Tim Roth | Interview
Why do TV? Lie to Me star Tim Roth has an honest answer.
In Fox’s new prime-time series Lie to Me, Tim Roth’s character can tell if you’re lying just by looking at you. Based on the psychologist Paul Ekman, who’s studied how people’s involuntary facial expressions indicate their emotions, Roth’s Dr. Cal Lightman helps the cops and Feds sniff out deception. After recent film work such as Francis Ford Coppola’s Youth Without Youth, Michael Haneke’s Funny Games and Louis Leterrier’s The Incredible Hulk, the English actor takes on his first starring role in a TV series. We called Roth one morning as he took a break from filming.
Time Out Chicago: Whenever a film actor moves to TV, there’s the question about a waning film career, but that doesn’t seem to be the case for you. So why turn to TV now?
Tim Roth: I’d been traveling as an actor very extensively. I passed on [Lie to Me] when they first came to me, but then they came back again. My 13-year-old is just going up to high school, and I’d be missing his first year. That was the main part of my decision: It’d be nice to work at home for a while.
TOC: So the decision wasn’t based on the show itself at all?
Tim Roth: The show, yeah, the show was intriguing. It gives you the chance to do a bit of acting as opposed to just being a straightforward procedural. But it really was about: I could spend a few years watching my children grow up.
TOC: Yet I read it took the creators three months to persuade you to take the role.
Tim Roth: They came to me, and I went away. I went to Europe and was in sunshine and took a month’s vacation, which I hadn’t before; I’d been working so hard. And it was wonderful, just spending time with the family. I live in Pasadena and I’m filming just up the road, so I can drive them to school on the way to work.
TOC: How do your sons feel about having Dad around so much now?
Tim Roth: It’s a double-edged sword. [Laughs] ’Cause I’m there, I’m watching. Sometimes they go, “Oh, dear, we used to get away with that.”
TOC: In interviews, when you’ve talked about your career, one word keeps coming up again and again: bored.
Tim Roth: [Laughs] ’Cause quite often you are.
TOC: But why have you been so bored?
Tim Roth: There’ve been times when I have. A lot of that was when you’re just trying to make some money and you find yourself doing things that you don’t necessarily want to do. But recently working with Francis or Haneke or Louis on The Hulk, I’ve been having a really very good time. Up until that point a couple years ago, I had been—I suppose 25 years of doing this, you get bored occasionally.
TOC: And Lie to Me staves off the boredom?
Tim Roth: Yeah, at the moment. We’ll see how it goes, eh? [Laughs]
TOC: How good are you at spotting lies?
Tim Roth: In my own life, I don’t really want to know too much. I asked Paul [Ekman] about it, and he said, “Once you know this stuff, you can’t switch it off.” I don’t particularly want my life to change. I don’t want to know too much.
TOC: What’s the worst lie you’ve ever told?
Tim Roth: None of your business. [Laughs] What about you?
TOC: Hey, I’m the interviewer here.
Tim Roth: That’s another thing I talked to Paul about. I said, “Are you self-conscious about yourself, your body language, your facial expressions?” And he said, “Absolutely not. I’m never asked the questions. It’s the person I’m looking at that’s on stage.”
TOC: Another theme in your interviews is that while you often play tough guys, in person you’re quite the opposite. So where does the tough guy in you come from?
Tim Roth: I was quite the bullied kid at school, so somebody who’s a victim of that, you have to recognize when there’s danger around. And I was pretty good at spotting it when it walked into the room or before it actually hit. I suppose having experienced that for many years when I was at school, when I got the chance to play somebody on the other end of it, I knew what I was doing.
TOC: Why did kids bully you?
Tim Roth: Just, you know, plenty of psychopaths in the schoolroom. And I wasn’t a fighter. If you can’t defend yourself, you’re a walking target.
TOC: So you learned to get into other people’s minds.
Tim Roth: Yeah, I did, and I also learned to run.
Fox’s Lie to Me premieres Wednesday 21 at 8pm.