It was obviously a savvy idea to upgrade from Dulwich and the invisible moniker Tim Smith to Los Angeles and the much more mighty sounding Tim Roth. Since then, the chameleon-like actor has pretty much played every part and done every accent going, from American politician to mad angry ape (what do you mean there’s no difference?). With Roth on top form this week in Chronic as a carer dealing with all that comes from looking after terminally ill patients, we thought it was a good time to look back at the highs and lows of the Londoner’s career so far.
Made In Britain
Roth first rabbit-punched his way onto the screen with his frightening and all-too believable depiction of a 16 year old neo-Nazi called Trevor, who is allergic to life and the old-fashioned institutions that are supposedly there to help him. He attacks immigrants, sniffs glue, shoplifts at Harrods and kicks off at just about anyone. Yet somehow Roth manages to make this obnoxious racist seem intelligent and worthy of our empathy. Made In Britain was directed by the legendary Alan Clarke who has a retrospective at the BFI next month, where you can see this gem among the other ground-breaking films about working class London life he made in the 80s.
Flirting with Gary Oldman
The two south Londoners started their careers together in Mike Leigh’s Meantime about a family on the dole in Dalston. This time Oldman is the skinhead who befriends Roth’s slow-witted Colin. It’s not a great film but the two have nice chemistry and it led to them being cast opposite each other in Tom Stoppard’s film of his own play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead (below). Stoppard clearly struggled with the change of medium and the result is an oddly-toned curio, though somehow the ambling airlessness suits the tale of Hamlet’s clueless college buddies pondering the meaning of life in the wings.
During the 90s the cocky pair teased each other via the medium of magazine covers. During one photoshoot Roth scribbled "Gary Oldman I think you're sexy" on his face, to which Oldman replied by writing "Tim Roth I think you are sexy too!" on his bicep. Roth’s come back was "Gary Oldman Let's Do It" but sadly whatever that led to, it wasn’t another film together. Surely it’s time for a reunion now.
The Tarantino Years
Quentin’s lucky charm, Roth pops up in three of his best schlockathons. Roth gave a (quite literally) gut-wrenching performance in Reservoir Dogs as Mr Orange, the confused undercover cop who slowly bleeds to death while the gang he’s infiltrated trade smart remarks over his head instead of taking him to hospital. Two years later, Roth reunited with the bratty director for Pulp Fiction, this time playing a dolt trying to hold up a diner while making mushy overtures to his partner-in-crime, Honey Bunny. More recently, Roth appeared as the charmless English hangman Oswald Mowbray in the Agatha Christie meets mincemeat neo-western The Hateful Eight. However, the less said about his hard to watch turn(s) in Four Rooms, which QT also seems to have disowned, the better.
The best of the rest
The sheer variety of Roth’s CV is one of his most impressive achievements and there are some cracking performances across a set of minor classics that deserve to be watched more often. His Van Gogh in Vincent and Theo was a fine study of mad interiority, while he was nominated for an Oscar for his simpering highland rapist in Rob Roy. Bouncing off Tupac Shakur in Gridlock’d, he made a movie about drug addicts trying to make sense of the US welfare system feel fun. And he also gives excellent piano face in The Legend Of 1900 (see below). His directorial debut The War Zone was also a strong effort, daring to go deep into a bruising story of abuse and incest in a displaced London family.
And then the howlers
Roth is always strangely watchable even in the lousy films he’s done — and let’s face it, there have been a fair few. We won’t mention Four Rooms again (oops) or his vanilla villain in one of those Incredible Hulk films that seem to come along to no purpose every couple of years (see below). The real car crashes worth driving by to survey the damage however would be Grace of Monaco, in which he plays a whiny Prince Rainier, or last year’s United Passions where he took on the poisoned chalice of Sepp Blatter and was duly nominated for a BARFTA (the anti-BAFTA).
Chronic is at cinemas from 19 February.