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Tim Roth on Returning to Quentin Tarantino’s Universe and Surviving the Failure of ‘United Passions’

Tim Roth on Returning to Quentin Tarantino's Universe and Surviving the Failure of 'United Passions'

READ MORE: ‘The Hateful Eight’ Proves Tim Roth Can Get Away With Anything

There’s a lot about Quentin Tarantino’s “The Hateful Eight” that feels familiar, from the Old West setting to the director’s playful approach to dialogue. But one of the biggest throwbacks is in the cast, which features Tim Roth as one of several men holed up in a cabin in the midst of a crippling blizzard. Roth was among the faces in Tarantino’s 1992 debut “Reservoir Dogs,” in which he played the detective Mr. Orange; just two years later, he was one of two memorable criminals attempting to rob a diner in the bookending sequences from “Pulp Fiction.”

After one last collaboration on the anthology film “Four Rooms,” Tarantino and Roth parted ways for nearly 20 years. With their reunion due in theaters on December 25, Roth spoke to Indiewire about coming back to the filmmaker’s universe and how his approach to taking on roles has evolved. He also touched on the less satisfying project he appeared in earlier this year, “United Passions,” which he was able to justify for other reasons.

It’s been over a decade since you last worked with Quentin. How has your perception of his filmmaking changed?

Yeah, it’s been kind of a ride. My stuff with him was a while ago, and he was a very different person then in the sense that “Reservoir Dogs” was his first film. Still, he hasn’t made that many films since then — he’s always making movies in his head, but he’s yet to make many for real. I got to experience the beginnings of it and the second one [“Pulp Fiction”]. Watching his films now, I think it’s a very different animal because he’s grown. It was a gradual process to arrive where he is, but it’s very, very different.

In what sense was it different?

Well, I walked on set and there’s this fantastic thing he does and that’s no cell phones. It’s a big thing that I love — no electronic devices. None of that is allowed on set. When you’re on set with him, it’s a completely open experience. It’s not like I’m doing something and I can see someone on the crew in the background checking his email or playing a game. None of that stuff happens. Nobody gets to you, so it goes back to the older days of cinema. I love it. In between takes, Quentin plays music over the loudspeakers. A lot of people are putting the cameras together and doing whatever they’re doing, getting ready for the scene, and it’s an environment. It’s really serious.

What was it like to settle back into a Tarantino script?

The character is written for me. Having worked with him before, he knows that I get his dialogue. I get the musings of his dialogue, so we understand that. That was something, in a way, that we didn’t have to try and learn. When we did rehearsals and did staged readings, the ones who weren’t in previous casts learned how to get used to that. Those of us that had worked with him before had that kind of shortcut. We’d already been down that road. We understood the music in his mind.

How would you describe that music?

He’s the only one who kind of writes speeches for actors. It’s not like a courtroom drama where they come up at the end. His stuff happens all the way through — his comedic timing, those monologues. They’re very special to him and for us. It’s to get as close as possible to what is going on inside his head.

What surprised you about the final result?

It’s a lovely film production. I’d read all of it so I knew what was coming. There’s the stuff that he put in there that we don’t know about. The film was a surprise to us, even though we were there to make it with him. It’s just incredibly inventive and extraordinarily surprising.

There’s nothing quite like it. There’s nothing out there like Quentin Tarantino. It’s an absolutely unique thing. I think even if you didn’t put credits on it, you would still know it was his.

Why do you think he’s able to work so freely?

He created his own genre. He’s free to do what he wants to do. I think he earned that right. Normally, you’re rushing like crazy to get it. Creatively, he’s to be trusted. He writes the material, he knows how to do it. He’s the only one who can do it.

It’s been over 15 years since you directed a feature. Do you ever think about going back yourself?

Every time. I loved it, I absolutely loved it. I think I would like to do one more, that’s something I’d like to try and do. I would hope to not have only done one, but if I end up with the one, it shows everything I love about film and I’m happy with it.

What kind of roles appeal to you these days?

I don’t really have a plan. Most recently, I’ve been having a great amount of fun with the material that’s been coming my way. I worked with two young Mexican directors [on “Chronic” and “600 Miles”]. I did those back to back and just did a very interesting thing for the BBC over in Liverpool. I don’t come to it with a plan. I just look at the script and see if the character is interesting. If I’m not doing it for the rent payment, I’m just doing it for myself. Then, I never know what I’m going to get.

Do you have a certain “One for them, one for me” philosophy?

Oh, God, yes, especially with college stuff. I do not want my kids to have student loans. I think that’s something I have to do before I direct again, I have to get them through first.

Speaking of which, you starred in the FIFA-focused film “United Passions,” which was universally panned and came out at the same time that FIFA was facing so many allegations. How did you deal with all that?

You gotta do what you gotta do. You really have to take the punch. You’re going to work every day on something like that and it’s a hard, sad experience. You just have to be very smart in the English sense and say, “They fumbled it.” You deal with the criticism you’re going to get, because you’re going to get it with something like that. You’ve got to look after your family.

How much do you watch other movies these days?

I try to go out to the cinema, but I tend to do that more at festivals. That’s where that takes place. That’s the luxury of being a big actor, you get to go to the places where they’re showing your film and sit with a crowd of strangers in a dark room. That gives me an idea of what’s out there and who’s making what. I did a film called “Chronic,” but when I came across that, I was running the Un Certain Regard Jury in Cannes and the filmmaker’s earlier film, “After Lucia,” was one of the films I was shown. It’s an incredible, heartbreaking film about bullying. I met him and had a beer with him, so he wrote the role for me.

Did your other recent collaboration with a Mexican director, “600 Miles,” come out of that?

He was the producer on that. We did “Chronic” after that. I’ve always done that — I like to go around the world. I might go do this film in Scotland and then there’s another one shooting in Colombia.

How about TV?

I’m actually involved in something along those lines. We’re developing a couple things, I started in TV, so I would definitely go back into that. I’d be very interested in doing that. I’ve been more on the table side, kind of Netflix-y. It’s when you’re doing network television that you’re beholden to permission and it can get in the way.

Any theater on your docket?

Nah! [laughs] Actually, maybe, but I have terrible stage fright.

You don’t do many big studio films.

I did “Planet of the Apes” and “The Hulk,” but mind you, it hasn’t really come my way. If it came up and it was a great script it would be fun to do that. But there’s really been nothing for me.

What’s the difference between working with newcomers and veterans like Quentin?

Sometimes some people want to work with me, but you can judge someone when you meet them as to whether they’ll be capable or not. Quite often, it’s something that’s written by someone who wants to direct as well. You can tell by the quality of that.

Do you come back to your work often?

No. [laughs] My kids watch them. But I don’t, not really. I might, at some point in my life, go back and have a look at some of them.

But you won’t be sitting through “Hateful Eight” again on Christmas?

That one I’ve seen three times. I like seeing it with an audience. It’s tempting to see it on day one, but I only have a couple days with my family till we have to go on the road.

That’s over nine hours of “The Hateful Eight.”

It’s fun to watch! It’s fun to watch a second time out, because you know what everyone’s up to. Then it’s quite interesting, because you realize that the characters are improvising, in a sense. Sometimes you watch it and you just watch one particular character.

READ MORE: Quentin Tarantino on How the ‘Threat of Violence’ Makes ‘The Hateful Eight’ So Suspenseful

“The Hateful Eight” opens December 25. 

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