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Hit Man

After years as the consummate British screen hooligan, Tim Roth moved to LA and became the consummate American screen hooligan. Now, one armed robber (Pulp Fiction) and a homicidal fop in a powdered wig (Rob Roy) later, he's doing comedy in Four Rooms and crooning for Woody Allen. "Acting, it's what the poofs do," he tells Jeff Dawson in LA.

The bartender at The Dresden Room likes my English accent. "If you were a girl I could really go for you," he tells me, polishing another glass on autopilot. It's probably a compliment, but before so much as a nervous chuckle can be uttered, he's returned to watching CNN on the TV behind the bar. Today is the day of Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan's Million Man March on Washington DC, and Los Angeles -- two weeks on from the O.J. Simpson verdict and a melting pot gone cold -- has become uncharacteristically curious about the outside world.

The harsh cathode colours are at odds with The Dresden Room's faded majesty. Tucked away amid the crumbling stucco of suburban Los Feliz, it's where the old money was before the moving pictures came to town -- when retired colonels would hire Chandler's gumshoes to keep an eye on wayward daughters and murder cases were not yet soap opera.

Today The Dresden Room is only a gunshot away from gangland, but the joint is always jumpin'. The most popular piano bar west of Chicago, it has become a sort of kitsch local legend, packed each night for the midnight turn of husband and wife act Marty and Elaine, a blissfully awful jazz duo whose painful rhythms provide a backbeat for an endless rota of third rate guest singers -- spent lounge lizards for whom opportunity neglected to knock.

It's so bad, it's good, and though the walls boast signed photos of a venerable cross-section of Mr. Saturday Nights who've imbibed here over the years -- Milton Berle, Bob Hope, Neil Diamond -- it is the younger celebrities who frequent the place nowadays, coming to enjoy -- or in the case of Julia Roberts, who got up and crooned a bit of Cole Porter recently, participate in -- the entertainment.

Tim Roth loves the place too. He lives just around the corner from The Dresden Room, so it's become more of a convenience stop for him. He prefers it during the day, like it is now, when there's a tarp over the piano, the dust is dancing in the sunbeams and he can slope off for a quiet beer and a gas with the bar staff.

Roth has lived in LA for the past four years. He has an American family. He plays American characters in American films. One might even be tempted to use the words "de facto" when describing his status. Despite this, or perhaps in reaction to it, there is still something reassuringly British about Tim Roth. He swaggers into the place with a buzz cut, T-shirt and jeans. He shares a matey handshake and some idle banter with the barman (the one who wished I was a woman and now greets Roth like a long lost son). Roth, though, still hasn't got it quite sussed.

"How are the Yankees doing?" Roth asks, chummily.

The Yankees got knocked out of the baseball World Series play-offs quite some time ago. But it was a valiant effort.

Roth pours himself an Amstel Light, taps out a Camel and the barman turns away again, transfixed by images of Farrakhan, O.J. Simpson and his lawyer Johnnie Cochran, the three disparate African-Americans who've come to dominate the news in the last 14 days.

"I didn't even know who O.J. Simpson was," begins Roth as we head for the sanctity of a booth. "But I worked it out from when I was a little kid trying to get my first bit of tit in the cinema. He was in The Towering Inferno. I went to see it five times before I managed to get my hand down somebody's sweater . . ."

I have met Tim Roth three times. The first time was when he had just moved to LA and couldn't get enough of the place; the second, when he was in London on a reluctant trip back home. Now, after four years here, he has gone sufficiently native for there to be the occasional American cadence to his otherwise London accent. He also has a five month old son, Hunter, with his wife Nikki and, most noticeably, a fashionable-in-California tattoo encircling his upper right arm ("My wedding band," he says). And he can finally drive. When Roth first moved here, he used to have to pay people to drive him around. Now he drives a beat-up old Mustang he has dubbed the Hooligan Mobile.

But though he will remain in the States for the simple fact that a film industry exists here -- a subject on which he can bend your ear for hours -- he is finished with Hollywood. New York is where he wants to be. He just returned yesterday from New York, where he was in the final days of shooting on a film called Gasoline Alley, another low-budget independent, and he is convinced that The Big Apple, not Tinseltown, is where his future lies.

"I think the city is really beautiful . . . just walking around," he says. "That's where I want to be."

As for England, forget it. He may be addicted to the weekly international edition of The Guardian, but he doesn't really miss England all that much -- not even the pubs ("The pubs shut at eleven. In New York they're open to four"). Still, he does admit that his time away from the Old Country has left him a little detached from the business back home.

The other day he saw a British film and is positively raving about it -- Let Him Have It. I tell him that the film came out four years ago. "I know that (David) Thewlis is one that everyone talks about, but I really don't know who the up-and-coming actors are in Britain anymore," he confesses.

Suddenly, on the TV behind the bar comes a newsflash. A serious male voice accompanies what looks like a group of men walking about in a field: "Today Mr O.J. Simpson was playing on a golf course on the other side of the country in Florida," comes the sombre tone, the kind normally reserved for dead Presidents.

I point out that Simpson only has one glove on. "There you go," shouts Roth (who believes, incidentally, that the verdict was "pathetic").

With the Land Of The Free appearing on the verge of falling apart at its racial seams and becoming more like Natural Born Killers everyday, I ask Roth whether the future for his adopted homeland seems to be at a cross-roads.

"It is for the next 20 minutes," he laughs.

As it happens, Roth was approached to be in NBK. "Me and Steve (Buscemi) were approached to do the same part. I talked to Oliver Stone and it was a scene that had been written by him. And it was, 'You're not allowed to see the script. You're not allowed to tell Quentin about it.'" In solidarity with Tarantino, who was unhappy with Stone's treatment of his script, Roth and Buscemi both declined the offer.

With winning turns in Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction, Roth's loyalty to Tarantino has paid off; and once again they are united, this time in Four Rooms, the quadruple-headed ensemble piece from Allison Anders, Robert Rodriguez, Alex Rockwell and Tarantino. In it Roth plays Ted, a slapstick bellhop, the link between each director's short film, individually set in different rooms of a grand LA hotel on New Year's Eve. There is a story attached to Four Rooms which Roth likes to tell. It concerns the day he turned up for duty and saw Bruce Willis' beautiful vintage Ford Mustang sitting outside.

"I found Bruce in wardrobe. And so I walked in and I said, 'Oi, is that you car? Fucking hell.'"

Willis tossed Roth the keys and told him to take a spin in the motor if he wanted.

"I thought, 'I'm not driving that,'" says Roth, who can't drive a stick shift anyway. "So he said, 'Hang on,' and me and my friend, who I'd got a small part on the film, he took us to the 7-Eleven to buy some cigarettes. We were both sitting in the car going, 'I'm in Die Hard 3!' It was great."

It's a good'un, too, but it does serve a purpose -- Roth may rub shoulders with exalted company, but he doesn't want you to think he's necessarily part of that club.

By electing to swap his familiar fidgety malevolence for comedy in Four Rooms, Tim Roth may be at a cross-roads himself. That movie is, ostensibly, what we're here to talk about. But there's a problem -- neither of us has seen it. In fact, no one has.

"They're still cutting it," says Roth of a movie which was supposed to open the Venice Film Festival in September, before being pulled at the last minute by its US distributor, Miramax. Part of the official explanation is that with four directors each pursuing their own careers, it's simply been a matter of near-impossible logistics to get them all together to make decisions The other line being taken is that the film is an unsalvageable mess. Of course, such rescheduling inevitably breeds the accursed "bad word of mouth", but it is all speculation. No one can make a judgment until the film is finally shown.

"It's an oddity for me," says Roth, "and it's an experiment for those directors." It was probably a nice idea at the time. Tarantino joked then that it was an excuse for the four buddies, who virtually rose through the ranks of low-budget independents side by side, to play the festival circuit together. That's now unlikely to happen, for in the meantime Tarantino and Rodriguez have left their old mates standing as they pursue their studio careers.

In terms of the film, though, that's irrelevant and Roth enjoyed making what was, effectively, four short movies.

"It was, in a sense, but there was the stuff that comes in between the rooms, the wraparound stuff. It was like a relay race where they would hand off to each other," he explains. "It was like Alex was directing half of it until they got to a certain spot and then Quentin took over and directed the second half, which was kinda fun. But what happens with the press is that they try and create competition -- 'Oh, that story's better than that story' -- and that's bound to happen with this because you've got four different-paced directors, four different ideas of what's funny. Some are outright wacky and some are much more psychological, so it depends on how they sell the film. If they sell it as a wacky comedy, I don't know what's going to happen to it, 'cause it's not really that."

In the absence of evidence, the film goes something like this: in Anders' segment Roth runs into a coven of witches who require a sample of his sperm ("And I still don't know what they've done with it"); in Rodriguez's he babysits some unruly kids; "in Alex's I walk into this situation where he thinks I'm fucking his wife"; and for Tarantino's bit, starring Willis and Tarantino himself, Roth is the witness to a very strange wager.

Second-guessing the critical reaction, one supposes that Jerry Lewis comparisons will ensue. But Roth doesn't mind. As with most of the films he's worked on in the last few years, he had a good time.

"It was out-and-out over the top," says Roth. "Fifty percent of the people are not gonna like it, but there's not a lot you can do about it. It was interesting to me because I'd never done that kind of thing before. It gave me a new respect for comedic actors. I suppose that the only stab I had at it was in Rosencrantz And Guildenstern Are Dead. . ."

Reading any of the stuff about Roth's upbringing, especially in American articles, and you can't help but be amused. "Tim Roth is a product of the London slums," claimed one American magazine recently. "That's ridiculous," laughs Roth, "but it makes a better story for them. No, I was brought up in Dulwich, though my parents weren't wealthy."

Tim Roth's father was a journalist, his mother a teacher. He went to his local grammar school but ended up at a Tulse Hill comprehensive. One year he landed the title role in the school play -- The Dracula Spectacular -- and found something he liked to do, even though the local hard nuts were not averse to giving him a kicking for it (and he literally peed his pants the first time he went on stage).

"Acting, it's what the poofs do," he says. "I was always bullied at school because I was a poof with a silly accent. When I first arrived at my grammar school -- it was quite a tough school and it was all kids with London accents -- I had a sort of standard English and I had to get rid of it really quickly because I kept getting beaten up because of it. That was my first experience of doing a dialect."

By the time he had been admitted at Camberwell School of Art, Roth had already started doing pub and fringe theatre; he dropped out of his course after one term. He landed his first professional gig at the Citizens' Theatre, Glasgow, where he also got his Equity card. But, after various odds and sods, he ended up in London again, selling advertising over the phone ("a fucking horrible job") to pay the rent.

He was cycling home one day when he got a puncture and popped into the local Oval House theatre to see if any of his actor mates could lend him a pump.

"They were looking for someone to play a skinhead and I'd already shaved my head for a production that I'd done," says Roth. "They said, 'Why don't you go up for it?' and I went along and got the job."

That part was Trevor, the suedehead hero of the 1983 TV movie Made In Britain, Alan Clarke's take on British yob culture. It was Roth's breakthrough role, and he still rates the late director as the best he's ever worked with. Clarke also spared Roth a speedy return to the dole by recommending him to Mike Leigh, who cast him as a skinhead again in 1983's Meantime opposite Gary Oldman.

"Working with Mike [Leigh] was great because it was like going to drama school and I'd never been to drama school," remembers Roth, who to this day has never had a formal acting lesson. "It was almost like an intensive course and I was working with Phil Daniels, who was a hero of mine."

Roth breaks off to order another Amstel Light from a passing waitress. I tell him that Quadrophenia was on cable TV recently.

"It's such fun to watch. [Phil]'s such a baby in it," says Roth. "I remember we were at rehearsals one time and he said, 'Let's go down the pub and shoot some pool.' He put me on the back of his moped and I was looking over my shoulder as we were flying down the road thinking, 'I'm in Quadrophenia. My dream has come true.'"

That anecdote may sound awfully similar to the Bruce Willis one. But at least Bruce doesn't do Blur videos.

After Meantime, Roth landed his first theatrical film, the role of Myron, the apprentice hitman in Stephen Frears's The Hit.

"He's all right with a stick or something, but he's really bad with a gun," says Roth of what, until Mr Orange came along, was possibly his most notable character. "That was before all the stuff with the guns in England: I based him on guys at school, hooligans."

Roth was making a name for himself as an outstanding character actor, and a whole load of other stuff followed, like A World Apart, To Kill a Priest, the TV movie Murder With Mirrors with Bette Davis and Sir John Mills ("a TV Agatha Christie thing, so atrocious, and I was really bad in it"), and, to great critical acclaim, Steven Berkoff's stage production of Kafka's Metamorphosis.

"Oh he's great, I get on really well with him," laughs Roth on the subject of Berkoff.

Does he shout a lot?

"Yeah, though he'd never shout at me, 'cause I'd shout right back at him. But he's really special, one of our best, and the establishment ridicule and hate him. It's great."

Also in this category is Peter Greenaway, with whom Roth worked on 1989's The Cook The Thief His Wife And Her Lover, turning up as one of Michael Gambon's oafish sidekicks.

"I thought it was about Thatcher's Britain but set in a restaurant, and the dialogue was incredible, so I said, 'Yeah, I'll do it,'" says Roth.

He is, at least, a man with a vision.

"Like Derek Jarman. I'm not really a big fan of his films, but he was extraordinary, he was prolific and he only made films for himself. When I first got into acting, somebody gave me his phone number and said 'call him, he'll help you.' so I called him and he said, 'Come over and have some tea,' and he gave me a list of people to go and see. It didn't really come to anything, but it was that he'd do that for me. And then I saw him about a year before he died . . . a nice guy. He had me come in to meet him for Edward II, was it? No, it was the one he did about the war poets. Can you remember?"

War Requiem.

"He got me in to meet about it and he was like, 'Come here, come here, Tim. Shut the door . . . Got a cigarette? They won't let me smoke.' He was really sweet."

It was while Roth was working with Greenaway that he got a call from Robert Altman. The maverick director wanted Roth to play Van Gogh in Vincent And Theo. Roth wavered, fearing that he might be too young to play the tortured artist. He brushed aside his doubts, however, and turned in a riveting performance, playing Van Gogh almost as a punk -- "a cross between Christ and Sid Vicious," says Roth.

Then came 1991's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead , Tom Stoppard's film version of his own play, with Roth and Oldman together again. Though the two actors are often bracketed together, they're not quite as close to each other as you might think.

"I haven't seen Gary in a long time," says Roth. "The last time I saw him was in here. Back then he was trying to get his own film off the ground and then it fell through; he wanted me to come and play a part acting with his mum, all in Lewisham.

"Whenever we do see each other or talk to each other it's always, 'Oh, we should try and do something,' but it's so hard to get the time."

It was on the promotional tour of the States for Vincent and Theo in 1990 that Roth came to Hollywood to meet with various agents. It seemed to come to nothing, and the actor ended up in Australia "doing a really awful movie called Backsliding". While he was in Oz, however, he was contacted from the States and offered a low-budget movie set in New York called Jumpin' at the Boneyard. An urban drama about two brothers, Roth and Alexis Arquette, Jumpin' at the Boneyard is not a good film; it did, however, give Roth the opportunity to wedge his foot in Uncle Sam's door, and when he finished the movie, he headed out to LA for a few days' rest and recreation.

"But when I got to LA I thought, That's it, I don't want to go home. And stuck it out. I just stayed. It was either go back to mediocre work in Britain or stay for a little while and at least try and find something that I wanted to do."

It proved to be a very difficult decision. By his own admission, Roth was thoroughly depressed in LA for the first two years, but his reason for staying in the first place made him stick it out.

"They make a lot of films here. What I like about it here, especially with the resurgence in the independent films, you can now make the kind of films that I love to watch, which was the stuff that came out of the early 70's. There are the kind of maverick people out here who will invest in independent movies, but even if they don't, directors will go out and make 'em for seven grand if they have to. There's a much more cavalier attitude with the directors -- 'Fuck you, I'll make my film anyway' -- whereas in Britain they bitch and moan that the government isn't giving them any assistance, and it's tough, you know, because we're used to getting assistance. You're just told, 'No, you can't do that.' It's hard. The arts has been crippled in Britain completely. It's not a worthwhile thing to get involved in."

As you've probably deducted, Roth is no lover of the Tories, which makes him a good bloke. But though most of what he says is spot-on, Roth's political rantings can became tiresome, the student union delivery grating after a while. That didn't stop the American press, though, from seizing one of his recent remarks: "Prince Charles brought out a book and in it said, 'I never really loved her.' Well fuck you, mister, because we paid for that big fucking wedding you had. You could have said something, you could have saved us some cash."

As it happens Roth was merely quoting something he'd read in The Guardian but -- hey -- what the hell. It's little wonder that he's been content to stay on these shores and eke out a living playing Americans. He has done a variety of accents onscreen, including LA, Arizona, various New York dialects and will soon tackle Detroit.

"It's difficult, but it's doing your homework, working with a dialect coach," says Roth. "You have to stop the accent getting in the way. Generally, the first couple of weeks are the hardest and then you go through the barrier and you can get cocky with it."

Roth has his dialect coach Suzanne Celeste with him through most shoots, though he does admit that the constant tutoring becomes a pain in the arse. He got his revenge in Reservoir Dogs, with Celeste cast as the woman he pulls out of the car and shoots.

"She deserved it," he quips.

If Gary Oldman had his Dracula and Daniel day Lewis his Hawkeye, it was with Mr Orange that Roth entered the American cinematic consciousness -- as the undercover cop who takes as long to bleed over the warehouse as it does Reservoir Dogs to play out its running time. He wasn't actually supposed to be Mr Orange -- Mr Pink and Mr Blonde were the two parts earmarked for him -- but he soon elbowed his way in despite his reluctance to read for Tarantino.

"I met with Quentin and Harvey (Keitel), 'cause Harvey was one of the producers. He was desperately trying to persuade me to read," recalls Roth. "Then he left and I eventually read with Quentin because we got really drunk in a bar just up the street from where I lived at that time. We read everything and re-read until about four in the morning."

How important was this film for you?

"Well, when I read it I thought that it was a wonderful script, really funny. As a piece of work I really enjoyed it. We shot in five weeks. It was very, very hard and physically it was very uncomfortable."

Indeed, Roth spent most of the shoot in 105-degree heat, in a thick black suit, glued to the floor in sticky fake blood syrup while rats scuttled about the disused warehouse.

"Then when it came out, we all went on the world tour thing, which was really good fun, but as far as the box office is concerned, it did nothing over here (in the US). What it did become was a kind of a cult movie. A lot of the people in the industry saw it and were very aware of it, and so I guess in that respect it was good."

Roth has said before that even though Tarantino was a first-time director on Dogs, he felt like he was working with a seasoned pro.

"I really do," says Roth. "He stepped onto that set and really knew what he was doing. He knew a lot more about filmmaking than a lot of filmmakers I've worked with who have done so many, so I never noticed the first-timer thing. But everybody has to start somewhere . . . do you want a beer?"

More Amstel Light arrives, Roth sparks another Camel and explains that he still had to whore himself out to make ends meet with stuff like Murder in the Heartland, a TV take on the Starkweather killings which inspired the film Badlands. He even found himself in Belize for another TV movie, Heart of Darkness, an adaptation of the Joseph Conrad book by Nicholas Roeg, and in Arizona for the angst-istential Bodies Rest and Motion, in which as the frighteningly barnetted TV salesman from hell ("A great bad haircut. It's like an early poor man's Keanu Reeves") he disappears off into the desert, leaving Eric Stolz, Bridget Fonda and Phoebe Cates to contemplate their navels.

"I fuck off and leave 'em," laughs Roth. "Fuck off and leave 'em to it. That's partly the reason that I did it, I had my own little road movie."

In fact, discovering America is a bit of a hobby of Roth's. In 1992 he undertook a trip around the country jumping trains.

"Yeah, I suppose it's a romantic notion, although I wouldn't recommend it to anybody as it's fucking dangerous," he says. "I went with a guy because that was how he was gonna get home and it was a cheap way of getting around -- in fact it's free -- and I wanted to have a road trip in America, to see the parts of America you normally fly over. We hitched most of the way and we jumped a couple of trains."

Roth also takes a lot of pictures. "I suppose because you travel so much and it's in such weird circumstances that it's worth recording."

It must be a bit weird having a life where you shack up with all these people, work intensely for several weeks and then never see them again.

"Most of the time it is, and so you have to create these really quick relationships . . . or burn every photograph. It's generally very superficial."

Doesn't that bother you?

"Not really, no."

What does?

Roth shrugs.

"I think I've mellowed. I can take things a lot more in my stride than I used to over the last couple of years. There's no point in getting ruffled about certain things, because you're not gonna do anything about them . . . I've been taken into a quiet room by certain directors and told to shut the fuck up." And were they right?

"Yes . . ."

Roth still plays up the oik thing and even has his agent stop people dressed in suits from coming onto his sets, though the fact that Harvey Keitel gave him a present of one recently has tempered his view somewhat. But then he does have to be a bit pragmatic about working in America. For one thing, he's abandoned his pierced nipple, though his taste in music still reveals his punk sympathies. Among his current favourites are Butthole Surfers and Rage Against The Machine.

"I find music coming out of Britain at the moment to be really fucking risible and cliched and annoying," he says dismissively. "The kind of club synthesised stuff. I just don't think is angry enough, mad enough. It smacks of middle-aged men making decisions in boardrooms on what's trendy and what's not."

In 1992, Tim Roth acted in a short film project for a student filmmaker called Monkey Park. It's never seen the light of day, but his co-star was Amanda Plummer. That same year he escorted Plummer to the premiere of her film The Fisher King.

"I introduced her to Quentin there and I said, 'I want to work with Amanda in one of your films, but she has to have a really big gun.' And he went, 'OK.'"

The result, of course, is the now legendary Pumpkin and Honey Bunny sequence from Pulp Fiction. Tarantino wrote both parts specifically for Roth and Plummer. I tell him that sixth-formers up and down the UK are now performing this routine as part of their drama projects instead of Pinter. Isn't Roth amazed by the phenomenon that Pulp Fiction has become?

"To a certain extent that it's this big is incredible," he muses. "I really don't know where it's gonna go. I know the ideas that Quentin has in mind and they're really funny, but I don't know what he's going to do next. I don't think he knows. He knows that they're gonna gun for him, but he's capable of dealing with that."

Tarantino has, in the past, talked about doing The Adventures Of Pumpkin And Honey Bunny.

"He owns all his characters, which is kind of smart, 'cause he can sell 'em off to other people if they want to make movies with those characters," says Roth. He pauses. "It's been an extraordinary trip."

In the last two years, Tim Roth has entered what you might call his transatlantic period, returning to Britain to add a couple of home roles to his otherwise American fare, which has continued apace with the low-budget Little Odessa, in which he plays a Russian Jewish hitman taking care of some unfinished business in New York's Brighton Beach. It's a very depressing movie.

"So depressing," says Roth, "I won't watch it anymore."

I ask him about his own surname, a Jewish handle reportedly adopted by his late father in sympathy with the victims of the Holocaust at the expense of his given Smith. "I remember that as a kid, but I don't know if it's true or not," admits Roth. "I think it's because he was travelling a lot and the English weren't very popular in the places he was going."

In Captives, another low-budget project and his first British film in four years, Tim Roth plays a prisoner who ends up shagging prison dentist, Julia Ormond (Legends Of The Fall, First Knight and the upcoming remake of Sabrina), in a public toilet.

"I did," he grins. "That turned out to be a tedious experience, actually, not because of her, but because we had to go and reshoot it on a soundstage -- the producers had decided that they didn't see enough of my bum. In fact, we used the original anyway. That was a peculiar experience. We shot that in the ex-offenders wing of a British prison and I hated it, it was very depressing."

The theme of forbidden love usually makes for interesting cinema, but the movie is yet to surface in the US.

"I think they're waiting for -- and this gives you an idea of my prowess as a box-office phenomenon -- they're waiting for Sabrina to come out before they release it. They want to do it on the hindquarters of that."

Roth's most celebrated trip back home, though, was for something far grander -- Rob Roy. It's the biggest-budget film that he has worked on, not to mention his first studio picture, and he does a brilliant job as the pantomime villain Archibald Cunningham -- Errol Flynn as raised by Quentin Crisp. The film wasn't a big hit, but the rumours around town are that Tim Roth might get a Best Supporting Actor nomination for it.

"I want Best Supporting Actress," laughs Roth. "Or Best Wig."

As with many of the parts he's won, it seems, drink was once again involved. His old mate, director Michael Caton Jones, wanted to return to his native Scotland and make a movie; Roth was his first choice to play Cunningham.

"He was hysterical, this character, and I thought it'd be nice to do a studio film," says Roth. "I'd never done one before. I wanted to see what it's like and also get paid, which is a really big thing. Michael had to go back to the studio and persuade them, but because he had Liam [Neeson], who was a star, and Jessica [Lange], who was a star, he could pretty much call the shots on the other characters and so they went with it."

It kind of flies in the face of all those things you've said over the years about never doing posh frock drama. "Oh yeah, it was the opposite of anything I really wanted to do, it went against everything that I believed in about acting. But it was so delicious that you couldn't really turn it down. There was Michael, who was a mate of mine, Liam, who was a mate of mine, Jessica, who I've always wanted to work with, and we were going to go to Scotland to get drunk in a pub and make a movie. And the character was so outrageous, I didn't know if I could play it."

Is that important?

"Yeah. It was the same with Four Rooms; I still don't know if that's gonna work or not. And you've got to take the heat for that. If your[sic] gonna get shit from the reviews, forget it, but it's worth a shot at something you've never really done before and Cunningham was like that."

Roth hated being in Rob Roy at the beginning. He wasn't used to acting "outrageous", had difficulty getting into the role and even thought he was going to get fired at one point. By the end, however, he couldn't get enough. "They couldn't get me out the door for as many bows, as many flourishes as I could put in. It was like, 'I'm going to give you Charles Hawtrey in this scene, Terry-Thomas in this one, and a drag queen in this one.'"

If Roth can continue mixing projects like this it would seem to be a step in the direction of his hero, Harvey Keitel, an actor he admires for his ability to leap between big and small projects. Roth, however, also admits that he didn't capitalise on the heat generated by Rob Roy.

"You have to come to terms with the fact that you want to pay the rent and you don't want to live in a horrible place and you can make money from being an actor," says Roth. "It's a hard line to cross and I find it disturbing to cross it. Push comes to shove, I didn't have to do that with Rob Roy because it was fun, but I'm sure there's gonna come a time when I've got the kids and I've got to put them through school and I've got to make money and I'm going to have to make a piece of shit. I'm lucky in that I haven't had to do that yet."

Are there some things you would balk at? Like, for instance, a fluffy romantic comedy?

"I did balk at a very famous fluffy romantic comedy," chuckles Roth, refusing to name it but grinning when the words Four Weddings And A Funeral are mentioned. Just think, Hugh Grant could have gone and got his blow job and none of us would have been any the wiser.

Roth is off in a few days to Detroit to do a movie called Gridlock in which he plays a junkie ("I play the bongos in that one"), though his musical talents will be given a more strenuous workout when he appears in the next Woody Allen film, an as yet untitled musical, with Julia Roberts, Drew Barrymore, Lukas Haas and Judy Davis.

You actually sing? "Uh-huh, yeah," says Roth, going uncharacteristically coy, and under oath not to reveal anything about the movie.

"I don't really know what to say about it," he says. "First of all Woody wrote me a letter saying, 'Be in my film,' which was really sweet, because he'd seen Little Odessa, and then he just sent me the scenes that I would be in. Just after I wrapped in New York, I pre-recorded the songs. I do two love songs with an actress. They're very beautiful, although it terrified me."

Do you sing 'em dead straight?

"Dead straight," he deadpans.

Are you pleased with them?

"I haven't heard 'em yet."

Posh frocks, wigs and now singing?

Acting, it's what the poofs do . . .

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