Tim Roth: If it ain’t ‘Broken’…

November 4, 2013

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Where some Brits take immediately to the perpetual sunshine and warm weather of Los Angeles, Tim Roth was a tougher sell.

“I didn’t like it for a good two years,” he says in a telephone interview. “I found it difficult. It was so shiny on the surface, but spiky underneath. The work seemed very superficial. Then I started working – and the Americans employed me. They’re good people to stay around.”

Roth did go back to the U.K. for “Broken,” however. The film, a darling of the festival circuit that had a strong arthouse release in the U.S. earlier this year, is being released on DVD Tuesday (11/5/13).

Roth, who has played his share of shifty and blood-thirsty types in a film career of three decades, plays a reasonable, caring solicitor in north London. His adolescent daughter, Skunk (Eloise Laurence), gets caught up in a neighborhood incident involving a violent single father and a mentally challenged young man who lives on the street.

“I got involved in the film because the producer was a friend – he was the producer on a film I directed, ‘The War Zone’,” Roth says. “I was interested in what he was doing and he sent me this script. But there was another actor attached to play the part. I said, ‘Well, if he ever drops out, let me know.’ And then he dropped out.”

Roth’s character is the one who sees the way through the mounting problem. The actor brings a quiet strength to the role – and says he was attracted by the character’s unspoken competence.

“He has this gentle quality, it’s almost like he plays an invisible role,” Roth says.

Since he broke out in American films in the early 1990s in the films of Quentin Tarantino, Roth, 52, has been a constant presence, in everything from studio films to a long-running string of independent films that has included productions all over Europe with emerging directors there.

“You make them for less money and you do it for love,” Roth says. “It’s a very difficult process to production. But I feel things are looking up over there and over here. The scripts I’m reading and the quality of the material that’s getting made – there are a lot of very interesting films coming up. A lot of them remind me of the days when we felt we could do anything. Then people dig in and stop taking risks.”

Roth moved from film to American network television for his series, “Lie to Me,” about a behaviorist who specialized in reading body language to solve crimes. He worked on the Fox series for two seasons and was glad he took the plunge.

“But it was really hard,” he complains, “as far as being physically hard. I enjoyed it but, at the beginning, I wasn’t as keen. By the third episide, I was kind of enjoying the process. It felt like theater, keeping the truth of a character. I’d done TV, but not in this country. In spite of the long hours, it was completely enjoyable.”

Getting his chance to direct the domestic drama, “The War Zone,” in 1999 was “the best job I ever had,” Roth says. “As an actor, you spend your time as part of another person’s world. As director, it’s my world; I get to explore what I like. It was a fascinating experience. I hope I can do it again.”

The son of a British mother and American father, Roth grew up in England and considers himself “British in America. And I have kids in both countries. And I’m about to reach the point where I’ve lived in America longer than I lived in England.”

Roth clings to the willingness to chase the unexpected as an actor. While he says bad films are obvious from the get-go (“You know before you sign on if it’s bad”), what keeps him going is possibility of the unexpected.

“There’s always a surprise element,” he says. “You always hope that will happen.”

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