Tim Roth: Brit Talent
By Demetrios Matheou
Meet Tim Roth in the flesh and the effect is at once disarming. It could be the unshaven, slightly dishevelled, no-nonsense south-London cool that he positively oozes. Or maybe it's the surprise of being confronted, in person, by Reservoir Dogs' Mr. Orange. No matter. Roth is so chatty, so laid back, such a deadpan joker, that any perceived distance is soon lost. Even though the subject at hand -- his directorial debut, The War Zone -- is a serious business.
Adapted from the controversial novel by Alexander Stuart, this gloomy tale of incest and child abuse is set in Devon and stars Ray Winstone as an apparently doting dad who sexually molests his daughter. After close to a decade as an LA-based actor, Roth chose to return to Britain for his first stint behind the camera. But why such a harrowing tale?
"Listen, I couldn't do a light comedy. I'd get bored. I had to figure out if I could direct, or not, and I thought: 'Let's jump right in the deep end', read the book and it broke my heart. It's the sort of film I've been waiting to make all my life; it just happened to be as a director, as opposed to an actor."
One reason the story struck such a chord, he explains, "is that I'm a parent -- I have three boys -- and I'm scared for my children. It's terrifying that these people are out and about and that there are so many of them."
The War Zone shoot was, Roth admits, "truly traumatic", not least because of the disturbing and explicit scenes between Winstone and newcomer Lara Belmont. But at the same time, he found it "gleeful, wonderful, the best work experience I've ever had. What I've learnt is that the only way you survive making the film is to make sure you have a really, really good time. When you're not shooting, you party very hard."
He derives most pleasure from the performance of unknown Belmont and Freddie Cunliffe, who play the sister and brother. Belmont had not considered being an actress until she was spotted shopping in Notting Hill. "It was like being around at the discovery of Ingrid Bergman," raves Roth. "I just couldn't believe what she was capable of. She discovered and understood acting in four days. Ray said to me: 'Let's pack it in and go back to school.'"
It's not unusual that Roth felt an affinity with his two young charges; he too was untrained when he blazed onto the scene in 1982 as the terrifying neo-Nazi skinhead, Trevor, in Alan Clarke's Made In Britain.
By the late '80s, Roth found -- like fellow South Londoner Oldman before him -- that there wasn't enough work in Britain and decamped to the US, where Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction set him up. We might have lost them both, if they hadn't been so keen to return and direct in their own country.
"I really wanted to be a British film-maker," Roth insists. Then he pauses for a moment and considers. "I am a British film-maker."