Tim Roth On ‘Sundown,’ ‘She-Hulk,’ And Why He Was Cut Out Of ’Once Upon A Time In Hollywood’

Tim Roth seems like an actor who has it all figured out. So much so that I literally wrote down “Tim Roth has it all figured out,” as a reminder to just say that to him to see what he says back about that in response. But then when Roth starts explaining his philosophy about the movies he’s in, it becomes so obvious that he’s got it all figured out that I felt like a dope even pointing that out. I just imagined him looking at me over Zoom then saying, “Yeah, of course I do. Why even bring that up?” So I didn’t.

When discussing Michel Franco’s Sundown, Roth mentions he hasn’t seen the movie yet, but does plan to watch it because he loves Franco’s movies, but most of the rest of the movies he will not watch. (Tarantino is another exception.) Now, usually when an actor says this it’s because they don’t like watching themselves on screen, which always makes a lot of sense. But this isn’t why Roth doesn’t watch them. His reasoning is pretty fascinating.

It’s good Roth plans on watching Sundown, because for a movie about some heavy topics, there’s also something strangely pleasant about the idea of just saying on vacation, living on the beach and drinking beer all day. Roth plays Neil, a man on vacation in Mexico with his sister, Alice (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and her two kids. When they get word their mother has died, Neil, at the airport, pretends he lost his passport and has to return to the hotel to look for it. Then he just never comes home.

It’s kind of funny that, at least from the outside looking in, Roth also has it figured out with Marvel. Back when he played Abomination in The Incredible Hulk, which he did for his kids, there really was no MCU like we know it now. As he explains, when he filmed the movie, Iron Man wasn’t even released yet. And he never even considered all these years later he’d get the call to return. But he did get the call and Roth explains how he wound up in She-Hulk.

And he tells the story about what it’s like to be cut out of a Quentin Tarantino movie, like he did with Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. It probably isn’t fun to be cut from a movie, but if it’s going to happen, being cut by Tarantino seems like the way to go.

(When we started the interview on Zoom, this was my first time at a new apartment since moving over the holidays, so I didn’t quite have my background set up yet, or even know what’s back there. But Roth immediately saw a “short throw” projector and seemed very happy about it…)

Tim Roth: Oh, I like your background. That’s so cool. And you’ve got a short-throw projector. That’s good, too. Yeah, we used to do it outside. We’d have a white wall. We’d do movie nights with the kids when they were little.

I like that you know about short-throw, because when I first looked into getting one I didn’t know what that meant.

We had a more regular long-throw or whatever. And the kids were just always walking in the way, so I did the investigation and went, “Ah-ha!” So that became movie nights. We’d pick a movie and that was that.

Sundown is set in Acapulco, where was this filmed at?

It was in Mexico City, but the majority was shot in Acapulco. Which I’d never been to, and had that bizarre history. It was the place that the Dean Martins of the world go.

Right, yes, the Dean Martins. And then in the ’80s it became where every evil criminal mastermind from action movies would want to go once they retired. But now there’s a lot of violence in Acapulco.

Yeah. It’s crime central, kind of, but there’s still visibly that kind of history in that place. And basically, the reason that we went there was that it was a place that Michel would go on holiday with his family when he was a little kid. And so it had this place in his memory, so we shot it there.

I’m guessing you see the resorts still, but also it’s not like it used to be?

There are big town blocks that are empty. But the beach itself that we shot on is for the locals. It’s weird. Surrounded by all this money, you’re at the beach, which is working class. And so what was interesting for Michel, I think, was to show the difference in the wealth disparity that is in that region, which he did do with where the street sellers are. The beach, where Neil’s character ended up going, is so far from what he is.

Do wealthy families, like you’re playing in this movie, do they still go there?

No. Not that particular part of where we shot, but a 20-minute drive up the way, we shot at a hotel which is very much that.

When you take away the violence and darker plot points, there are just scenes that I found so pleasant. Sitting on the beach all day drinking beer seems like the life. Even though it’s not, but it seems like that for a little bit.

Originally it was called Driftwood, which was the idea of him just drifting along and whatever comes his way, he goes with it, but the repercussions of his behavior can be quite brutal and overwhelming. So it seems, and I haven’t seen the film yet…

Oh really?

I will always watch what I do with Michel. I think it’s one of the few directors that I work with that I will watch his stuff.

You never watch your movies?

Honestly, I don’t. I don’t watch films that I’m in.

A few years ago I went to that reunion for Reservoir Dogs at the Beacon. You didn’t watch that? You came just for the Q&A?

No, that’s Quentin. There are different rules.

How so?

Michel’s films would fall into that category, too. I find him fascinating, what he does with the camera. And my job is done and it was done, very much so. We collaborated on the writing of it. Then there was the filming of it. But once I’m done, I’m done. It’s his film. And the whole editing post-production process, what he does, what he gives you guys to look at, it’s got nothing to do with me apart from my element that wanders through.

I understand what you’re saying that once you finish the job, it’s out of your hands. But that doesn’t prevent you from watching a lot of these movies. Is there another aspect to this?

No. It’s been a long time since I’ve done it. It started where, you’ve been in something that you really thought, “This is great.” And then you saw it after the fact and you go, “What happened?”

Oh, I see.

And so there was that element of it. And then there were the things where you were in something which you did because you’ve got to keep the roof on and all that, and it’s absolutely awful. And so you just go, okay, let that one go. But you still have your commitments to it, which is you’ve got to do the press, you’ve got to take your flack, you got to do that stuff. But after a while I did just think, well, my part in it does end at a certain point. My influence over what it might possibly be finishes. Depending on the director. Some directors, you collaborate with until the very end. They’re different animals. And therefore my feeling about watching their films and not watching their films is very different. But it is their film. And it’s the same with reviews. I don’t read anything.

Well, that makes more sense.

But that’s the audience, too. You’re a critic, but you’re also an audience member. It’s for you. So, sometimes it’s nice to sit back and go, “I don’t know. I haven’t seen it. What do you think?” If you treat the critics, and the reviewers, and all that, like the audience members that they are, then ask them about the film that they’ve seen, because it’s very different from the film that I was in. I don’t know if that makes any sense.

Let me see if I’m getting this right. Because it almost sounds like you’re saying with a lot of films you worked hard on, had a vision in your head how it would turn out, and if it doesn’t turn out well, it’s so disappointing that you just rather not go through that?

No, because that makes it sound more defensive in a sense, but it’s not.

Well, it sounds like that did happen to you early on with a movie, where you said, “What happened?”

I remember there was one that I watched… an exception are those ones where you get trapped at a film festival and you have to sit and watch them. And watching a film at a film festival that you’ve been in is one of the most distressing experiences.

There’s no escape.

In the spotlight! Yeah, it’s so funny. There was one film, for example, that I worked on with lovely actors, great story. This was part of that decision-making process. And then I saw it and then we had to do a shit-ton of press for it as well. It was one of those things it wasn’t good as it could have been. It was just one of those things where you thought, “Oh, man, if they’d just taken 20 minutes out this, and tightened up that, and did that, it could have been all right. It should have been all right.” And so when you have that emotional investment in something that you’re a part of and you’re so disappointed, at some point, I think you do have a choice to go, you know what? I’ll let that exist in my mind, because I think I’ll just own that and take that with me.

That makes sense. It’s like going to an event and having a great time. Then someone wants to show me the pictures and I’m like, “It went perfectly in my head. If I see the pictures, I’m going to know it did not.”

But then you have to be quite strict about it. And it has happened in the past where you’re in something you think, “This is terrible. Oh, my god.” And then they get it right. You come away, “Actually, that’s pretty good. How the hell did they do that?” But I think I’m fairly strict with the rule, with certain exceptions. And I’ll watch anything that Quentin does, because I love it. But that’s a love affair that goes back 20 years.

Speaking of Quentin, and I know he’s come out and talked about your cut role in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Does he tell you first? How does that work?

Oh yes. It’s funny. And, so, actually what happened was that he called me to play this character, which was a strand in the film, and then he cut that strand out completely. He cut that whole storyline out because when he put his first cut together, it came in at four and a half hours or five hours long. And he didn’t want to do a part one and two.

I’d watch 10 hours of that movie.

So true. So anyway, what he did, he got me over to his editing place where he was doing his thing. And he said to me, “I want to show you the scenes that you were in that I’m having to remove.” And he sat and he screened them for me. And then he screened the film for me and so on. But in the process, I don’t think he’d even locked picture at that point. But it was very, very sweet of him to do that. But then he put in the credits, “Tim Roth (Cut).” Which is so his sense of humor. My sons loved that. My sons, they love that.

Abomination returned for a bit in Shang-Chi, and now you’re going to be in She-Hulk. Did you figure, eventually, Marvel would come back to you?

Well, honestly, it totally surprised me. I went in to chat with Kevin Feige and he said, “I’ve got an idea. Come in.” Really? Really? Because the original thing that I did, when I did that first Incredible Hulk movie, was I just did it for my kids.

And back then no one knew what the MCU was going to be. And that was the second movie.

In a way, it was pre-Iron Man.

Right, because when you were filming it hadn’t come out yet.

It hadn’t come out. And that was when they figured it out. Figured out, “Oh, that’s how you do it.” And then they worked it out. Some of them better than others, whatever, but they worked it out. For me, Wolverine and very much Deadpool. So. it was just for my kids when they were little. Did that. So I was amazed when they came back around and said, “How would you feel about…” And I went, “Yeah. All right!” And we just shot it, I guess in the summer last year or whatever. I think that they’re in post now doing it, so whenever. Bonus, I got to work with Mark Ruffalo. Awesome. Who I love. And I don’t know if I’m allowed to say. Oh, I can say that. But this extraordinary woman, Tatiana…

Who is She-Hulk

Incredible, that woman. So that was a blast. It was insane.

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