I recently got the chance to speak with Tim Roth, also known as the human lie detector, Dr. Cal Lightman on FOX’s Lie to Me. Roth was a pleasure to speak with although not the big chatter, he shared bits and pieces about the show and his life. Jump with me to learn more about this interesting Brit.
The Fight Club … promos that you’ve been doing are pretty awesome. How does that reflect what’s going on this season?
T. Roth – What happened was we did one where Lightman goes along to an illegal kind of on the ground fights, that kind of world, gets involved in that. While we were there, we shot a promo, which we thought would be funny and they stuck with it. I quite like it because, and it looks to me like Lightman should get bashed up a lot because I don’t think he’d survive without that.
What can you tell me about any of the upcoming episodes?
T. Roth- I think that the overall thing is that we’ll be looking at Foster and Lightman’s relationship. We look at how they met, which is a fun thing that we do. There’s my relationship with my ex-wife and also with my daughter. The daughter stuff will feature more and more heavily, I think, because she’s such a good character and the actress is so very good. But we’re writing to that. And the case is strange and a little bit more adrenalin floating around this season, I think.
The will they, won’t they romance between Cal and Julian, is that something we’re going to see gel a little bit more this season?
T. Roth- Yes, in the second season you do. There’s a boyfriend that rolls up for her and there’s the odd fling for me in the second season. But in the third, they’re actually sitting down to determine how the character is going to progress right now, so. I’ll find out before you guys do.
You met Dr. Ekman to play your role. What was he like?
T. Roth- He’s really the sweetest fellow. He’s a very cool guy. It’s very different from my character, but the science is his. One of the best things he said to me, I was quite nervous being around him because I felt that he was reading me all the time, which, in fact, he is. He can’t just stop doing it once you learn how to do it. But one of the best pieces of advice he gave me, I asked him if he was ever aware of his body language and did he get to be too self aware. He said actually not. He said, “I’m not on stage, they are. Everybody else is on stage.” I took that and ran with that notion with the character because he truly doesn’t care how he … as long as he gets a reaction that he’s looking for from the characters that are across from him. I found him to be a very charming man, a very cool guy.
I’m wondering a little bit about Jennifer Beals. I know that she’s going to come for a couple of episodes in your next 12 that you already have. And then she’s on Ryan’s new show. I was wondering did you leave the door open in the story for her to still be able come back and guest star?
T. Roth- Oh, yes, definitely. I don’t know how they quite handle things like that to be honest with you, because this is fairly new to me, the television thing. But I know that that door is always going to be left open and so there’ll be discussion about how she’s’ absent and maybe she can come back and do something like that. But I would imagine, I think she’s number two on the call sheet up there.
I was wondering since you’re on FOX and the show is based on this fascinating character, just like House is, do you have any input on the script like he does and maybe are you involved in the executive production of the show?
T. Roth- I’m not officially, but yes I do. I talk to the writers all the time. They run ideas by me and so on. We have now a completely revamped writer’s room, which is now going to be run by an English writer, Alexander Cary and a guy from Brooklyn, Dave Graziano. Those two have taken over. They were my two favorite writers from last season. They have a very interesting group, new group around them. And I’ll be meeting with them, actually, for the first time on Tuesday and we will be running ideas by each other and I will be part of that. I’m very heavily involved in the making of the show, which I think is a good thing. I think you should be if you’re central to it.
I was actually wondering, we all heard that it was a little difficult to get you involved at the beginning. I wondered now that you’re very far into it, is it what you expected and how do you keep a character fresh for so long when you are used to movies?
T. Roth- I think of it as am I used to it first off, not really. I like it because I like being busy and this keeps you incredibly busy. But it’s a very, very different kind of world from films. With regards to the character thing, I treat it like a play as if I were in the long run of a play. Every time I come to a new episode, I tweak him. I play around with him a little bit and change him. I think if you look, obviously, from the beginnings of the first season through to the first … second, you’ll see a different—even within the second season with this guy. Although its foundations are strong and will remain the same, you do have room to play and maneuver and kick and scream a bit with the character. So as they’ve developed that character as the writers have developed that characters, it’s given me more and more to play with.
I wanted to find out if you could tell us, what were some of the initial acting challenges you found for stepping into this role would you say?
T. Roth- I didn’t want to know this science. I didn’t want to have that ability. So one of the biggest challenges was trying not to learn this stuff because I don’t like taking my work home, but as you were around it, it does seep in a bit. The challenge really for me was always to try and get the material to be better. Once you have established the character, you can play around with it and you can change him and I did do that.
But once I was allowed the flexibility, the next question was trying to get this material to be better and better. By that I felt I meant really was I want to know the background of these guys. I want to know how they relate to each other. I want some kind of background history that I can sprinkle into the scripts and so on. So that was the challenge really. It’s a day to day challenge. It’s a tough job, but it’s a very, very enjoyable job or can be anyway.
Just as a follow-up, I wanted to find out, a general question for you, did you always want to work in this industry while you were growing up? Or did you have other professions in mind?
T. Roth- I wanted to be a painter. One thing from when I was a kid, I remember acting walking down the street just in case someone driving by would say that kid is exactly the walk I want and then whisk you off to Hollywood or something. There’s always that dream in your mind when you’re a kid or it was in mine. But I was painter and I went to art school and studied sculpture and stuff and got bitten by the bug.
I was wondering how far ahead do you know what’s happening with Lightman? So do you know the season … for your character when you start the season?
T. Roth- We have been talking about the third season already. I’m very close to the two guys that are running the show now, the two writers. We’ve been talking about what we would like and different ideas and so forth. I am meeting with them next week and they’re going to pitch stories to me and see what my feelings are. So I do stay fairly close to what’s going on. I do know what’s going on, but at the beginning of the season, I know pretty much where he’s ending up.
Are there any particularly enjoyable scenes that you can think of with some of your guest stars that are coming up?
T. Roth- I usually like it when they laugh. We have a tendency to assume the guest actors when they come on. You’re usually required to hit your marks and say your lines exactly the way they were on the page. We have an atmosphere in which you can play around and improvise. I think it’s quite unusual in television. So when they come on and once they find out that they can do that, then it makes for a very, very fun time. So usually, I’m trying to make them laugh during a take and see if I can do that. Those are my good times.
I was just wondering what’s it like working with a new show runner, Alexander Cary?
T. Roth- I think there’s two of them that are running this now. It’s Alexander Cary and David Graziano. Alex was a guy that was brought on by Shawn Ryan when he was watching the show last year, so an English writer, a very, very good. We had an instant connection, the two of us, not just us, although aided by the fact that we both come from the same part of London, the same part of the world. But then Alex brought on this writer from Brooklyn, this guy, Dave Graziano, who’s also superb. The two of them had worked together before and now they are running the show. I have a very, very good relationship with them indeed.
Relating to Cal pushing the limits of his business, what drives you to succeed?
T. Roth- I think I’m a workaholic. Being out of work is probably what drives me, really. Unemployment is a great leveller.
Do you think it ever occurs to Cal that he could be wrong on something?
T. Roth It does and we have one. We have an interesting episode where he is wrong. I think we should do that more, by the way. So that’s something we’re going to talk about. So the thing is if someone is lying, yes, you can be right about that. But why they’re lying, you can be completely wrong about that and he is wrong quite often about that.
Is there anyone in the world you wished that you could read or tell if they were lying?
T. Roth- The president. Actually, it was fun to be doing this show in the middle of the election because when those guys trot out, you can really … scientist to see that lie, to expose that lie. But some of them are better at it than others. Someone that could make the world unsafe, you want to know if he’s telling the truth or maybe you don’t. Maybe that would be too scary.
What were some of the changes that you made to the original character of Lightman? Are there any other changes that you would like to make or incorporate into his character in the future?
T. Roth I think what’s interesting about him is he operates in a gray area of what’s possibly legal and possibly is illegal in which we’ve developed a healthy distrust for authority. I have to say I like that about him. So I think we’re looking at developing the kind of rogue element of him even more in the third season. Certainly, it’s happened in the second season.
What do you think about airing in the summer. Summer TV has definitely changed now. It’s actually a good place to be, but what are your thoughts on it?
T. Roth- To be honest with you, I don’t know any of this stuff. That side of it I leave to the professionals, the people that are supposed to know. It seems to me with people watching TV on air, people with DVRs now the way that television is watched has changed a lot. Where we are is wherever we happen to be, so I don’t think it’s going to affect the viewer. If you’re on vacation, you just hit the record button and you can pick up your episodes when you get back, which is pretty much what people do now anyway. I know that people watch like three episodes back to back, so they just store them. Stuff like that goes on. So it’s quite a good idea I thought, but I don’t know. And then I know that we carry on filming in July and they can put us I think back in on the fall, which they may well do as they’re talking about. We just plow on because we’ll have another 13 episodes.
Time for my questions! 😀
Megan- Are there any other upcoming projects that you’d like to discuss?
T. Roth I did a film called Pete Smalls is Dead, which is a very strange film. I did it with Steve Buscemi and Dinklage and Seymour Cassel and all these guys. That will be on the … circuit for …. It’s very, very low budget, but a lot of fun. That’s coming up. I always have a backup plan. I have a couple of things I want to direct.
Megan- Do your kids ever worry about lying to you?
T. Roth- No, they think that I know more than I do, which is good when it comes to homework. But I truly don’t know this stuff, so I think they busted me by now. I don’t take my work home.
[My Thoughts: I think I’d still worry if my dad read people’s lies for a living… even if it was just acting. 😀 ]
Was Cal Lightman intended to be British from the get go or did they change that once you were cast and how do you think being British influences the show?
T. Roth- The reason he’s British is because when I was doing the deal with these guys at FOX, I said I’m not doing an accent because I figured that I will be working very, very long hours and seven days a week pretty much because you’re preparing the next script on the weekends any time you have off. So if I have to do an accent on top of that, that would have been a workload that would have been a 20 hour day. So I said no and there was a lot of back and forth about it, but not really from me because when I was talking to them about it, I can always just go back and do movies. So I had that going for me, I suppose and then they agreed and they were worried about it and … worried about it.
But after a while, they realized it’s quite refreshing. It’s different sound on American television than you normally get in a television show. They embraced it wholeheartedly. They’ve been very, very cool with it, actually. I’m glad it’s happened. I think it makes the character a little more interesting for me to play. We have one of the show runners that is from London as well, so he really understands that world.
We’ve had some interesting episodes where Cal goes up against like poker players, battling the wires. Is there anybody that you would really like to see him go against as a challenge, or if there’s anything that stands out as somebody he might square off against.
T. Roth- I think his daughter would be interesting. We do a bit of that in the remaining episodes. My aim is and I think we’re exploring that for the third season is somebody that is way better than him at what he does and how do you deal with it. How do you deal with that? If you keep not being able to read them and your face and your face gets rubbed in at time and time again, how would he deal with that, I think might be fun.
That’s all for now, but make sure to catch all new episodes of Lie To Me on FOX, Mondays at 8 pm.