Today is the end of a very long road for Tim Roth. On and off for the last 18 months, he's been traveling around the world selling, promoting and defending "The War Zone" -- his directorial debut -- a stormy, unflinching, explosive portrait of incest and sexual abuse that has been leaving audiences moved and emotionally exhausted.
But while he does seem a little drained as he paces the catering table of the San Francisco hotel board room where we've met to do one of his last interviews before he goes home to his wife and two kids in Los Angeles, his passion for this heart-wrenching project hasn't waned. After a year and a half, he isn't even on interview auto-pilot, still pausing and stitching his brow in throughout before answering questions that he's probably heard 100 times by now.
Besides tackling such a touchy subject matter, Roth took several risks with "The War Zone," including casting two completely inexperienced actors -- Lara Belmont and Freddie Cunliffe -- in the lead roles of an abused teenage girl and her sullen younger brother who discovers their father has been raping her for years.
It paid off in spades. Both actors give astounding, raw performances along side respected British independent film veterans Ray Winstone (as the imposing, abusive father) and Tilda Swinton (as the fragile mum), helping to make "The War Zone" a deeply disturbing and sometimes savage film. Yet Roth bravely and unflinchingly holds nothing back, making his directorial bow as compelling as it is upsetting, which has garnered him some unusual screenings on this press tour with support groups and on college campuses. Just last night he attended a screening on the University of California's Berkeley campus.
|Q: I heard Berkeley went well last night.|
|Do you sit in the audience or pace around the lobby when your movie is being screened?|
|A movie this emotionally draining cannot be easy to watch over and over again. I mean, it must be hard to watch as a director, seeing little things you'd wished you'd done differently and what have you, but to watch a story like that innumerable times...|
|What are you going to do on your first day off?|
|Will you be watching it again down the road? Will you show it to your kids?|
|Speaking of the rape scene, there's been some criticism (unjust in my opinion) that the scene was too long or it was almost gratuitous, because you treat the topic so carefully before that scene.|
The actual act is very quick. The scene is very long. All I do is move in. And I'm moving in towards her face. And then I move back out. He goes to the window, she stays in the middle, and we just stay for a very long time. What that does is it gives the audience a chance to reflect on what they've just seen. And we're not going anywhere. We're staying in that room until I'm good and ready to let you out. But it gives you a chance to reflect on it, and then on what you may see later, as well. And I do that throughout the film. That scene is as long as it absolutely needs to be. I played around with it in the editing room, and that's as it should be. Horrible scene.
|What was the atmosphere like on the set that day?|
|And that's something you certainly don't want to do twice. How did directing that scene affect you? And how did it affect Lara Belmont?|
|How did you prepare the actors?|
But as much as you may read it on a piece of paper, nobody is prepared to actually see the reality of it. The boom guy was crying, the focus puller was crying, the operator was trying not to throw up. Tears all around me, and Lara was doing her stuff -- she's a very good actor, this girl -- and Ray's doing his stuff. And I'm the one sitting there going, "Head up, Lara, we can't see your face, love." Talking through the scene what is happening. "Kiss her, Ray. Tell her you love her." And then it's all done. Cut. Done.
And then, I'm busy setting up the next shot, and they come out of this bunker (where the rape scene takes place), and everyone -- there's about four or five people standing there, and they're white as sheets -- they come out. There are a lot of tears going on. [Lara] goes straight to Ray and comforts him. Which I thought was extraordinary. And then we went to the pub and got completely drunk. But Ray, I think we could have lost him that day. It was that bad. He's got a kid that age.
|You created a striking, grim look to the film that really depicts the bleakness of the situation.|
|I understand you already knew a lot about lenses and even lab processing. Had you been gearing up all these years?|
|How was your confidence level as you began making this difficult film as your first project behind the camera?|
|Because these roles are so emotionally complex, it seems almost a little daring to take on inexperienced actors (like Belmont and Cunliffe)...|
But, you know, I was a first-timer. Everyone's a first-timer. There's maybe more of a history maybe of doing that in Britain or in Europe than there is of doing that in the United States -- of giving someone a very big, meaty role to get their teeth into for a first-timer. That's what happened to me, and so I knew it was possible. But that being said, we saw 2,500 kids.
|Did Lara or Freddie have any acting training?|
|What kind of preparation did she do?|
|In America the film has been released unrated.|
|Were you concerned about being asked to cut it?|
|Who is Lot 47 Films, anyway?|
Today he was down in the cinemas in New York watching the first person paying to see the film.
|So where's your acting career now that you've had a taste of directing?|
|Would you ever want to direct yourself?|
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