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The Bloke's Progress

By Graham Flashner

Now that Gary Oldman has ascended to the status of playing lead vampire in a major motion picture, the town is in need of a new narrow-faced, paste-white, disagreeably serious actor to take those showcase roles in "uncompromising" small films. Tim Roth is heir apparent. Roth drips classic British bad-boy attitude. Clad in faded jeans, matching jean jacket and white T-shirt, the scruffy actor is standing in a Hollywood dive knocking home pool balls with Fast Eddie Felson precision. A red-faced British tourist approaches Roth, intrigued by this ordinary bloke wielding a pool cue while cameras whir around him. Is he someone famous? "I've done a few things," Roth tells him with a disarming grin.

Roth made a vivid American debut last year in Robert Altman's Vincent & Theo, playing Vincent Van Gogh as an obsessive, violent man of artistic vision. This fall, he brings a De Niro-like intensity to his role in Jumpin at the Boneyard, playing a guy who's trying to save his drug-addicted brother's life -- and, it turns out, his own -- during a harrowing day in their ravaged neighborhood in the Bronx. The low-budget movie, directed by first-timer Jeff Stanzler, is a brave gamble from 20th Century Fox.

"It was depressing to make that film, to get inside that character," says Roth, as if the other screen personae he's taken on have been such charmers. "He'll do anything to get love." To perfect the accent and body language of a Bronx tough, Roth tells me he hung out in local bars and prowled the streets, which does not seem all that far off this actor's beaten path anyway.

Roth says he's always been drawn to dark themes, and to "people who don't fit into normal society." He's the product of a creative, non-conformist family: his father's a journalist, and his mother and sister are painters. Roth gave up art school 10 years ago to take a chance on acting. "I always had the feeling I had nothing to lose," he says simply. "I could always go back to painting."

Roth's second film this fall is the controversial (read: extremely violent) Reservoir Dogs, in which he plays one of a gang of robbers trying to flush out an informer in the aftermath of a bloodily botched jewel heist. The film, which has echoes of early Scorsese with some Mamet-like guy talk thrown in, was a big hit at the Cannes Film Festival. The festival, on the other hand, isn't exactly a winner with Roth. "Cannes is like taking the worst aspects of the business and putting them all in one place."

Roth, who has lived in Hollywood for two years, admits that he's enjoying his Americanization. He recently succumbed to the myth of the American road trip, hitching rides and jumping boxcars with some buddies, an eyeopening experience which, combined with his sting in LA, has led him to declare, "I have no idea what the American dream is." The Hollywood dream appears to be something he has a better fix on: "The main thing to watch out about living here is being around the film industry too much."

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