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Tim Roth on Finding Quentin Tarantino’s Rhythm 20 Years Later in ‘The Hateful Eight’

He hasn't starred for the director, whose voice he helped establish, since 'Four Rooms' in 1995.

Actor Tim Roth was a vital ingredient in the beginning of Quentin Tarantino’s career. In “Reservoir Dogs,” “Pulp Fiction” and “Four Rooms,” he tapped into the writer/director’s sui generis rhythms and helped establish a bold new voice on the scene of American independent cinema. Two decades later, he joins a Tarantino stable of actors once again in “The Hateful Eight,” a suspenseful, ultimately violent Western set to put a bloody bow on the year this holiday season. And it’s just like old times.

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Our Variety cover story this week focuses on the relationship between Quentin Tarantino and Samuel L. Jackson. I thought we might start there. What’s your perspective on that?

When I look at them, I have to say it’s quite extraordinary. I’ve always said that he is his leading man. That finally Quentin’s found him. I’d worked with Sam. I did a little independent movie up in New York called ‘Jumpin’ at the Boneyard’ and Sam and Jeffrey Wright came in to do two scenes or something. And then the next time I saw him, I think, was in the makeup trailer or in rehearsal or something for “Pulp Fiction.” And it was magical because, you know, he’d had a rough old ride but he plugged away at it, Sam. I mean he’s a serious actor, that guy. He kept plugging away, trying to get that break. But nobody expects a break like that. They don’t, kind of, ever happen. They just don’t. When two people connect in that way, both of them having the ability to deliver at 100 percent, when they find each other, it’s pretty wonderful for the rest of us. I think this is their best collaboration yet. It’s an astounding version of their world.

It certainly had a lot of teeth on it, this story.

Yeah and the script we got after [it leaked] I think is even better. It’s pretty hard to fill the shoes of the first script and he did and he excelled. [When I first saw the film] there were four of us, the actors and Quentin in a big ole’ cinema, real proper, beautiful, big ole’ screen. The Cary Grant screening room at Sony, I think it was. And we sat and we watched it. We had read it. We rehearsed it. We acted it. We did everything, but still we didn’t know what the film could be, because then Quentin comes into play and goes through the editing process and the sound and the music and all of that. So when we finally circled back around, we’re seeing it with tired but fresh eyes. It’s really quite an extraordinary thing to be part of.

You mentioned Sam is quite a serious actor. Could you elaborate on that?

He’s a stage man. I mean he’s a real theater actor. He’s put in his years. He’s the busiest actor I’ve ever come across. I mean we never know where he is. We have this group text thing that we do, like children. We can chat to each other because everyone is just dispersed everywhere. We’ve been doing this since we were filming, so a long time now. And we never know where he is, or why he is where he is, because it’s always somewhere different.

He’s definitely entered a certain iconography, and so wide-ranging, too.

Yeah, what was the film he did with Tommy Lee Jones? It’s two of them sitting in a room. It’s like a play. I mean the thing is he’s going to surprise you, Sam. Even if he’s doing something where he can sort of sit back and just sort of throw it up there and it’s not going to take it out of him or challenge him, particularly, you’re going to get something fun to watch. When Sam’s in something, there’s going to be a good ride. But then suddenly he gives you something that you look at it and you go, “This one really meant something to him.”

“The Sunset Limited” was the film you were thinking of. Cormac McCarthy.

Yeah, exactly. He’s a constant surprise. And very easy to work with, by the way. He couldn’t be any easier, really.

And he’s very adept — as are you and a number of Quentin’s sort of stock company of players — at nailing that dialogue and the rhythm of it.

Oh, completely, yeah. But then, when you read it, I mean you should know [how to perform it]. I’m sure Quentin will sort of slap me around for saying that, but just from my perspective, you look at the page and you go, “Jesus.” And it’s laid out for you. There is a cadence. There is a rhythm. There is a music to what he’s done, what he’s put on the page. It suggests itself to you, anyway. But you do find that you can grind to a halt suddenly. For example, Quentin is the only director I can think of, with possibly the exception of Tom Stoppard or Harold Pinter, who you would go to them and say, “OK, say that line. Give me a line reading.” Because it’s important. Suddenly I find myself in the middle of a speech and it’s going along, it’s going along, it’s going along and you’ve got it all, it’s all in place and you’re flying through it and then you stop. You creak to a halt. And then you say, “Quentin what were — say it for me. Say it for me. OK, got it.” And then you’re back up and running. Because it’s so important. He is one of the only writers around right now who’s writing for actors, writing speeches for actors. Not just the speech at the end of the movie kind of speech, but real pieces of writing for you to get your head around and sink your teeth into. It’s very, very unique. It’s a lot of fun for us.

You worked with Quentin pretty heavily to start and now you’re coming back. This is the first time you’ve collaborated since “Four Rooms.” So how does it feel now versus in the beginning?

We kept in touch. He wanted me to do “Inglourious Basterds” and I couldn’t, sadly, because I was working. And then this came around. I missed all the kind of crazy stuff that happens on his sets. I missed a chunk of his evolution going from “Pulp Fiction” to this one  I’d seen his movies. That’s a different thing. I’d hung out with him and talked to him in various places around the world. But I hadn’t seen him in his essence, doing the thing that he loves most, directing. I hadn’t seen that version of him since “Pulp Fiction” or “Four Rooms.” So it was completely an eye opener for me. He’s the same guy as he was on “Reservoir Dogs,” undoubtedly. It’s quite extraordinary. He hit the ground running and he hasn’t stopped running. It’s really a remarkable achievement. And I mean he has an encyclopedic knowledge anyway, but now it’s out there. It’s so huge. And he’s so in charge of his craft, I think. He is not shy. He’s going to give you something. You can love it, you can hate it. It’s fine with him as long as you’ve got an opinion about it. But now he has all the tools that he needs to explain himself with his films, and he didn’t have them back then. He was getting them. He was accumulating them. He didn’t have the money. He had just only the small history he had with himself and with film. And now he has a much longer one. But, you know, it’s a very different environment. It’s now crazy. There’s music playing. There’s no phones on set, which is an incredible thing. It’s unique. I didn’t understand it fully, how important it was. It was just nice. It was great. You had Checkpoint Charlie. You’d drop your phone off and you’d go to work and then you pick it up on the way out. And it’s great. But I didn’t really understand how good it was until I went to another film. And then everybody is looking at their phones. Everybody is doing other stuff. Nobody is focused. It’s remarkable.

I imagine so. Well how about this one, being up there in the elements and the cold of Telluride. I guess that helps you get into a bit of reality there.

We went to Telluride and there was a snowstorm and everything. And then the sun came out. But smartly he’d insisted on them building the entire Minnie’s Haberdashery set up there. So whenever they didn’t get the snow that they wanted, we went inside and started work on the interior stuff. So by the time we got back to L.A. we had completed big chunks of scenes that involved looking out the window and looking in those directions out the doorways. And then the snow really hit and everyone packed up and went home. They got it done real quick and we came home and started working in L.A. It was tiring. The cold was tiring.

I’m happy he’s keeping this genre alive, too, the Western. In two very different kinds of Westerns – “Django Unchained” and this. Is it a favorite genre of yours? Are there a couple of movies that stand out that you particularly love in the genre?

Yeah, very much so. “Red River” would be one. It’s stunning. Great acting going on within it, too. And “Once Upon a Time in the West.”

You picked two of my favorites.

There you go!

You know, I think “Red River” probably John Wayne’s best performance. I think he’s outstanding in that.

I do, too. It’s a shame he didn’t do more like that. And then of the TV stuff, you know, “Gunsmoke” and “The Virginian” and “Bonanza” and all those kind of things were features of my childhood.

Which were very much inspiration for his work on this. Did you feel that?

Oh, yeah. It was a subject of intense discussion because you had Bruce [Dern] sitting there. You know, Bruce was in them. And he has super recall. The two of them would go at it and try to stump each other with questions about Westerns or about film. They’d be back and forth and back and forth.

Last thing here. What was your reaction to the whole police controversy that Quentin has been weathering lately?

I was in Mexico, and I came back and it was all going on. And I couldn’t quite understand what the problem was, to be honest. I came back and said, “It might actually be a good idea to know what he actually said,” so I found what he said, and it’s not what they were saying that he’d said. So I was quite confused by it. Before all that hit, going way, way back to when we rehearsed for the reading of the first script — I don’t know if this addresses it, because in the end it’s Quentin’s to address — but when we were doing the reading, we were rehearsing. He got us to do three days of real rehearsal and get these words in our mouths and in our heads in a fairly good way. That was when Ferguson was happening. What we were saying and the discussion that was coming out around the film while we were doing it, it’s still the same discussion. And Ferguson hadn’t happened when he wrote the script. So a lot of it is political discussions that are taking place now and maybe around events like that protest, but also across the country. And not just across this country. It’s still the same problems and still the same discussions. So what do I have to say about it? I mean, anyone who’s lost a member of their family, I cannot imagine how awful that must feel. And it doesn’t matter whether you’re wearing a uniform or whether you’re not. The devastating loss — I don’t know if I would come back from it. So that’s what I think about it in terms of my kids and who I look to to protect them and what I hope for them in life. It’s just a sad conversation to keep having.

The white supremacy angle that he’s been interested in, it’s been there in his work along the way but it’s really quite embossed in these last two films.

This film is an incredible political piece as well as an outstanding piece of entertainment. It’s extraordinary. He’s such a clever guy. He’s got a big heart, too.

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