Morelia: Tim Roth Takes on Mexico

Honored at Mexico’s Morelia Fest, actor looks to build involvement with Mexican New Wave

Tim Roth’s love affair with Mexico is just beginning. In Morelia, where he received a tribute, and to support the two notable Mexican films he stars in, Michel Franco’s ”Chronic” and Gabriel Ripstein’s “600 Miles,” Roth has announced plans to direct his own film in Mexico, in Spanish. But he’s first producing Franco’s next film, in partnership with Lucia Films, the company founded by Franco with producer Moises Zonana, and where Ripstein is a creative partner. The location is to be decided, but Roth is pushing for it to be made in Mexico.

His admiration for Mexican cinema is passionate, to say the least: He compares it to France’s New Wave. Asked what he feels is special about the new wave of Mexican cinema, he says: “I think it’s the energy; there’s a whole new group of young filmmakers whose cinematic vocabulary is extraordinary.”

His ties with Lucia Films began when he served as jury president at Cannes’ 2012 Un Certain Regard, which awarded Franco’s second feature “After Lucia” (“Después de Lucia”) the main prize. “It’s an incredibly well-crafted but highly emotional piece of work,” he says, comparing it to a Hitchcock film, “it’s the framing, the simplicity and the tension that Michel brings to the story…” As he told the sold-out Morelia screening of “Chronic” he met with Franco after seeing “…Lucia,” “and asked him for a job” right there and then. “This is it,” he said, pointing to the screen. He next followed “Chronic” which won best screenplay at Cannes this year, with Ripstein’s Berlin Best First Feature winner, “600 Miles,” a cross border drama set against the grim reality of gun smuggling from the U.S. into Mexico.

“I think it’s amazing to have these filmmakers come to me at this time of my life. It’s just great. When you’re in your 50s…it adds another layer,” he says.

Roth will next be seen in Morelia favorite Quentin Tarantino’s period drama “The Hateful Eight.”

Now that you’ve worked with both Mexican and U.S. crews, how would you compare them?

It reminded me very much of when I was working on the earlier films of James Gray or Quentin Tarantino, with small, tight crews, who were very, very good, moving very fast, but getting the job done.

And they moved with limited budgets…

Which gives you more freedom. You’re not tied to the purse strings; you’re not tied to a major communications company.

As a producer, you could also help them, given your experience.

It’s not like I’m telling them they should only write for me. When they have their stories, their screenplays ready, I can help them with my suggestions. I can help them get the script to people. I would love to work with Lorenzo [Vigas] too.

How did you meet Vigas?

How I met him was another Cannes story. I was president of the Cannes Camera d’Or when I saw his short [“Elephants Never Forget”], which was an incredible piece of work. We tracked him down and I spoke to Walter Salles to show Vigas’ short in front of “Motorcycle Diaries,” right there in the Palais. Then he sent me the draft of his first film  [Venice Golden Lion winner, “From Afar,” co-produced by Lucia Films], which was a long time coming.

How did you prepare yourself for the role of a male nurse in “Chronic”?

I went to visit terminal patients, who gave me their time, which was pretty precious. I went to a nursing college around the corner from where I live in California, and asked them to train me on certain aspects, as the shooting progressed. I’m not a qualified nurse, despite what they’re saying. A lot of “Chronic” deals with emotions, the capacity to deal with end of life situations, how it affects you. It brings your attention to aspects of life that you may not necessarily be aware of. And one thing we never talk about is death.

Do you think that “Chronic” would be almost impossible to make in the U.S.?”

I think, possibly, it would have been a very different kind of film and I probably wouldn’t have been in it. But from America, they’re looking at Mexico and asking: ‘Why can’t we do this?’  Well, you can’t do it because you’ve got big budgets that are cluttering up the place. So if you want to do it, you can do it.  And I think Mexico’s setting a very fine example. The hardest part is getting these films to the public. The easiest part is getting them made. But getting you guys on board, getting it out there and finding cinemas to take them, that’s the issue. The day-after life of a film is where it’s at.

John Hopewell contributed to this article

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