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The Greats of Roth

By Matt Bielby

Hate-everything mohicaned punks; cack-handed heist-merchants; foppish English swordsmen: it's been everything but a Reservoir Dog's life for Tim Roth.

Maniacs and Muppets: The Early Films

Meantime, Mike Leigh's 1981 telly film was a typically grim-yet-hilarious lump of life at the bottom -- Phil Daniels and Gary Oldman had the big, flashy roles, but a 20 year-old Roth stole the film's top line ("I am not a Muppet!") as hero Daniels' half-there brother Colin. But it was Alan Clarke's Made In Britain the following year that heralded Roth's arrival -- his Trevor (a violent and racist car-stealing 16-year-old punk, cast in constant conflict with a hapless social worker) was one of the most magnetic television performances ever.

Roth earned his first gangster role proper in Stephen Frears' acclaimed The Hit (1984), as John Hurt's vicious hitman buddy on a mission in Spain to rub out supergrass Terence Stamp. Assorted TV jobs and small film roles followed -- including cinematographer Chris Menges' directorial debut, the anti-apartheid drama A World Apart -- slowly establishing Roth as an actor to be reckoned with.

Weird Scripts And Ear-Hackings: The Arthouse Years

Now a genuine film actor, Roth's last years in Britain saw him in off-the-wall arthouse fare, including a small role in Peter Greenaway's lushly-presented cannibal-fantasy The Cook, The Thief, His Wife And Her Lover (1989), and joint-lead in both Robert Altman's Vincent and Theo (with Roth a superbly twitchy Van Gogh) and Tom Stoppard's film version of his late '60s play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, the story of Hamlet told from the viewpoint of two minor assassins. Once more Roth was cast alongside Gary Oldman, perhaps his closest acting contemporary.

Gangsters And Gunmen: Coming To America

"I gave myself six months in America, and the first thing I got was Reservoir Dogs," says Roth -- could you imagine a better introduction to the world of American indie movies? In the wake of Dogs, Roth's built a Steve Buscemi/Harvey Keitel-style career off the back of he-isn't-quite-what-he-seems Mr. Orange from '92's surprise hit. Like Steve and Harv he's become an actor who can flirt between small indie films and major studio productions with ease. A lead in youth culture drama Bodies, Rest And Motion, with Bridget Fonda and Eric Stoltz, followed, with that famous turn as hopeless robber Pumpkin in Pulp Fiction close on its heels. Playing Americans almost exclusively now, Roth offered us other versions of the low-life petty crim in things like TV movie Murder In The Heartland, while Russian-Jewish drama Little Odessa -- one of his rare leads -- has one of his best-ever performances.

He's Coming Home: The Recent Movies

From the mid '90s onwards, Roth has begun to stretch himself a little, even been playing the odd Brit. In an extra-long telly version of Joseph Conrad's Heart Of Darkness, he's the troubled narrator, Marlow; in Captives he was a tough English prisoner who falls for beautiful dentist Julia Ormond; and in Rob Roy he was the meanest fop to ever wave a sabre. The linking role as a bellboy in duff multi-story hotel-set Four Rooms followed, and the last few months have seen releases for No Way Home (newly-let-out convict) and Everyone Says I Love You (crim-again).

After Gridlock'd, the movies fly thick and fast: shot or shooting are Prophecy II: Ashtown (sequel to a crappy angels-fight-holy-war-on-earth thing, but he at least acts with Christopher Walken), Liar with Chris Penn and Rosanna Arquette, Hoodlum (Roth as gangster Dutch Shultz with Andy Garcia and Laurence Fishburne) and Animals with Martin Landau, John Turturro and -- yes! -- Mickey Rooney.

And our prediction? Not too far into the future, Roth will be the lead in a Danny Cannon film and the riches of the earth will be his. Trust us.

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