Tim Roth

by Charlie Latan

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The Lark Sparrow Has Only Twice Been Spotted in England

Many sparrows are challenging to identify, but the Lark Sparrow (Chondestes grammacus) is a striking exception, with its bold face pattern and broad, white-edged tail.

“After ten years, a lot of times they’re telling you, it’s bullshit, you know it, everyone knows it and it’s just a fucking game,” says Tim Roth. Before I can hit record on my iPhone, the acclaimed television, film, and stage performer ruffles Entertainment’s feathers.

Roth frequents this friendly pub, shouldered between the Arroyo Seco hills in South Pasadena. Red-Tailed Hawks circle prey from above the crackling black walnut woodland. The Lark Sparrow, who thrive even in dry bushes and trees have migrated inland or south toward Baja Mexico, variations on L.A.’s cruel summer.

Roth sits opposite me, leaning back in a forward bench, wood, high-backed, conspicuous from inside, and from the sidewalk. There’s limited patronage, too much standing room, like a set on an off day. I’m on whiskey rocks number one. He’s on unknownth Harp stout, bottle.

“Everybody okay?” The bar staff is attentive, sweet. “I think we’re good. I’m gonna need, when I leave, whenever that is, three orders of your wings to go.” She promises to follow up, and then pads away.

“We’ll be quick. So you can get to your wings, Tim.”

“No, no, my kids asked.”

Both Lark Sparrow parents feed the nestlings. Young leave the nest about 9-10 days after hatching.

Raised by unassuming artisan parents, father a journalist and mother a landscape painter, in Brixton, at the time a working class neighborhood five kilometers south of London. Today, he’s dressed golf casual: a collared shirt, sparse jewelry and mussed up hair. Only his persona might qualify as “bling.” In 2010, he parlayed $250,000 per episode during Fox’s three-season run of Lie to Me: “They pay you like royalty. Makes no sense,” he confides.

Roth’s surrounded by a phalanx of electronics—Bluetooth®, laptop, oversized mobile phone. They’re guarded by his criminally charismatic sneer. New York Times considers him a “leading interpreter of society’s underbelly.” He routinely lifts up, politely glances, and sets down his smartphone—never dismissive—just, like anyone, attune to perpetual communication.

You came up before the Internet. Blessing, curse?

I don’t like the NSA version of the Internet, but there’s the eminence of real freedom in there, although, I’ve seen people destroyed by it, and children too. It’s just relentless. The thing about the Internet for me I actually don’t know what the animal is and hopefully, I won’t. I think it’s better not to know.

Your work on Lie to Me, were you invested? Or was this just tuition for your boys?

I started off with a really blasé, snobbish attitude to it. I tried to get them to kill my character off after the pilot and they wouldn’t do it [laughs]. They laughed at me and I was like "Oh fuck!" and they said, "Well, we might get cancelled," and then they kept us for three seasons or whatever—but the first season I fought with the writers. "Cause it’s a writers" medium. Theatre is where the actors rule, TV is where the writers rule and film is where the director’s rule, so I was fuckin’ going, "I’ll fight everybody!" I was exhausted. And then, you know I made myself incredibly unpopular, and lost a lot of people their job, but we got a new group of writers in and then it started getting interesting for the second season, and then it got really interesting for the third season, and of course as soon as it gets really interesting they cancel you.

So American.

Yeah, it was brilliant. I remember when I first started and I met Kiefer, a couple times beforehand with that thing, where you have to go to New York, I don’t know what it is, where they announce their shows, and I turn around and there’s this guy and I go "Oh hello!" and he took me in the corner and gave me like a five minute talk about how to do TV.

Pretty good professor.

Exactly, I didn’t fuckin’ know and I also had Hugh Laurie. Gave me a really good lecture. [Roth laughs again.]

Tim’s phone is blowing up.

“Who’s that?” I ask. Roth scans the screen and chortles.

“It’s all of The Hateful 8, they just—"I react, mostly with body language. “No, we’re kinda crazy. We have a thread that if people could get a hold of it, it would be…” We’re improvising, I think.

“How many texts are we talking? Ten to a hundred per day? A hundred to five hundred?”

“Constantly. 24/7. It’s split off into three separate threads.”

The Hateful 8, Quentin Tantantino’s newest film, is to be released in December and includes: Sam Jackson, Quentin Tarantino, Michael Madsen, Bruce Dern, Jennifer Jason Leigh. These tenets of cinema are texting off the chain, so much that some have to toggle “Do Not Disturb” to keep their partners happy. And this 54-year-old gentleman—the gaited bulldog of the “Brit Pack:” Oldman, Day Lewis, Firth, McGann, Phil Daniels—is possessed by millennialism, that craving for textual ecstasy.

For nesting, the Lark Sparrow generally favors areas with some open bare ground and some taller plants; included are overgrazed pastures, sandy barrens, hedgerows near fallow fields, brushy dry grasslands, sometimes open pinyon-juniper woods.

In 1997, Guardian thought the rest of the Brit Pack—five actors, including Gary Oldman, Daniel Day Lewis, and Colin Firth—would crack America, but not Roth.

“The others were handsome, sexy, talented: Roth was talented,” they quipped.

But in ’97 he was starring in four Hollywood films simultaneously, with his “lopsided face” leering from the sides of lowly L.A. buses, and glowering from 40 feet up high on building façades. But “[Roth] didn't like the superficial people, the laid-back atmosphere, the beach, the movie overkill ("film here is like a car factory").” He was “very depressed.” Things improved for Tim, though. He befriended a real human being, Quentin Tarantino, who’d seen the film Rosencrantz & Guildenstern (dir. Tom Stoppard, 1990) and sent him the script to Reservoir Dogs.

When’d you know this was the path you’d follow?

I was 16, a fucked up kid, and very messy, in a public school in England. And a mate of mine and I got hooked on Samuel Beckett and Groucho Marx and we started writing together. There was a woman who was a teacher, who you just go, "Jesus Christ, thanks for you" and me and my mate decided to audition for this Dracula musical as a joke. We weren’t interested in drama, or those fucking wankers. We went and auditioned and I got the lead. I had to do this play in front of all the bullies, parents, all the assholes, everything. We did three performances and the first time I pissed myself on stage. Fuck it! Then I went "Oh, I like this!" and it made everyone laugh and I became a star in the school. I got myself into art culture in the meantime. And I had parents who went, "You gotta make a life for yourself. Don’t worry about this. Being an accountant is not a fucking job." So I did. And then I was doing advertising, I quit art school, and I was doing that and I was cycling across London in the rain at night. I got a flat tire on my bike and I was called into a little community theater I worked at. I said, "Do you have a pump?" and they said no, but that they were auditions going on tomorrow for a television film and they told me where to go and I said "Alright." So I brought my bike home and next day, I got my tire sorted out, went across London and got the lead in the film. And it was called Made in Britain.

Good start. You won a BAFTA.

Oh fuck those, I don’t care. I’ve no idea. But it was my first job—I played a Nazi skinhead—and from that job, I was on the set and the director asked me, "What do you want to be? Do you want to be an actor?" I said, "Yeah" and he asked what I want to do. I said, I said "Heard about this guy, Mike Leigh." He called him up on set and said, "You gotta see Tim tomorrow." I got the lead in this and then I got the lead in that and now I’m here.

You’re English and you play a segregation governor in Selma. You’re bigger than American, or English. You’re a humanist.

From day one, my dad was American, came from Sheepshead Bay in New York. He was a very poor guy and they shipped him out to work in the factories in Liverpool, then he blackmailed his dad into getting him out. At 17, underage, he ran off to the Second World War. He was a gunner for the RAF, but he was an American kid. He had no education and taught himself to read, and then Italian when he was in Italy during the war and he came back and translated Italian newspapers into English. And he was a Communist. When we were kids, the FBI would raid our house. They took my toy guns away. I remember them doing that. He was a socialist and I was brought up a socialist. I was brought up to respect people and not corporations. Even though I will do films for corporations and I will fuck my morals over sometimes in favor of my children to make sure that they’re alright.

A fan approaches the table. I hear him before I see him and I turn to find out it’s the barback. He recognizes Roth from Reservoir Dogs.

“That’s my favorite movie!”

Roth shamelessly plugs his upcoming Tarantino film. “It’s Reservoir Dogs Western, you’re gonna love it.”

“Nice day job. You don’t get that at Walmart,” I say.

“That’s what I’m saying. My wife is always saying to me ‘Really? Stop complaining.’”

Proof: the beauty of being good at advertising is not having to work in advertising.

When going from place to place, the Lark Sparrow tends to fly higher than most sparrows, giving a sharp callnote as they pass overhead.

Roth polishes off another Harp, and offers to get my next whiskey. The barback’s like an elf, the drinks appear without interruption.

Your father’s a journalist. You deal with tabloids. Bit ironic?

There was a movement for a while, amongst actors I knew—it wasn’t like you would go out of your way and say, "I will never talk to the English press," but we’d just not be available. Because there was a time when Murdoch really took over, um, when, um, it got crazy.

Everything’s embarrassing.

Can you imagine a grown man having to write such a thing? My father was a journalist and he stopped when they started asking to look through vicar’s windows. It’s the most bizarre job and yet it did have an incredible—it had power.

The word “Tabloid” sounds nefarious.

The tabloid kind of journalists—you can see like with girls and stuff, they will push them to—I mean the biggest story, we talk about this at my house all the time, and the biggest, the best outcome, would be suicide. That’s where you see them wanting to push a Britney Spears.

A Lark Sparrow female lays 4-5 eggs, sometimes 3-6. Creamy to grayish white, spotted with brown and black.

This year, Roth will earn seven acting credits. He stars in three Mexican productions; one, Chronic, where his portrayal of a palliative nurse left critics empathizing with a borderline sociopath; in 600 Milas, he’s an ATF agent shanghaied across the border to Mexico; and coincidentally, Tim will pursue his family’s kidnappers into Mexico in The Jesuit. On Christmas Day, The Hateful Eight hits select cinemas on glorious 70mm film. In Tarantino’s latest installment, Roth plays Oswaldo Mobray, a traveling executioner, British no less, waylaid on the American Wild West frontier. Add two more features and there’s still a made-for-Tim role in A Fall from Grace, about a muder investigation in contemporary St. Louis—Vincent D’Onofrio, Forest Whitaker, and David Lynch also star. Today, though, in all of L.A., you’ll only spot Tim’s lopsided, and unfairly shrunken head hiding in the lower left portion of an ad for Oscar Consideration for Selma on the Paramount lot’s Southwest corner, leftover from earlier in the year.

Pay’s pretty good for TV, right? Film, yeah, no?

Oh, trying to find a good script is challenging, doing shit that you have to do just for money to get the kids through college, that’s a challenge, so you have to leave home and do shit for money but it’s not like fucking working at Walmart, it’s just pretty cool, it’s just the thought, even when its bad its cool. I’m alright with it. It’s just not that fucking difficult.

That’s the beauty of it.         

When you’re an actor, you’re an entity. It’s a very fucking cool job—me and Quentin and Mike, we were leaving Comic Con the other day and we loved it. [Roth checks his phone]—I’ve got 12 texts, oh my god I’ve got videos too, alright… No, it’s a love affair, it’s an unusual beautiful thing.

Nearly 20 years ago the Guardian neurotically pointed out his accent’s transition from Brixton drawl to “Received Pronunciation.” Despite numerous years living throughout Los Angeles, he’s held onto his gold standard vernacular, and propensity for the word fuck. Inside I wonder, “Does he curse via text, too?”

Lark Sparrows primarily eat seeds and insects. Their young are fed mostly insects, also some grass seeds.

Tim gushes about shooting The Hateful Eight, Tarantino’s eighth film. This is slated to be the encyclopedically referential director’s homage to classic TV Westerns. Tim explains how halfway through a season, the main cast would typically get locked in a room, guns pointed at them. With the tables turned, the episode would revolve around sniffing out the traitor.

Quentin Tarantino had an obvious part in Roth’s Hollywood career. After Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs, there’s my personal favorite, his role as the befuddled butler in critically besmirched Four Rooms. Now, though, twenty years have passed since Roth and Tarantino’s last collaboration. Unfortunately in early 2014, director Quentin Tarantino was devastated after an agent of an unspecified Hateful 8 actor leaked a first draft of the script.

So how was the shoot?

Mostly we were in a room in Colorado. Then they rebuilt the room in L.A., so everybody was in each other’s fucking space for five or six months. It could’ve gone terribly wrong, but then it was weird, it became this love affair.

Tarantino’s in it, right?

Oh, I’m not telling.

What’s it like, reading for a new Tarantino film? Tense? Given the history—do you even email each other?

It’s more like, "Can I come to the house?" Well the first time when the first one was leaked, well that was a story in itself, I suppose. I met him, I used to live just below Sunset and Gardner by the fire station, and I took him to this little pub up the road which, since, has become too famous to go to, and there was a little Thai restaurant up the road, and again, where me and Amanda Plummer used to play music together, very under the radar—so I took Quentin there, and when the first script was ready, he said meet me at Toi, this place Toi, I shouldn’t say it, well, it’s famous now. So we met there, and we sat and had a beer and a bite to eat, and he said, "Here, have that, don’t show it to anyone, read it, and let me know what you think." I read it and said, "This is incredible." And then the leak happened and he got very angry and I was rehearsing a play, I was gonna do a play in L.A., and he called me up and he said, "What the fuck?" and I just said, "Get angry, go get angry don’t worry about it, fuckin’ go out there, shout and scream and all that stuff, but don’t let any fucker stop you from making your movie, I mean you got to make your movie!" And that’s exactly what happened.

Wow. And he’s still making movies.

I mean he’s made a movie. I’ve only seen a bit of [The Hateful 8], but I was there for it and let me tell you, it’s a thing.

What do you think about the press?

When I get reviewed badly, which I do, it never hurts me.

You read it?

I stopped reading when I made The War Zone, when I directed, I found that it was obnoxious—there was the one review that killed me.

Who?

[Tim laughs] I’m not going to say who it is! But there is a guy who does a podcast and every morning when I’m away, when I travel, I get so severely depressed from being away from my family, that when I shower or get ready for work, I put podcasts or comedy on the speakers and blast it. It gets me going and makes me very happy. So, one of these people that I truly relied on to get me out of bed in the morning.

Why didn’t you blame the writer?

He called me on my shit. I didn’t blame the writer, I blame me.

The Lark Sparrow does almost all of its foraging while walking about on the ground in open areas.

Bankrobber, FIFA President, nurse, executioner. There’s variety even in the last year.

I try anything. My whole thing is, "I’ve never done that before, I’ll do that." The hardest thing is comedy because if they laugh on set, it doesn’t mean that they’ll laugh in the audience. When I’m working with Quentin, who writes funny shit, he laughs during takes. Comedy’s the hardest.

What was it like translating Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, from the stage adaptation to the screen?

Tom [Stoppard], I adore, a true gentleman. Originally, it wasn’t going to be me. It was going to be Gary [Oldman] and Daniel Day-Lewis. I worked with Gary on a film with Mike Leigh and we were just these groovy young guys who were coming up, and so I meant to meet with Tom at his flat in London. I was pretty broke. Gary was there and it was like, this is meant to be. Tom asked if he could give me a ride back to the station. He was dropping me off in London and said, "Tim, I can’t give you this movie.”

Were you devastated?

[Roth nods] He told me they offered it to Daniel Day-Lewis who was huge at that time. But then, Danny was doing Hamlet in the West End and had a bit of a breakdown on stage, so I got the job. I owe Daniel Day-Lewis a fucking huge debt, gratitude.

With Rosencrantz & Guildenstern, I felt like [Tom] might have reached a cultural cul-de-sac where he could go into the playhouse with a singular ubiquitous referent.

I’m not so sure about that because there’s a new play. I think he’s gone to a new place again.

Rosencrantz blows me away. You’re both kind of classical idiots.

I don’t think Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are idiots at all! [Roth cracks up.]

They are!

I must not have played him, I guess. [Roth smiles] We claimed to have played each part, Gary and me. The truth of it is when Tom was 27, when he wrote it; he went to see Olivier playing Hamlet in the West End. He says, "Those two guys are really interesting. What happens when they’re off? Cause they’re his mates—what are they doing?" He wrote that when he was twenty fucking seven. That’s sharp.

When Tom came here, to get his Oscar for Shakespeare in Love, the night after the first thing he does is come to my flat. He pulled up outside and said, "Tim, do you need some money?" He tried to give me money, but in the most gentlemanly way because Tom is a gentleman. And I said, "I’m good, I’m good.”

Being an actor sounds amazing.

There’s nobody who actually inside of this shit that we do that would ever criticize you for what you do. The only people that criticize us for what we do are people who have not a fucking clue about it. I’ve got a fucking game plan and it started as sort of a rough idea and carried on.

Lark Sparrow is a very rare migrant to western Europe, with two accepted records in Great Britain in 1981 and 1991.

Photographer: Mason Poole at masonpoole.com.

Stylist: Sara Paulsen for CelestineAgency.com.

Groomer: David Cox for art-dept.com.

Styling Assistant: Lilly Musak.