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Making a Hit

By Judy Lipsey

For the last few years a starry succession of young American actors have trailed romantically across the silver screen while their British counterparts have been slogging round the stage and TV circuits with often less than national recognition. Recently though there's been a sudden new emergence of young British talent headed by the likes of Rupert Everett; whether this is anything to do with the British film industry's growing confidence in itself or not is a moot point; the fact remains that there has been no lasting burst of British cinematic talent since the golden days of David Hemmings and Terence Stamp in the sixties.

One name in the new constellation is 22 year-old Tim Roth, who appears with John Hurt and, ironically, a more mature Terence Stamp in Stephen Frears's The Hit. Judging by his ballistic performance in this, his first film, Tim is unlikely to disappear without trace.

The Hit is one of those films that takes an almost fond look at this country's tacky underworld, a far cry from the streets of San Francisco or Mafia mob rule. In fact, if this had been an American production, it would have been made for TV, but as it's British and filmed in Spain a wider success is almost certain.

The plot concerns Willie Parker (Terence Stamp), a small time crook who grasses on his cronies and escapes to the sanctity of Spain. Ten years later Braddock (a miscast John Hurt) and his hardnut sidekick Myron (Tim Roth) are hired to kidnap Parker, drive him to Paris, and kill him. But after the kidnap Braddock starts to lost his nerve and make mistakes, picking up an unnecessary hostage along the way, while Parker tries to psyche him out with philosophical ramblings, and Myron falls completely out of his depth. They never actually get to Paris of course, and the ensuing game of psychological warfare erupts in an unexpected and violently twisted ending best left unrevealed. Frears directs somewhat flatly, but, like The Long Good Friday, a film in a similar mould, The Hit looks set to do good business.

Roth's portrayal of the psychotic Myron veers from the sinister to the positively endearing--he's not very clever, thinks it's all a bit of a laugh, aspires to the big time but hasn't really got what it takes.

"I liked Myron," says Tim, "I thought he was...sweet! On paper I didn't understand what a shock the ending would be, though. I thought it all made sense because Myron was screwing up so much the something HAD to happen. But you don't really realise what's happening because it's all so matter of fact; there are no glamorous exits, no slow-motion Sam Peckinpah endings."

This is Tim's first taste of impending fame and he's finding it all rather amusing. "People always think I'm playing myself and they expect a punk or a skinhead or a wally to turn up. I've played quite a few punks, skinheads, and wallies in fringe theatre and on television. One person even asked me what villains I know--they seem to forget I'm just acting."

Tim couldn't look further from any of those stereotypes with his fashionably streaked hair, jeans and T-shirt. He sits in his publicist's office surrounded by photos on the wall of "Gorgeous George" Wham and David Sylvian and eulogises about meeting John Hurt and working in Spain.

"I first met John at the airport when we were flying out to Spain together. I'd been there all of three minutes and he made me feel completely at ease. He adores acting, just loves it, and hasn't got a star complex at all. He's quite an extrovert and I learnt a lot from him and Terence while we were filming in Spain. We spent four or five weeks there and had a lot of fun but when I saw it the other week I snuck out to the toilet--it's very embarrassing seeing yourself up there on screen."

Tim smiles a lot. He has the look of someone who's just been on holiday for the first time in years and can't believe it was so good. This turns out to be not far from the truth.

"I went to Paris once when I was much younger but apart from that I'd never been out of the country until I went to Spain. It's fantastic there, the countryside's so interesting--it goes from Arizona-type desert to lush green fields."

Having played punks and wallies, Tim's currently waiting for the next part ("THEY call it resting, I call it signing on") and taking advantage of his time off and his newly acquired taste for traveling.

"I've just been to New York for the first time. I loved all the dance music and the street dancing although I didn't go to any clubs, it was too hot. I was staying on Long Island which is very pretty but when we went into the city we were just sitting in traffic and sweating so I never really got to investigate very much. I thought American TV was weird--all those game shows with their amazing prizes and the contestants are a scream, all madly performing. I watched MTV a lot and I think Cyndi Lauper's wonderful..."

It makes a change to meet refreshing enthusiasm instead of the often guarded cynicism of more experiences actors, and having seen Tim menacing on screen and charming off, I wondered what he'd like to be in next.

"I'd love to do Shakespeare, but it's a question of whether anyone would risk it, I suppose. I'd love to have been in Boys from the Blackstuff and I like anything by Pinter--but everyone says they like him. I like doing film work best; theatre can be very tiring. The last thing I did was with Roger Rees at the Royal Court Theatre. It was very different, quite scary in fact. When it's the first night your adrenaline's right up there, then after a while you have to keep the adrenalin going..."

He positively beams.

As I said, Tim Roth is not going to disappear without trace. You have been warned.

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