Profiles: Tim Roth, Actor
By Jeff Dawson
"Fuckin' horrible these places aren't they?" cackles Tim Roth, venting his well-Perriered spleen on the trusty employees of Dixons, your kindly high street electrical retailer. "Very dodgy looking people that work there and they've always got really horrible clothing as well ... print ties."
Essential observations, these, for Roth's portrayal of Nick, the frighteningly barneted TV salesman from hell who ropes girlfriend Bridget Fonda into a scam to purloin one of his 24-inch beauties in this month's "angst-istential" Bodies Rest And Motion - a sort of Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice gone dust bowl.
"I used to shoplift when I was a kid," offers Roth chummily, keen to highlight the realism of his performance and throwing in an industrial-strength burp for good measure. "Those fake cigarettes that you blew the chalk out of - I got caught stealing those, hahahahaha!"
Charming bastard though he is, what is perhaps more significant about Nick is that he is Roth's fourth consecutive American screen character. And, nearly 11 years on from delivering the UK one almighty Glasgow kiss as a swastika-ed skinhead in the TV play Made In Britain, this enforced exile clearly bothers him. True, he's been in some eclectic British fare since - most notably as a rookie killer in The Hit (1984), as a foppish bovver boy in The Cook The Thief His Wife And Her Lover (1989), and a striking portrayal of Van Gogh (a distant relative of Marvin The Cop) in Vincent & Theo (1990) - but, alas, his current visit to these shores is but a flying one.
"It was a work choice, because in England it's virtually finished unless you do the costume drama, which isn't really for me,' explains the 32-year-old, who followed buddy Gary Oldman across the pond in 1991. "People don't really see me in that way anyway. So I had to find a place where a) I could speak English in films and b) at least get where there was work available. The British film industry's on a suicide mission. Alan Clarke (who directed Made In Britain) snuffed it, and he was the best, he really was the best. Mike Leigh's still doing it, Ken Loach is looking good and Neil Jordan's film did all right, but they are the only people who are making films about the country as it is now as opposed to doing something in the sunshine, the fond look back. Americans do films about their country, whatever kind of dishevelled state it's in. At least they do it, whether it's good or bad."
And one of them who "did" it was, of course, Quentin Tarantino, whose Reservoir Dogs was shot more or less in real time and lasted more or less as long as it took Roth's undercover cop to hemorrhage all over the warehouse.
"That was very sticky," elaborates the man who's come a long way from his humble London pub theatre origins. "It's a syrup and it dries under the lights so you're actually stuck to the floor at some points. We had this conversation that it was about Star Trek when we were doing it. There are always those guys that go down to the planet and you know they're spares and that was what Quentin said about Orange -'He's the spare.' We tried to rig the billing up as a cameo billing, you know, 'And Tim Roth' and then it all emerges . . ."
Unsurprisingly, Roth is unimpressed with the British Board of Film Classification's decision to ban that film on video - "They're such wankers" - his decision to take the Yankee dollar being driven precisely by a desire to make that sort of film.
"I didn't want to be sitting here unemployed any more, I wanted to go and get a job," barks the man who only stumbled across his Made In Britain audition because he'd nipped in to the theatre to borrow a bicycle pump. "The jobs in L.A. were fucking really low-budget, but at least they make low budget movies. I hate the party scene and all that, but you don't have to do that anyway if you want to be a proper actor. My agent has a pretty tough time because I'm always turning stuff down and then saying I haven't got any money but you've got to really stick at stuff that you like. If you look at Harry Dean Stanton, people like that, they've never really gained stardom, but they're still highly respected and he's done some lousy films."
Roth has managed to squeeze in one short BBC TV drama, The Prisoner, due to be broadcast next year, but will next be seen in the TV movie Heart Of Darkness, Nicolas Roeg's version of the Joseph Conrad novel, though he'll most probably register on the public consciousness when he collaborates again with Quentin Tarantino on his upcoming Pulp Fiction. Meanwhile, he'll continue to work as long as you can throw the work at him - provided, of course, that it's any good.
"Two weeks after I finish a job it doesn't matter how exhausting it is, I'm desperate to get back," he grins, sparking up a mid-morning snout. "You don't feel like you're worth anything if you're out of work - you feel like shit. I love working and doing films is such fun. All actors bitch about it, but it's such a fun job.