By Paul Kerr
When an actor's tired of acting, it's time to shoot himself....
Tomorrow morning Tim Roth starts directing his first feature, War Zone, in Devon. But Roth isn't just another first time film-maker, he's an actor, best known for his roles in Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction.
Tarantino, of course, was himself a fledgling actor when he made his directorial debut. Roth's fellow Dog, Steve Buscemi, directed his first film, Trees Lounge, in 1996. By my count there are at least 80 actor-directors at work in British and American movies. As Tim Roth puts it, for an actor: "There's something very sexy about being captain of the ship, just once at least, to be in control of all the aspects, just to see if you can handle it really, if you can hack it."
So "sexy", in fact, that actor-directors are much keener to talk about directing than they are about acting -- as we discovered in making tonight's Channel 4 documentary, "Actors Call the Shots."
"I suppose I'd earned enough money to make it possible to stop acting -- because there's no money in directing at the beginning," adds Roth. "I had been talking about it with directors for a long time but it's really been something I've put off because you have to stop acting for so long. You really have to give up acting for about 2 years."
Since the collapse of the studio system, power rests increasingly with the stars. For Roth: "It helps having a name, but only to a certain extent because people who are going to part with money want to know that they're getting their money's worth in the end and you've got to convince them that you can direct a film and they've got nothing to go on." But for some, such as Roth, it seems to have been enough that they had been in so many films that they could pick up directing by a kind of on-set osmosis.
Kenneth Branaugh explains: "Eventually, the desire to put some of that direct practical experience to use and see what it's like on the other side of the camera becomes irresistible." Just how irresistible remains to be seen for Roth. "I might come to the end of this and never want to do it again." His next few months are going to be very busy. "I'll shoot it and I'll cut it, put the sound on it, and call it done at some point, probably around August, middle of September, and then I've got to sell it, so I have to do press, I have to do festivals, so it's just never ending. But once it comes out, I believe shortly after that I'll be free, then I'll scramble back to acting, probably."