The Gropes of Roth
Best known for portraying the seedier side of life, TR gets his first sex scene in one of three films released here this month. Amy Raphael gets to grips with Hollywood's favourite lo-fi bad guy.
When TR walked into London's Dorchester Hotel the morning of NME's interview, he was almost refused entry. Dressed in a white T-shirt, knackered jeans and biker boots, he clutched a bottle of mineral water to his chest, looked the mistrustful doorman in the eye and explained that he was being interviewed in a suite downstairs. The doorman hesitated for a moment, thought better of asking who he was, and let the actor in. Roth just flew in from LA to promote his upcoming films and, no doubt, to talk once again about the violent and bloody roles he has favoured in the past. Although he shrugs accusations of typecasting off -- "Everything I've done has been my choice. The only typecasting you get is by the press" -- he is most easily remembered for his various takes on repellent characters, from his 1983 debut in Alan Clarke's Made in Britain, in which he gave a frighteningly convincing portrayal of Trevor, the vile skinhead, to the fiendish Mitchell in The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover, to Mr. Orange, who spent most of Reservoir Dogs on the brink of death.
This time round, Roth has swapped the fake blood for faking orgasms. In Rob Roy, a costume drama which he describes as "really camp, a good guys, bad guys epic," he had to do a gruelling rape scene with Jessica Lange, and in Captives he's a bit of rough locked up for murdering his wife who seduces the visiting dentist (played by about-to-make-it-big English actress Julia Ormond, who American critics have already enthusiastically compared to Audrey Hepburn and Julia Roberts).
"Up until now, the women in my films were always doing something else and I was never physically involved with them," he says, lying back on the flowery sofa and swigging his water. "So Captives is the first time I've been sexy with a woman on camera. All the sex takes place on a toilet floor, and we had to film those scenes for two days, which was tedious after a while. It was also a bit sore, having frantic sex over and over again for hours on end. I got bruised hips."
In the early days, when he was still living in his native south London, Roth favoured the method school of acting so much that, prior to making Made in Britain, he spent weeks attending National Front meetings and travelling on the tube dressed as a skinhead. Now he says he keeps his research to a minimum.
"I've always had a phobia about prisons," he says, "so I had to get over that fear. Prisons are madhouses, asylums. The people are really scary. Did I stay the night? You're joking! I went for a few hours during the day and then returned to my hotel!"
Captives, British director Angela Pope's debut film, is too slow to be a thriller, despite its tension-ridden storyline. There are some nice touches -- the desperation of two people who fall in love but have no understanding of each other is effectively caught in the edgy scenes between Roth and Ormond, and Roth is well-directed to show a vulnerable side to his usual tough act -- but it would look more comfortable on TV than on the big screen.
Roth, who prides himself on his refusal to be seduced by big money offers, says Rob Roy is the closest he's got to earning a serious wage and he couldn't believe he was being paid so much for having fun. "My character is an absolute fop. It was the weirdest thing because I had to be really over the top, and I'm not used to that at all. I had to learn sword-fighting and horse-riding -- I loved it!"
Rob Roy already looks set to be a box office success in the States, but though it may be the film which really makes his name in America, Roth still prefers his low-budget productions. Captives was made on a shoe-string, as was his third new offering, Little Odessa.
Set in the decaying Russian-Jewish community in New York's Brighton Beach, Little Odessa (type)casts Roth as a hitman with a very strange New York-Russian-south London accent who returns to Brooklyn and whose younger brother (Edward Furlong) tries to bring him back into the family. The storyline is unapologetically violent but its bleakness is more consuming than the casual murder scenes. The film is beautifully shot but relentlessly lo-fi, which suggests that it will, unfortunately, be consigned to art houses cinemas and become a minor cult film.
If things go right for Tim this year, he could find himself returning to the Dorchester in his knackered jeans and having a red carpet rolled out in front of him. After releasing three films over the next month, this summer he stars as a bellboy alongside Madonna, Ione Skye, Antonio Banderas, Jennifer Beals and Bruce Willis in Four Rooms, a comedy in which four directors, including Quentin Tarantino, have created short, self-contained films in four hotel rooms. He smirks as he recalls getting drunk one night and fuelling his bad boy image. "Madonna had this really, really good black velvet dress and she wasn't at this party we had, so I wore it instead..."
Surely all this was a bit Hollywood for Mr. Low Budget?
"Yeah," he mutters, preparing to leap 15 yards in another direction. "Anyway, I'm now concentrating on a film where I'm playing a retarded character -- all sorts of issues are brought up, like can mentally disabled people have sex? We don't even know if we've got the funding to make it yet, but I'm hoping Sissy Spacek is going to take a lead role."
The next obvious move for him would be to step behind the camera, about which he has mixed feelings. He isn't keen on missing out on two years of acting as he learns how to direct.
"Having said that," he says lighting a cigarette and dropping his feet noisily on a coffee table, "I've got a film in mind which I'd love to direct but which would be virtually impossible to make, because there'd only be one English speaking character and it'd be set in six or seven countries. It'd be incredibly political. No, I'm not telling you what's about! You are kidding! Someone will run out and make it. Eventually I'll do it. It'll be one of those films about which the Americans will say, "It'll do OK in Europe" because all they like is films like Forrest Gump."
Tim Roth stands up, sucks hard on his cigarette and, before he gives up five minutes for a photo session in the hallway, turns around. "Someone's got to stop four million more Four Weddings and a Funeral being made," he spits. "No matter how much money is involved."