Tim Roth Discusses His New Movie ‘Punch’
A moving script
March 11, 2023
Yes, Jordan Osterhoff, Tim Roth’s co-star in the new film blow, took up boxing to prepare for this, his first film role. But the veteran actor of Reservoir dogs and Rob Roy fame achieves its own, more subtle physical feats in this celebrated micro-budget New Zealand boxing drama.
Roth stars as Stan, the alcoholic father and coach of Oosterhoff’s prodigy Jim. When Stan struggles with his addiction or doubles over during bouts of ill health, Roth never overdoes it, remaining utterly convincing. This is even more true during Punch dialogue-heavy scenes that Roth mostly plays with a face that makes his flashes of agony all the more poignant. This follows a similarly incredible performance in 2022 sunset, for which Under the radar also interviews the 61-year-old Londoner, who burst onto the scene in the early 1980s as part of the British group.
Roth is understood to have declined to discuss his son’s recent tragic death. But he detailed how his Hit the role was informed by his father (a WWII vet whose sepia photo sat on a shelf behind him during our Zoom call). He also reflected on the paternal echo between this new role and his breakthrough role in Reservoir dogs.
Under the Radar: Hit is the film debut of New Zealand screenwriter and director Welby Ings. How did his script compel you to sign up?
Tim Roth: This hit me on so many levels. My father was an alcoholic and had incredible post-traumatic stress disorder from World War II, from fighting in that war when he was a child, when he was 17 to five years old. His journey into adulthood was incredibly stressful. He saw things he could never talk to us about. He was self-medicating. Which was something I saw in my character.
The script also handled the homophobia incredibly well. This was something Welby knew personally. Something I also recognized growing up. My gay friends, the ones who felt they could talk to me, suffered a lot. The more open ones suffered physically. It was a very difficult time. My father used to tell me: “Remember who was in the death camps with the Jews. Homosexuals. The Roma community. And anyone who was “the other.” Always remember this. And that he has a chance to come back.” And this is still widespread.
So I felt the script very exciting. My character buries his feelings and has a complicated relationship with his son. But he sees a way for his son to get out of the world they’re in and do something. Then what is central to the film: the hidden sexuality of this boy and how it emerges. There is also a shift to the Maori community in New Zealand. You have so many layers. As simple as it is – and I like that it is simple – it is very, very complex. So this scenario is one of those you do for love instead of keeping a roof over your head. Immediately it was that.
So I went along with it. Then we made a movie. With brand new actors, these leads – they’ve never been on camera before. It was amazing to be a part of that. We also ended up with an amazing team. Because they did Lord of the Rings type of thing for years, they were desperate to do something different. So when this movie came out, we got these amazing people to do it. It was quite something.
Speaking of the young cast, I was blown away by the physicality of Jordan’s performance…
Just amazing! He is boxing for the film.
yes Because that’s what the hero did. And it still does now. He is completely addicted. This is how he stays physically fit. But even before that he was already something.
Your performance also has an interesting but more subtle physicality. What decisions did you make to achieve this?
He had to be a functioning alcoholic. We talked about it, Welby and I, at length. Alcohol is such a big part of it that… that it’s not obvious. It’s not like he mumbles all the time or can’t stay vertical. It’s simple is him. There are so many things he suppresses. There is so much pain that he buries in alcohol and he feels that it helps him do it. I don’t think there is much thought behind his alcoholism; instead, he thinks, “That takes care of that. Now what can I do to help my boy?
It affects everything in it. There’s a moment in the movie where his son tells him the truth and he’s surprised by his father’s reaction, which I think is one of the most beautiful parts of it. That’s why you want to make the movie. And this is still a conversation between an alcoholic and his son, but you have to see the truth in it. We had to be true to that moment and have a long conversation about it – about the levels of his physical disability, his intellectual capacity, his ability to communicate. There were things the film needed that we had to do. There was a balance we had to strike with his drug of choice. Or the drug that chose him, I should say.
Last year you participated Sunset. Your performance in it, as in blow, was very understated, with multitudes bubbling beneath the surface. How do these roles or performance styles speak to you?
It is very rare that you get a chance to deal in such a delicate way with such large subjects. It comes down to the principal. And those are usually the things I enjoy doing the most. You don’t get them very often. I made another movie, Chronic in 2015 Sundown’s directed by Michel Franco. And now we are working on a new film. So yeah, those are the things I love. There are the ones you do for love and the ones you do to keep a roof over your head. They don’t have to be the same [smiles]. It’s a wild ride for sure though.
There is a delicacy to them. I don’t think I’m having a dialogue Sunset for the first 45 minutes! [Laughs]. I love that. I think it’s so brave. Especially now when it comes to this. If you’re crossing the road, you’re telling the audience, “I’m going to cross the road now.” These filmmakers are relatively bold, which I’m addicted to when I’m lucky enough to work with them.
So how does it feel to be at this point in your career after completing a network procedure like lie to me and playing the Abomination in some Marvel movies and now enjoying more freedom?
Well, you do both. You hope they are the same and match. I never really know what’s coming, though. I love this. I still have that anarchy in my career. I have no idea where I’ll be. I actually just found out yesterday where I’ll be in a month. That is right. I think that’s a good thing. Of course I wish I could only do the ones I love all the time. But honestly there are ones that I do and I think “I have to pay the rent” and you have the best time working on them with the most wonderful people. Maybe the product isn’t necessarily what the audience is looking for. But you have a great time because it’s a personal journey.
Speaking of travel: have you come full circle in a sense? You and Jordan have a moving senior-junior dynamic Hit. And you popped up on a lot of our radars as a youngster alongside Harvey Keitel Reservoir dogs.
Yeah, Harvey and I always thought it was a father-son relationship. That’s a good point. It hadn’t crossed my mind until you said it. I see an echo in that. I did, with some accent. I was scared. Although I was ten years in. This is very different from Jordan, whose experience in this film is his first. But I was in a strange country. Although the script was magnificent. And we all felt like we were part of something very, very big. This movie changed my life. As he did Made in Great Britainmy first movie.
But yeah, I remember Harvey taking me in for makeup to get all the blood off, and he was like, “I think this is something. I think that’s something, Tim. He was very warm with me [raises and bends arm in a gesture mimicking a hug]. He always looked after me on set. He was a very loving person. I was such a fan too. So it was a small thing. It was Harvey Keitel, for God’s sake. What are you going to do?
We were a bit like father and son off camera as well. I loved him for that.