Tim Roth is a devilishly funny fellow. It certainly proved easy playing a sharp-witted English henchman when he returned to work with Quentin Tarantino in The Hateful Eight, his fourth film with the director after Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction and Four Rooms.
Even if Tarantino is considerably older now, Roth says the 52-year-old remains as wide-eyed about cinema as ever.
“Quentin’s not aged at all; he’s still 22”, says the actor, who himself remains boyish at 54. “He’s exactly the same guy but with a lot more toys. I think he came out of the womb ready. This film was a weird one because there are 13 actors but maybe only five or six people in a room for the entire film. You’d go outside occasionally but mostly it’s like a play. It’s brilliant,” he says.
Set in Wyoming after the Civil War, Roth’s brash Oswaldo Mobray, sporting a bowler hat, travels to Red Rock to hang the convicted murderer, Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh).
The room he mentions is Millie’s Haberdashery, a stagecoach stopover where other mostly unsavoury types have gathered to shelter from a deadly snowstorm. Tarantino creates a powderkeg environment where everybody bears a grievance about something and lets it be known in his typically verbose style.
All the characters but one manage to last until the film’s intermission at the 101-minute mark, then the blood-letting truly starts in the film’s second 74-minute section.
Shooting with the long-disused Ultra Panavision 70mm film format, used in event films of the 1960s like Lawrence of Arabia, Khartoum and West Side Story, Tarantino includes many close-ups in order to heighten the suspense.
“I actually felt the big format would put you in Minnie’s haberdashery amongst those characters and make it more intimate,” Tarantino says. “Also there were two plays going on at all times — the characters in the foreground and then the characters in the background. They’re like pieces on a chessboard.”
The likes of Leigh and Walton Goggins (the Justified star plays the sheriff) may be newcomers to Tarantino’s universe, while Michael Madsen, Samuel L Jackson, Kurt Russell and Roth came to the film well versed in his ways. Still they had a lot to learn.
“Sam’s been around as much as I have but Quentin and I had a long break. I hadn’t made it back since Four Rooms so I didn’t know the new version of how he films, the kind of atmosphere he’s encouraged and developed. It was like coming to Quentin fresh again. It was wonderful,” says Roth.
The actors of course aren’t as despicable as their characters. In fact after the intense shoot they missed each other.
“We’d all text each other, ‘hello, I love you, bye’.” Roth recalls in a silly voice. “Kurt was getting all sappy with ‘I love you’ cartoons and images.”
“You’re so American now”, I tell him.
“I f..k’n am. My dad was American,” the London-born actor says of his journalist father who was born in Brooklyn, New York, to an immigrant family of Irish ancestry.
He concedes that Americans can be very sappy. “Even Quentin, oh my god he gets teared up. And he might only be talking about a kung fu movie from 1973!”
Did they ever discuss the leak of The Hateful Eight screenplay? “Yes we talked about it. I was rehearsing a play at the time and we were ready to up and go with the film and it got delayed and that pissed me off. But Quentin went into a rewrite stage and it got better, so it worked out well in the end.”
Of course Roth was immortalised for his roles in Tarantino’s earlier cult movies. So what was in the briefcase?
“I always get asked what was in the briefcase in Reservoir Dogs,” he responds, quickly being corrected for his error, as it was Pulp Fiction. “Quentin would love that I got the film wrong! I know what’s in the briefcase : a battery and a lamp. But I know what’s supposed to be in the briefcase and that’s still up for discussion.”
In Reservoir Dogs, the film that took Cannes by storm in 1992 and announced Tarantino as a force to be reckoned with, Roth played Mr Orange in some famously grisly scenes, notably killing Madsen’s corrupt cop when he was bloodied and left for dead.
“At the end of each day I was stuck to the floor and had to be hosed down to remove the blood, Roth says.
“We were asked if the film glamorised violence, but I think you definitely saw the consequences of all the characters’ actions and you could definitely feel the pain. But it was great fun to shoot like The Hateful Eight.”
Roth didn’t appear in Tarantino’s more recent films, Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained and it’s probably no coincidence as Tarantino cast Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio to help raise the finance. Now though the director has re-teamed with his old stalwarts for a film that is smaller in scope even if it’s large on screen.
Roth has always been a good talker and generally fits well into more dramatic situations, whether they be in independent films or on television. He recently starred for three seasons in the crime drama Lie to Me, shown on RTÉ2, as the lead know-it-all, a doctor who could detect lying through applied psychology to assist in criminal investigations.
“I loved the show,” he says. “It was funny and crazy but then it got a bit weird. They cancelled it when it got weird, that’s the thing,” he says.
Roth has returned to television for the BBC 90-minute anti-war drama Reg, written by Jimmy McGovern and directed by David Blair (Best Laid Plans).
He plays Reg Keys, the former ambulance driver whose son was killed in the second Iraq war and who went on to stand against Tony Blair in his seat of Sedgefield in the 2005 general election.
He also takes the lead in Mexican director Michel Franco’s Chronic (releasing early next year) where his involvement helped the Cannes awardwinning film be made.
Roth plays a nurse struggling with the weight of caring for patients who are often neglected by their families.
“This movie terrifies me because it’s death and it’s awful,” he says. “I’m looking at the back door of my life right now and we could all fall in a hole. I don’t want it to happen in the way this film deals with,” he says.
His own parents went quickly. “They were found dead in the morning, that kind of thing. They were so lucky.
“For the film we worked with nurses and also patients, who allowed an actor to come in and talk to them in the last days of their lives. They were incredibly generous,” he says.
Also a director, Roth received acclaim for his hard-hitting directing debut The War Zone, inspired by the abuse he was subjected to in his youth. “It was not my parents,” he is quick to clarify. He now has two screenplays he plans to direct.
“I have one that Harold Pinter wrote for me, which is very cool,” he says. “Then I have a story about a social worker in New York in the 1960s, a companion piece to The War Zone in a way.”