to feel the emotions you’re supposed to be feeling; but after six hours you get pretty bruised and it does lose its veneer.’
Roth has worked with filmmakers as diverse
6 The List 21 Apr-4 May I995