TIM ROTH ON ALAN CLARKE

Interview recorded 22nd May 2000

Andy Kimpton-Nye: HOW DID YOU COME TO BE CAST IN MADE IN BRITAIN?

Tim Roth: I was doing some temp work in town, over a telephone, which is what quite a lot of out of work actors do in Britain, or used to do. I don’t know if they do it now. And, I was cycling back and I had a flat tyre and I went into this theatre at the Oval that I worked at and they didn’t have a pump, but they were telling me that there were these auditions that were going to take place. And they said, ‘You don’t mind shaving your head do you?’ I said, ‘No’, because I’d done it before. And they said, ‘Why don’t you go up, play a skin- head?’ So I went up to meet Alan and got on with him very well and then they gave me the script, I went away, looked at it, came back. I had, I think there were three meetings: one where the producer came in, and then the next one, and then the writer, I think, as well, or the other way round. It was Margaret Matheson (producer), David Leland (writer), and Alan.  And then I got the job. It was the first time I was ever in front of the camera. It was a very, very interesting experience for me.

YOU SAID YOU GOT ON WITH ALAN STRAIGHT AWAY. WHY DO YOU THINK THAT WAS? WHY WAS ALAN SO EASY TO GET ON WITH? I ASK BECAUSE EVERYONE SEEMED TO DO IT?

Well I think that that’s sort of indicative of him as a director too, you know, because one of the most important things for a director to have is very good communication skills. And you have to be a different director to each of the actors that you are working with and he, I suppose, he would make a very quick assumption about your personality and become part of that in a way.  So he made himself very accessible to me. And his humour, it was… I seemed to connect with his sense of humour as well. You know, he, he was a very astute and serious film-maker on many levels. But when he needed to get the laughter and energy out, he could do that. So I connected with him I think fairly immediately.

IN THE RICHARD KELLY BIOGRAPHY, HUMOUR IS MENTIONED QUITE A FEW TIMES, WHICH IS INTERESTING BECAUSE I CAME TO HIM VIA “SCUM” AND THEN I WENT AND SAW “CHRISTINE” AND THINGS LIKE THAT, AND HIS WORK’S VERY SERIOUS. OBVIOUSLY THERE’S BLACK HUMOUR IN THERE, BUT PEOPLE MENTION ALAN’S SENSE OF HUMOUR A LOT. WHAT WAS HIS SENSE OF HUMOUR LIKE?

Well it could be anything from practical jokes to… he would keep, he would keep jokes going. There’s a thing which I like where if somebody says something and it’s funny, and then they say it again and again and again and again, and it starts to not be funny and then hysteria sets in. And then you can bring it back and see how far you can push it before it becomes funny again. And that was something that Alan used to do. So we were constantly cracking up on set and in rehearsal. But, you know, you talk about his sense of humour, I mean there’s that, but there was a very, very serious side to him and everything was very carefully prepared and… I don’t, I mean I never went out and socialised with him when we were working. Never. He was much more… I think he just went home and did his homework, that’s what he did. So yeah he would, he would… I think he just went home and worked and did his homework.  But he was very generous, and very generous to me because I was very much out of my depth. I had no real idea about how to work with a camera and I was… I think really that’s where I got my training was with him, as a film actor, with him and Chris Menges on camera.

TREVOR’S A BLOODY DIFFICULT CHARACTER TO PLAY BECAUSE HE’S THIS MONSTER, YOU KNOW, THAT’S PART OF THE REASON WHY YOU WATCH IT, YOU KNOW? HOW DID HE PREPARE YOU FOR THE ROLE OF TREVOR IN MADE IN BRITAIN - EITHER REHEARSAL-WISE OR DISCUSSION-WISE, WHAT SORT OF THINGS DID HE DO?

His rehearsal was really meticulous. It’s the kind of rehearsal I don’t normally do… no I don’t do any more. It was where you would get up and you would walk the scenes around and you would… he would mark off areas and you would perform over and over and over and over again, you would perform the scenes.  In a… I think it was a church hall or something, I can’t remember, a community centre or something that we rehearsed at. But I didn’t know any better so… and in fact there wasn’t any better for me because that was how I got used to being this person, and got over my nerves and stuff. And, I was maybe 22 or 21 when I did it, very green. And then of course there was a lot of discussion, which is a great form of rehearsal.

DID HE DISCUSS THE CHARACTER, OR WHAT HE SAW “MADE IN BRITAIN” BEING ABOUT?

Yeah, well he talked about everything. He talked about, you know, you can’t just play a monster and it’s one note, there has to be an art to it.  You know, we talked about a character history and… yeah I suppose he had family, and where he would be now, where he was heading, what his education would have been like. And all kinds of things… the juvenile prison system which I didn’t know. And so he would fill in all the gaps and then you’d have to get up and just feel free with it. And that’s the sort of juicy bit, doing the scenes. And they were wonderful words to say, so, you never really tired of rehearsing them or saying them.

THE STEADICAM: THAT'S HIS SORT OF TRADEMARK PARTICULARLY BY THE MID-80’S. DID THAT HELP OR HINDER YOU AS AN ACTOR?

I didn’t know that there was anything different. I thought that that’s how films were made. It wasn’t until I worked with Mike Leigh after that that I realised that this was not the case. So I… it didn’t phase me in the slightest, you know? It meant that we could do long travelling shots and huge amounts of dialogue in one fell swoop. And that, for the actors, I would presume… I can’t speak for them, but certainly for me was very liberating. Very liberating. I, you know, I just thought that was what cameras did. And Chris was extremely… he had extraordinary stamina, he hardly put the thing down. And it’s a big piece of equipment. So I was completely free.

IN THE CELL SCENE, IT FEELS TENSE … THE VIEWER SORT OF WANTS TO BACK OFF FROM YOU BECAUSE YOU’RE SO WOUND UP. I MEAN, HOW NEAR DID YOU COME TO LET’S SAY LUMPING SEAN CHAPMAN BECAUSE YOU LOOKED PRETTY TENSE IN THAT SCENE, YOU ALL LOOKED PRETTY TENSE. WAS IT?

Oh we were laughing all the time! (Laughs) It’s not… it’s not a documentary, you know? No, no, no, we were very… Sean and I got on very, very well, but you know, within that room we were in that room for a long time and it’s a 25 minute scene and you know, we had a ping pong table in the back room and, you know, mostly down the pub at lunch time and stuff. Not Alan, I hasten to add, but us. And… no it was a very relaxed atmosphere. And that’s another thing that he does, and that taught me a lot about being a director later on, is that what I liked about directing was he would create an atmosphere of humour and fun and if you do that then you can get the work done much more efficiently and also people will want to come to work.If it’s a depressing environment then nobody wants to come.

THAT’S AMAZING BECAUSE AS I SAY AS THE VIEWER YOU CAN ALMOST FEEL THE VIOLENCE IN THAT SCENE, YOU KNOW, THAT’S POTENTIALLY THERE BETWEEN THE CHARACTERS IN THAT CELL…

But that’s acting. I mean you generate that stuff by creating the atmosphere when you’re acting. When you’re not acting you don’t do that. You don’t need to.

YOU TALKED ABOUT HIM GIVING SPACE TO ACTORS, WAS HE EVER MANIPULATIVE AT ALL IN ANY WAYS?

I don’t know if he was, I wasn’t aware of being manipulated. I may have been.  Ray (Winstone - Carling in SCUM) tells a nice story about that. He says one day he’ll come up to you and he’ll be your best mate and be, ‘Oh something’s happened,’ and be really touchy feely and then the next day he will be in your face calling you a bastard, you know. Stuff like that. But I never really had any of that. It might have been that my character didn’t require it. When we… when they let the monster out of the bag with that character it could get a bit scary at some times. But it’s not real.

YOU MENTIONED GETTING ON WITH ACTORS, WHAT WERE ALAN’S OTHER CHARACTERISTICS, OR QUALITIES AS A DIRECTOR IN YOUR OPINION?

You didn’t feel, even though you’d done a lot of preparation, you didn’t feel that when you arrived on the set that you were in a straight jacket. That you had to hit this mark and then go over there and "I want you do do this I want you to do that." Sometimes that’s fine, but you never felt that with him. You… I felt that I could have walked to the other side of the room at any given moment, and that Chris would have been there and that the lighting was prepared for that. So we had a 360 degree space in which I could operate. And there was always that feeling. But you generally nailed it down to where you… you mapped it out. I don’t know, there was a sense of freedom without being unstructured. And a lot of improvisation, that kind of stuff that does take place in film, I find loose and kind of embarrassing. With him you got the sense that it was reality based, although it was performance based as well, but you got the sense that there was a reality happening. But in fact it was very, very carefully orchestrated, but with the actors' consent and with their involvement. It was a very interesting way of working.

THERE'S A LOT OF WALKING AND FIDGETYNESS IN TREVOR. IN THE CELL YOU’RE PACING ROUND, OR IF YOU’RE OUT ON THE STREETS YOU’RE PACING ROUND AND YOU’RE GOING IN THE JOB CENTRE AND BUSY ALL THE TIME…

There’s a lot of movement with that character. Yeah…

WAS ALAN LIKE THAT AT ALL? I GET THE IMPRESSION HE WAS QUITE A RESTLESS PERSON?

I don’t remember him as being that. I remember him being highly energised and enthusiastic, but I don’t remember him as being fidgety. But he may have been. No you just… I suppose with him the best thing… you just really wanted to please him and make him happy. And make his vision come alive. It sounds pretentious, but basically, you know, an actor's job is to be in someone else’s film, it’s not their film. And you just did your best to get it right for him. Yeah.

MADE IN BRITAIN CAUSED A CONTROVERSY AT THE TIME. IN THE SUN NEWSPAPER, I THINK, OF ALL PAPERS… I ONLY SAY THAT BECAUSE I REMEMBER IN THE RICHARD KELLY BIOGRAPHY THAT ALAN SAID TO DANNY BOYLE THAT HE ONLY EVER READS THE SUN BECAUSE HE DOESN’T WANT TO READ WHAT MIDDLE CLASSES SAY BECAUSE HE KNOWS THAT. BUT ANYWAY THE SUN, I THINK, CAME OUT AND SAID HOW DARE THE TV COMPANIES MAKE A FILM ABOUT A RACIST MONSTER, YOU KNOW, WHO’S SHOUTING FOUR LETTER WORDS?

The Sun?

YEAH…

I know that one of… I don’t know if it was The Sun, but I know that they counted the swear words. They gave a fuck list and, you know, a shit list and a bollocks list and, you know, how many there were a minute. Which I thought was very funny.

DID THAT AFFECT ALAN, THAT CONTROVERSY?

I don’t think so. No. He was used to it. When he made ‘Scum’ it was banned by the BBC who commissioned it. So I think it just made him more… I think it made him smile really, that stuff. I mean, you know… "how dare you make a film about a racist?"  Well, if we don’t make any films about these people does that mean it doesn’t exist?   We can all go and hide? What are you supposed to do, make picture postcard films? I don’t understand that mentality. I suppose it was Thatcher’s mentality in a way. Crush the critic.

YOU’VE OBVIOUSLY HAD SUCCESS YOURSELF DIRECTING (WAR ZONE), HAS ALAN BEEN AN INFLUENCE?

Well I think in the way… I think it was that his… his sense of kind of fun on set and his communication skills and what I’ve been talking about really affected me and took me all the way through acting. And so when I came to direct I made sure that that was the case on our film.

IF HE WERE ALIVE TODAY WHAT DO YOU THINK HE’D BE DOING? WOULD HE BE WORKING?

I don’t know, it’s hard to say. He always was a political animal, which you can tell by his film work. I think… I would like to think he would be still working in television because there’s a bigger audience for his kind of film in television than there is in cinema. But there’s also the part of me that would like to have seen him get, you know, anamorphic lenses.   Get to terms with that stuff.   But he may not have wanted to. I mean it was a much… he could reach a huge amount of people through the television screen.   Now might be a time for him.   He’d probably be very angry about what’s happened to the Labour party, and he’d be making films about that.

YOU MENTIONED TV, YOU KNOW, BEING ABLE TO GIVE HIM ACCESS TO A BIGGER AUDIENCE. DID HE EVER DISCUSS WHETHER HE PREFERRED TV TO FILM BECAUSE HE ONLY MADE THREE FEATURE FILMS, DIDN’T HE, AND YET EVERYONE RATED HIM?

He never discussed that with me, I talked to Stephen Frears about that once, you know, he wanted to make a film… He was talking to me quite recently about making a film of quite a political nature and he was insisting that it was made for television because it would reach a wider audience and that seemed to me to be the kind of thing that Alan would have agreed with. I don’t think he was a snob in as far as television versus film in any way. I would imagine that there would be a place for him. I would think he would still be working as a film-maker. Yeah.

DURING HIS TIME HE NEVER MADE ANY MOVIES OUT HERE IN AMERICA. DO YOU THINK IF HE HAD LIVED LONGER HIS STYLE OF FILM-MAKING WOULD HAVE TRANSFERRED HERE?

He came here and at one point I believe he was… well there’s two stories that I know. I don’t know if they’re true but I like them. One he told me: he was out here trying to make a film and the person that was supposedly financing the film kept, after a while, kept cancelling the meetings and he used to say, ‘Why am I here?’   So one day he went down to the guy’s office and he said, ‘Is so and so in?’ and they said, ‘Yes he’ll be with you on a minute.’ And he’s sitting there waiting and he looked out of the window and he saw the guy had climbed out of his window, the office window, and was running across the grass to get away. (Laughs). That’s one that he told me. The other one I heard was he was in the middle of a meeting out here and I don’t know what garbage they were selling him.  He said, ‘I’m just going to go to the toilet.’ So he went out and went downstairs, went back to the hotel and packed his bags, got on a plane and went home. That was it.

WAS THAT A PERSONALITY THING? DO YOU THINK HE WOULDN’T HAVE FITTED IN?

I think he just became tired of the sort of constraints, the restrictions that were happening here at that time for him. And one time they offered him the last of the ‘Omen’ movies, you know, and it was things like that that were happening. So I think he just went back to what he was doing. Went back to what he did best.

I DON’T KNOW IF YOU CAN ANSWER THIS, BUT JUST IN YOUR OPINION, WHAT DO YOU THINK MADE ALAN CLARKE TICK, AND WANT TO WORK AS A DIRECTOR AND GO ON WORKING?

I don’t know. I don’t know…I wouldn’t know because a lot of his stuff wasn’t necessarily political, but it did become that. And he certainly was interested in the plight of the working classes. So it may have been that… You know, one of my favourite films is ‘Rita, Sue and Bob too’ which is, I think, is hysterically funny. I don’t know if it did very well, but that, that kind of humour I think would sum him up. I don’t know what makes him tick, what made him tick. I don’t know.

IF I SAID, HAVE YOU GOT ONE ABIDING MEMORY OF ALAN CLARKE? WHAT WOULD IT BE?

Oh I have one, but I wouldn’t want to tell you. (Laughs) That will go down in… that will be kept secret.

WHAT’S YOUR LASTING IMPRESSION OF HIM THEN?

Well I don’t know… my lasting impression could only be the conversations I had with him when I was working… the time that I had filming with him. And actually the other thing that he did was he invited me into the editing room a few times to see how that process worked. And then talking with him over the phone. I don’t, I don’t really… I mean most of us miss him. Of the actors, I’m sure that you’ll talk to, they’d all say that. I had the opportunity of working with him four times and I only did it the one time. I regret that. But that’s just how it turned out. So, I miss him, and I miss the… with the exception of Ken Loach maybe, you know, there’s not much political film being made in Britain.

When we were finishing… we were wrapping up working on ‘Made in Britain’,  I think it was about three or four days before I was due to finish and anyway, as the fear of unemployment is coming up, especially you know at that time and at that age. And so I was on set and we had a break in filming and Alan was saying to me, ‘What do you want to do?’ and I said, ‘Well you know, to be honest with you all I want to do is to be a film actor. I don’t really want to be a theatre actor. I want to be a film actor.’ And he said, ‘Well who are the directors that you like?   Who would you like to work with?’   And I said, ‘Well there’s a guy called Mike Leigh I’ve heard of. Everyone keeps telling me he’s extraordinary and that he, you know, he is somebody you should really work with.’ And he said ‘Oh I know Mike. He’s actually casting right now; he’s in the next office from our production office.’ And he said, ‘Hold on.’ And he went over to the phone on the set, we were on location, he picked up the phone, called up Mike and said, ‘There’s this guy I really think you should meet, he’s doing a film with me right now called ‘Made in Britain’ and I think you should meet him.’ And Mike called me in and I got the job. And that was the way Alan was, that he would always try to look after his actors as much as possible. And then… so actually if you think about that, he made a call to Mike Leigh, and I got me the job with Mike Leigh. And then but because of ‘Made in Britain’, Joe Strummer who was pulling out of ‘The Hit’ said, ‘Why don’t you get that skinhead in from ‘Made in Britain’ from that film?’   So then I met with Stephen Frears and got the job on ‘The Hit’. So in a way it just kind of kept going from Alan. So he kicked me along, gave me a sharp boot up my arse and got me involved.

DID YOU SEE HIM IN THE LAST DAYS WHEN HE WAS ILL?

I didn’t, I was away and working. In fact I had been working with Gary Oldman and we got back from doing ‘Rosencrantz and Guildenstern’ and we were talking… or it was even after that, and we were talking and he…Gary was talking about working together again at that point and he said, ‘Well why don’t we do something with Alan together?’   And that was when I found out that he was sick. So I’d been away and I didn’t know what was going on and then I found out. And I didn’t go down to the hospital. I thought about it many times.   And the stories that Stephen’s told me… Stephen Frears has told me about it have been really wonderful.   And part of me regrets that I didn’t go but… I have my memories of him, fond memories…  as a very strong healthy man. So maybe it’s good. Maybe it’s good.   But it does sound like it was quite good fun down there.

YOU’VE JUST REMINDED ME… THIS IT IS THE LAST QUESTION. THE END SHORT ‘MADE IN BRITAIN’ IS A FREEZE FRAME. WAS IT IN ANYWAY INFLUENCED BY TRUFFAUT'S 400 BLOWS?

I don’t know, it may have been. I don’t know, but I know it wasn’t the original end of the film.   There was a sequence where I was in a borstal digging a hole with a whole line of boys and he had this ramp set up and the steadicam going down it. Or the dolly was going down it at the time. And he left that scene, dumped that scene. And it is the best… I think it's the best way to end the film. But it may have been. It may have been. I’m sure it was a film that he must have liked: 400 blows. That’s a great film. Anyway, that’s how influential I think Alan could be in somebody’s life.   He certainly did, you know, he helped Ray out and Gary out and me. And he was quite a caring man as far as his actors were concerned, at least.

BRILLIANT. THANK YOU VERY MUCH.

Ok.

400Blows Productions, May 2000.


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