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Sitting in the sun in the garden of a Venice Palazzo, Tim Roth looks far too relaxed for an actor who never seems to stop working.
He’s here to talk about Michel Franco’s Sundown. The film, Roth’s second collaboration with the Mexican auteur following 2015’s Chronic, follows Roth’s turn in Renny Harlin’s down-and-dirty actioner The Misfits, which released online in June, and Bergman Island, the Mia Hansen-Love-directed drama that premiered in Cannes in July, and which stars Roth and Vicky Krieps (The Phantom Thread).
Next up for Roth is The Jesuit, a drama from Alfonso Pineda Ulloa, based on a Paul Schrader script, and the Disney+ series She-Hulk, which will see him reprise his role as Emily Blonsky, aka Abomination, which he first played in 2008’s The Incredible Hulk.
In between all that, Roth took time to speak to The Hollywood Reporter‘s European bureau chief Scott Roxborough about why he “almost never” watches his own movies, his decision to return to the MCU, and how he dialed it down to play Neil in Sundown: a rich Brit who, while on vacation in Acapulco, decides to walk away from his life.
Your character in Sundown decides to abandon his life and family. Is that something you could relate to?
I can understand Neil’s decision only from a work perspective. Sometimes it’s overwhelming and you go “wouldn’t it be nice to stop?” because it can be insane. But I don’t think I could ever do that to my family. I think I’d be more caring. Michel [Franco] was having a tough time when he wrote the film. That’s why he had Neil do what he did. What I think is particularly interesting is that everyone is seeing Neil differently. Some people think he’s a sociopath. Others find him very funny.
With this film and with Mia Hansen-Love’s Bergman Island, which debuted in Cannes, you have two major arthouse movies coming out back-to-back. But you’re also doing a Marvel series [She-Hulk]. Do you have any clear goals in terms of your career, where you want to be going?
Not really. It’s an utter mess. And, you know, I like it that way. I never know what’s coming. The only thing I think about is: there are films that pay the rent and look after the life that I have. And pay for films like this one [Sundown], the ones I do for love. They can overlap, which is extraordinary. But, no, I have to do things that will look after the family and all that stuff. And then I have playtime to do stuff for love. I don’t have any game plan. I don’t know what’s coming.
Your performance in Sundown is very restrained and you have almost no dialog. Was that particularly challenging to do?
Michel and I talked a lot about that, about the silent movie aspect of the film, and I’m a huge fan of that. One thing we talked about was trying to strip the performance from the character. Not let me get in the way of the character, I was stripped bare. Sometimes a film requires big performances. But with this one, it was really about stripping it away as much as possible so that the audience looks at it and goes: “Is that real?”
It’s a big change from something like your out-there performance for Rob Roy (which earned Roth an Oscar nomination for best supporting actor)…
I honestly thought I was going to get fired from that movie. My performance was so over-the-top and so different from everyone else on the film, I thought they were going to kick me out.
Neil is the heir of a huge slaughterhouse fortune. Where did that idea come from?
Well, what we were talking about, the idea of someone who comes from wealth and power and leaving all that. I remember we were looking at families like the Murdochs or, you know, obvious things like that.
But then I was on a road trip with my boys across America and we drove through New Mexico and there was this horrible smell. We drove another few miles and suddenly on each side of the road were these vast pens crammed with cattle: just crammed in, with slaughterhouses on one side and this massive machine to kill these animals to process them.
I thought it would be an amazing thing to have that be their business, that that is how they make their money, that’s Neil’s inheritance. I don’t know if that works in the film, I haven’t seen it yet, but it just came from driving through this horrible machine.
You’ve had some films doing incredibly well with audiences and critics but also ones that were just torn apart — like [2014 Cannes Festival Opener] Grace of Monaco. Does it bother you when a film doesn’t land as you hoped?
I don’t watch my own movies. I tend not to. Michel’s movies are an exception. But for me, after I’m done filming, it’s not my movie anymore. I’ve done my part. It’s for the director and editor to work with. And for the audience and critics to judge it. … It saddens me when a film doesn’t land as we hoped, and all the passion of the filmmakers is just dismissed in a heartbeat. What’s kind of interesting is when that happens, the dust settles and you move on, and the film comes up quietly and has its own existence again. But I don’t think it’s particularly healthy to obsess about that as an actor. I just do my job and then it’s over to you guys [the press] to do yours.
I have to ask about She-Hulk. Why did you want to return to the Marvel Cinematic Universe?
I did The Incredible Hulk [playing Emil Blonsky, aka Abomination] years ago, just because I thought my kids would be embarrassed by it. I did it for them and I really enjoyed making it. So when they came to me and said: “We’re adapting the She-Hulk thing. Can you come back as that character again?” I was like, sure. It should be fun. I was very surprised though because it was difficult at first. It was only when Mark Ruffalo came in to shoot his stuff [reprising his role as Bruce Banner] that I went: “Oh, that’s how you do it! With a sense of humor!”
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