Star Profile: Tim Roth
By Charles Tatum
"I'm a low-budget monster is what I am." Not too long ago, this is how Tim Roth referred to himself. As the quirky presence in a number of modestly budgeted films, Roth was getting a reputation for being an actor that could give directors a big bang for their small bucks.
Not any more. As a villain in, the large budget, large cast and large scale epic, Rob Roy, Roth practically steals the show out from under the noses of stars Liam Neeson and Jessica Lange. A monster he may remain, but the low-budget appellation may be a thing of the past.
In Rob Roy, Roth plays a foppish fiend in a powdered wig and knee britches who's not too limp-wristed to brandish a sword with authority. As Roth explained in Premiere magazine, Rob Roy director Michael Caton-Jones told him, "That there's no such thing as over-the-top with this character, so the bigger you can go and the more outrageous you can be, the better."
Although Roth says this was hard for him at first since "I'm used to playing characters where you have more subtlety", this is a little hard to believe. If you recall, this is the same actor who bookends the recent smash hit, Pulp Fiction. He's the one sitting at the diner in the beginning of the film waiting to take the place down with his "honey bunny." At the end of the film, he and his gal finally get around to pulling their robbery.
Roth was also the undercover cop in Reservoir Dogs who spends the entire film bleeding to death on the floor, the TV salesman and sometimes boyfriend in Bodies Rest & Motion, the painter Vincent Van Gogh in Robert Altman's Vincent & Theo as well as appearing in The Cook, The Thief, His Wife & Her Lover, Jumpin' At the Boneyard and Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead. In fact, he's appeared in so many films with unruly titles that you could call him the "king of the ampersands."
Roth grew up in an area of south London he describes as "very quiet. Margaret Thatcher has a house there. It was a predominantly white neighborhood but I went to school in a black neighborhood, so I got both sides."
His first acting experience was in high school when he went along with a friend who was trying out for the school play. The drama teacher called him up to the audition and he ended up getting the lead in the play--Dracula. "I was so scared," he remembers, "I actually wet myself the first time I went on stage. But once I got through the first performance, I realized this was something I really wanted to do. I don't know why--if it's just applause or the ability to make someone laugh or whatever. Acting was the first place where I suppose I began to focus."
After a short stint in college where he thought he might be a sculptor, Roth decided acting was his true calling. His first film was Stephen (The Grifters) Frears' The Hit in 1985.
At first, the 33-year-old was not too enamored about moving to Hollywood to see if he could make a go of it in American movies like the ones he grew up watching. "I think," he remembers, "I saw Taxi Driver [and] The French Connection 10 times."
But when Roth first arrived in sunny California, he said, "I hated it. I had no friends . . . it all seemed incredibly superficial. And on top of that, I couldn't drive." He almost decided to move to New York so he wouldn't have "to be around as many actors as there are in Los Angeles."
Adjustment came slowly as he began to make friends. "The first person to really look after me, apart from my agent," he says, "was Sean Penn. He called me and the very nation of him even being on the phone with me was scary because he was someone I really admired. But finally I called him back because I didn't know anybody else. And once you've got friends, Los Angeles can be a great place to be."
Living in antiseptic, "nowhere there" L.A. can be like living in a town without pity if you don't have friends and, of course, work--the latter of which it doesn't look like Roth is going to run out of for a while. And that's just the way he likes it.
When he's not working, Roth says he gets "very antsy . . . I can't stop. I love it too much. it's a compulsion."