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Actor Tim Roth Thrives in Independent Films

Tim Roth is, without question, the busiest actor working today in the independent film world. Some might argue that Harvey Keitel and Steve Buscemi are giving Roth a good run for his money, but the versatile Brit just keeps popping up in film after film.

Who is Tim Roth? He's the guy that Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover and Four Rooms all have in common. He's the guy with only two major studio films, Rob Roy and the upcoming Hoodlums, to his name.

He was so good in Rob Roy, as the brutal baddie who made hero Liam Neeson's life hell, that he was nominated for an Oscar as Best Supporting Actor. And what did Roth do after Rob Roy? More independent films, of course.

His latest outings are Gridlock'd and Everyone Says I Love You. Gridlock'd stars Roth and the late Tupac Shakur as performance artists trying to overcome their heroin addiction after the third member of their music trio (Thandie Newton), nearly dies of a drug overdose. The system, however, isn't designed to readily help a couple of junk fiends beat their habit. Thus, Roth and Shakur embark on a rather bizarre journey that finds them at hospitals, government offices and the like in their futile effort to get clean.

"I don't know if Gridlock'd is a black comedy," the London-born Roth said, referring to one description of the film, which was directed by actor-turned-director Vondie Curtis-Hall. "The term itself is a way for producers and so on to tell you something is a comedy that isn't quite working. I find parts of the film very, very funny. I also liked the subject matter and the fact that it deals with everyday frustrations. Red tape is a pretty common problem all over the world."

Of course, many moviegoers may be as interested, if not more so, in Shakur than in the film itself or its messages. The rapper went down in a hail of bullets on the streets of Las Vegas last September, not long after completing Gridlock'd.

"I'd not heard his music or seen his videos, and I really knew nothing of him, until his name was brought up for the film," Roth, 35, said by phone from his home in Los Angeles. "He said to Vondie, 'Don't let Tim see my videos or films. Let him meet me first.'"

Shakur, Roth noted, felt Roth should get to know him as a person separate and apart from his public persona. The two men met, got along swimmingly, and Shakur won the role. Roth felt Shakur did a nice job playing straight man to his slightly more crazed character. On the set, Shakur made no bones about dying young.

"We talked about it quite a lot," Roth remembered. "It was the nature of the business he was in. Tupac had been shot before (in Manhattan), and he felt it was coming."

When Roth received word that Shakur had been shot, he, like a good many people, believed that the rapper-actor would survive once again. After a few days in the hospital, however, Shakur's body gave out, and he died.

"It certainly came as a huge shock," Roth said. "It was a waste."

Moving on to a more upbeat topic, there's Roth's other new film, the Woody Allen musical-comedy Everyone Says I Love You. In the film, which opens in February, Roth plays a just-released prisoner who becomes romantically involved with a wealthy, squeaky-clean Upper East Sider Drew Barrymore. He even gets to croon a tune.

"I come in and chew up the scenery, drag Drew along on this little journey and then dump her," Roth said, laughing a bit fiendishly. "Singing was a highly embarrassing thing to do, but I ended up really enjoying it. The interesting thing is the moment between dialogue and when the music starts, when you have to sing."

"I always look at those moments in the musicals I've seen. You have to try to create a seamless flow from the dialogue into the singing. Those can be dead, horrible moments, but Woody seemed to cover them well. He just went for it. You try time your dialogue over the click track that leads you into the music. It's hard, plus you've got the entire crew standing there watching you try to do it. It was a very strange experience, but I really enjoyed it, and working with Woody. Just the idea of doing a musical was great."

Not content to have two films finished, Roth reported that a veritable Roth film festival is on the way. Gasoline Alley is a drama about battling brothers, while Hoodlums features Laurence Fishburne, Andy Garcia and Roth, who stars as 1930s gangster Dutch Schultz.

"What I really enjoyed making was Liar, Roth said, referring to yet another independent film in which he stars. "I did that with Jay and Joshua Pate, these 24-year-old twins. The script is very complicated, with a lot of dialogue.

"It's not a screw-you, bang-bang movie. It's a psychological thriller that we shot for no money out in South Carolina. I had a really great time doing that one. What the critics will make of it, I don't know, but the time we spent making it was the precious time."

Later this year, Roth will make his directing debut with The War Zone, a drama about a physically abused 14-year-old boy. Busy boy, this actor. But don't try to get too close. Asked what people who never heard of him should know about Tim Roth, he laughs and said, "Absolutely nothing. They don't need to know anything."

And what of those people who think they know Roth well because they know his work so intimately? "I'd say the ideas they have in their heads are probably far more interesting than the reality. So let them stick with it."

"I LIKE it that way."

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