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Tim Roth Is Such a Monster

Playing the muscle-bound, lumbering villain in The Incredible Hulk may seem like an odd career choice for Tim Roth. But he had a very specific reason for taking the role

By Bob Strauss

Perhaps you've heard that they're not very happy in Hulkville.

Edward Norton, the stubborn star of The Incredible Hulk, reportedly had a few post-production creative differences with brand-new production company Marvel Studios. Then both the actor, who was hoping for a more character-based take on the mean, green comic book legend, and Marvel got mad at the reporters who reported on their differences.

And hanging pall-like over the whole effort, from start to finish, is the memory of The Hulk, Ang Lee's poorly received, cerebral take on the franchise from five years ago.

But then, who could really expect a movie about a mild-mannered scientist who gets zapped by gamma rays and turns into a muscle-bound rage-aholic to be all fun and games?

If they call you the Abomination, you do.

Tim Roth plays Hulk nemesis Emil Blonsky, who becomes an even bigger and more destructive monster after military experiments (and lots of CGI) kick in. According to the English actor, Abominating around on the special effects-laden set was a blast.

For him, anyway.

"As far as I'm concerned, it was just a lot of fun stuff going on, that's all that I know," Roth, 47, says during a recent L.A. interview.

Perhaps Roth's motivation for making a comic book movie kept him from taking the project too bloody seriously. The stage-trained, well-regarded actor -- a favourite of auteur directors ranging from Francis Ford Coppola (Youth Without Youth), Stephen Frears (The Hit, Roth's first feature film) and Robert Altman (Vincent & Theo) to Quentin Tarantino (Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction) and Tim Burton (Planet of the Apes) took the I-Hulk job, he claims, solely to please his two adolescent sons.

Of course, that generated a different kind of angst.

"This is just one for my boys," Roth insists. "Really, on set, all I was asking was, 'This has got to be a cool shot for my kids, all right? Am I going to look cool in it?' It's truly, completely about that for me. And we've done some very cool things; I think it's going to be fun....I'm in my own world with this one. There's a lot going on that I didn't see."

Initially, Roth wasn't even aware of the bad vibes the previous Hulk movie had created. "I never bothered about it," he says. "First of all, I didn't know there was a problem with the first one. I'd never seen it and I don't read reviews, so I had no idea. And once I'd said yeah, then I found out that people had had issues."

Marvel obviously felt that hiring Louis Leterrier, the French director of the adrenalized Transporter films, would help avoid some of the artier pitfalls Lee dug for himself. Why they also chose the equally intellectual Norton, who has a writing credit on the film, was a head-scratcher at the time of his casting and remains so.

But that's just not the kind of thing Roth dwells on, whatever or whomever the buzz is about. Especially if it's about himself.

"I never pay attention to stuff like that, and I mean that in all honesty," he says. "I have very strict rules about what I think of being an actor and how one should behave. I very rarely see films I'm in. I don't look at entertainment magazines; I don't see a photograph of myself except purely by chance. I stay away from it all, and that helps a lot, so really what you're concentrating on is the experience of making the film and if it's good or if it's bad."

While he obviously puts a lot of care into his work, Roth refuses to mistake acting, like some do, for anything overly important. A middle-class kid who was not exactly comfortable at his school in London's tough Brixton district, he began acting as a lark.

"I auditioned for a play at school purely as a joke, and I got it," he recalls. "I had to do it in front of all the bullies. But when I walked on stage, that's when I discovered it and decided I wanted to do it. I was 16, and I just pushed right through and started doing television and film, and a lot of theatre."

Even now, after more than 60 theatrical and TV movies, Roth just kind of shrugs about his accomplishments. "I can't do anything else, that's the problem," he says with a chuckle. "The reality sort of hits you. I mean, it's 25 years of doing it, and it's spoiled brat time to complain about it, because you're doing a job that isn't really a job."

Must be home life that keeps him humble. Indifferent as he is to both criticism and praise, Roth does hope that, whatever its other troubles may or may not be, The Incredible Hulk pleases the only viewers he seems to really care about. "I am treated with great suspicion," he says, referring to his sons. "'So, is it going to be cool, dad? Is it?' And you don't know. I mean, I could be ridiculed when I drop them off at school."

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