HR: Tim Roth is joining us tonight. Starting with his acclaimed portrayal in Alan Clarke's Made in Britain and continuing through roles in films like Vincent & Theo, Reservoir Dogs, Rob Roy, and Invincible, Tim has proven to be a greatly versatile actor with an abundance of integrity. We'll see him in several films in the coming months including a leading role in Francis Ford Coppola's Youth Without Youth. Tim, it's great to have you here.
TR: Good to be here, thank you.
HR: So, let me just jump right into this immediately. You just did a film with Francis Ford Coppola, who's one of my great heroes, and for a while I thought he'd never do a film again, and here you are starring in it. What's Youth Without Youth about?
TR: It's about somebody who's confronting the end of their life. It's taken from a Romanian novel by Mircea Eliade who was a theologist and a linguist. It's about his take on age and aging. The story is of a man who is at the end of his life and through some kind of cataclysmic event gets another shot and becomes young again. And it's the study of that, really, which I think Francis in his later years was interested in exploring.
HR: I read that at one point when you were very young you wrote Coppola a letter.
HR: That's true?
TR: That is true. What happened was, when I decided to be an actor, which was around the age of 17 or 18, and I didn't know the process, how you go about getting an agent or any of that stuff. So I decided to write to a group of directors. I think there was Kubrick and Scorsese and Truffaut and Coppola. I got a camera and a tripod and one of those flexes and (stretches his arm out as if photographing himself) took some pictures like that, spots and all, and then wrote "Dear Mr. Coppola, I really like your movies. If ever you need an English actor, I'm your man." You know, all that kind of stuff. And thought nothing of it. Then, years later I came to America and I was auditioning. I had to go and meet with Francis. He was at that time going to do a film of On the Road, the Kerouac book. This was years and years ago. He was interested in me playing William Burroughs. I went to meet with him in this church. He said, "I've got something to show you," and he reached in his bag and he brought out this letter. It was written in biro, you know. It was an amazing thing. He said, "You know, I keep everything. I really do, I keep everything." And it really meant something to him that I would take that shot, and I guess he'd been keeping an eye out. And apparently I followed it up with a phone call, as well, but I don't remember that bit, but he does, trying to get in touch with him by phone. But,it paid off in the end, because I ended up, again, later, I ended up working with him.
HR: What's it like working with Coppola?
TR: Well it's very intensive. Every day is very, very dense. Generally, you feel like you've worked a week at the end of a single day. We shot pretty much the whole thing out in Romania with a very small Romanian crew. Most of the other actors didn't speak English. It wasn't their first language. It was a tough haul, but you come to work in the morning and he'd have come up with some bizarre idea. Really, every single day you had to be prepared to throw the script away and just jump in, you know, which I think he has a reputation of doing anyway.
HR: Well, that's why I wanted to ask you, because I've read here and there that he will do re-writes a moment before shooting or during lunch he'll go, "OK, here's the new version."
TR: He'll almost do it while we're filming, while the camera was rolling. I like quite often for directors to call out during takes and direct while the camera's rolling. That was a thing that I got together with Francis on, so he would call stuff out. "Try to do this. Do this. Give me something in Albanian." You know, whatever. It was a very strange world, working in Francis' world. It really is, but it's worth it.
HR: Have you seen the film?
TR: I've seen a rough cut. I haven't seen the finished thing. I saw a rough cut a while back. I know it's changed a lot since then. He's working with Walter Murch, the editor who did The Conversation. It's a very odd film. It's a very personal, very strange film, and the things that he was experimenting with when he was making it I'm very interested in seeing. It's not a shoot-em-up in any way.
HR: You do a lot of work. Do you generally watch finished product?
TR: No, rarely, I watch the stuff that I'm in, and I try not to see anything on the set. I don't watch things when I've been in interviews or I don't read reviews, good or bad. I don't even see photographs if I can help it.
HR: I can understand reviews and all of that, but why not watching the films when they're finished?
TR: Depends. Because, quite often the experience of making it is the thing that you should hold on to and not necessarily what has been done to it afterwards. That's not a golden rule with me, but it quite often is the case. But, I want to see what Francis has done, and there are certain exceptions I'll make, but on the whole... And some of them also I find so unpleasant, films that I've been in, just the subject matter, I don't really want to see them.
HR: Yeah, I can understand that. What roles attract you and what roles do you avoid?
TR: What really attracts me are things generally where I'm terrified. Where you sit down and you read a story and it's an intriguing story and then you think "I don't know how you're going to do that. That'd be a terrifying thing to do. I don't know if I'm capable of doing that." That stuff is what's really attractive to me. The other stuff, the knock-offs of Reservoir Dogs and stuff, don't attract me in the slightest.
HR: Yeah, I figured there probably would be a lot of things like that.
TR: Yeah, you get the cover letters that say, "I think you'll like this. It's a kind of cross between Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs," and I generally bin that one. Shit, I've just talked myself out of a job somewhere. Somewhere, someone's going, "Ah, fuck him, then."
TR: But what's appealing, what would be appealing is for example, I did a play with Sam Shepard last year, or a couple of years ago. We just did it in a tiny little theater, hundred-seater, limited thing of three weeks. I hadn't been on stage for about twenty years, so putting myself through that was really fascinating.
HR: So, you enjoy the film roles that you think are almost impossible or it's refreshing?
TR: Yeah, and I went through a phase of becoming, I mean really becoming completely bored with being an actor. And I'm sure as a musician, you must at times, I mean I don't know, but... It's like constantly being on tour. I'd had enough. I'd lost any kind of...it didn't inspire me. Then directing actually, at the end of directing, when I saw what Ray Winstone, for example, could do, that got the buzz back, really. So I do have a slight masochistic tendency in that I'll take something that I know could damage me or will definitely make me feel something. I did a film at the end of last year with Michael Haneke -- he's an Austrian filmmaker -- called Funny Games in which a family are tortured and murdered. It's a very odd film. It's a very delicate film. I played what would traditionally and stereotypically be the girlie role, the one that can't help save his family, the one that's immediately physically indisposed and breaking down and all of that stuff. That was a very difficult thing to do, coming in in the morning at nine o'clock and start crying and finish crying at five. It's very very hard work emotionally. It was only for about five weeks that I did it, but it was I think the toughest thing that I've done in a long, long time. And that I felt afterwards, not during, but afterwards I think I really benefited from it.
HR: What drew you to acting? Was it your family? Did you have friends in your neighborhood who acted? Was this all on your own?
TR: No, there was no one in my family that wanted to... What happened was, I was due to go to art college. That was something that was in my family: drawing, painting and stuff like that. I was pretty adept at that, so I got myself a place in art school. But I did a play as a joke at school, auditioned for a play as a joke and got the part. Then I had to do it in front of the audience of pretty much all the bullies at school and decided that I really liked it, so then I pursued it from there. I found a teacher at school who saw something in me and decided to push me down that road. That's really why. I did perform as a kid, in the sense that I performed my life, pretty much, as a kid. I'd say 80 % of it. SO, that's good training. For me, acting was something that posh kids did. It wasn't something that was given to the working class or to lower-class families. It just wasn't, until you see people like Ray Winstone, and then you think "Ah!"
HR: You got into acting when you were very young.
TR: Well, I didn't.
HR: Well, as a teenager.
TR: I did and I didn't, because I didn't consider it acting. I became an actor when I left art school and I decided to call myself an actor. The only way that I could figure out doing that was going down to the welfare, to the dole office, and sign on. So I went down there to sign on and they said, "Well, what do you do?" and I said "I'm an actor." So, they filled it in "actor" and I never signed on after that again. But that was my claiming the title. But previously, since I was a very little kid, I suppose unconsciously, I had been auditioning. I remember walking down the street when I was very little, you know 3 or 4, and acting walking. Just in case someone drove by and saw. "That kid walks better than...That's just what I need for the movies." You know, or whatever. Even at that point. And then, when I was 11 we lived in a posh neighborhood, even though we didn't have much money, we lived in a fairly wealthy neighborhood. You had to take exams to get into the schools in our neighborhood, and I didn't pass any of them. So they sent me to a school in South London, a place called Brixton, which is a predominantly black neighborhood, still is I believe. It was a tough, working-class neighborhood. I arrived with an accent that was the product of living in a fairly middle-class house, and got the shit kicked out of me within minutes of walking through the gates of the school. I was getting constantly beaten. Within a week I developed a sort of London accent. Some kind of noise that didn't make me stand out. That was the beginning of -- that was my first dialect, in fact. And in a way I was training for what I'm tending to do now. But that was the beginning, and that was hiding, creating a character that wasn't you and putting that out there to protect you. That was pretty much the beginning of being an actor. And in a way that was training I had for what I'm doing now.
HR: Do you think if you had stayed in England, would you have the same level of success that you've had in America?
TR: No, I think that came as a result of being fortunately around at the time when the independent thing was hitting in America. But no, I left because I was unemployed, constantly unemployed in Britain, as most actors are. But this is the center of the film industry. This is where you have to come if you want to be a film actor. I would've done a lot more theater. I would've been at The National, probably. I would've done bits and pieces on TV, and I probably would've ended up on a cop show, wishing I wasn't.
HR: Well, it sounds kind of fanboy, but I'm a fan of you and a big fan of Francis Ford Coppola. He's one of those guys you grew up with.
TR: It's a very experimental film that he's made. It really is.
HR: I'm looking forward to it, but I'm very much looking forward to watching you work, being directed by him. I'm really looking forward to that. So, thank you, for coming down to our humble place, and thanks for the interview.
TR: Thanks a lot.
HR: Right on.