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Tim Roth Unleashed

A quirky role in Reservoir Dogs extends his weird winning streak.

Esquire called them the New Kids on the Lot, but during the recent Toronto Film Festival they were more like the cute boys on the block. Tim Roth, Quentin Tarantino, Michael Madsen, Steve Buscemi--stars of Reservoir Dogs -- were made the center of attention by journalists and public alike, even though none of them are actual "stars".

Except, of course, Tim Roth. His roles in Robert Altman's Vincent and Theo and Tom Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead have brought him worldwide acclaim. Hailed alongside Gary Oldman (JFK) and Richard E. Grant (L.A. Story) as one of Britain's most outstanding young actors, Roth, unlike his countrymen, has shunned big-picture Hollywood deals to concentrate on quirkier, more edgy projects.

Like Reservoir Dogs.

Written and directed by first-time filmmaker Tarantino, this is the story of a group of L.A. thieves and killers who plan a jewel heist that goes very wrong. These ultra-cool guys -- who dress all in black and have colours for names -- gradually go crazy when they realize that they've been set up.

Roth says he likes to work with people with vision -- like Tarantino. "He's one of the best first-time directors I've worked with. He has a completely personal vision, it's all his, which makes it excellent.

"It's brilliant writing," says Roth. "Because there are no emotional stage directions. There are six guys sitting in a diner around a table, all wearing black suits . . . so you're as confused as the viewer until things start to unfold."

Sporting a tattoo on his arm with his eight-year-old son's initials and birthdate ("To keep him with me when I'm away"), Roth dismisses the charge that Reservoir Dogs is gratuitously violent.

"It's as violent as it needs to be," he says. "It's the characters' language and their rules. I think it's much less violent than most of the commercial films that come out, if you want to consider the Lethal Weapons and the Die Hards. But it's realistic in its violence; it's shocking because you see consequences. You gradually get to know all the people with pain and violence inflicted on them."

Watching Dogs' talented ensemble cast -- which includes Harvey Keitel -- one can't help believing that these guys had fun making this film. And after seeing them party around town together at this year's Festival, you know they like to have a good time.

At a midnight screening for the explicit sado-masochistic erotic comedy Tokyo Decadence, for example, Roth kept leaving the theatre after every sex scene to smoke a cigarette. Are we living vicariously here, Tim?

"You noticed?" he smiles embarassedly a few days later in the hotel lounge. Stringy blond hair falling over his face, Roth, 31, has had a rough night but he's giddy and seems to be enjoying his time in the city. "I came here once before for Rosencrantz," he says lighting another cigarette. "I like this Festival because it's a little more laid back than Cannes. I hate Cannes."

A recent immigrant to Los Angeles ("I had to get some work. My country's shot as far as film work"), Roth worked with Britain's top theatre companies, eventually gaining critical acclaim in Alan Clarke's Made in Britain.

He has since worked with the world's most respected directors, including Peter Greenaway (The Cook, the Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover).

"We used to call him the priest," he says of Greenaway. "He used to stand there with his book and coat . . . he had the whole film in his book. I got Vincent while I was doing that, and he put a bandage around my head and had me do a whole sequence of me throwing up in some mussels . . . He was mad! We were pretty much in character from the moment we stepped in the door, and we were horrible and joking around. He'd spend hours arranging an ashtray and we'd just move it as soon as we got in."

Roth has two more films coming up: Jumpin' at the Boneyard and Bodies, Rest and Motion with Bridget Fonda.

"Yeah," he smiles. "Next I might play a dog that turns into a man."

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