TIM ROTH IS tying tubing round his arm and pumping up a vein. He has cooked up some Grade A Class A in a spoon made of aluminium — and aluminium is pronounced ‘aloominum’ — because aluminium is a better conductor of heat than steel (or is it the other way round‘.’).
Now he injects. Now he rolls his eyes and lolls in his chair. Now Tupac Shakur does the same. Behind them lies the blood drained bodies of their erstwhile dealer and his girlfriend. Soon the cops will arrive and even sooner Tim and Tupac will decide it’s time to kick the smack before they. too, kick the bucket. So far. so trendspotting.
‘Hmmm. When I read the script I thought. okay. here we go. a heroin movie.‘ says Roth. ‘but then. what it is about is the red tape. Who do you turn to if you’re an addict and you need help? There’s no free meals in America. And everyone can relate to that red tape, they’ll know it. everyone‘s had it in their life.’
Tim Roth is lying on a bed and pumping his new film. The bed is in London’s Savoy hotel. and the film is Gridlock '(1. On the former he wears a nondescript grey T—shirt. black jeans and biker boots. while cradling a beer and smoking three fags in 25 minutes. In the latter he wears vomit-stained trousers and a 70s anorak while trying to give up heroin and going through every ring of inner-city hell in 24 hours.
Grirllock'rl is Midnight Cowboy meets Boys N The Hood. Roth and Shakur — in his last shoot before he was shot — are unlikely bedfellows. united by their addiction and their roles as two corners of a jazz combo (Thandie Newton is the singer). One New Year’s Day
'When I first met with Tupac he said: "If you haven't seen my films, or heard my music, then don't. I know I come with a reputation.“
they decide to break their habit — cue a schlep round the basement bureaucracy of depressed Detroit. from welfare office to detox clinic to social insecurity building.
Grirl/nck‘il. though. takes the angst out of gangsta. This is no ho’s ‘n‘ homicide. drive-by drive-in movie. Vondie Curtis Hall’s directorial debut is a buddy film. a caper flick. it’s energy deriving not from the click of bullet casings and the throb of low-riding hip-hop, but the crackling rapport between scummy white guy and cool black guy. In this regard. Shakur is astonishingly adroit, playing off Roth‘s nervy. Rizzo-type messiness with nonchalant aplomb.
Was there a deep connection between you and Shakur to give the film its foundation?
‘Ycah. When I first met with Pac he said: “If you haven’t seen my films. if you haven’t heard my music” — which I hadn’t — “then don‘t. I know I come with a reputation.” So then when I met him he convinced me that he could play the role. He’s very good. It’s a very adult performancc.‘
Did he require a steady hand on his tiller?
lie was a little nervous at the beginning. he really wanted to work with me. But above
'People come up in the street and tell me to piss off, so I know they're seeing my films.’ Tim Roth
all he really wanted to play a character that wasn’t what people were expecting. [ think he was bored of it. And the script was written for someone older, but what he brought was a kind of wisdom and a knowledge of that kind of life to it.’
What Roth brought, meanwhile. was the ability to play nerve-jangling low-lifes with
trip-wire personalities; extensive experience of
working with first-time directors; and an excellent American accent.
Roth has just had his own directorial debut green-lighted. An adaptation of Alexander Stuart’s novel The War Zone. it concerns incest, was due to be helmed by Danny Boyle before Trainspotting got in the way. and will be shot in London and Devon in January and February next year. Whether it will do for Roth’s career what Nil By Month will surely do for Gary Oldtnan’s is open to speculation — but at least it lets Roth come back to the UK for the first extended period in six years.
‘I went to America to do Jump In The Boneyard In The Bronx,’ he recalls. ‘which I wasn’t very good in. Then I went to LA for some casting meetings. Then I asked myself what I was going home for and decided to give myself six months. In that six months I was offered Reservoir Dogs.’
And the rest, as they say. is bloody.
‘America is more and more aware of me. People come up in the street and tell me to piss off, so I know they’re seeing the films. And a lot of them are surprised that I’m English. Which is nice. Means I‘m doing something right.
‘lt’s down to homework. I have a dialect coach. On Gridlock ’(l we started three weeks before filming. she‘s on set every day. and we do re-voicing some- times if it‘s necessary. It’s something I did intentionally when I first went to America. I thought: “I should play Americans otherwise l’mjust gonna be the bad English guy.‘
Next up. before The War Zone. is a lead role in Guiseppe ‘C inema Paradiso’ Tornatore's new film. ‘lt’s about a baby that‘s found on a steamship in l900 and who grows up on the ship and never leaves it. never sets foot on land. He becomes a rag-time pianist in the first—class cabin, and it’s his experiences of the world.‘
Tim Roth flexes his short body and scans this swanky hotel suite. He talks motivation and moolah. of his interest in low-life charac- ters and low-budget movies. The dreaded phrase ‘Four Rooms’ isn’t far from his lips.
‘lt depends on why you wanted to become an actor.’ he says of the lure of Hollyweird and the appeal of arthouse. ‘If you wanted to do it to become rich and famous, you can do that in America. And there’s a lot of people trying to do that. Why I stayed was because I got films like Reservoir Dogs and Gridlock '(l — this is great stuff.’
He shrugs, lugs on his beer and tugs on a smoke. That simple. Tim Roth was. he freely admits, in debt up until Rob Roy.
Gridlock’d goes on general release on Fri 30 May.
DEATH or A R GEN”
Tupac Shakur: complex figure lrueAc SHAKUR WAS shot dead in Las Vegas on lSaturday 7 September, 1996. In the months lfollowing his death, numerous theories have circulated about the circumstances surrounding his murder - the most common being that Shakur was a victim of the feud between hip hop artists from America's east and west coasts. Another offers the notion that Shakur faked his 3 death and is still alive.
i Armand White, author of Rebel For The Hell
Of It, a reflection on Shakur's life, subscribes to
none of them: ’Contemporary life in America is : dangerous. Tupac was not the first young black American to be killed in this way. That is happening every day and I think that his death 1 was a part of that ongoing tragedy.’
7 Opinions on Shakur differ wildly. Some i believe he was simply living the ‘gangsta rap’ life, revelling in what Shakur himself dubbed 'thug life’ (a motto he had tattooed on his 5 torso). Others paint Shakur as highly intelligent, sensitive and misunderstood.
’When you met Tupac, he was intelligent, lthoughtful and courteous, nothing like his image,’ says White, 'but like he himself said, the people who said that didn't really know him. I Ego with that. It’s like if you really know someone, you know there are many sides to them, not just one or two.
'Tupac was a very complex figure. The best
1 portrait one can get of him is from his music
3 because that's where he expressed himself most
sincerely. The problem is that you can make a lot
; of money if you're a young black American and
you present yourself as a bad person. Tupac, like
a lot of rappers, had a problem with trying to
make a living and also trying to sustain himself spiritually.
'This was not a simple case of someone living by the sword and dying by the sword. It's
actually a case of a young black man who was confused and who was trapped between a money-making industry and the complexity of race and politics.’ (Jim Byers)
Rebel For The Hell Of It by Armand White will ' be published at the end of June by Quartet Books at £10.
30 May—12 Jun 1997THELIST17