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True Lies

January 29, 2009 By:
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Tim Roth is living a lie.

Truth is, the Oscar-nominated actor of "Rob Roy" likes it like that.

Why shouldn't he? As the star of "Lie to Me," the foxy new Fox Network Wednesday night series in which he plays deception expert Dr. Cal Lightman -- based on the life of scientist Dr. Paul Ekman -- Roth gives body language a mamaloshen of its own.

And here's where the lie lies: The much-honored actor's real name, Tim Simon Smith, was substituted as subterfuge. His father, British journalist Ernie Smith, changed the standard surname to Roth, reflecting his German Jewish heritage -- but not so much as a kudo to kuved but as a way of deceiving those he interviewed as a journalist in post-World War II Europe, where anti-British bias was not so much a case of cheerio-hip-hip as it was hatred and anomie.

There were other reasons as well that were swept through with the winds of war. As the actor himself once told a reporter, his dad "chose a Jewish name because of the Holocaust. He dropped a lot of people behind enemy lines in the middle of the night" during the war.

True hero with a made-up surname: What better background for an accomplished actor to go back to?

And accomplished is the rap on Roth, who, at 47, has a bio bulging with so many credits, one wonders if he's parrying with prevarication again.

No; the "Lie" actor is very much for real -- even as most audiences consider him American, not British, thanks to his accentuating the positive -- and mastering accents in the process.

And if there is an art to the colorful life he has chosen -- after all, the onetime art student portrayed Mr. Orange in Quentin Tarantino's "Reservoir Dogs" and Vincent Van Gogh in Robert Altman's "Vincent and Theo" -- it is one where the paint flies outside the lines.

Therein lies the "Rob Roy": Indeed, he nearly robbed Liam Neeson of star power in the 1995 flick in which Roth portrayed the cunning Archibald Cunningham. And he couldn't be more animated than he was as Emil Blonsky in last year's "The Incredible Hulk."

Not so incredibly, "all of acting is lying," relates the actor on what it takes to take off on his new role as a man who faces off with the truth by reading others' faces and movements.

False profits? "It's all deception," he says of his profession. "So, for me, my character, thankfully, he's one of the few that doesn't have to be on stage."

The next stage coach is leaving ... from Paul Ekman's house? "Actors quite often get hold of Paul's training DVDs and his Web site and also his books and use them. So, I'm always lying."

And he's always lain traps for audiences, whether it be as General Thade in Tim Burton's remake of "Planet of the Apes," or on another part of planet Hollywood, Francis Ford Coppola's "Youth Without Youth."

The ageless actor has been at it since he was a youngster, portraying Trevor the Skinhead in "Made in Britain," made in ... Britain ... in 1982.

So what's his read on a character who reads people's body language? Who would win a face-off between face readers Roth and Ekman? "Paul lives and breathes it," says the actor of his role model, whose ability to decipher deception makes him an invaluable aid to crime fighters.

"I'll probably pick up a little bit more of it as I go [on], but I generally don't try to have it follow me home."

And if it did, would there be a welcome mat out for his character? After all, the grapes of Roth roles are squeezed dry with connivers, much like the factotum to the Nazis the current lie-detector played in "Invincible" in 2001.

There's no such transparency to Lightman. "I actually think this guy could be quite a bad guy, which is going to be fun."

And Roth is not above having some fun with the media. As far as his own ability to tell lies and what kind those would be, he is quite frank and up-front. "The only thing that comes up along those lines, I don't discuss with the press. So, there you go."

Is that Jack Nicholson snarking in the back? Maybe, just maybe, we can't handle the truth? Lightman sheds the light every Wednesday night.  

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