2017 is a big year for Jack Roth. His film Us and Them premiered at South by Southwest and his new Amazon series Britannia premieres in August.
In Us and Them Roth plays Danny, a revolutionary who plans to rob 1%ers and stream it online. He takes one wealthy family hostage by kidnapping their daughter en route to introduce her fiance to her parents.
The legacy of Roth boys in crimes gone wrong goes back to his father Tim Roth in Reservoir Dogs. We spoke with Roth in Austin and also got the scoop on Britannia out of SXSW 2017.
WLE: When you get a film that’s slightly Tarantino-esque, among other influences, what’s your reaction to it?
Jack Roth: Doesn’t everyone who’s an artist beg, borrow and steal? Absolutely, I think everyone does. One of Bowie’s greatest quotes was, “Most good things I’ve ever done have been stolen from somewhere.” I think how could you not want a British Tarantino? I think it’s an exciting thing.
WLE: I mean specifically because your father played the lead in one of the definitive Tarantino movies.
Jack Roth: I know but I’m always going to get that comparison. There’s nothing I can do. Unfortunately, I look exactly like him and that kind of works against the whole thing. I don’t think about him or his performances when I work. I just do what I do and hopefully people like it.
WLE: Had you been thinking about the 1% situation prior to getting this role?
Jack Roth: I think everyone’s dying to have this debate right now. We didn’t predict what was coming. We filmed this before Brexit, before Trump but it feels like we’ve nailed this. We’ve hit it on the head. Right now, everyone seems desperate to have this debate, wants to talk about it. If you talk about it you’re a racist or reactionary or this or that. Everyone’s excited and it’s great because when the film is over, everyone stays and wants to talk about it.
WLE: Even before 2016, the financial crisis and Occupy Wall Street sparked this circa 2008.
Jack Roth: Absolutely. It’s an important issue and I feel like Americans discovering class for one of the first times that it’s ever had to. It’s discovering it and we battled with it for centuries, through literature. You know class systems in England. But with YouTube and all the videos telling you about the 1%, the inequality, Wells Fargo, the pharmaceutical companies, all of these things, I think it’s on the tip of everyone’s mind.
WLE: Do you think Danny sees himself as a sort of Robin Hood?
Jack Roth: I think it’s a very difficult concept for people to understand, which is who’s the good guy? When people ask me that, I say to them, “Who do you think is the good guy?” Because then I know who’s side you’re on. I think that’s an important thing. Right now, there’s a debate going on and if you’re having the debate, no one listens to the other side. They’re just screaming at each other their own views but no one’s actually listening or talking or finding any truth out. When you watch a film with two people having the argument, I think people actually listen to both sides of the argument for the first time. It creates a reaction with them. It’s interesting.
WLE: What is your process with character work?
Jack Roth: The sad thing is the bigger you get, the more time you have to work on your role before you get it because you get it like six months before and you can really develop a character. Sometimes I’m on set the next week. I’m a talker so what I like to do is sit with a director in a bar, have drinks and discover things. I feel like the most important things I’ve ever discovered about a character has come from two in the morning, we’ve been sitting drinking all night, someone says something and you go, “That’s fucking it. That’s it.” That develops your character better than any self-process. It’s all about discussion. I believe a director has to come to a piece with their idea. I come with my idea and then we work together to make it better than we both ever expected.
WLE: What was the 2:00 AM breakthrough on Us and Them?
Jack Roth: It was more what’s his energy? How angry is he? What’s he thinking? I couldn’t tell you because it was 2:00 AM but the performance hopefully says it. That’s happened on everything. I don’t like it when directors ignore you or just let you get on with things. I like to talk things through. I like an artist who inspires me, like Joe, like Martin Koolhaven who I’ve just worked with. He inspires you by his drive and his artistic vision. It’s a beautiful thing to be around. I rely on my directors because I never watch the monitors. I think the moment you start watching yourself you start directing yourself and that’s the worst thing you can do. I don’t want to look cool on screen. I want to be the character.
WLE: What are you doing next?
Jack Roth: I’ve got Britannia coming out which is this big Amazon show, HBO and Sky. The talent, the budget, the costumes, they’ve gone for it. It could be an exciting thing and my performance in that is very odd. It’s very strange and I played him very odd. We’ll see how people respond to it. Also we’ll see if people are tired of watching Game of Thrones. I don’t know. Most of my work is with Mackenzie Crook. The bromance begun.
WLE: What is your character on Britannia?
Jack Roth: So I play a witch doctor druid. I don’t think people will even know it’s me. They’ve put so many prosthetics and makeup. That’s why I’m hardly recognized as an actor because I never look the same. I think it’s a problem. People haven’t seen me do anything like this before and it’s exciting.
WLE: Is Britannia based on a book too?
Jack Roth: No, it’s just based on British history. So it’s the Romans, the Celts, the Druids. The Middle East comes over because you’ve got Persia happening at the time. It’s more a kind of fantastic view of history, past events. Not necessarily all true but fun to watch.