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ROTH, TIM: Gridlock'd

Tim Roth's career goes from strength to strength, whether he's a singing con man in Woody Allen's Everyone Says I Love You, or a heroin addict trying to give it away in the new black comedy Gridlock'd. Roth is the king of independent cinema, but as he confided to PAUL FISCHER in a Los Angeles hotel, finding the right project and the money to make it, is a difficult task.

Shy, unpretentious and searching for new ways to fulfil his career, the Oscar nominated scene stealer of Rob Roy, 36-year old Tim Roth has enjoyed a reputation as a leading heavy in many an independent film, spurning mainstream Hollywood, preferring to participate in films "where the money is lousy but the work is exceptional." Roth seems to crop up all over the place, and the British actor who plays American crims better than most Americans, agrees that while the choice parts are around "it's a matter of when you found them, trying to raise the money to make the films; that's always the problem. The scripts are there, but nobody wants to make them."

A case in point is his latest film, Gridlock'd, a story about a couple of heroin addicts battling bureaucracy in order for them to enter a drug rehab centre. "Try pitching a comedy about heroin to anybody with the chequebooks; it was prettty tough."

"To me it was about three people who love each other and come up against brick walls."

Gridlock'd, which casts him opposite the late rapper-turned-actor Tupac Shakur, is a black comedy satirising the depths of bureaucracy gone mad and revolves around Stretch (Roth) and Spoon (Shakur), two drug addicts who decide to go clean after a friend of theirs, Cookie (Thandie Newton) goes into a drug-induced coma. They encounter bureaucratic red tape, however, trying to get into a detox program and return to their drug dealer. During one of their visits to the dealer, though, they find that a local thug, D-Reper (Vondie Curtis-Hall, who also wrote and directed the film) and his henchman have killed the dealer. Realising that Stretch and Spoon have taken some of "their drugs," D-Reper and his henchman try to kill the two. The police believe that the two are responsible for the murder. Thus Stretch and Spoon must avoid the thugs and the police as they try to enter the detox program. "Even though these two characters are addicted to heroin, for me, that was of secondary importance when I read it," Roth explains when discussing his attraction to this project. "To me it was about three people who love each other and come up against brick walls.

"This is really a film about red tape more than anything else, which I related to because most people eventually come up against bureaucracy, from signing up on the dole to immigration here in the US. At ANY LEVEL, you're going to get the brick wall. So I think in the end, it has a point from which everyone can recognise something. If you can come up with a story that has that element, that's great."

"He was incredibly professional and, unlike me, wanted to rehearse more, which was fine" Tim Roth on Tupak Shakur

The film also features the only starring role on the part of the late rapper, Tupak Shakur, senselessly gunned down last year. He and Roth formed a friendship during filming and Roth has great respect for the way he approached acting. "He was incredibly professional and, unlike me, wanted to rehearse more, which was fine. He was a major talent who'll be sorely missed." There is a lot of heroin taking that takes place in the movie, and Roth didn't need to do too much research on the subject. "Vondie [the director, a former drug addict] had a lot of information on the actual administration of heroin and its immediate after-effects. Much of what you see on the screen was in the script, unless something came up by accident that we thought was fun, then we'd shoot it."

Gridlock'd was certainly different to his previous experience, working with Woody Allen on the sweet romantic musical comedy, Everyone Says I Love You, in which he plays an ex-con attracted to Drew Barrymore. Working with Allen was a dream come true for Roth. "It was loads of fun doing what is such a sweet film, but we shot it in such a weird way. I had only two scenes to do, really, and supposedly to be shot in seven days. Instead it took seven weeks to shoot, because Woody's in that unique position of going: 'Nah, let's shoot THIS scene today'. With him, you never know what you're going to film and when you're going to film it. But the actual experience of filming with him was delightful. I mean, his worse movies are better than most of the movies that come out, and as a director, he gives you a lot of freedom."

While Roth seems to have specialised in doing independent films, he denies an intentional shunning of mainstream Hollywood. "It's just that the best scripts I get offered come from independent film makers. Sure I'd like to earn $20 million a movie, but that's not really what DRIVES me. I just want to act until I drop." He continues to be busy. Due out next is a slightly bigger film for Roth, Hoodlums, a studio made gangster drama co-starring Laurence Fishburne.

"The chance to work with Fishburne was a great attraction in doing this."

"The chance to work with Fishburne was a great attraction in doing this. It's about the black mob in the thirties, how they took over the numbers rackets in Harlem, and how they went to war with the white gangsters. I play one of those over-the-top gangster characters which is fun. This is the kind of movie that's going to hit or miss."

Roth will also be seen "in a bizarre Hitchcock-type thriller" called Liar, followed by Animals "another bizarre independent film about a taxi driver who lives in his cab and goes on this journey to try and find his soul with an angel." And finally, Roth hopes to return to England later this year to direct his first movie. "It's a very low-budget film that I'm not going to act in, called The War Zone, and it's definitely not a comedy." Tim Roth may love his independence, but his dependence and passion for working on the bizarre and the best, never seems to wane.

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Vondie Curtis-Hall, writer/director/actor

Also See Paul's interview with THANDIE NEWTON

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