It’s been a very chaotic week for Fox’s Monday night line-up. First, the network canceled their ambitious and critically acclaimed soap opera LONE STAR from the schedule after two episodes.
Next, they called up their excellent procedural LIE TO ME to pinch hit in its old Monday at 9:00 p.m. time slot (which it occupied all summer), resulting in a mad scramble to get the word out of this change.
And finally, your brand new pop cultural destination ASSIGNMENT X nabbed our first big scoop – LIE TO ME star Tim Roth wanted to speak with us about the show and spread the gospel about its expedited return.
For those getting up to speed, LIE TO ME is the Fox drama series about lie detection expert Dr. Cal Lightman, played by London-born actor Roth (famous for RESERVOIR DOGS, ROB ROY, THE HULK and many others).
Speaking from his car on the way to work this past Wednesday, here’s what the actor had to say about the new season and its early arrival.
TIM ROTH: I just hope that people know where to find us, because it’s all happened quite quickly. We’re doing our best to get the word out. [It’s on] Fox, Monday’s at nine.
ASSIGNMENT X: Does coming back this quickly change anything about the production and/or the upcoming storylines?
ROTH: It doesn’t change the storylines. We’re now finishing Episode Six [of Season Three]. It accelerates the post-production process. Whereas before we had a pretty good cushion [in terms of schedule], because we were going to be coming back in November, now I think [producer] Dan Sackheim is going to get a cot and move into the editing suite [laughs]. [The production staff] is on the run, but they’ll make it, it’ll be good.
AX: When did they start talking to you about coming back early?
ROTH: There were discussions – they were looking at how quickly we could be on the air, but there was never a yes or no until [Tuesday Sept. 28]. I got a call from [Fox executives] Peter Rice and Kevin Reilly, as did our production team, giving us the thumbs-up to go ahead. We were in the middle of editing, or filming. We’d heard that there might be this push. I felt very bad for the guys at LONE STAR. Knowing what I do about this business and knowing how much people put into it, especially if they really believe in a show, and I know the guys at the network really believed in that show, for me, the actors and the crew and the production guys, it must have been so tough on them. It’s a lot of work they put in and it’s a massive commitment that you make, but your neck is always on the block, unless you’re a runaway hit. It’s always there – you live that way.
AX: On the flip side, is this a big vote of confidence that the network feels LIE TO ME can hold that time period satisfactorily?
ROTH: Well, it’s where we were before, so I guess – yeah, what they said is, “We’re going to let you guys run in that slot,” which is terrific. The competition’s pretty fierce and [Monday Night] football is around and all of that, so fingers crossed [laughs].
AX: Now that second-season showrunner Shawn Ryan has moved over to TERRIERS, who is the show runner on LIE TO ME this season?
ROTH: Shawn just did last season, but he brought in a terrific writer, Alexander Cary, an English guy who wrote I think the strongest scripts of last season and did a lot of the rewrites. And then he in turn brought in [executive producer] David Graziano at the end of last season. The two of them paired up and Alex was swiftly promoted up in the ranks and is now showrunner.
AX: As you play Cal as being English and use your regular speaking voice in the role, does having an English writer on staff help with Cal’s slang?
ROTH: Well, [English slang] was something that I originally fought against in the first season, because I didn’t want to shine a light on the English aspect of it. I started bringing it in myself toward the end of the first season, and at the beginning of the second. When Shawn came on board and he brought Alex on, I was initially a little worried about it, and then as soon as Alex started pitching his ideas for the character and for the show, I thought, “Well, he’s the best thing we’ve got.” He really was. We kind of jumped into it and the network was terrific about it. They just embraced it. And now, yes, [having an English writer helps]. Whereas I used to have scripts full of red ink and notes, I barely make a mark on it now.
AX: Is there any tonal difference between this season and last season?
ROTH: They’re much more complicated stories. We can veer from the frivolous to the serious with the characters, which is what I like about it, but overall this season, the scripts are much more solid. The language and the dialogue are far better than they were. There’s more character stuff, not just for me, but for Kelli [Williams as Dr. Gillian Foster] and Monica [Raymund as Ria Torres] and Brendan [Hines as Eli Loker]. And also the way that it’s shot – I think it’s beautifully shot. I think it’s not slick, but it’s a much more polished production. It’s more consistent, so for the audience, I think it’ll be more fun.
AX: Now, is Cal himself changing this season and are we going to be delving a little more into his private issues, like his gambling?
ROTH: Yeah, you’ll see a lot more of [Cal’s] background. As you will of Foster, as well. You’re going to get a lot of that and opening up the relationship between Cal’s daughter and himself, which I’m very fond of – I like that stuff.
AX: Are you a parent in real life?
ROTH: I am, yeah.
AX: Does that help you in playing the parental relationship on the show?
ROTH: It does, although I have boys. I haven’t experienced girls, which I am assured by almost everybody that I meet, is worse [laughs]. The girl thing is much worse. They have teen issues, my guys, right? People always say that, “Oh, yeah, you think that’s bad?” and I think that they might be right. What’s good about [Cal’s daughter] Emily, Hayley [McFarland’s] character, is that I get to play parent to a girl, which is fun. She’s a bloody good actor, that one. She can improvise stuff with the best of them. I like her.
AX: What do you feel were the strongest episodes of Season Two?
ROTH: Well, I’d have to say I think that Alex’s episodes were the strongest. There was one called “Secret Santa,” where we went off to Afghanistan. That was interesting and different for the role, but there was one where I had a friend come back from London, played by Lennie James [JERICHO]. I always love working with Lennie, who’s terrific, but there was stuff that Alex wrote that really brought the fun out in the character. Some of it made it into the show and some of it didn’t, but that was the first indication that Alex really had an idea how to write for the show. It wasn’t necessarily going to be in the show, but I could see that he had ideas of his own and now he’s getting to act on them. So I would say pretty much stuff that he did was pretty solid.
AX: How did you feel about the virtual world that they used in “React to Contact,” the one about the war veteran played by [DOLLHOUSE star] Enver Gjokaj? Might we be seeing more of that type of computer therapy?
ROTH: I thought it was an interesting idea. I don’t know that it particularly had that much to do with the Lightman Group as such. I suppose it’s based on some kind of truth [in terms as the technology], but no, I don’t think you’ll be seeing that again. There will be different kinds of things that we’ll bring in.
AX: Might you be directing any episodes this season?
ROTH: I don’t think I can. We’ve talked about it. I work such long hours [laughs]. It has to be the last one, or the first one [after a break]. We don’t know what the last one is yet – we don’t know if we’re doing thirteen or twenty-two [episodes for the season]. They’ve already got the directors for the first thirteen, so if we get the back nine, I might do [the last one of] the back nine.
AX: But you would need to have either all the time before the episode to prep or all the time to cut after shooting, which you can’t do while you’re acting?
ROTH: Exactly. So if I did the last one, or the Christmas episode, but then there goes your Christmas. That wouldn’t go down too well. No, it would have to be probably a first or last. You come in and prep and then they give you time on the back end of the episode. Either that or Lightman falls into a swift coma and the episode’s about the group.
AX: In interviews, some other actors have brought up particular performances of yours as references and/or inspiration for them. Do other actors ever talk to you about some of your performances being a point of reference for them?
ROTH: They do. Because I’ve been around for about thirty years in the acting game and when they come in, [to do guest roles on LIE TO ME] – except the ones who have a lot of experience, they’re settled. When the young ones come in who are influenced, you do have to put them at their ease, you just have to make sure that they know they’re going to have a fun day and not to worry about it. But yeah, they do talk about it, and it’s very interesting, quite often, very different kinds of films, not just RESERVOIR DOGS.
AX: People seem to cite your Oscar-nominated performance in ROB ROY often.
ROTH: Oh, yeah. People like that one – that was a lot of fun.
AX: Are there any actors who were influential to you when you were coming up?
ROTH: Yeah. I’d worked with both of them, actually. One was a guy named Phil Daniels, [star of QUADROPHENIA]. He was also in SCUM with Ray Winstone, and I ended up directing Ray in THE WAR ZONE. Both of those guys really came from the street in a way. Seeing what they were capable of and that they could do it, that it was possible, and do it so well, and act so well, that they could get themselves into position to be in front of the camera – that’s where I wanted to be. I didn’t want to be a stage actor that much. I thought, “If they can do it, I can do it.” They came from very tough circumstances and Ray has been a huge influence on me, and still is, in fact. He’s a very good friend and did something extraordinary on THE WAR ZONE, so I’ll always thank him for that.
AX: Any chance of getting Ray Winstone to do a guest shot on LIE TO ME?
ROTH: We actually wrote one for him and then he couldn’t do it at the last minute, it fell apart last season, because he really, really likes the show, really enjoyed it. And so we wrote one for him, but it didn’t work out. If we went back to London, yeah, probably, I hope so.
AX: Can you talk a little about some of your recent film work? Reportedly, they spent over a decade trying to make SKELLIG, in which you play an owl-man.
ROTH: Well, it was kind of odd. It was a really tough, low-budget thing to do, and they sent me the script and I was reading it and I thought, “It’s rather lovely, very sweet and I like the character – he’s a grumpy bastard.” It wasn’t the typical kind of kids’ thing. And I went and asked my boys, “Do you know this thing SKELLIG?” And they said, “Oh, it’s great!” They’d read the book at school when they were younger. So I went, “Okay.” And I got on the phone to the director [Annabel Jankel] and asked them what they were trying to do, and I said, “Okay, I’ll have a go at that.” I had to be careful – I only had three or four weeks. They had to really move on my stuff. So they had very little money, they made it up in Wales, I flew in and flew out. It’s a very sweet film.
SEA WOLF is long done. I did that for a friend. ABSINTHE DRINKERS – they’ve been trying to get that done around my schedule for so long and I don’t think I’m going to be able to make it with the TV show. That was going to be me and John Hurt, which would be great, because that would be our third film together [after THE HIT and ROB ROY]. And it was a lovely script about Impressionist paintings. PETE SMALLS IS DEAD, that’s done. That was a very tiny-budget independent movie that Alex Rockwell made and he is a very funny and clever director and we made that film with Steve Buscemi and Peter Dinklage and all those guys. It was great. That’s in the festival up in Montreal, on the festival circuit.
AX: As you continue to work on LIE TO ME, are you beginning in real life to notice more of the “tells” that Cal knows when people are lying?
ROTH: Yes, but I’m crap at spotting them. I’ll think I’ve got it down and I pick the wrong one – it means something else. I made an effort not to learn any of it. I thought, “I don’t want to know what people are thinking, it’s their private business.” I think it’s a good hook for a show, definitely, but I wouldn’t want to bring that into my house. Then you think you’ve got it figured out, and you haven’t got it figured out at all [laughs]. It’s a lot more complicated than I know. I’ve been around [LIE TO ME’s scientific advisor] Paul Ekman and he pretty much has it down.
AX: Is there anywhere particular you’d like to see LIE TO ME go this year?
ROTH: I’d like to go back to London and make an episode there and I’d like to go to Belfast. Those would be a couple of things we could do about Cal’s background, and I think that would be really fun for the audience. That’s what I would like to do with it. I don’t know if it’s ever in the budget to get on a plane, although we’ve got Sky over there [running LIE TO ME in the U.K.], I don’t know, maybe they could foot the bill. I’d like to do that. I think it would be interesting to take his daughter back to England and get in trouble there. I think it’s going to be a very enjoyable show this season. We’re enjoying ourselves and hopefully some of that will bleed over onto the screen and the audience will enjoy themselves, too.