In Broken, the life of a young diabetic girl on the cusp of womanhood is forever changed after she witnesses a startling act of violence in her neighborhood. With her riveting debut performance as the precocious Skunk, Eloise Laurence leads an exceptional cast that includes Cillian Murphy, Rory Kinnear, Denis Lawson, Robert Emms, and Zana Marjanovic. In a departure from his usual roster of quirky characters and heinous villains, Tim Roth plays, Archie, the widowed town lawyer who struggles to lead a good life while raising Skunk and her brother, Jed.
With a powerful score and beautiful photography as well, Broken packs quite a sensory wallop for the viewer. Recently, we called Tim Roth to get his thoughts on working with first-time director Rufus Norris and to find out what drew him to the film. As a bonus, he discussed his take on new tools for filmmakers like Vine, Instagram Video and Vimeo.
Tribeca: I thought Broken was an incredibly beautiful and moving film. How did you initially come on to the project?
Tim Roth: My friend and one of the producers of Broken, Dixie Linder, who I knew from when she produced a film I directed called The War Zone, is the one who first sent me the script. She always works on interesting projects and I wanted to know what she was working on. I thought the script was just beautiful, really a lovely story.
A couple months later, she came back around and said, “Would you have a look at this part?” It was for Mr. Oswald, the naughty neighbor. It was a wonderful role, but it felt close to things that I’ve done before. Plus, I had already fallen in love with the character of the father, Archie. I thought he was just extraordinary, but the role was already cast. I told them if the actor dropped for any reason to give me a call, if they fancied me to play the part. Fortunately for me, that particular actor couldn’t do it so I gladly signed on.
Tribeca: Rufus Norris is a well-known theatrical director but Broken marks his directorial debut in film. Was it refreshing to work with a director who has such extensive theater experience?
TR: I’ve worked with first timers a lot before, and I’m never really worried about it. I had no idea who he was. My producer, or his producer now, said he’s an extraordinary guy and you’ve got to talk to him. When I was on the phone with him, I could tell immediately that he’s a very unique person. You get the sense that he is a real intellect and a thoughtful and creative mind. He completely understands his actors. We started talking and building on the characters and getting it right. He’s very much a breath of fresh air. He’s an extraordinary, extraordinary guy. And he directs opera as well.
Tribeca: With the exception of Funny Games (which is quite a different movie) and ‘Lie to Me,’ you rarely play a father, even though you are one in real life.
TR: Well, I’ve been playing a lot more lately. [Laughs] I think that’s just an age thing. Or just luck after all really. It has happened quite rarely up until recently; you’re right about that.
Tribeca: Were you able to draw on your own experiences from fatherhood for any particular scene in the film?
TR: Well, actually I’ll tell you what was a useful tool. I had done this television show—'Lie to Me'—and I had a daughter in that. My character created a relationship with his daughter based on humor. When I met Ellie Laurence, who is the girl who plays Skunk in Broken, we took that approach off camera, as well as eventually on camera because when the director would see it he would say, “Take that. Just shoot that.” So it became somewhat of a humorous relationship.
I did use my experiences too, but I only have boys, I don’t have a girl. And girls, you know, that’s a whole different animal. I wouldn’t stand a chance if I had girls. [Laughs] Ellie and I had a very peculiar but also very easy relationship.
Tribeca: I was shocked that this was her first big acting job.
TR: She’s never acted before. She’s a singer who writes her own songs. She’s a very talented kid but she hadn’t even considered acting, although her mom and dad are actors. It wasn’t what she wanted to do and may still not be what she wants to do. I’m not sure. She has time.
Tribeca: Were you guys were able to rehearse before shooting?
TR: Yeah, we did. We rehearsed fairly solidly over a period of a week, and I’m usually not inclined to rehearse in any formal way. However, we sat around and talked through all the scenes before we shot them. We’d say the lines out loud and occasionally move stuff around. We knew Ellie has new to the game, so whenever she showed up on the set, we made sure that she was completely prepared. We still had freedom on set. Ellie and I would often improvise, but she wasn’t walking into an environment she didn’t fully understand. She was only 11 years old when she did it.
The idea that you slide into a theater nowadays, past these big budget movies, is a joke.
Tribeca: Archie is an interesting character. He’s a symbol of authority and stability—the town’s lawyer, father to Skunk and Jed—but he is still trying to get over his wife’s abandoning him and to move on with a tentative relationship with the family’s au pair. During all of his struggles, he puts Skunk and Jed first. How did you approach playing such a complex character? What drew you to the role?
TR: He’s such a good man. He’s as flawed as the next guy, but his inherent goodness separates him from the rest of us. His heart is very specifically in the right place. So that’s really what hit me. When we were building the character, I found that most of Archie’s development is shown through conversations with Rufus. Broken is the story of Skunk. The rest of the characters are all satellites around her. So each of us only has a small amount of time to sketch for the audience what we are and how we operate.
A good example of that would be this scene of Archie and Skunk on the bed when they’re just talking after she's given him quite a scare. It’s a very, very sweet scene, but it says about 15 different things about the father, about the daughter, about their relationship, about how they are, how they’ve grown up together. That scene in itself gives the audience a huge shortcut so that when the film turns, you want that relationship back. You can see why he’s devastated by the loss that he thinks he suffers. You can see that. So I was looking constantly to, on the one hand, be incredibly specific for the audience, but on the other hand, to make it seem effortless.
Tribeca: Broken feels like it is from another era of filmmaking. While Skunk has a cell phone, she never uses it, which is to her detriment later on. It was refreshing to see the childrens’ lack of dependency on technology. How do you think the nature of childhood has changed since you were growing up?
TR: Well I think that’s a tricky question. In the time that my kids have been growing up even, technology has changed the way young people relate to each other and the world. They are always miserable; they can always be found. Plus, there’s this bullying aspect of social media nowadays, which is something that comes up in this film. When kids are bullied, they tend to shut down, get depressed and in the most extreme cases, choose to take their own lives. And because of the Internet, the family can even move to a new town and the bullies can still get at the vulnerable. It can be incredibly dangerous, so I think there is an element of that that floats around in this film.
For me, I find technology on the one hand incredibly attractive and useful and on the other hand incredibly dangerous. That will always be my generation’s attitude anyway. We don’t even know what’s coming in five years.
Tribeca: Since you have three sons have you been exposed to new video technology like Vine or Instagram Video?
TR: No, the kids make jokes about Instagram and Vine. They kind of just take the piss out of it.
Tribeca: Is there any new technology that you’ve recently adopted?
TR: I recently was introduced to Vimeo. For example, there’s this Russian guy, who had made a short film just about 10 minutes long, and he put it on Vimeo. Apparently, it went viral. Or at least that’s the term they used. I didn’t know anything about it. [Laughs] I get a call from my agent saying that same guy was in town from Russia, he’s making a feature film, and he wants to meet with me. So my agent sent me a link to his piece on the day when he was coming over to meet me and I watched it.
It was extraordinary. This kid was obviously a really amazing talent, a filmmaker in the making. Really he had already arrived in a sense. He came and explained to me what he wants to do, and I’m going to do his movie. So I’ll probably do that for nothing, but who cares?
That I get. That I understand. Vimeo is interesting because it’s a place where you show your work as a filmmaker, an artist or a documentarian. I mean I don’t know about Instagram or Vine thing so much, but Vimeo is specifically the home for filmmakers. So Vimeo is good. I also think Youtube is really interesting with people making their web series and television shows. Netflix too. I think that’s all well and good.
He’s as flawed as the next guy, but his inherent goodness separates him from the rest of us.
Tribeca: Broken hits theaters in the US on July 19, but is already available on VOD. Do you think actors have been reluctant to take roles in movies that are going straight to VOD with limited theatrical releases? Is having a big theatrical opening still as important as it used to be?
TR: Well if they have, they’re dumb. I think it’s a great thing. I was talking about this the other day, completely independent of promoting VOD or any of that stuff. Our chance of getting into a theatre, especially if you’re a tiny budget film, is near impossible. The idea that you slide into a theater nowadays, past Iron Man or Despicable Me or past these big budget movies, is a joke. It’s the hardest thing to do. You have to go the VOD route and with a limited theatrical release, if you’re lucky.
I love VOD. It’s kept me company in hotel rooms many a time. If you are on VOD and in theaters, it helps you on both levels. On the one hand, you get a wider audience than you possibly could have imagined, but people who want to go out and see a film in a dark room with a bunch of strangers will still have the option of seeing the film at the movies. So you get both.
I think for independent filmmakers, the VOD alternative can be disappointing because they say, “Ah, I just want it to get to the cinema and be on the festival circuit,” but it’s also a way of getting their message out. Sometimes it’s all they’ve got. I don’t think the VOD alternative really affects me as an actor. I shouldn’t come into the equation, to be honest. If that’s where the film is going to end up, that’s where it’s going to end up. If I have read the script and want to do it, then that’s why I want to do it. I want to be involved in that world and hopefully the project will work out.
Tribeca: While you have a nice balance of mainstream film and television credits, you frequently work in independent films like Broken and Arbitrage. Have you ever felt pressured to get on social media to help spread the word about your projects?
TR: I did all that when I was doing 'Lie to Me.' They suggested it and we thought, “Well, that’s a good idea.” It’s great and you can have a direct relationship with fans, but it can also get really creepy out there. I think that’s a personal kind of choice.
Tribeca: What’s your favorite bit of trivia, true or untrue, that you’ve heard or read about yourself? According to your IMDB, you were one of the first actor/models to get the trendy "thorny tribal" tattoo around your arm. True?
Tim Roth: No I don’t know any. I really don’t. [Laughs] I got that tattoo sort of as an engagement ring for my wife. We were in San Francisco at the time, and there was a tattoo place around the corner, so that was that really. I can’t think of any trivia for you. I never read about myself. [Laughs]
Tribeca: If there was any character in your filmography that you could revisit for a sequel, who would it be?
TR: I’ve actually thought about that. There was a time when we were thinking about doing a part two for my first ever film, which was called Made in Britain. It’s the first time I was ever in front of a camera and the writer came to me with an idea of where this character would have gone, and we talked very seriously about that. I would be interested in doing something like that.