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The Shotcaller

Tarantino's favorite limey talks about why acting sucks, why movies are even worse, and how his kids just might be the reason The Incredible Hulk turns out well.

By Peter Rubin

When you're a major part of two of the most influential movies of the '90s, people tend to pigeonhole you. But Tim Roth's career has been anything but typecast. Since his riveting turns in Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction, Roth has played everything from a gangster to an apeman to Tupac's junkie pal -- and now, in Francis Ford Coppola's intricate Youth Without Youth (out this month) he's an eternally young time-travelling schizophrenic professor . . . we think. With upcoming roles in the disturbing Funny Games and the much-hyped Hulk sequel, Roth remains one of the most wide-ranging and compelling actors working today.

Francis Ford Coppola hasn't made a movie in 10 years. Was that why you signed on for Youth Without Youth?

My first thought when I read it was, I don't know how the hell you're going to do this. How do you make a film like this? But I thought it was an extraordinary chance to get back to acting, which I've been missing for a long time. A lot of stuff that you do, it doesn't require any acting. It's just behavior.

You've been working steadily for the past 15 years, but did you ever feel like you were dropping off the radar?

I didn't pay much attention to it, really. I had the experience of directing once [1999's The War Zone], and I really wanted to get back to that, but I couldn't afford to because of the nature of film itself changed. What you got to be paid in a film, except if you're in the top five on the A-list, really dropped. Consequently, what you were doing as an actor was just trying to pay the rent. You weren't really thinking about the content, you were thinking about how to keep the roof over your family's head.

Is that an artistic compromise for you?

It's a complete compromise. It's what every actor has to do. You have to do so many crap films so that you can afford to do one or two good ones. And that's more of what actors have to do than it used to be -- they're foolish if they don't. As soon as you get big business taking over the so-called independent film industry, you're screwed! Any kind of artistic integrity is scrapped because it's sales, you know, it's advertising. And you're lucky if you get a weekend in the box office [at all] if you're a film that has a different story line. You're trying to rent the space in the cinema when the "Action Movie 23" sequel us playing.

Funny you should bring that up, since you're playing the Abomination in The Incredible Hulk.

Well, it was kind of presented to me in a different way: "Let's get some actors in." And there was a chance to do something my kids could see -- they rarely see anything that I'm in -- and also to pay the rent. It all came in the same package. It's quite a big decision to be in one of these movies because if it's successful -- and that's a very big if -- but if it is successful, then it's on the lunch boxes, and you become known for that. If it's unsuccessful, then that carries another curse with it as well: the uncool movie, the uncool character. I mean, I know that we're shooting, and my kids think it's pretty cool [laughs]. That, believe me, is my standard on set.

The first Hulk was a famously strained project, but this new one seems lighter.

Well, this isn't Chekhov. It's supposed to be fun for kids and the parents of those kids who have to sit in the cinema or have to buy them those toys at Christmas. It's supposed to be fun for them, and if we get that right, we're good.

Don't forget the vast audience of kids' minds in grown-men bodies.

I missed Comic-Con, but I definitely know that it's there [laughs].

People are talking up the technology that melds CGI with actual acting. Can you give us some sense of how much of you is in the Abomination?

A lot. And I can't give anything away but . . . it's different from what people are thinking.

The trailer for Michael Haneke's Funny Games remake is pretty unsettling.

It's one of the hardest things I've done as an actor. It's a very difficult thing to come to the set every day -- and we shot in sequence -- to be in that much distress. We had to really feel it to get that across to the audience. I don't know if it's a good film or a bad film. I don't know if it's exploitative or not. I don't think I'll ever see this one. This one's too disturbing for me.

There's been a lot of talk over the years about Tarantino's war epic Inglorious Bastards. Is that moving forward?

He's talked to me about it in the past and it does keep coming up -- people keep coming up to ask me about it. And I'm really not sure. I owe him a phone call. My feeling with Quentin has always been that I'd work with him at the drop of a hat.

People always yell at actors as though they are their characters, it seems. What do you hear the most?

Oh, that "Everybody be cool" thing. "This is a robbery!" Pulp Fiction-type stuff. I'm often quite surprised, really obscure stuff comes up. Little Odessa and things like that. Gridlock'd. Hoodlum comes up a lot, too. It's very strange, isn't it? I never can pin it down.


Reflection Internal: Roth's tips on staying sane in Hollywood.

Avoid Bad Press: "About 10 years ago, I just stopped reading reviews. Literally stopped. No reviews whatsoever."

Avoid Good Press: "I don't read any interviews I've given, trade magazines, or anything to do with the film industry."

Ignorance Is Bliss: I don't know who the cultural icons are, which is amusing to people around me."

Trim the Fat: "Get a TiVo-type thing and you never have to see commercials, you don't have to see trailers. Just shut it all down."

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