Tim Roth is a man who needs little introduction. The instantly recognizable British actor has spent over 30 years bringing memorable characters to the screen and turning in brilliant performance after brilliant performance. His latest role in director Rufus Norris’ feature film debut, ‘Broken,’ is no exception to that rule. ‘Broken’ focuses on 11 year-old Skunk, who lives a carefree life with her loving father (Tim Roth), brother and nanny. Her afternoons are full of daydreams and curious wanderings around her neighborhood. One day, Skunk witnesses her angry neighbor, Mr. Oswald savagely beat Rick, a psychologically-troubled young man who lives across the street. Skunk is unwittingly drawn into her neighbors’ unfolding melodrama involving violence, sex, and life-shattering illness. As Skunk’s innocence begins to vanish, her home, neighborhood and school all become treacherous environments where the happy certainties of childhood give way to fear-filled doubt. Overwhelmed by her experiences, Skunk is drawn into an ethereal chaos from which she may only return through the intense love of those closest to her. Based on the novel “Broken” by Daniel Clay the film features Tim Roth, Cillian Murphy, Robert Emms (War Horse), Zana Marjanovi? (In the Land of Blood and Honey) and a breakout performance from Eloise Laurence. Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with Tim Roth to discuss his inspirations and evolution as an actor, his captivating performance in ‘Broken’ and much more!
Thank you for taking time out to talk with us today. We are big fans of your work through the years and it keeps getting better!
Thank you so much!
I wanted to go back to beginning and learn a little bit about what intrigued you about acting early on and what made you pursue it professionally.
I wasn’t really intending to. When I was in high school, I was interested in painting and wanted to go to art school. A friend of mine and I were interested in the Marx Brothers, Samuel Beckett and absurdist literature. We decided to audition for the school play as a joke. It backfired and I got to play the part, which was kind of scary! Once I did it and went onstage, I was bitten by it!
Who would you cite as your biggest influences as a young actor?
For me, the guy who really made me want to act was Ray Winstone. He was and still is a very successful actor in Britain and somewhat over here. He did a film called ‘Scum,’ which was about juvenile prison systems in England. He came from a very working class background and previous to that, I had always thought of acting as something that was the privilege of the upper classes or the wealthy. It took him to show me that it was very available to anybody. It was a film that was incredibly striking and very emotionally moving piece. That was the one I thought you can do film acting in Britain and that is the one that sent me there really.
You have surely had some ups and downs along your journey. What has kept you inspired throughout the years and kept you going?
For me, it is still a lot of fun and everything! [laughs] I mean, now I have been doing it for thirty-odd years and I think of myself as extremely fortunate that I have been able, for some reason, to keep working at it. I still find it intriguing and I experiment with it in a way where I am able to keep doing different things and new variations on it. It is still very fresh to me!
Is it the experimentation that you would attribute your longevity in the industry?
I think so! I never make any kind of plan, which I think is a good thing. I never know what is coming next! I think, for example, taking time out to do a TV series here in America, was really interesting to me. At that time, I don’t think there were many actors who were doing film going into, specifically I suppose, network television. There were more of us on cable. More and more of us were appearing on cable shows but no one was really getting into the network thing and giving that a shot. It scared me but it was something very interesting and it opened up a ton of other doors, you know?
Absolutely! Your latest project is a film called “Broken,” which has several very memorable performances. How did you initially get involved with the film?
It was by way of a producer I had worked with a few years back, Dixie Linder. I just wanted to know what she was up to and working on because she is always working on such interesting films, so I contacted her. She sent me the script to read and I thought it was an incredibly beautiful piece. A few weeks later, she came back to me to look at playing another character in the film, not the one I ended up playing. I said “No, what I would really like to do is play the father.” The part was already taken and someone was onboard to do that. I said “If they drop out, come back and give me look at it.” Luckily, the other actor couldn’t do it for some reason and I stepped up. That is how I got involved really.
What was it about the role of the father in the film that intrigued you about the part?
I just thought he seemed to be an incredibly warm and loving man. He has an internal strength and integrity. Of course, there is an incredible love of his children. He works to support and look after his children. He is a good father but he happens to be looking in the wrong direction when something hits and his world is turned upside-down. How he deals with it was something I found quite beautiful. I had never played a character like that before and I liked the idea of playing somebody who is an inherently good man.
What elements did you bring to the character that may not have existed on the written page? Are there shades of your own personality that show through from your experiences as a father?
Definitely! Once we started working together as a family and I built a relationship with the girl who is playing the daughter, Eloise Laurence, things cropped up where we could change and play around with the scenes and directing. Things will emerge as you go through and you can see them on-screen. It is really the girl’s film, the story of the young girl’s journey. It was really, really dependent on who that was and how adaptable she was. She turned out to be an extraordinary actor!
Eloise is terrific in the film. I was curious how you built the relationship with her before you did your scenes.
I grabbed her and Bill Milner, who was playing my son and we took off and spent some time roaming around London. Really, it was me taking them for a bite to eat and a walk in the park. It was very mundane stuff but I was keeping an eye on her. I had worked with Bill before so it wasn’t so much of a problem. I was keeping an eye on her to see what would be a quick way into creating some kind of relationship with her. It was humor! She is very funny. She was eleven when we shot the film. I have had experience talking to kids, obviously, but never with a girl before. I have all sons! The girls wrap you around there little finger! I think I would be a very poor parent of daughters because of that! [laughs] It was a question of banter, back and forth, you know? We remain still quite close actually. She is a really great kid and a very receptive actor.
You are very interactive with other actors when on set. When working with young actors like Eloise, what is your process?
It is going to change one actor from to the next really but with her, I just became the on set parent, as much as I could. I did that to the point where I think I was driving her nuts sometimes! You could practically hear her eyes rolling! [laughs] I don’t have any specific method or way of working. I just go with what feels right and appropriate for the actor at the time.
What do you feel director Rufus Norris bring to the table for this project and what was it like working with him?
It was his first time as a director of a movie but he had directed theater and is very at ease around actors and it was an easy dialog. When I met him the first time, my feeling about him was that there was a very creative and strong mind at work. He has a very artistic temperament. He is very quiet and intellectual man. When it came to thinking about the scenes, changing them and turning them around, getting the behavior right and so on, you place a lot of trust in a man right there! I think that is what he brought really. He is a parent too. We have a very short amount of time to suggest to an audience, who this man is, what kind of person he is and kind of relationship he has with his daughter and family before everything goes out of control. We had to be very specific in what we showed the audience to get them to believe in him.
What was the biggest challenge for you on this film from an acting standpoint?
We had terrific actors around us. Getting the performances was never an issue. It was a question of how much time we had because it was a very small independent movie and you only have so many hours during the day. When you work with the kids, you have even fewer hours. Mostly, the challenge was battling schedule and budget, more than anything! [laughs]
Is there are specific process you go about when taking on a new role? I am sure being a father certainly provided a lot of insight into this particular project.
When I look at a script, I am already thinking in some way about the way I would play it. The you build off of that. Quite often, the director will come up with something that completely comes from an opposite place and that can be good if not better. My feeling about this character when I read the script, I think is pretty much you see when you look at the film. That is how I thought he should be played.
You have been involved with some terrific projects through the years. From your perspective, how do you feel you have evolved since you first started out?
I don’t look back on it in that way. I am just amazed by it! Considering where I come from to where I am, just geographically is insane! When we were starting out, Gary Oldman and I, we never really thought we would end up in Hollywood movies or come to America. That was always a sort of the unobtainable. Then the independent film thing happened and they started to look around at the idea of English actors coming to Hollywood, the whole new breed that was out there, and giving us a shot. I think we were cheaper to be honest! [laughs] I think that helped them make the leap. We got this free pass at the time at a time when it coincided with the whole independent film thing happening here in The States. It was fantastic for all of us.
Is there a specific role or genre you haven’t tackled yet that you are interested in pursuing?
I am interested again in the television thing. I am quite keen to do something on the cable end of it because there are a few less restrictions on you in that format. Then, this whole online thing is fascinating to me, so I am looking at pursuing that. With all the new technology that is about, I am looking at some quite experimental stuff as well as some much more traditional stuff. In the next year or so, I will be mixing it up as much as possible! So, there is no endgame really. I don’t think actors are allowed to retire. They just sort of die! [laughs]
You have also directed in the past. Is that aspect of your career something you see yourself returning to at some point?
Yeah, I would love to. That is something I would very much love to do. Once my younger ones are in college, that is what I will go back to doing. Within a couple of years, I will have the time to really concentrate on that and it is something I very much want to do.
What is the best piece of advice you can pass on to you actors, directors and all-around creatives who are looking to make a career for themselves in this ever-changing industry?
I would say never take no for an answer. My feeling is that whenever someone said no to me when I was starting out, it was their loss. You just keep moving forward. Be quite bold about it. Get in touch with directors that you love and admire. I used to write letters to Coppola, Scorcese and Kubrick. You never know your luck. Actually, when I worked with Coppola, he still had the letter I sent him when I was around 16 years old. Be bold! That is my advice!
I know you are involved with a bit of charity work. Anything happening at the moment we should be looking forward to?
We are doing a thing, a campaign I am working on, where we have quite a few people onboard. It is called “The Red Card To Child Labor.” It is about putting an end to the child labor issues around the world. We are going to get that tied up with the World Cup and the Olympics in 2014 and 2016. We are just starting to build that now and should be quite interesting for people to become involved in.
I appreciate your time today, Tim. You are a pleasure to watch and I look forward to all of your work in the future!
Thanks, man! Take care!