In Chronic, from writer/director Michel Franco, a dedicated home care nurse named David (Tim Roth) works with terminally ill patients. Haunted by the burden of his past, he isolates himself within the intensely personal relationships he forms with each person that he cares for, but outside of his work, his own depression and guilt have affected how he deals with everyone else.
During this exclusive phone interview with Collider, actor Tim Roth talked about how he got involved with Chronic, why he’s so drawn to the work of filmmaker Michel Franco, what he loved about this character, and the movie’s surprising ending. He also talked about the unusual experience he had working on Twin Peaks and his love for the work of David Lynch, his ongoing collaboration with Quentin Tarantino, the 10-part British series Tin Star, and what’s to come.
Collider: This is a very interesting and difficult subject to choose to explore in a film.
TIM ROTH: I know. Well, (writer/director) Michel Franco is that guy. The film I saw that got me fascinated with him was a film called Después de Lucía, or After Lucia in English, which is about bullying. I saw that when I was on the jury in Cannes and we gave him the prize. That’s how I met him. He does take on big subjects.
Was your previous connection with Michel Franco how Chronic came your way?
ROTH: Yeah. I was president of the jury at Cannes, I don’t know how many years ago it was, and one of the things that I said to the jury members was, “You’re not allowed to read about the film. You’re not allowed to look in the brochure. You’re not allowed to read any reviews or pre-reviews. You can know if the film is a first-time director and what the nationality of that director is, to prepare yourself for subtitles.” And then, we all discussed the films afterwards. So, I went into Después de Lucía with absolutely no idea what the film was about, and it was mortifying. It was beautifully shot, as his stuff always is, but absolutely terrifying and deeply sad. And we gave him a prize. Afterwards, I had him over for a drink at the hotel and I asked him what he was doing next. He told me about [Chronic], and I said, “Make it a male nurse and I’ll do it,” and he did. It came from his grandmother. He watched his grandmother die and watched the nurse that was taking care of her in action, and he thought, “What a wonderful thing it would be, to do something about a nurse.” And then, his father said, “Do it.” That’s how it all came about. And I’m working with him again, not acting, but just helping him out on the film he’s about to do, which is all women. But then, the one after that, he’s starting to write out, which is going to be about Fascism. He’s an extraordinary guy. He’s a very bold filmmaker and I love working with him.
Did you think about and wonder about who this guy was, before he started down this road, as a nurse?
ROTH: Yes, we completely and thoroughly mapped him, and then selected what we wanted to show the audience from that map. He was very carefully thought out and the work that we did was very meticulous, in preparing for it. There was a major event in his life that led him down this path. I think it’s a path he was already on, but then this family event led him away from his own family and into this world.
The end of the movie is very surprising.
ROTH: Critics have been very divided on that. When I’ve done Q&As after screenings, people have come down very strongly in favor of it or very strongly upset by it. I’m an absolute proponent of it. I think it’s a great ending, and it’s the only ending for that character.
Because the relationships between this guy and his patients is so intimate, did you and your fellow actors have any discussions about that?
ROTH: Yeah, absolutely, and the casting was very carefully done. For example, Rachel [Pickup], who plays Sarah in the beginning, lost a huge amount of weight for the audition. She came in virtually like that, which was extraordinary. She so wanted, desperately, to play that character. And then, when she was cast, she got on a plane and came to meet with me, and we spent some time together discussing our relationship and what it possibly could be. And then, I spoke to Michel about trying to keep from the audience what their relationship was, until she died. All of us got to spend time with each other, developing the kind of relationship that we needed, so that we could get it across to the audience. It was very meticulous. With Rachel, it was dangerous because, if you lose too much weight, your organs stop working. You have to be very, very careful. She had a nutritionist. I saw her recently and she’s absolutely fine. So, we spent a great deal of time with each other and enjoyed working with each other. It was one of those corny, cliched actor things, where you say that it was a great experience, but it actually was.
Did you enjoy getting to explore a character that’s so internal and really has very little dialogue?
ROTH: Yeah, I loved playing him. I thought he was such a good man, who was just an extraordinary person. And I love a silent movie. I’m pretty happy with that. A lot of the dialogue came out at our rehearsal. When I had the first draft of the script, shortly after Cannes, Michel and I went back and forth and stripped it bare. We made it lean. The script was just a blueprint for us, for when we were filming. And then, on the day, when we were working with the actors and getting the scene ready to shoot, we would strip it and rewrite it and work on what the dialogue should be. A lot of it sits in silence, which is part of that character’s dysfunction.
Twin Peaks is my all-time favorite TV series and always will be, so I was very excited to see you listed in the cast for the upcoming revival.
ROTH: I can’t believe that David [Lynch] just put out a list! It’s so David Lynch! He’s wonderful, and I love him. I don’t even know when it’s coming out. I have no idea!
At the summer TCA Press Tour, Showtime Networks CEO David Nevins and Programming President Gary Levine said that they didn’t even know exactly when it’s going to air or how many episodes it will be because they were given the entire season as one script, instead of separate episodes.
ROTH: When we were working on it, we just got the pages that we were involved in, and we came and shot them. And you got to spend your time with David, which was hilarious and fun.
How did you end up cast in that? Did you just get a phone call, or did you have to go meet with him?
ROTH: I can’t remember. Seriously! I think I just got a call, and as soon as you hear the words spoken, you just go, “Yep!” It’s just one of those things. And I was in, as you can see from the list, very good company.
Very interesting company.
ROTH: Oh, yeah! It’s wild!
What was your relationship with the original series? Were you a fan, or did you have to go back and watch any of it?
ROTH: I was a fan. It was more about having three or four friends, when I was a kid, and we all wanted to be actors. We were crazy about movies and wanted to be actors. And Eraserhead, Blue Velvet and Elephant Man were all things that we were very interested in. Eraserhead, particularly, was mystifying to us and we were like, “What is that?!” It was just so out there. David Lynch was adored by us. We even absolutely adored Dune. So, if you get a chance to work with him, you leap at it. Twin Peaks was something that came later. I was a fan of it, but that came later. Also, Mulholland Drive.
It was really the first appointment TV for me, where I was glued to each episode, and then got on the phone with my friends directly after, so that we could talk about what had just happened.
ROTH: Yeah. And the thing is that television has changed. The very nature of it is not even television anymore. Mostly, people watch their shows online and they watch them in a block. They don’t have to tolerate the commercials, and they also don’t have to wait another week. People binge watch. It’s interesting. I don’t know how that will affect how people feel about this new whatever it is with Twin Peaks. Now, people can watch the entire first series over a period that would probably take you a couple of nights.
I can’t imagine anyone other than David Lynch would get a network to let them go make a show that doesn’t even have a set number of episodes.
ROTH: No! And I believe they were very hands off, or as hands off as you can get, really. They still are, I believe.
What was it like to work with David Lynch? Do you have to just sit back and let him do his thing?
ROTH: No, you can be as involved or as not as you’d like. You can choose. You can choose to either have him dictate to you, which is sometimes what you would like with somebody like that, or you can be involved. He has that transcendental meditation thing. He’s just completely calm. But, he will absolutely insist on it being right. I found his direction and the notes that he gave to be fascinating choices. For me, I just let him guide me down the whole road. In my area, whatever my area was, I let him push me over the edge and get me to do whatever he wanted me to do. I can’t really tell you what that is, but it was wonderful. At one point, me and the person that I was working with asked for more, which he supplied. When we came to the end of our work with him, we asked for some more and he gave us more. I don’t know if any of it will end up in there. I hope it does. But it was an incredible, fun and gentle time. I loved it.
I’ve also tremendously enjoyed your work, over the years, with Quentin Tarantino. What have you most enjoyed about your working relationship with him, and is he someone you hope to continue to work with?
ROTH: I’d love to! I’d go anywhere and do anything with Quentin. As so as you see his initials come up on your phone, you go, “Please be that phone call!” But, his real leading man seems to be Sam [Jackson]. When they found each other, that connection that they have is extraordinary, and I loved watching that in action. I really didn’t get to see much of that in Pulp Fiction because myself and Amanda Plummer were the bookends of the film. I only got to do some with Sam and with John [Travolta]. But then, on The Hateful Eight, I got to watch them and how they work, through the rehearsal process and through the stuff that we did in the cabin, and it’s incredible. I love watching them. Sam is just so dreamy. But, Quentin is great. I love him! He’s a fantastic writer and, as a filmmaker, I don’t think there’s anyone out there like him.
Do you have any idea what you’re doing next?
ROTH: I’m doing a 10-part British television show, at the moment, that I’m half-way through and we’re shooting that up in Calgary. It’s called Tin Star, and I’m shooting that until December. And then, I think I’m going to go to Colombia to do a film there, next year. And I’ve got two scripts that I have to read, but I’m really bad about doing my homework. But, both of them are in Europe.
What attracted you to Tin Star?
ROTH: It’s very surreal and anarchic. It’s incredibly brutal with a big mixture in there. Hopefully, we can pull it off. It has a bit of a Jekyll and Hyde thing, with a character that is two characters, in a way. It’s a bit of a wild ride. And I love the idea of messing around with different mediums. I’ve done TV in Britain, but TV in Britain is very different. I did Lie to Me here. I don’t know why people loved that, but they did. People don’t know it’s canceled. It’s been canceled for years, but when I go to Europe, people go bonkers about that guy. I think I’ve only seen three episodes, but people are very taken with him, which is a constant surprise to me and my missus, as we travel. So, I like the idea of experimenting with different kinds of formats, and I think you’ve got to keep on your toes and keep changing. Doing TV is a different kind of language. It’s not like The Wire, where it’s the movie version of TV, but it’s a great experience. You have to really be on your toes and it keeps you sharp. So, it’s worth a go. If people like it, we’ll come back and do some more. If they don’t, we’ll bugger off. It’s fun. The only thing I won’t do is theater. I’m so scared of doing theater. I’ve got stage fright, although they keep asking me to come back.
What are you shooting in Colombia?
ROTH: I have to be careful because I don’t know how much they want to talk about it, but it’s about a con man and a con girl, and their world. It’s strange. It’s a very beautiful script, and it’s a really funny and lovely character. I can’t really go into too much detail about it, but it’s a good piece. So, I’m going to go off and do that.
Chronic is now playing in New York City, and opens in theaters in Los Angeles on September 30th.