Roth teases how they improvised almost an entire episode
You might not like Tim Roth’s latest character when he’s drunk.
In Amazon’s Tin Star, Roth (Lie to Me) stars as Jim Worth, a British detective-turned-small town police chief who moves his family to a quaint Canadian town in the hopes of finding a quieter life. Alas, fate has other plans for this recovering alcoholic. An oil refinery, led by Elizabeth Bradshaw (Christina Hendricks), opens up nearby, bringing organized crime with it. Jim endeavours to protect his family and town, but the former ends up getting caught in the crossfire and Jim suffers a tragic loss.
“It becomes this insane revenge drama,” teases Roth, whose character has a menacing dark side named Jack that comes out whenever he blacks out from drinking. “There’s this Jekyll and Hyde aspect to the character.”
Below, Roth previews Amazon’s new British import, explains what brought him back to television, and shares how they improvised an entire episode.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: This is really your first full-time TV gig in quite some time. What made this the right project for you?
TIM ROTH: It’s not something I was looking for, really. I did a couple of TV things, I don’t know what you’d call them: a three-parter I did in England and a one-off drama. The writing just seemed to be getting better and better, so I was open to it, but I wasn’t really looking specifically for a TV show. Then, this arrived and they just sort of plunked three episodes down in front of me, rough versions of them, I guess. I thought the character was wild, and then it continued to spiral out of control across 10 episodes. It goes on a very, very wild journey. It gets very, very crazy, very, very quickly. I just thought it’d be fun to have a go at him and see what I could do with the character. So that was that, really. It wasn’t intentional. I never really have any plan in mind, you know, so it wasn’t like I was specifically looking for a television a job.
What was so wild about those initial scripts and what attracted you to the character?
Well, it takes a turn. It becomes this insane revenge drama, but also the character, as it’s revealed, is an alcoholic and he’s in recovery, but he’s fully in the deep end of that. So, he’s a blackout drunk, and so there’s this Jekyll and Hyde aspect to the character. It’s two characters, not one, that emerge and go to town. It’s hard to [talk about it] without spoiling things, but [I’m] basically playing two characters throughout. It’s interesting and also funny. Funny helps.
Is there humor baked into the essence of the show?
Oh yeah, in a very kind of irreverent way, which I liked. We got to a point where we were improvising a lot of the dialogue in the scenes and stuff. Generally, that became a rule that [writer Rowan Joffé] and those guys enjoyed. Once the actors kind of got together as a group and once we started functioning naturally as a group, that came out a lot.
What was it like to take on a role that involves playing two characters?
Yeah, I mean the whole Jekyll and Hyde thing is a great concept. It was a lot of fun, and it actually did lead to some confusion on set like, “Who am I? Which one am I? Where is he at this point? Does he remember?” Cause the whole thing about blackouts is that you wake up and you don’t know what you’ve done. You can wake up in the most difficult situations and you don’t know how you got there. So, that comes into play as well.
How did this job compare to your experience on Fox’s Lie to Me?
This is easier.
Really? How so?
Well when we did Lie to Me, I think we started off on [13 episodes]. If you’re head of the cast, then you’re on every second of it pretty much. Then, I got one day off to learn the lines, but it’s kind of like that, which is fair enough; it’s what you’re paid for. But 13 episodes and then we came back and I think we did like [22 episodes], so it was just tough hours. On this, it’s more like filming [a movie], really. You couldn’t work the crew for six months on 16-18 hour days and stuff, which is kind of what we were doing on Lie to Me — especially when the weather [in Calgary] starts to get rough. It’s brutal up there, so we couldn’t have done it that way. Just on the workload, it was an easier thing. It was nice to be able to improvise and play around, and the actors were top notch. All in all, on many levels, it was the same, but just on the physical level, it wasn’t as tiring. I had an easier schedule because there are a lot of storylines that needed to be tied up or dealt with or I wasn’t involved with. So, I could schedule accordingly and get back to the family a little bit. It was better on that front.
What was it like working with Christina Hendricks?
The times we got to work with each other were good, really fun. She’s really funny. She’s great, great great. We passed each other on set quite often rather than worked together, but when we worked together it was a breeze, very, very easy. I was the only one when I got there — this isn’t a diss or anything, completely the opposite — who hadn’t seen Mad Men. She was constantly taking the piss out of me and digging me about it. When I [went home] — I can’t remember what point it was — my kids and my wife love Mad Men, so I said, “Alright, we’re doing it.” So we binge watched it, and I got up to about five or six seasons in, I think. I got to it before we actually wrapped. Then, I knew why everyone was crazy. She just plays a great character. So, she’s fun to work with and you’ll see her doing her stuff.
Looking back on it, what was your favorite day on set or your favorite scene?
It’s a hard one…We did an episode — I’m not gonna say what it is, because that would be crazy to do that to them — but we did an episode where me, the director and the actors at varying times (it was mostly me and the director) got together and worked out what the scenes were supposed to be about, what was the idea behind them. We improvised the entire episode, which I’ve never come across in television, and with the blessing of all. I mean, they were nervous about it, and by all accounts (I haven’t seen it) it really, really works. So, it became the format of the show going forward.
That’s interesting for an intense drama. You could see that happening on a comedy but I think you rarely hear about that when it comes to dramas.
No, they were very kind of open to it. Basically what happens is: What writers and what Rowan was looking for, and what you’re always looking for, is at some point the actors, after a certain amount of time, get the character more than you do. You’ve created it, but they’ll come up with backstories and storylines that they can use as points of references on, and that’s what was happening. So, that kind of took over, and so he let us run. [UK’s Sky Atlantic] were, “Go for it.” They were quite extraordinary. There were no notes from upstairs, except just keep doing what you’re doing. So, we did, and it was a very interesting experience.
The entire 10-episode first season will be available Friday, Sept. 29 on Amazon.