Tim Roth as ATF agent Hank Harris in 600 Miles
Tim Roth has seemingly done it all. He was nominated for an Oscar for Rob Roy. He starred in the TV series “Lie to Me.” He’s been in big budget films like Planet of the Apes and The Incredible Hulk. He is now starring and co-producing 600 Miles, a low-budget film by a first-time director that was filmed in Mexico.
In 600 Miles, Roth plays an ATF agent who ends up being kidnapped by the gun smuggler he’s trying to apprehend. On the 600-mile drive to the smuggler’s bosses, the kidnapper and hostage become friends. The film was filmed entirely on location in Mexico, and the shoot agreed with Roth.
“I like it a lot. I was just back there in Morelia for a film festival. We stopped in Mexico City first because I wanted one of my sons and my wife to see Mexico City first, and then we drove cross country to the film festival. I hope I get to work there again. I didn’t know much about Mexico except for the tourist enclaves,” he says. “Before I started acting, I had never been out of England because we couldn’t afford to. One of the great things about acting is being able to see all these different places in this protected traveling circus.”
Hollywood is all about who you know and being in the right place at the right time. This was the case for Roth with 600 Miles as well.
“I came to the project late. Production had already started and producer Michel Franco came to me and asked me if I would step in. I had met [writer-director] Gabriel [Ripstein] before when I gave an award to him in Cannes, and that’s how I originally met these guys,” he shares. “I stepped in because I loved the script. It was beautifully written yet simple, but it’s a strange story – not what you’d expect at all. I love that about this film. For the first 45 minutes, you think it’s going to be about something else, and then it turns. For me, that’s good storytelling.”
The news is inundated with stories about the drug smuggling problem. Roth, like many of us, wasn’t aware just how big a business it is to smuggle guns from the U.S. to Mexico.
“With smuggling guns, I didn’t know how easy it is to smuggle them across the border. When you have the guns here and the drug cartels there, it’s a real flammable situation. I had no idea about that world with the gun shows and the gun stores. Michel was saying that the guns found in El Chapo’s place were made in the States. That’s only part of the story though. It’s also about this kid, the misogyny in his family and his burgeoning sexuality.”
600 Miles is a film that entertains while providing some social commentary on society at the same time. Distributors, however, are becoming increasingly leery about so-called “message” movies.
“They’re harder to make now. It’s harder to get them into the theaters. It’s Marvel movie central now so it’s harder to get your foot in the door. You have to go through the festival circuit and maybe get on a few screens here and there. The hard part is distribution. A lot of first-time directors don’t know that. Even if you win a festival prize it’s still an uphill struggle.”
With the advent of Video on Demand and the numerous streaming services, it’s easier to see a small movie that doesn’t debut on 4,000 screens like a typical blockbuster. Roth has mixed emotions about that though.
“That does give you some hope [smaller films] will find a place in this world on Netflix or something. The thing is, there’s nothing better than going to the cinema and seeing it on a big screen with a group of strangers. That’s the whole notion of cinema, but that’s very hard to achieve now.”
Though some Oscar-nominated actors might be reluctant to work with a first-time director (like he did for 600 Miles), Roth isn’t. In fact, he’s had some good career luck working with a certain first-time director.
“I don’t have a problem with it. I worked with Quentin [Tarantino] when he was a first-time director [Reservoir Dogs]. I’ve worked with directors who’ve worked on many films, and they’re awful, so I never worry about that. I could tell from the script that someone good was coming along. Then when I met with him, I could tell.”
Roth has worked with Tarantino a few times now, and their partnership – which includes the classic Pulp Fiction – has been a fruitful one
“I can’t imagine turning a role down from Quentin. You just hope he has something in mind for you. Sometimes he does, sometimes he doesn’t. His leading man is Sam [L. Jackson], but we come and we go. I think he’s only going to do two more movies to get to 10 and then call it quits. He wants to do other things. Like with The Hateful Eight, some guys were new, and some of us had worked together before, so it was like a reunion every day. They’re right there on the page. If you can understand his rhythms in his writing, then you’re already ahead of the game. His directing is incredible with miniscule detail and then charged with a lot of fun chaos.”
Speaking of The Hateful Eight, the actors on the set are like a family. Even though Jennifer Jason Leigh was the only female in the cast, she wasn’t an outcast.
“She loved it. She absolutely loved it. The thing about Jen is she’s quite quiet. Her and Kurt [Russell] were chained together for the entire film and had this great relationship, and they still do. We all do. We’re constantly texting each other. We have a group text that goes all around the world. I know Kurt’s in Berlin. They’re showing The Hateful Eight there right now. Jen’s here [in L.A.], so I’m working with her for a bit. We’re all keeping an eye on each other.”
So why does he continue to be an actor?
“You have to have this belligerent naïveté to be an actor.”
600 Miles is now playing in select theaters and is available on VOD.