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The Untold Truth Of Tim Roth

Tim Roth has had one of the most unconventional careers in Hollywood history. Part of a generation of actors once referred to as The Brit Pack, Roth has always made a point of avoiding the predictable. A master of accents who disappears into roles, the London-born star made his onscreen debut playing a skinhead in the early 1980s. Roth went on to become a regular in Quentin Tarantino's films after an acclaimed turn in "Reservoir Dogs." He starred opposite Tupac Shakur in his second last film (in fact, he helped pay for the rapper-turned-actor's funeral), he did a musical with Woody Allen, and he played an ape for Tim Burton. In short, he's done it all.

Perhaps one of Roth's most surprising roles was that of the Abomination in 2008's "The Incredible Hulk." He made an even more surprising return to the character in the MCU series "She-Hulk: Attorney at Law" in 2022, showing a different side to the Marvel villain. He's been nominated for an Oscar, he received rave reviews for the one and only film he's directed, and he was the magnetic lead in two big television shows. Roth has given his whole life over to acting and he is still as passionate about his work today as he was back when he was starting out. Let's take a look at the ins and outs of his incredible career.

He was the bad boy of The Brit Pack

In November of 1986, a British publication called The Face conducted an interview with a group of young British actors. The writer, Elissa Van Poznak, dubbed this group "The Brit Pack," a riff on The Rat Pack, the crew of crooners and actors led by Frank Sinatra, and The Brat Pack, a bunch of young American actors who dominated Hollywood in the 1980s. The interview included Tim Roth, Colin Firth, Bruce Payne, Paul McGann, and Spencer Leigh. Two other actors wanted for the interview and photoshoot, Gary Oldman and Daniel Day Lewis, weren't available on the day.

Unlike their American counterparts, The Brit Pack was purely a media creation. They didn't socialize or even star in most of the same projects together, at least not at that point. Roth was 24 at the time of the interview and had a two-year-old son who he read to during down time. The writer describes him as "bellicose" as he asks if she's going to call him a "thesp thug." He also talks about losing himself in his roles, emerging as a different person for each one. Van Poznak describes Roth as "private," though the truth is that he was skeptical of the press in his early days. "Most journalists are in search of their own celebrity," he told Esquire in the 1990s. "I've made it an absolute rule never to read interviews or reviews."

Punk rock roots

Tim Roth comes from a family of writers and artists, but he did not formally attend theater school. He told NPR that in high school, he and a friend auditioned for a school play as a joke. "It backfired completely, and I got the part," he said. "And so I had to do an all-singing, all-dancing performance of 'Dracula.' It was called 'Dracula Spectacula.'" From there, he went to art school but auditioned at community theaters and pub theaters — yes, bars had performance spaces and encouraged people to use them. The school told him that he needed to take acting seriously and leave, saying he could come back if it didn't work out.

One of those community theaters told him about an audition for an upcoming TV movie called "Made In Britain," a film about a neo-Nazi youth that is still frighteningly prescient four decades later. He showed up early to his final audition and hung out at a park across the street. Knowing he was likely being watched, he did it in character. He got stopped by the police and then got into some trouble with a punk friend of his who had shown up — method acting at its finest. He based his character, Trevor, on a guy he worked with at a big grocery chain, who was smart but "had a taste for violence."

He was offered the role of Snape in the Harry Potter films

Tim Roth is a well-known actor, but his ability to disappear into his roles — and the sheer variety of characters he has played — has given him a certain amount of public anonymity. That would not have been the case had he played Severus Snape in the "Harry Potter" franchise, a role that was offered to him. He did think about doing it, and his kids certainly wanted him to take the part, but he got cold feet when he realized that he would be associated with Snape forever. "I was like 'Okay, okay that's interesting,' and then I just thought [...] 'That will be it really, I'll be known for that,'" he said during an appearance on There's Something About Movies (via Yahoo!).

The Brit was asked if he had any regrets about turning down the iconic role during a Reddit AMA. He revealed that he was planning on doing something "very different" with the character and went on to praise Alan Rickman, for whom Snape became a career-defining role. "Alan took it and ran with it and that was that," Roth said. "It would have been nice to have a seven-year gig, that's a nice and comforting space to be in. But no, I think the better man for the job did the job."

His character in Lie to Me is based on a real person

In the show "Lie to Me," which aired on Fox from 2009 to 2011, Roth played Dr. Cal Lightman, an expert in the science of microexpressions and body language. Looking at these unconscious facial expressions, Lightman proved valuable in law-enforcement and other legal investigations that involved trying to ferret out the truth. The character of Lightman was based on the real researcher Paul Ekman, who wrote a book called "Telling Lies" and who served as a consultant on the show.

Roth met with Ekman in researching the show, reading his books and watching some of his videos. The science and research of the role was less difficult than adapting to the structure of television. He told MovieWeb that there's a lot of exposition to jam into a short period of time, and he "found that was very difficult in a limited amount of time to slide that into the audience and not to hit it on the head with a hammer." Amusingly, he found himself using the science when "watching politicians" on television. He also said that fans would come up to him and ask if he could tell they were lying, but Roth said that he assured them that he has "no idea what they're thinking."

He loves being part of Quentin Tarantino's gang

Tim Roth was introduced to America through working with Robert Altman, though he wasn't sold on the States to begin with. He wanted to go home, but his agents made him stay to read scripts. When he got his hands on the script for Quentin Tarantino's first film, "Reservoir Dogs," Roth was glad that he didn't return to London so quickly. "Within 20 pages, I was reaching for the phone, saying, 'I've got to do this, I have to meet this guy,'" Roth told NPR, revealing that he and Tarantino met to discuss the movie over some beers. "We had the best time. And he gave me the job. And that was the beginning of my relationship [with Tarantino]."

Roth appears as Mr. Orange in "Reservoir Dogs," an undercover cop from the LAPD. He later played stick-up artist Pumpkin in "Pulp Fiction" and traveling hangman Oswaldo Mobray in "The Hateful Eight." Speaking to Looper in an exclusive interview, the Brit revealed that he loves being part of Tarantino's troupe of actors. "His actors — if you're lucky enough to consider yourself one of his actors — we wait for the phone to ring, and we hope it's going to," Roth said. "It is the gang that he creates as he goes. He adds to that, this incredible stable of actors that he takes with him on these journeys."

His kids convinced him to join the MCU

Tim Roth has revealed that he talked to Kevin Feige and Stan Lee on the set of "The Incredible Hulk," asking what would happen to the Abomination when he's finally defeated. "The idea that they came up with — I think — was that if they ever found him again, he would be in a combination safe," Roth told Screen Rant. "He'd be locked up and sunk to the bottom of the ocean. And in a way, that's where he's been!" The actor was referring to "She-Hulk: Attorney at Law," in which it's revealed that Emil Blonsky (the real name of the Abomination) has been held in a high security prison since he was stopped by the Hulk.

In an interview with ComingSoon, Roth said that he was "flattered" that so many fans were happy to see him reprise the role of Blonksy, who appears to have been completely reformed since we last saw him in the MCU. The actor went on to reveal that his kids were instrumental in him becoming Marvel's Abomination — and in his return to the part after so many years. He said: " When they asked me if I would consider coming back and playing that role, I was like, 'Yeah!' I did it for my kids. It's the reason I did it at the beginning, and [it's] still the same. I told them about it and they went, 'Oh, you're doing this.'"

He thought his wife was way out of his league

Roth met his future wife, fashion designer Nikki Butler, at the Sundance Film Festival in 1992. He was there with Quentin Tarantino for the premiere of "Reservoir Dogs," a film that would change his life in more ways than one. Butler was there on a skiing trip and had no idea who he was, which was "a good start," the actor joked during an interview with The Guardian. In fact, he thought she was "way out of my league — too tall and gorgeous," he told The Observer Magazine in 1995. However, some friends set them up and they were "snogging at the bar within 20 minutes."

A year later, the lovebirds tied the knot in Belize. Butler was there with Roth on yet another remarkable project, an adaptation of the classic Joseph Conrad novel "Heart of Darkness." Roth played the lead role of Marlow, the curious trader who eventually confronts the utter depravity of Kurtz, a man with no moral or ethical restraints in his explorations. The cult British film director Nicolas Roeg directed this gritty film, with John Malkovich in the role of Kurtz. Roth proposed to Butler on location, and they "got married in the jungle by the river" right after he got a tattoo of her initials on his arm, he told The Guardian. Three decades and two kids later, they are still together.

Appearing in Twin Peaks was a dream come true

Breaking down his most iconic roles in an interview with GQ, Roth revealed that he "went to see 'Eraserhead' about 25 times" when he was a young aspiring actor. That seminal underground classic put director David Lynch on the map. When Roth got the chance to work with Lynch many years later when the auteur returned to the world of "Twin Peaks," he didn't hesitate. He plays Gary "Hutch" Hutchens in 2017's "Twin Peaks: The Return," one half of a husband-and-wife assassin team. His other half, Chantal, is played by Jennifer Jason Leigh.

There are distinct echoes of Pumpkin and Honey Bunny from "Pulp Fiction" here. Hutch and Chantal commit several murders before they are shot to death by an accountant after refusing to move their van from the front of his driveway. Roth loved the experience so much that he would call an executive producer and beg for more scenes, he told GQ. He went on to reveal the note that Lynch gave him for the scene in which his character is shot: "Elvis ragdoll." Roth adds, "He's so funny. I love him."

He once stabbed Liam Neeson by mistake

1995's "Rob Roy" features Roth as Archibald Cunningham, a well-spoken and well-dressed villain whose mannerisms hide the heart of a deadly killer. He received a best supporting actor Oscar nomination for his performance opposite Liam Neeson as the titular Scottish outlaw. "Great villains make melodrama, and Tim Roth, as Cunningham, is crucial to the success of this film," veteran film critic Roger Ebert said in his review. "Resplendent in frilly court costumes, pudding-faced beneath a curly wig, he makes a foppish dandy; no matter how many times you saw 'Pulp Fiction,' you will never recognize him as Honey Bunny's main man." Ebert also praised the physicality of the action sequences, particularly the final showdown between Rob Roy and Cunningham, saying, "Here we get the sense of the deadly stakes, and the great physical effort involved."

Speaking on the Overdue Rentals podcast, Roth revealed just how difficult that last scene was to film. It's a duel to the death, with Cunningham's thin and flexible rapier against Rob Roy's big broadsword. At one point during rehearsals, Roth parried a thrust by Neeson and accidentally stabbed the star in the hand. "I had loads of time to practice, so I was working with his double, this amazing guy that actually really looked like him as well," Roth said (via CinemaBlend). "But I was working, rehearsing with his double a lot, so I had my moves down, but Liam was playing catch up with us." Fortunately, it was a gimmicked aluminum sword, so no major damage was done. Roth revealed that he got stabbed in the exact same place working on his next film, which he chalked up to karma.

He talked to real expat cops to prepare for Tin Star

After "Lie to Me," Roth went on to another big TV role in "Tin Star," playing a British expat who goes from a London cop to a small-town sheriff in the Canadian Rocky Mountains. Airing from 2017 to 2020, the show follows Sheriff Jim Worth as he protects his town and his family from crooked oil executives, evil preachers, and old-fashioned gangsters. In an interview with The Guardian, the actor revealed that he was given a great deal of creative license when it came to his character. "We spent a lot of time, myself and the producer Alison Jackson, working on improvising the dialogue and changing the nature of the story," he said.

Roth also plays Jack Worth, Jim's alcoholic alter ego. Roth described him as "the blackout version of Jim" in an interview with CBS News. "In a sense, it's a Jekyll and Hyde situation." He had to set his own ground rules for who does what and who remembers what, making it a challenge to map out the show's larger plot. Roth talked to some former British police officers who moved to Canada in search of a quieter life, but they found it to be rougher than expected. He joked that the only thing he had in common with his character is that they both came to North America, saying, "I wasn't running away from anything except unemployment, and you guys employed me, so it was just fine with me."

The War Zone was a deeply personal film

The following slide contains mentions of incest and sexual abuse.

Roth has just one directing credit, and it's for the 1999 film "The War Zone." It's a grim and hard-hitting story about a teenage boy confronting his father over sexual violence in his family. Roth made the film in part because of his own experience with this kind of trauma, though he wasn't abused by his father like the character in his movie. Speaking to The Guardian in 2016, the actor revealed that both he and his dad (journalist Ernie Smith) were abused by Roth's grandfather.

In a subsequent interview with NPR, Roth revealed that a friend introduced him to "The War Zone," a book by Alexander Stuart. He was interested in adapting it partly because he wanted to make some corrections to its portrayal of abusive familial relationships. "He was making guesses at what it felt like to be, you know, living in an abusive relationship or in an abusive household," the actor said. "And all of that was well and good, and he did a very good job on it. But I said, 'Well, let me give you the insider's perspective.'"

The film was well received, but Roth never returned to the director's chair — and he doesn't intend to. "I'm done with it," he said when ComingSoon asked if he would ever helm another film. "It was something I had to get off [my chest]. I've been told so many times by other directors, 'Go direct your own film, stay out of my hair.' So I did, and I got it done, and then I moved on."

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).