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The Dogs' Bollocks

The winning film combination last year had to be Tim Roth, the coolest actor in Britain, appearing in Reservoir Dogs, voted best film in the Brat Awards. Johnny Dee meets up with Mr. Orange to find out why the quintessential Englishman now has an American accent.

"Great. Fuck 'em".

A year after its theatrical release there is still no sign of Reservoir Dogs ever coming out on video. Last year, Quentin Tarantino's debut feature became the main ammunition the censorship lobby hurled at Britain's moral guardians as indicative of declining family values. While big-budget no-brainers slipped through their caring net, not to mention Man Bites Dog, Reservoir Dogs was singled out and, under a hail of tabloid pressure, was refused a certificate. Not that it seems to bother Tim Roth, whose role as the blood-caked Mr. Orange won him the title of Coolest British Actor. In fact, he's delighted about it.

"It'll make more money," he says in an accent lost somewhere between Heathrow and Hollywood. "The heavier they come down on it the better it'll do. Why should those right-wing fuckers tell me what I can and cannot see? Child pornography and snuff movies is where I draw the line, but it's my line to draw, not Mary Whitehouse's or anyone else's. Reservoir Dogs was not a violent movie, that's such a load of bollocks. What it does is address violent issues honestly, as opposed to Lethal Weapon or The Terminator."

Tim Roth is an actor who has earnt kudos, if not fame of his contemporaries, playing rough-edged, prickly characters. In person he is equally edgy and passionate about his roles and his profession, although quick to distance himself from the lovey brigade. He talks from a fiercely held working class perspective -- a background the London Evening Standard worked hard to rubbish a few years ago, interviewing his sister and showing photos of the family home.

Born in South London in 1961, Roth grew up with his mother and sister after his father, a journalist, left home when he was a kid. Although his father remains his biggest influence in his life (he died four years ago) tin pot psychologists would be quick to assume that being brought up in such a feminine environment -- and being nicknamed Titch at school -- is the reason why his roles to date have been embroiled in machismo. From the skinhead racist in Made In Britain to the crooks of The Hit and The Cook, The Thief, His Wife, And Her Lover to Mr. Orange in Reservoir Dogs, Roth has made the screen hooligan his own, but it goes much further than that.

Roth's career is often paralleled with that of Gary Oldman's -- they appeared together in Mike Leigh's Meantime and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. While Oldman has gone on to sink his teeth into major Hollywood roles, Tim Roth has held the middle ground. Like Oldman, he left London for Hollywood a few years ago, but unlike his contemporary and friend, has steered clear of the major studios and chosen low-budget roles that interest him.

More than aware that acting is not a hard day's toil at the foundry, for Roth the joy of acting is to jump into someone else's shoes.

"It's what I do, I can't do anything else," he laughs, necking a Becks in Holland Park hotel bar. "It makes me feel alive. I'm still here, I haven't been killed, but when you do a film it's the closest you can come to the edge. And then you can fuck off home. It's what we did when we were little kids -- cowboys and indians in the back garden. And I'm still doing that and it's wonderful."

On the back of Reservoir Dogs he was offered major parts but decided instead to take on the low-key Generation X movie Bodies, Rest and Motion, directed on a shoestring by Michael Steinberg and starring the film's co-producer Eric Stoltz, Bridget Fonda and Phoebe Cates.

"When I first heard about it I thought, 'I don't want to make this film'. But, you know, it's very sweet, so I though, 'Why not?'. No one gets their legs blown off, there are no car chases, it's just about these people's lives and you just go and watch them for a bit and then you leave them."

Roth left England several years ago because, he says, he was bored of working abroad and only returning home to go on the dole -- "it was either America or EastEnders". Now he hangs out with Harry Dean Stanton and Johnny Depp in LA ("He's got great tattoos, I'd cover my whole body in them if I could") and only returns to Blighty to visit his son, who lives with his ex-wife in New Cross. There are, however, tentative plans for him to appear in Gary Oldman's directorial debut -- which is, natch, about South London football hooligans.

"When I come back now," says Roth, "everyone looks knackered and grey. All the fight's gone out of people, they've been de-politicized by Mr. Monochrome. Frankly I would rather live in an openly corrupt country than somewhere where they sweep it under the carpet. If people can't vote out the Tories -- and I don't care what the opposition is like -- then I'd rather not live here."

It has been three years since Roth acted in his own voice (as well as Dogs he's played a down-and-out New Yorker in the rarely seen Backsliding: Jumpin' At the Boneyard [sic], while his accent in Bodies, Rest and Motion is nondescript American) and at the time of this interview was arguing with Quentin Tarantino over whether his character in the forthcoming Pulp Fiction should be English or not. For the time being, Britain's coolest actor has an American accent.

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