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Tim Roth - Biography

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Tim Roth

Personal details

Name: Tim Roth
Born: 14 May 1961 (Age: 54)
Where: London, England
Height: 5' 7"
Awards: Won 1 BAFTA, nominated for 1 Oscar, 1 Golden Globe

All about this star


Every decade brings a new Brit Pack, another disparate group of actors backed by the media to achieve simultaneous Hollywood stardom. And perhaps the strongest of all was the 1980s pack, featuring Gary Oldman, Daniel Day-Lewis, Colin Firth, Paul McGann and Tim Roth, all of whom, if not quite matching Tom Cruise in the celebrity stakes, would go on to win fame and fortune with a string of outstanding performances.

Being Brits and rising from the political and social ferment of the Seventies and Eighties, all of them were troubled by notions of artistic integrity. Firth would suffer badly before agreeing to become Mr Darcy, while Day-Lewis would famously leave acting altogether to become a cobbler in Italy. Roth, meanwhile, steered well clear of inane blockbusters. Indeed, in the first two decades of his career, he made only two studio movies. Carrying a massive chip on his shoulder from dark early days, he was constantly seeking to prove himself, to improve himself, seizing chances to work in different countries, in different stories and with the industry's greats. By his mid-forties his CV would include a stellar cast of directors. Alan Clarke, Mike Leigh, Stephen Frears, Peter Greenaway, Robert Altman, Quentin Tarantino, Nic Roeg, John Sayles, Wim Wenders, Tim Burton, Woody Allen, Werner Herzog and Francis Ford Coppola - Roth had collaborated fruitfully with them all. Indeed, given his longevity and spirit of adventure, it could be argued that he'd turned out to be the strongest of all those Eighties wannabes.

He was born Timothy Simon Roth on May 14th, 1961, in London. He might easily have carried the far more English moniker Smith had his father, Ernie Smith, not changed the family name. A tailgunner during WW2, Ernie had later become a Fleet Street journalist and, partly through solidarity with the victims of the Holocaust, partly because the English were far from welcome in some of the countries to which his job took him, felt more comfortable with the surname Roth.

Tim would spend his early years in Dulwich, a well-to-do district of south-east London surrounded on all sides by tougher, more ethnically mixed neighbourhoods. His mother, Ann, was a teacher who'd become a full-time landscape painter and, though Ernie was from a working-class background, Tim, along with sister Jill (later also a journalist) would grow up in a middle-class environment. Not that they were rich. Indeed once Ernie and Ann had split with Tim still at primary school, money was often scarce. But culture - art, literature, cinema - was high on the family agenda.

With Ann being Catholic, Tim would take an early interest in religion, at 10 even sending off for information on how to become a missionary. He'd be a voracious reader and be encouraged to paint both by Ann and Ernie, who'd never live far away, either being in south London or, at one stage, a village in Kent. Both parents would take the kids to art galleries, especially the Tate, and Tim specifically recalls accompanying Ernie to see The Sting in Brixton, with the cinema packed and cheering. He loved it. Summer holidays were spent in England, at Bideford and Clovelly in Devon.

But Tim's does not remember his childhood with much fondness. Having failed the 11-Plus examination he was denied entry to Dulwich College, a prestigious establishment that would have suited his calm temperament and artistic inclinations. Instead, he was forced to attend Tulse Hill School, a nearby comprehensive. Drawing up to 2000 pupils from Brixton, Clapham, Herne Hill and Streatham, the school had been part of a great educational experiment, where kids of all origins were to be given the best chance to succeed. The eight-storey building, serviced by four stairwells and four lifts, dominated the south London skyline. There were workshops and labs for vocational learning, there were kiln rooms for ceramic work, theatre and music were promoted, the Great Hall having professional stage lighting, the music rooms an orchestra of instruments. There was a gym block with six gyms, many sports were pursued (football, rugby, cricket, basketball, athletics), there were extensive open and paved grounds and frequent trips abroad, around the UK, into Europe and even to the Caribbean. The renowned stage actor Kenneth Cranham had attended Tulse Hill, as had mayor of London Ken Livingstone. Poet Linton Kwesi Johnson had studied there, as had reggae star Smiley Culture. Another early pupil had been Ken Morley, later famed as Reg Holdsworth in Coronation Street.

Unfortunately, by the time of Tim's arrival, Tulse Hill was on the slide. Due to a lack of funds, urban deprivation and increasing social unrest, the pioneering multicultural vision had become nightmarish. Former teachers would describe it as "a rather rough school" and "an interesting (but not an easy) place to work". One pupil would call it "a nutter school". Another would recall his first day when he was held by his ankles over a potentially fatal drop and forced to hand over his dinner money. Fights would occur around the rate of two an hour, bullying was constant. A year or so before Roth's enrollment, the school had even made front-page headlines when, in revenge for two pupils being set upon by a gang from Kingsdale School, Dulwich, around 500 Tulse Hill schoolboys attacked Kingsdale and trashed the place.

So Roth, disturbed by his father's departure, now living in the company of artistic females, was sent into this macho hell-hole. Being short (his nickname was Titch) and named Timothy only made it worse. The bullying was bad and Roth had no physical response. He'd try to joke his way out of it, he took on the accent of his new peers, he'd hide out in the art room, he played truant and haunted the streets of Soho, he learned to disappear. He would find some solace, some identity, some impetus in left-wing politics and the alienated cult of punk rock, but by then the damage had been done. Roth was angry, boiling with resentment, his hatred fuelled not simply by the injustice of the rejection he felt and the beatings he saw and took but also by the sexual abuse he'd suffered when younger. This was something he'd not mention till he was almost in his forties, after years of contact with American self-help culture helped him come to terms with what had been a painful and destructive secret.

As said, Roth did channel some of his rage into politics. His father being a member of the Communist Party and an outspoken socialist (Tim has a picture of him standing beside Colonel Gaddafi), Tim had attended his fair share of demonstrations and rallies. At school he'd even run a branch of the Anti-Nazi League. These would be excellent credentials when the time came to enter the world of acting. Roth's stage debut, though, would not stem from any high moral stance. In fact, it was in jest that he became involved in a musical school production called The Dracula Spectacular, and a shock when he was chosen to play the Count himself. Roth would later recall literally wetting himself as he made his first stage entrance. More importantly, he knew at once that he'd discovered something he loved.

On leaving Tulse Hill School, Roth would stay in south London, enrolling at the Camberwell School of Art, where he'd concentrate on sculpture, bronze and plaster work, and woodwork. But he'd caught the acting bug big time and was further enthused by the release in 1979 of Quadrophenia and Alan Clarke's Scum, both hard-hitting and angry, both starring young Londoners. These were films he'd could relate to. If Phil Daniels and Ray Winstone could do it, why couldn't he? Dropping out of college, he began seeking parts in London's burgeoning theatre underground. For money he'd stack shelves at Tesco's and attempt (mostly unsuccessfully) to con people into taking ads in a Health and Safety magazine.

Roth would find an early home at the Oval House Theatre, Kennington, near to the famous cricket ground. The Oval House was renowned for pioneering fringe theatre (Pierce Brosnan had got a start here in the late 1960s) and was now heavily promoting gay, lesbian and feminist works. It would also, in 1980, give Roth his first major breakthrough, as Cassio in a production of Othello. Having decided against attending drama school (he visited RADA for one day when drunk, watching a rehearsal of Alan Bennett's Habeas Corpus), he threw himself into theatre life and a slew of auditions. 1981 would see him in CP Taylor's Happy Lies, the first production at the New Albany Theatre (another purposefully multi-racial establishment) where he'd play an unemployed Docklands kid in a pen-pal relationship with a homeless Indian orphan girl. In 1982, he'd be off to Glasgow's Citizens' Theatre to play the son in Jean Genet's The Screens ("I had a terrible time" he'd say later "I was appalling"), then join Hilary Westlake's adult circus show Son Of Circus Lumiere, a follow-up to Westlake's 1970s hit Circus Lumiere. This production would begin at the ICA and move to Cornwall's Elephant Fayre, then the festivals at Oxford and Edinburgh. There'd also be Gimme Shelter at the New Inn Theatre, where Roth would garner his first good reviews.

1982 would also bring Roth's first and most explosive appearance before the cameras. While cycling home to Lewisham from work one day, his bike got a puncture, fortuitously near to the Oval House. Popping in to see if anyone there had a pump he could borrow, he was told about some auditions taking place for a new Alan Clarke production. He tried out and, amazingly, walked away with the lead role of Trevor in Clarke's infamous Made In Britain. Written by David Leland (later to pen both Mona Lisa and Wish You Were Here), this would show three days in the life of a 16-year-old skinhead. He's hateful, racist and violent but also intelligent, fragile and articulate, totally alienated, with no respect for authority, the courts or the social workers trying to help him. And Roth, having hung out with real NF skinheads as research, was amazing, his rage and pain spilling out from the screen. As he did so often, Clarke would draw a fantastic performance from his debutant star, with Chris Menges capturing it all on Steadicam. The nation was transfixed by this horribly convincing rendering of social truth, though not everyone took it the way it was intended. One day, leaving the tube, Roth was chased by a dozen or so real-life skinheads, apparently out for his blood. When they caught him, instead of giving him a bit of Doc Marten bovver, they simply asked for his autograph.

It was a time of great change for Roth. He was now seeing one Lori Baker, a New York Italian, with whom he'd have son Jack Ernest in 1983. That year would also see a brief appearance in the BBC's Driving Ambition, as well as Roth's second great performance, as Colin in Mike Leigh's Meantime, a film that would team him with his hero Phil Daniels and Gary Oldman, a friend from the pub theatre circuit. Here Daniels would play a sharpminded layabout, with Roth as his shy, awkward, near-retarded brother, both of them living in a small flat with their parents and all of them on the dole. Togged up in specs and a big anorak and basing his characterisation on a kid from Tulse Hill School who basically "disappeared" inside himself for five years to escape harsh reality, Roth was again tremendous as Daniels saved him from the clutches of Oldman's thick and cowardly skinhead Coxy and from the kind but patronising hands of aunt Marion Bailey. It was disturbing but beautiful, all misery and humanity. And, again, all thanks to Alan Clark, who'd sent Roth next door to audition for it when post-production on Made In Britain was wrapping.

In one respect, Roth was fortunate in that his early career coincided with a push towards tough contemporary dramas by the likes of Granada and the new Channel 4. The early Eighties also saw experimental and political theatre abounding. There was work for this angry young turk. Though it wouldn't last it did give him a fabulous start on his long journey. Roth, you see, was already looking further afield. A fan of The Method, the way American actors became their characters, he had huge respect for the likes of De Niro and Pacino, Jack Nicholson and recent newcomer Mickey Rourke. The American way was best (why, he even had that New York Italian girlfriend). Having appeared in only two TV productions, Roth had already written to Francis Ford Coppola asking for work (he'd receive no reply - not for another 20 years, anyway).

1984 would see Roth in the BBC's A Class Of Its Own, and at the Royal Court, spiritual home of working-class drama, in Terry Johnson's Cries From The Mammal House, an emotional rollercoaster of a play. It would also bring his first cinema appearance when he played Myron, an incompetent rookie assassin aiding old hand John Hurt in Stephen Frears' The Hit. With Hurt and Roth grabbing grass Terence Stamp in Spain and taking him to Paris to be executed, the movie would contain graphic violence involving steel spikes, scalpels and knuckle-dusters, but also fascinating mind games as Stamp gradually winds up his captors. It would also mark - apart from a brief trip to Paris as a kid - Roth's first time away from dear old Blighty. And it would see Roth officially recognised, receiving an Evening Standard award as Most Promising Newcomer and a BAFTA nomination.

Back in England, with a new kid in tow, the pressure to find work was really turned up. 1985 would see Roth in Billy Hamon's Grafters at the Hampstead Theatre, a play that would win Hamon the Evening Standard's Most Promising Playwright award. On TV there'd also be Return To Waterloo, a sort of rock opera penned by the Kinks' Ray Davies. Concerning modern complacency and the death of traditional England, this would see the world through the eyes of a middle-aged commuter (possibly a rapist) whose daughter has run away. As reality blends into fantasy, different sets of passengers on the same train journey burst into song, some old men bemoaning the fate of Britain and Roth's gang of punks indignantly (but tunefully) accusing the old men of selling them out. It really was very strange, and very memorable. But, of course, money was necessary and so Roth, perhaps the top Brit screen rebel of the time, signed up to a glitzy American adaptation of an Agatha Christie story, Murder With Mirrors. Here Helen Hayes' Miss Marple would come to investigate as someone's poisoning lady of the manor Bette Davis. Everyone, naturally, is a suspect, including Roth, a weird fellow working on the estate who claims that John Mills, Davis's new husband, is his real father. Spouting stuff like that, it's naturally only a matter of time before he's drowned.

Though Roth was now being touted as a prime member of that much-vaunted Brit pack and celebrated in London's style magazines, he was hardly Hollywood-bound just yet. Having dropped out of Absolute Beginners when it became a dodgy musical instead of a tough tale of Fifties street kids, he'd star in the BBC's four-part serial King Of The Ghetto, playing a scarred activist and former jailbird battling with East End businessmen as they tried to prevent him using squatters' rights to create homes for an impoverished Asian community. Onstage he'd appear in Nick Darke's The Oven Glove Murders at the Bush Theatre and as Gregor in Steven Berkoff's adaptation of Kafka's Metamorphosis at the Mermaid. This latter performance would be filmed for TV, with Roth impressing many when, without costume or makeup, he energetically climbed, leapt and swang to convince us that he was, in fact, a giant insect. It was one of the very few classics Roth had performed (there'd been Othello and Strindberg's Easter where he'd played Benjamin, devastated by cocking up a Latin exam and captivated by asylum-escapee Eleonora) and his last stage performance of any kind for nearly 20 years.

Things were getting wretched for Roth. Aside from popping up, lank-haired and scarred, as Frankenstein's monster in an episode of the South Bank Show, 1987 saw no releases. His relationship with Lori Baker had collapsed and, to escape his misery, he was doing his best to find jobs in other countries. Arriving in 1988, the first of these would be A World Apart, a semi-biographical account of the family of Joe Slovo, head of the South African communist party and courageous anti-apartheid activist. Jeroen Krabbe would play the Slovo part, with Barbara Hershey as his equally political wife, Roth appearing briefly as Hershey's friend and co-worker Harold, who's also seen briefly twisting at a party (well, it was the early Sixties). After this would come To Kill A Priest, filmed in Paris. Here Polish priest Christopher Lambert supports the Solidarity movement in the early Eighties, only to be tracked and killed by obsessed communist agent Ed Harris. Roth would appear as the slippery Feliks, once a Solidarity supporter but now a communist soldier, planting evidence to bring about Lambert's downfall. Directed by Agnieszka Holland and with a cast also including Cherie Lunghi, Joanne Whalley and Peter Postlethwaite, it ought to have been a compelling drama - that was certainly why Roth signed on for it. Sadly, it ended up with a half-arsed anti-communist message. Pointless and wasteful. Roth did, though, take the opportunity to stay on in Paris after filming, running up debts but staying clear of a London that was becoming bleaker and bleaker for this ambitious young actor.

He returned to more pain. In January, 1988, he filmed Knuckle, a TV pastiche of 1940s crime thrillers based on a David Hare play, where Roth played a sleuth failing to rescue his missing sister and Emma Thompson was a glamorous nightclub owner. And that was it for a full year. Never a luvvie thespian by training or nature, Roth would once say "They call it resting, I call it signing on" and now he'd be signing on relentlessly. Gary Oldman had broken through with Sid And Nancy and Prick Up Your Ears, worked with Nicolas Roeg and had left for America. Daniel Day-Lewis, who'd scored with My Beautiful Laundrette and A Room With A View and was about to win an Oscar for My Left Foot, was also working Stateside. The Brit Pack had seemingly left Roth for dead. Beyond this, Lori Baker was living with son Jack in New Cross while Roth inhabited a tatty flat in Sydenham. He was drinking too much, acting the slut. Everything was going wrong.

A World Apart made no headway, neither did To Kill A Priest. A BBC drama, Coppers, where Roth played one of two bored kids who pose as policemen and get into serious trouble, reunited him with his Meantime co-star Marion Bailey but did not cause a stir. Neither did his efforts as Josef K in an episode of Modern Writers based on Kafka. Then, suddenly, his life began to change. First he won the role of Michael Gambon's evil henchman in Peter Greenaway's controversial and hugely thought-provoking The Cook, The Thief, His Wife And Her Lover, behaving just as despicably as his monstrous boss. This, in turn, led to his first cinematic lead, in Robert Altman's Vincent And Theo. This would cover the relationship between the tortured Vincent Van Gogh and his brother, played by Paul Rhys, as well as the relationship between art and suffering. Roth, with crazy hair and rotten teeth, would slip terrifyingly between mania and depression, with Altman brilliantly setting the scenes as if they'd been painted by Van Gogh himself.

During this sudden burst of activity, Roth would flee the country again for Farendj, playing an English writer visiting Ethiopia with his girlfriend. Discovering a house once occupied by the poet Arthur Rimbaud, he moves in, and begins to obsessively immerse himself in local customs, even taking a local girlfriend. Despite his ex-partner's efforts to save him, he disappears, first into the Ethiopia's people, then into its desert. It was an interesting project but a difficult shoot, with poor conditions and a crew mutiny that saw them being held at gunpoint. Beyond this, Roth's father, Ernie, died while he was on location and Tim could not attend the funeral. Poignantly, a great lover of art, Ernie would be buried with a photo of his son playing his hero Vincent Van Gogh.

Roth's next screen appearance would be on TV in Yellowbacks, reuniting him with director Roy Battersby, with whom he'd worked on King Of The Ghetto. A future-set BBC political thriller, this would see the government rounding up all those testing positive for a disease much like AIDS. When a suspected carrier goes missing, Roth and other agents move in on doctor Janet McTeer, employing cruel and unusual tactics to discover where her friend has gone. Very different would be Tom Stoppard's Rosencrantz And Guildenstern Are Dead, which attempted to deepen our understanding of Hamlet by following two minor characters who believe themselves to be at the centre of the action. Here Roth would play Guildenstern, with his old mucker Gary Oldman as Rosencrantz, the pair of them oblivious to all around them, stumbling in and out of the classic drama. The critics were not kind, but Roth and Oldman performed well in very difficult roles where they were required to summon the spirit of Monty Python and Abbott and Costello as well as dealing in fatal confusion.

Roth had grown terribly disillusioned with a British film industry that was now concentrating on saleable period dramas rather than the harsher, more modern work of the early 1980s. His problems were compounded by his refusal to audition for any film role (partly caused by pride and arrogance, partly by a fear of failure that would inevitably have him perform badly and fail to get the part anyway). Still attempting to escape his poverty-stricken south London reality, now he was off to Australia for Backsliding. Here a born-again Christian with a former history of aggression takes his wife out into the outback to run a small power station. When supposed maintenance man Roth turns up, a mysterious guy with very different values, the Christian is pushed to revert to his violent ways. It was a badly chosen part, taken for all the wrong reasons.

Fortunately, America, source of his original cinematic dreams, had begun to open its arms to him. While filming Backsliding in Oz he was called by one Jeff Stanzler, then putting together a Bronx-based project called Jumpin' At The Boneyard. Could Roth do the accent? He certainly could. So here he was, in the Big Apple, playing (appropriately enough) a depressed and unemployed guy attempting to redeem himself by saving his crack-addicted brother, Alexis Arquette. It was dark, gritty stuff, and also saw Roth credited alongside Samuel L Jackson for the first time. When reacquainted, they would both be on a major roll.

On finishing Jumpin' At the Boneyard, Roth would move on to Los Angeles to promote Vincent And Theo. He'd got himself an agent and stayed at the Bel Age hotel, hoping to score some work quickly. Again, his refusal to read for parts was not helping. However, getting drunk with one young director desperate to get him onboard for his debut feature, Tim did deign to read some lines the tyro had scribbled on a napkin. They talked some more. There were two parts the director, who'd loved Rosencrantz And Guildenstern, thought Roth might play, but Roth believed a third role might be more interesting. He got his way, and thus became Mr Orange in Quentin Tarantino's groundbreaking Reservoir Dogs, bleeding and howling in the back of Harvey Keitel's car, then bleeding and moaning as Michael Madsen performs his infamous routine to Stuck In The Middle With You (this was the second Roth film to feature an anaesthetic-free ear amputation).

Having revisited the tortured artist theme in an episode of Tales From The Crypt, where he played a blocked painter who only finds inspiration in morbid death-scenes which he must eventually set up himself, the release of Reservoir Dogs would see Roth move to Los Angeles for good. He'd still return to Britain, or travel abroad for interesting work. Common Pursuit, for instance, would see him alongside Stephen Fry as a cynical, neurotic, chain-smoking theatre critic on a Cambridge university magazine, their pursuit of fine ideas gradually being abandoned as the years pass. But now he was in the world of De Niro and Pacino, he'd just starred alongside Harvey Keitel, for God's sake. There'd be no going back.

Roth's next American release (on the advice of Keitel, who warned him against doing big budget flicks)would be the Gen X oddity Bodies, Rest And Motion. Here he'd play a discontented appliance salesman in Arizona who takes off for Montana, leaving partner Bridget Fonda to fall for Eric Stoltz, a painter preparing their house for resale. Over the course of 48 hours, Roth would enjoy bizarre encounters with his parents and at a Native American garage but not much else happened - it was all about ennui and disconnection.

Having nipped over to Czechoslovakia for The Perfect Husband, where he played a cocky, womanising opera singer brought down a peg or two, he returned to the States for the four-hour TV movie Murder In The Heartland. Here he'd play Charles Starkweather, the 19-year-old who, in 1958, took off across America with his 14-year-old girlfriend, killing 11 people as he went. Roth would be excellent once again - sadistic, smirking, enraged and fidgeting, only able to communicate with his rifle - and, now working extensively with a voice coach, he'd managed to avoid being buried under the memory of Martin Sheen's portrayal of Starkweather in Terrence Malick's iconic Badlands.

Things were really looking up. On arriving in Los Angeles, Roth had done the traditional party thing, trying to make friends and connections and failing dismally. Soon, though, he'd be called by Sean Penn, who clearly considered Roth to be cut from the same acting cloth as himself. He'd show Tim around, introduce him to the right people. In Penn's absence, still unable to drive, Roth would have to pay someone to whisk him around as he attended all the meetings and chased all the skirt. It wasn't easy. At the Sundance Festival, though, he met one Nikki Butler, a clothes designer there for the skiing. She didn't know who he was - he liked that. Taking off with a friend on a six-week trip to see America, hitching and jumping freight trains up to the Canadian border and on to Minnesota, he called her whenever he could. Later Roth would say that all his earlier relationships had been coloured by the abuse he'd suffered as a child. This one wasn't. Butler would give up work to travel with him on location. They'd marry in Belize while he filmed his follow-up to Murder In The Heartland, and would have two sons - Timothy Hunter and Michael Cormac - Hunter Thompson and Cormac McCarthy being the couple's favourite writers.

The follow-up would be Nic Roeg's Heart Of Darkness, which would again see Roth in a classic Martin Sheen role. As Sheen had in Apocalypse Now, Tim would be Marlow, travelling up-river to find the monstrous Kurtz, this time played by John Malkovich. But this version was true to Conrad, with Roth first a cocky adventurer then, after a terrifying journey into the unknown, in charge of an African crew who detest him, as crazy as the rogue trader he seeks.

Roth's second release of 1994 would take him back into the heart of Americana, as well as back to the box-office heights. This was Pulp Fiction, Quentin Tarantino's masterpiece, a series of intersecting stories featuring chatting hitmen, kinky dancing, sodomy, overdoses, geeks, revenge, murder and carefully concealed watches. It was the hippest movie in years, and all topped and tailed by lovers and partners in crime Roth and Amanda Plummer - Pumpkin and Honey Bunny respectively - whose attempt to turn over a restaurant is foiled by a very pissed off Samuel L Jackson, earlier Roth's co-star in Jumpin' At The Boneyard. Actually, Plummer was also a former co-star, having appeared with Roth in Monkey Park, a short concerning love and incest that was made in 1992, but not shown till the festivals of 1998.

Though he was now in a prime position to rake it in, Roth would keep to Harvey Keitel's advice and continue to avoid blockbuster fare. His next picture, Captives, would take him back to Blighty, where he'd play a hard-bitten but sensitive jailbird who falls for prison dentist Julia Ormond. On his day releases they do the nasty most energetically, but then her job and his parole are threatened when a drug kingpin on the inside discovers their affair and demands she smuggle in an illicit package. Next, he'd return to New York, to Brooklyn's Brighton Beach, to play a hit-man returning to carry out a job in his old Russian-Jewish neighbourhood. His mother, Vanessa Redgrave, is dying: his father, Maximillian Schell, despises him: and his little brother Edward Furlong is suffering abuse. When old scores need to be settled in the local crime scene, it all turns bad.

At last, having made his mark 13 years previously, Roth would now consent to make his very first big budget studio movie. Naturally, being Roth, it was no Pearl Harbour or Armageddon, rather the historical epic Rob Roy. Having played sullen Brit bruisers and mumbling Americans for so long, his performance as Archibald Cunningham, the decadent aristocratic reprobate who frames Liam Neeson's Rob Roy, gleefully rapes his wife, burns his home and then tries to kill him in a duel, was a revelation. Roth, despite initial reservations about going over the top, revelled in his wickedness and thereby created one of the great cinema villains of recent times. Archie's death was fully deserved, as were Roth's Oscar and Golden Globe nominations.

Roth's other release of 1995 saw him take over from an unavailable Steve Buscemi to play the put-upon bell-hop in Four Rooms, his character connecting four separate stories by four different directors. In the Robert Rodriguez segment he'd babysit for Antonio Banderas, engaging in all manner of kiddie-based slapstick. For Alex Rockwell he'd be accused at gunpoint of sleeping with Jennifer Beals. For Allison Anders he'd get involved with Madonna and a coven of witches and, with his mate Tarantino, he'd resurrect that hoary old game involving Zippos, fingers and very sharp implements.

Continuing his American odyssey, but keeping it resolutely indie, Roth would move on to No Way Home, further exploring Colin from Meantime territory by playing Joey, slow-witted brother of drug dealer James Russo. Fresh out of jail having served time for murder, Roth goes to stay with Russo and his wife Deborah Kara Unger. She's not keen, but gradually realises Roth's a decent guy and, as Russo seeks a way out of his money problems, she comes to wonder whether Roth was ever capable of murder at all. It was another fine effort from Roth, innocent and manipulated but not simply a sacrificial lamb. He'd follow it with Woody Allen's Everyone Says I Love You, a musical where Allen fell for Julia Roberts in Venice and Roth, as a charming ex-con, romances Allen's daughter Drew Barrymore. He'll pull big laughs when he takes her on a date to see the autumn foliage, the romantic encounter quickly turning into a prison break and grocery store heist. Roth was clearly no pro when it came to singing and dancing, but his sheer conviction had him stealing each scene.

The next year, 1997, would see the release of Gridlock'd, a gritty comedy where Roth and rap star Tupac Shakur would play junkie buddies who, after friend Thandie Newton overdoses, try to book themselves into rehab, only to be thwarted by dealers, cops and absurd bureaucracy. The dialogue between Roth and Shakur was superb and it was an immense shame that, just before the film's premiere, Shakur was murdered in some moronically macho turf war. Roth would move on to Hoodlum, his second big budget studio movie. Set in 1930s Harlem, this would see Cicely Tyson running a numbers racket, with Laurence Fishburne as her deputy. Enter Roth as Dutch Schultz, deputy to Andy Garcia's Lucky Luciano, and an impatient, boastful, casually vicious thug. "Muscling in on the action" does not adequately describe his forthright approach.

1997 would end with another corker, Deceiver, otherwise known as Liar. This was an excellent mind-game thriller where posh Princeton grad Roth gets fingered for cutting prostitute Renee Zellweger in half. Under intense interrogation by cops Chris Penn and Michael Rooker, he slowly and cleverly turns the tables, leaving the viewer, as we're shown various alternate versions of the truth, to work out who it was that left poor Renee beside herself, as it were.

Next would come Animals, another indie. This had sprung from the Sundance Festival back in 1992 when, in a filmmakers' lab, Roth had met and agreed to work with auteur Michael Di Jiacomo. Here Roth would play a cabbie, world-weary even before he's ripped off by gun-toting John Turturro. But, driving three old timers (including Rod Steiger and Mickey Rooney) out into the country for one last adventure, he's roused from numbness and is ready again to seek true love and his destiny. Sadly, given the heartwarming message, the movie would receive only a very limited European release, and none at all in the States.

Roth would for several years cut down his work-rate - his acting work-rate, at least. The Legend Of 1900 would see him as an orphan who's lived all his life on an ocean-liner and has become a world-class pianist. It was slow, slow stuff even after much of its three-hour length was hacked away, but it did feature one stunning sequence where Roth sails around a grand ballroom while tickling the ivories as the ship rocks back and forth and from side to side. But there would not be another release till 2000, a gap due to Roth making his directorial debut with The War Zone. Based on a novel by Alexander Stuart, this had already been turned down by Nic Roeg and Danny Boyle. The producers had actually been talking to Roth about acting in a different project, Bent, when Roth had expressed an interest in directing something. They felt The War Zone might be suitable material and, exploring incest, abuse and the nature of love, it did ring bells for Roth, who must also have been encouraged by the recent success of Gary Oldman's Nil By Mouth.

The War Zone turned out to be excellent, with Roth's inspiration Ray Winstone playing the head of an urban family moving down to Devon for a cleaner, brighter life (Roth would alter some of the novel's details to recall his own unhappy holidays as a kid). But there's bad stuff, really bad stuff beneath the surface. It was only now that Roth felt ready to even mention the abuse he'd suffered himself. It had not been his father, he stressed, or a member of his immediate family, but it had still damaged him badly. Many would be helped by the candour of his words, and of his film. Roth would deserve the awards he won at Berlin and Edinburgh.

2000 would bring three releases. First would come a brief cameo in Wim Wenders' The Million Dollar Hotel (also featuring Mel Gibson and Honey Bunny Amanda Plummer) where Roth would play Izzy Goldkiss, a good-natured druggie who goes off the roof of an LA fleapit filled with oddballs. When Roth's discovered to be a billionaire's son, Gibson comes in to investigate - did he jump, or was he pushed? Also crammed with oddballs would be Roland Joffe's spectacularly well-designed Vatel (which Roth took in part because it would place him in Europe when he was needed for War Zone PR), where Gerard Depardieu played a chef required to prepare a three-day feast for Louis XIV. At the same time he falls for the king's new plaything, Uma Thurman, a wench who's also wanted by Roth's Marquis de Lauzun, a scheming hedonist and brown-noser who arranges the sating of the monarch's more outre desires. The year would end with a return to the States for Lucky Numbers. Here John Travolta and Lisa Kudrow, fellow workers at a Pennsylvania TV station, would plot to rig the State lottery, Roth appearing as a mate of Travolta's who suggests a cunning plan - a plan that goes badly wrong when everyone and his mum demands a cut. This was Tim Roth at his lowest key yet, a Roth with nothing real to feel. It perhaps does him credit that he wasn't very good. He was surely only in this one for the money.

His next step was a curious one. Offered the part of Severus Snape in the first episode of the Harry Potter franchise, you'd have thought he'd have snapped it up. Such a major part in the series would, after all, have guaranteed him a decent wage for the next decade or so, thus saving him from the likes of Lucky Numbers. Instead, to Alan Rickman's ongoing joy, he decided to take on the extreme thespian challenge of Tim Burton's remake/reimagining/cock up (delete as applicable) of Planet Of The Apes. As it turned out, despite the cumbersome makeup and uniform, he made a fine physical job of it, his furious, human-hating and genocidal General Thade almost saving a disappointing movie that showed severe signs of executive interference.

More interesting would be Roth's other two films of 2001. First of these was Werner Herzog's Invincible where Jouko Ahola (in real life two-times winner of World's Strongest Man) played a super-hunky Polish blacksmith hired as a circus performer in 1932. An innocent Candide figure, he'd be tested to the max by Roth, a malevolent, showboating charlatan posing as a psychic who runs the Palace of the Occult and is angling to become the Nazis' Minister for the Occult. Remaining in Evil Mode, he'd then switch to France for The Musketeer, an adaptation of the famous Dumas novel. Drawing fully on his Rob Roy experience, he'd again play a wicked aristocrat, who murders D'Artagnan's parents, imprisons the musketeers then takes on D'Artagnan in an outlandish final duel in a warehouse full of giant wine barrels. It was crazy stuff, a period action drama with a heavy injection of martial arts violence.

Roth would follow this with Emmett's Mark, where cop Scott Wolf learns he has a terminal illness and is advised by mystery agent Gabriel Byrne to get himself painlessly offed by assassin Roth. Naturally, once he's agreed he discovers he's been misdiagnosed and must track down Roth to cancel the hit. Sadly, Roth wouldn't have much of a character to play with, less in fact than in Whatever We Do, a short where he joined Amanda Peet, Zooey Deschanel and Robert Downey Jr to play one of four friends who, as they sink the drinks, blurt out too much about their relationships.

2003 would see Roth return to period drama with To Kill A King where he played a ranting, puritanical Oliver Cromwell, battling with Dougray Scott's more reasonable Thomas Fairfax over the fate of Rupert Everett's Charles I and launching a reign of terror. Then would come The Beautiful Country, a fabulously shot movie where the Vietnamese son of GI Nick Nolte endures a harrowing trip through Malaysia and on to Texas to find his dad, Roth appearing as the brutal captain of a freighter carrying emigrants. Following this would be John Sayles' Silver City, an unsubtle political drama where a body found in a lake threatens to ruin hypocritical Republican Chris Cooper as he runs for Governor of Colorado. Cooper's aided by sly campaign manager Richard Dreyfus, with Roth popping up as a libertarian Internet crusader, a dishevelled cyber-hippy. Next would come Jean Beaudin's Nouvelle-France, another historical affair concerning the Brits' tussle with the French over Canada in the 1700s. With Irene Jacob, Vincent Perez and Gerard Depardieu (again) onboard, there would be star-crossed lovers, betrayal, revenge and execution, and also some hard-nosed politics, as Roth Prime Minister William Pitt sends Jason Isaac's General Wolfe to sneak up behind the French and kick their arses.

As well as The Beautiful Country and Silver City, 2004 would also see Roth return to the stage for the first time in nearly two decades, making his US debut at the Actors' Studio in New York. This would be in Sam Shepard's The God Of Hell, a response to the war in Iraq, where Roth would play the demonic Welch, turning up at Randy Quaid's mid-western place and veering madly between vivacious good humour and psychotic patriotism.

2005 would be another busy year for Roth releases. First and worst would be The Last Sign where he played the drunken, abusive husband of Andie McDowell. Once he dies in a car smash, she moves the kids to a big country house, but then she starts getting strange calls in the deep of the night and, worse still, begins to see him everywhere. A thriller sold as a horror film, it just wasn't up to much. Better would be Don't Come Knocking, a reunion of Wim Wenders and Sam Shepard who'd earlier delivered the classic Paris, Texas. It was also a chance for Roth to work properly with Wenders, having only spent a day on the set of The Million Dollar Hotel. Here Shepard would appear as a grizzled, coke-addled star of cowboy movies who abandons a film-set and rides off to seek redemption, first with his mum then with old flame Jessica Lange (Shepard's real-life wife) and a son he didn't know he had (the son's girlfriend, by the way, is played by Fairuza Balk, Roth's partner-in-crime in Murder In The Heartland). Roth himself would show up as a tracer for the movie's insurers. Caring not a jot for family reunions, he must take Shepard back at all costs.

The year would end with another horror film, but this time a good one. This was Dark Water, Walter Salles' remake of Hideo Nakata's original, an outrageously gloomy piece where Jennifer Connelly splits from her husband and winds up, with her young son, in a spectacularly, life-threateningly horrible apartment. Much needed colour and humour would be added by Roth, as her divorce lawyer, a motormouth working out of his car.

2006 would bring another odd batch - typical of Roth, really. Even Money would concern the problems of gambling addiction, Roth playing a Eurotrash bookie with his hooks in Forest Whitaker, forcing the poor mark to fix basketball games. It was worthy work but, even with an all-star cast featuring Kim Basinger, Danny De Vito and Ray Liotta, it made little impact. Next, he'd join Hayden Christensen and Mischa Barton in Guilty Pleasures which saw a gathering of rich folk in a villa outside Florence in 1348. As the Black Death sweeps the nation they amuse themselves with a series of wild tales, the film being based, as was Pasolini's 1970 effort, on Boccaccio's Decameron. Interestingly, the movie would be written and directed by David Leland who, 24 years earlier, had written Roth's debut, Made In Britain.

More memories would be stirred by Roth's next release. At last, after those early letters had received no reply, he was to work with Francis Ford Coppola. Based on the novel by Mircea Eliade, Youth Without Youth would see Roth star as a professor who regains his youth when struck by lightning. These being the tumultuous years before WW2, though, the Nazis take an interest in this miracle and so, quite reasonably fearing Nazi medics, he flees across Europe. It would be a fascinating piece, a contemplation of time, consciousness and reality financed entirely by Coppola himself.

Where next for Tim Roth? One must assume he will direct again soon. He will also surely continue to criss-cross the globe, seeking work with the finest filmmakers of our time. There must be many more on his list. After all, though anger made him, intelligence and talent have carried him onwards. He is now, without doubt, one of the world's most accomplished screen actors. And made in Britain, Gawdblessya.

Dominic Wills


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