CR: Actor Tim Roth is here. His portrayal of strange and often psychotic characters has gained him a a massive cult following among fans of independent film. He first established himself playing English street toughs in British films and television movies. He made his American film breakthrough in Quentin Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs. Subsequent films have included Pulp Fiction, Four Rooms, and his Oscar-nominated performance in Rob Roy.
CR: () For his latest project he has moved behind the camera for his directorial debut. The War Zone is the film. I am pleased to have him on this program. Welcome.
CR: You just said to me, as you were watching this, with great moments, "I love being behind the camera". What do you love?
TR: I find it really, really relaxing. I thought it was going to be very stressful, and -- which it is -- but I loved the actors doing that job. I liked them doing it, not me. I like watching, getting them ready and helping them fly. But it's been about 15 years of preparation, in a way.
CR: To direct.
TR: Yeah. But I kind of wish I'd found it first, but maybe it wouldn't have worked if I had. I don't know.
CR: How long have you known you wanted to do it?
TR: I think from the beginning, really. I've been putting it off because I have "actor fear" which is, you know the fear of unemployment. And you have to take some serious time off to direct. You have to really go there. And I was worried that I would take the time off and I wouldn't be invited back.
CR: And you were on a role.
TR: Yeah, but I had to get it out of my system. I had to find out. It was my first film and it could have been my last film as well. So, I had to find out something.
CR: And did somebody bring you Alexander Stuart's book?
CR: And said...
TR: Well they said that "I think you might respond to this". Which is peculiar. It was Sarah Radcliffe and Dixie Linder, the producers. It was the first thing, when I said "OK, let's start looking for material," this was the first thing that came.
CR: The first thing that came?
TR: Yeah. And it was two weeks after we said "OK, let's look" and I didn't know it. I'd never heard of the book. I didn't read the blurb; I didn't read any quotes about it. I just opened it and read it, and it just devastated me.
CR: It's about incest.
TR: And then the question is, OK, how do I do this? How do you put this on screen? Never "should I?" I never was worried about that. I thought it was very important to do it anyway. But, how do you adapt the feeling that you got when you read the book to the screen as opposed to just the novel -- What it did to me when I read it.
CR: And how did you do that?
TR: I worked very, very closely with the novelist.
CR: Who actually wrote the screenplay.
TR: Yeah. I had him go and look at silent movie scripts. I had him re-read his book.
CR: You looked at silent movie scripts?
TR: I don't know why. It seemed like a good idea at the time. But I just though, go and look at how, without using dialogue -- because the dialogue is very spare in silent movies, obviously it's just the plates -- so without using dialogue what did it physically look like on the page? Getting those emotions across just on (makes hand gesture of a physical object). If we're going to take a script and we're going to dump it in someone's lap and say "give us a check". What does it look like and how do we get those thoughts across? And I think it really helped him. I think he really enjoyed that experience. It was useful. And we kind of always bore in mind silent movies in making the film.
CR: And so he then, I mean was it the 90th draft that worked or did he present you with a draft pretty soon there?
TR: Yeah, and we had victims of abuse that were very close friends of mine, and what we would do when were working we'd just fire it at them. And they would be our, you know...
CR: You'd do what?
TR: We would give them scenes and give them the script and they would --
CR: Oh you mean, actors in the film?
TR: No, no. Just people that I know, friends of mine that are victims of this. And they would say that's --
CR: Of sexual abuse by...
TR: incest, right. And they'd say, "that's good. That's true. That's not." And they would always be our kind of outside eye. But generally once we got organized, Alex just --
CR: Now what reservations did you have about subject matter, not about your capacity as a filmmaker, that later?
TR: I was very...
CR: Did you think this is too dreary people aren't going to want to watch it?
TR: I don't care about that stuff. You know what, I made it for me. And you know what, entertainment comes in many, many forms. Poetry is not about one thing, and painting is not about one thing, otherwise we'd be bored. And I think we are anyway, in general, with film. Or I am. My reservations, my real concerns were that we would not abuse victims by making this film. In that we would be absolutely true and honest and we would honor the pain that they've already suffered and we would treat the subject with absolute respect and not turn away. Which in a sense is what people do with this. This is a subject that is heartbreaking to everybody, well except the pedophiles. And I didn't want to when we came to the crux of the matter I wanted to be unflinching. That worried me. Not what the film would be come, but it just worried me whether I could get through that or not, and whether the actors could get through that. That worried me. The fact that this film exists, I hate; I despise. Being a parent, it's an unpleasant notion that this exists in the world.
CR: You hate the film exists. You hate the fact that incest exists.
TR: I love the film. I hate the fact that this film was ever made in a sense. That this subject is in life.
CR: What do you know about the subject?
TR: A lot.
CR: What does that mean?
TR: I've been around victims all my life.
CR: Victims of incest.
TR: Yeah. Incest and child abuse.
CR: How do you know, because you talk about it?
TR: Yeah, you know what, victims stop being victims. They start surviving and recuperating when they start talking.
CR: And you had a willing ear?
CR: Yourself? I mean people close to you?
CR: Parents you knew?
TR: Friends that I knew. Many, many people. It's extraordinary. And now since that when we crewed up, when we made the film people came -- because I made sure that the actors and the crew were treated the same way so that all the crew got the script before they even came in to meet to get the job, they had to want to be there. And I discovered that there were quite a few people on the film that were victims of this.
TR: And then, as we've taken the film around, especially in America, America really shocked me, people were very forthcoming. And as we've taken the film around and I do question and answer sessions with the audience afterwards, a lot of people have come, I mean I'm amazed at how many are in the audience. I shouldn't be, I suppose.
CR: I said to you, when you sat down, this is what's often called the last taboo, and you said...
TR: I don't understand it. There's so many taboos. We're operating in a huge gray area with abuse. If there was a formula to it, we could stop it. There is only one thing that is black and white about abuse: a line is crossed. You step over that line -- it doesn't matter if your child comes to you and says "I want to have sex with you" if it would be that way around, do you cross the line? You don't. It's very, very, very black and white, and only at that time. Afterwards it becomes deep down focus.
CR: Here's what stuns me about casting: your victim had never acted before.
TR: Neither of the young ones had ever.
TR: Never, I know.
CR: The casting director saw ...
TR: They got her off the street. She was shopping. It is one of those ridiculous film stories, you know.
CR: Yeah, it is one of those ridiculous -- because it's you know Lana Turner sitting on -- but you know what makes this is this is not just one more role. This is not to go play, I mean this is someone who endures incest.
TR: Yeah, very brave.
CR: And you gotta wonder what was -- you know actors are accustomed to playing parts. People who are not actors to play this kind of part.
TR: Well I felt it was necessary to have non-actors in those roles because if we were looking at them and thinking they were wonderful in that film or crap on that episode of so-and-so or whatever, it would get in the way of the possibility that they could be our children or be our brother or sister.
CR: So you didn't want them identified to the viewer for any other role.
TR: I think that purity was important. And what happens with abuse is their purity -- they are savaged when they are at their most pure by pedophiles. And I wanted them to be pure to us.
CR: So you feel that the savagery of the...
TR: And as much as you put the camera on these non-actors, you're turning around and putting the camera on the audience as well.
CR: How about Roy [sic] --
CR: Roy [sic] Winstone who plays the father.
TR: Yeah. That's a tough role to play. In the first list that I got from the casting people, I crossed him off.
TR: He scared the hell out of me. I bought the hype. And he was one of the reasons that I became an actor.
CR: I read, I can't remember what I read, I read something about him that was just -- he said "no, no this is just..." What did he say?
TR: When he finally came in he said how lovely to play a good guy for a change.
CR: Now that's what I couldn't get!
TR: But in a sense, he's so right. Don't play him as the monster. If you actually take an element out of the film, he's a man who's wrongly accused. And for the actor, it was important that he could go that road. But he should be an ordinary man. Someone who loves his kids, who's trying to make it work. You know, he's a working man. And then of course you -- and you like him. It's OK, he's doing well. And then he's the devil. It's extraordinary. But I crossed him off the list. He was one of the reasons that I became an actor. He was in a film called Scum which Alan Clarke directed, English filmmaker who's dead now, and I looked at this boy on the screen, it was about juvenile prisoners. I looked at this boy and I though, well if he can do it I can do it. I mean , it's possible.
CR: Why did you say that to yourself?
TR: Well I hadn't been able to put into words about --
CR: What about this actor convinced you you could do it?
TR: First of all it was an extraordinary piece. it was commissioned by the BBC and then banned by the BBC when they actually saw it. So, he went away and made a feature film out of it, Alan. And I was looking at this stuff and it broke my heart, it was truly horrendous, this film, the people. But I hadn't been able to put into words, I suppose, or I hadn't come to the conclusion I should actually be an actor. But I would sit in the cinema and look. You know what, I want to do that. I want to be a part of that, you know. And he was, he got me there.
CR: All right. Take a look at this. This is a clip from The War Zone. It opens on December 10th in New York and Los Angeles and opens across the country later in December. Here's a clip in which Jessie is discussing her new baby sister with her father. Jessie is played by Lara Belmont and obviously her father played by Ray Winstone.
CR: Now tell me what I just saw --
TR: Well, it's --
CR: -- from a director's eye.
TR: Oh, well that. I wanted a scene that would be about interaction. I wanted to see the father with his children. And he's not been revealed; we don't know that he's the devil. And what we'd organized and written in the screenplay was the essence of it, but...I said to Ray, do you have any car crash stories. He says yeah, I've got about seven. He's already got about seven.
CR: () He said that?
TR: Yeah. I've got some. I've got a few. So he starts telling it and oh my god, I don't want that. And then there was this one. This is what happened to him when he was a little boy. He was sitting on the wall and he watched this car crash happen. And so then we would get together and I worked with all the actors to put them, compose them in the frame and just quietly watched this man interact beautifully with his children, who he adores.
CR: And why have him talk with his back to the camera there in the whole beginning of it?
TR: I love that.
CR: I know you did.
TR: I love it. And actors are quite often pathetic about -- I mean, you know what, we know what he looks like. We will know, we will see enough of him. There's something really -- it's like we want to peer around him. And there's a lot of "back to camera" in this. You just want to get -- and you don't know. It gives us a kind of curiosity we can't satisfy. And generally actors just want closeups all the time, but these people aren't like that, thank god. But I really like, I love seeing the back. I remember seeing James Dean, I think it was in East of Eden. And James Dean is not a favorite actor of mine. In fact, I think he's -- he had potential, but not that much. But there's a wonderful moment, and I think he was by a tree, he's in a discussion, and it's the back of him. Now that was inspirational, but I don't know if that was the director or an actor decision. In the end, it doesn't matter, in fact.
CR: Who's influenced you as an actor?
TR: Cary Grant.
CR: You haven't done many Cary Grant roles.
TR: No. Well, there aren't any. He did them all, thankfully.
CR: Everybody has wanted to be Cary Grant.
TR: He's extraordinary. Gregory Peck would be one too.
CR: Those are interesting characters that you choose.
TR: Well, he had elegance as an actor on screen, the elegance that he had nobody else could do. It had to do with him. There was something about him. And you're bringing yourself to the screen. There's something about him I liked. I felt that I liked that man.
CR: He had that. He has that.
TR: There aren't any around now that can do that. He's very special. In To Kill a Mockingbird he kind of summed it all up. And I would make the designers and people watch To Kill a Mockingbird for this film. It's a beautiful film about children.
CR: You watched them?
TR: I wanted them to see To Kill a Mockingbird on the widescreen because it's beautifully shot, superbly acted, and it's heartbreaking, and it involves abuse with Boo Radley. And it's about children. It's a grown-up tale about children.
CR: Why do fathers abuse their daughters?
TR: I have no idea. I've talked to people and spent a lot of time with people who work with the fathers within the prison system and across the board they say don't take this film into prisons. They'll just get a cheap thrill out of it. And this is people who work with these guys. But my thing was -- because I had been asked to do that -- you know what, I don't have time for these people. Imagine if we took the film into a prison and on pedophile said you know, I realize the pain I've caused, would you believe them? Oh, that's OK then. Come be the nanny of my children. Come into my house. You're rehabilitated. I do not believe there is any rehabilitation for these people.
CR: Well, since you set it out on the table, there are a lot of people who believe there is rehabilitation for sex offenders.
TR: Well, you know what, I don't give a shit.
CR: I know you don't give --
TR: I do not believe it. Would you invite them --
CR: I'm just telling you that there is an alternative view of that.
TR: I know there is. And some good friends of mine believe that there is hope in that realm. Fine. Would you have them in your house?
CR: Well, why is it different for that than it is for any other serious crime of violence? Do you think it's more in the head?
TR: A child should look at his or her parent and trust that person more than anyone else in the world. There is a bond between a parent and a child which should be -- is, and should be -- sacrosanct. And what they do is they destroy that. They break it, and they destroy this child in a way that is --
CR: They destroy innocence is what they do.
TR: They rape it and they murder it. I mean there should be a bond within a family that is so precious and so pure.
CR: It ought to be the most secure point.
TR: That's your home. It's your home base. And all we do is rebel against our parents. That's what we're supposed to do too. But there should be a safety in that too. And now these people break that. And I don't trust them. I don't want them in my life. I don't want them around anybody's children. I think they should spend their lives in a small round room.
CR: But this is from a guy who has played the most vicious -- you -- characters in the world. I mean your guys are -- people you've played are not sweethearts.
TR: And that's OK. I am 38 now, Look, kids. And I think that it's going to be a little bit trickier for me to go back and do boys' movies. I think it's time to grow up in the acting that I do. I don't think, by the way, that we're responsible for, with the violence and stuff, I always get talked to about that, especially come election time -- fantasy movies and mass killings in schools and stuff.
CR: Roll tape, I want to show you another scene here. Here is when Tom and Jessie ask permission to go to the beach.
CR: How did you finally handle, in terms of the movie, I mean how wrenching was it to film this kind of stuff? Having said everything you've said so far.
TR: Well, there's stuff in the film that is very, very explicit.
CR: You have three kids?
TR: I have three, yeah.
CR: Very explicit?
TR: Yeah, hugely so. Because I thought it was important to show what these people actually do to their children. So, there it is. I we had to go there. You find yourself in a very strange situation. There's an anal rape scene that goes on. And so you have the boom guy, the sound guy. You have the focus puller. You have the camera operator and the continuity person. And you sit and there's these two actors doing this thing. You prepare them for it and there they are. And everybody's crying. But I'm the one, I sit and I go "Head up, Lara. I can't see your face, love. Kiss her, Ray. Tell her you love her." And it's awful. And people look at me, "bastard". And I thought we were going to lose the crew and the actors.
CR: Lose them, meaning...
TR: I thought they were just going to walk away.
CR: Just say, not for me.
TR: This isn't worth it, yeah. What's interesting about being a director I suppose is you have to do your crying later. Because I know that I don't want to ever have to come back and do this scene again, so let's get it right. You have to keep that away. You have to be captain of the ship. Which is a huge responsibility. I actually enjoyed that responsibility, I must say.
CR: You kinda liked this directing thing, huh?
TR: Yes, very much.
CR: So if someone comes next and says man this is good, this is really good. It's awful but it's good. Tough subject handled with the right touch. You going to do it?
TR: I'm already at it.
CR: You are?
CR: What is it?
TR: I don't want to talk about it. The only reason that I don't, because the woman who's writing it -- Rona Munro who wrote Ladybird Ladybird for Ken Loach who's incredible -- is in the middle of writing and researching and if anyone knew what we were up to, doors would slam.
CR: Why would they slam?
TR: It's a very, very, very delicate subject.
CR: You just did a movie about incest, and you're telling me this is a delicate subject?
TR: Yeah. Well, you only have time for a few stories in your life. You might as well make them count. And I read an article in the newspaper about something that happens in life that we're all kind of part of, and it made me furious. And I found somebody, a writer, who responds in the same way, and that's what we're up to. And it is delicate, and I just don't want to...
CR: It can't be more delicate than incest.
TR: I don't think it's more, but it is about something that is perpetrated...it's about something that we almost all of us allow to happen and make happen without considering the consequences. It's almost about -- we're investing time and money in creating a new generation of dysfunctional people through what happens in the film. That sounds absurd, and you know what, it doesn't matter. But they're busy. The other thing that I'm really looking at very seriously is a classic which I never thought I would end up doing. It's a Shakespeare. I'll tell you one more thing.
CR: Oh, you're full of muse here.
TR: I'm doing some acting.
CR: What are you doing?
TR: I'm doing a studio film. I'm doing a comedy called Numbers with Nora Ephron, John Travolta, and Lisa Kudrow, and it's like a vacation. It's lovely. And then I'm going to go off and work with Herzog and do a film in Berlin with him.
CR: And home is where?
TR: Home is L.A.
CR: Good luck. The War Zone opens December 10th in New York and Los Angeles, and we'll be right back.