Created and written by Rowan Joffé, the 10-episode drama series Tin Star, now available to stream on Amazon Prime, tells the story of Jim Worth (Tim Roth), a former British detective turned small town police chief, who brings his family to the Canadian Rockies for a better life. At the same time, a new oil refinery has brought organized crime to the previously tranquil Little Big Bear, and Jim quickly proves to not quite be the man everyone thinks he is.
During this 1-on-1 phone interview with Collider, actor Tim Roth talked about why Tin Star was appealing to him, what he’s enjoyed about playing this character, the amount of improvisation they got to do during the season, why this series will divide people, and why he’s looking forward to returning to this character for Season 2. He also talked about his experience working with David Lynch on Twin Peaks: The Return, what drew him to the mini-series Rillington Place, what attracts him to a project, and his desire to direct again.
Collider: When Tin Star was presented to you, what was it that made you want to sign on?
TIM ROTH: I wasn’t looking for a television thing to do, particularly. I’m not adverse to it, at all, but I wasn’t look for something. When I was reading the original script, what happens in the first episode on the last page took me by surprise. I thought, “That’s bold! That’s a bold move, to do that to that family, at the very beginning. I wonder where it’s going.” And then, it starts to open up.
How much of the story were you actually made aware of, initially?
ROTH: It wasn’t what I thought it was going to be, when they sent it over. On the surface of it, you think, “A cop show? I don’t want to do that.” I just don’t. But then, he twisted it and it was interesting. I actually wondered where it was going, and if I’m wondering, at that early stage, what’s going to happen, then that’s pretty good. Hopefully, an audience will be intrigued, too. I thought it was an interesting character. I didn’t know how we were gonna pull it off, but I think we did a pretty good job.
It’s very challenging to figure out how to describe this show to people.
ROTH: It’s really, really tricky. It’s so “spoiler alert.” We’re calling it a revenge thriller, which it kind of is. It goes through many, many turns, over the 10 episodes. It’s a very difficult one to talk about. It’s about a cop that moves to Canada, but that doesn’t sound right. It’s a fun ride, definitely.
What did you most enjoy about playing this character, and what were the biggest challenges in playing him?
ROTH: On television, it’s long hours and stuff, which is what you get paid for, but you have to keep your wits about you, as much as possible. I suppose the best part of it, going across the whole 10 episodes, was that I was in very safe hands with the actors. I wasn’t worried about my relationship with them, off set and on. They were very reliable and sold. Genevieve [O’Reilly] and Abigail [Lawrie] were new to me, as was Oliver Coopersmith. We started, at the beginning of the process with Rowan [Joffé], who created it and directed the first one, improvising and playing around, as a family, because we had to get that across very quickly, in the first episode. You have to be in good hands to be able to do that, and they were really, really good. It was a long six-month shoot, and I felt good about that. We were improvising scenes and coming up with ideas, and it was a very collaborative process.
It seems unheard of that you’d get to do so much improvisation on a show like this.
ROTH: Rowan set the pace on that, and then he stepped back into the writing world. He was comfortable with it and liked it, so we just carried on with it. There’s only a problem doing it when it’s not based on anything and doesn’t come out of character. If it’s just actors bullshitting on screen, then it’s nonsense. But it seemed the right way to go and it carried on down the line, until we improvised an entire episode, which was very bold, I thought.
You’ve said that people will either love or hate this show. Why do you think this is a show that so clearly divides people?
ROTH: I can’t say without spoiler alert stuff. It takes turns that people will maybe not find easy. I can say that. As the characters develop, the audience will have allegiances to certain relationships and characters. It’s tricky.
How do you think viewers will feel about things, at the end of this season? Will they be anxious about a second season?
ROTH: I kind of know what we’re doing next year. Will they be anxious about it? I hope so. When the last frame is up, at the end of the first season, I think they’ll be pretty anxious about what’s going to happen, if they’re engaged with the characters. If they’re not, they won’t be because they’ll lose interest.
After everything you went through in the first season, are you looking forward to spending more time with this character in Season 2?
ROTH: I was a bit weary about it. I was like, “Okay, what’s he gonna do with this now?” And then, we were over in London and we had a sit down, and he told me what he was thinking and it’s wild. I was excited by it, to be honest. Now, he’s writing and I’m busy preparing something else, just for a little bit, and then we’ll get together soon to start working on the individual scripts. Knowing where he’s going, I think it’s really interesting. Playing the guy again is gonna be okay. He is fun to play.
How did you get into the mind-set of this character? What got you there, with him?
ROTH: (*Spoiler Alert*) It all came out of discussions. What became difficult was not being the guy ‘cause it’s just pretend, but keeping an eye on who was who and who knew what. When he’s in one condition, it’s whether he remembers when he comes to. As we progress through the show, the line blurs. I had to keep an eye on which character I was playing, at any given moment, because they become the same person. They are the same person. It’s just that it’s more defined, and then it becomes less defined.
As a fan of the original Twin Peaks series, how did the experience of working with David Lynch live up to what you imagined it might be like?
ROTH: Basically, it just wasn’t enough. I wanted to keep working with him. The way he set me and Jennifer [Jason Leigh] up, we just did it as a little block. We came in and shot everything with those two characters, and then we left. We had his undivided attention, and we got to relax and chill and chat with him on set. I was a fan from Eraserhead and Blue Velvet and Elephant Man. Those were films that I was looking at, when I was trying to be an actor. I was just flattered to be there, really. And then, you show up and it’s just the easiest set to be on because he’s Mr. Calm. I’m sure he has his moments, but he’s completely calm. He gives you very smart and intuitive notes. They’re slightly unusual, but they make complete sense, regarding what images he wants to put over. It was an easy shoot. When I got back from work, I was a bit bummed. I texted his producer and said, “I’m a bit pissed off that tomorrow is our last day. He needs to write us some more.” We got in and he’d written us some more. I hope it made it into it. I haven’t seen it yet, but that was fun. We had a great time.