Tim Roth Gets Truthful with Lie to Me

The actor talks about his role as Cal Lightman on the new season of this Fox series

While actor Tim Roth has certainly made a name for himself in the film work he's done throughout his successful career, the veteran actor switched over to the small screen with the Fox midseason hit Lie to Me, which comes back for its second season on Monday, September 28 at 9 PM ET on Fox. Roth recently held a conference call to discuss the second season, and here's what he had to say.

Let's see, is there anything you can tell us, that you're allowed to tell us, this season about what's coming up, people can look forward to?

Tim Roth: Well, it's a much more character-based scripts that are coming forward, and so you're going to find out a little bit more about the history of the characters and Lightman's connection to them and so on. And I think the aim really was to make each episode a quality effort ... and exciting drama ....on its own. You'll see there's going to be an investigation of my relationship with my ex-wife. And I don't know; I don't know what I'm allowed to tell you really.

Do people ever come up to you and say - and think - get mixed up that you're the character and say, "Hey, am I lying?"

Tim Roth: Yes, you think - people are quite excited by the science aspect of it, but I assure them I have no idea what they're thinking.

I wanted to just ask you about this season versus last season. Any show in its first season is going to probably have some growing pains, but this show, obviously, did well. What's it been like, specifically, to have Shawn Ryan onboard, and what are the differences that you've noticed with the changes that have come through? I know that there's going to be some changes behind the camera and things like that. So if you could just talk about this season versus last and what your take on that is.

Tim Roth: Well, yes. Last season was - I thought of it as an experiment, really. It's my first experience of doing this, and it was - I found it quite difficult at times. And we were working on stories just to find out - trying to find our feet, really, and I think by the end of the season we did. And when Shawn came on, he came on to do a couple of episodes last season, and I think it's episodes 11 and 12 he came on to do, and with that, he brought a couple of writers in, and that was when I think we really found our strife, found a way of making this work, so it was very good when he came onboard this year. The changes are many, but the one that I suppose I notice more is in the way the writing takes place and in the kind of scripts that the writers' room are generating. The new writers that came onboard come from all walks of life. They're very different and have very different ideas. And Shawn's the kind of lynchpin, really, brings them all together and oversees things, and it's been an incredibly creative force. And then we have Dan Sackheim and Vahan Moosekian and those guys have taken on the look and the feel of the show and the casting, so it's a very - it is a different animal, but I think its heart is still with last season, at least with the end of last season and moving on from there. But it's been an extraordinary experience. I've loved it this year, really have. Last year was a struggle. This year has been an absolute pleasure.

Is it more of a character drama, would you say, in terms of ...?

Tim Roth: It is, which means that you've got some acting to do, which is great. Hang on a second. I just want to come inside. Yes, it's much more for us to think about and to emote than last season. Last season, we were scrambling around a little bit, I think. Although, we did come up with some good stuff, and it seemed to have hooked an audience, which is a - always, I guess, a good thing, right?

Do you ever find yourself trying to analyze people?

Tim Roth: I suppose you can't - I try not to learn this stuff as much as possible, and I just deal with what I have to deal with on a daily basis in the script, but some of it does sink in. And I find mostly it's fun when I'm watching politicians on the tele. That's always good fun, to put it to use in that. And I know a lot of people do play around with it, but that's where I like to see if I can figure it out.

I was wondering, is there a particular story line that you would like to see your character delve into, in the future?

Tim Roth: There's one we just completed shooting on one, which was very good, a lot of fun about a guy who shows up from my past, 22 years ago, he rolls up in my office and a lot of trouble ensues. And that was very, very well written and cast. We had Lenny James come over and play that and play the character in that who then generates a very interesting accent.

Do you find that as you've kind of delved into Dr. Lightman a bit more and as cynical as he is, do you find yourself to be as cynical as the character, or are you more above that or have a different point of view?

Tim Roth: Well, I can be. No, I can be. Yes, so I'm sure that's a trait that I find easy to play in him. Yes, I can be quite a cynic.

What do you find is the most difficult or enjoyable aspect of playing a character? Is it the jargon or the attitude or the combative approach?

Tim Roth: I think initially it was the science and how - and also, there's a certain, just on a technical note, really, it's - you have to ... to the plots. There's a certain about of exposition that you have to deal with, and I found that that was very difficult in a limited amount of time to slide that into the audience and not to hit it on the head with a hammer, so that was an aspect that was tricky. It gets easier. The better the writing, the easier it gets. And this season, it's been really very good, I think, very high standards.

I'm wondering; you were saying how, obviously, the show is a lot more character-based and last season didn't really feature a huge serialized element other than Foster's husband and the payoff in the finale. Are we going to see any bigger serialized elements this year, something that might stretch the whole season?

Tim Roth: I think you're going to see - yes, I think you are. And, for example, my relationship with Jennifer Beals' character there and take it - it has a growth and builds. But I think with the characters overall you'll be seeing - there will be connections between episodes. And the policy is, I think, at the network is standalone. Everybody wants standalone, which is difficult. It would be nice to see some double ones, but maybe we'll get lucky.

You were saying if someone were to bump into you in the street, you don't know what they're thinking, or you weren't trying to analyze this too much, but what kind of research did you do when you went into this role?

Tim Roth: Well, I read some of Eckman's books and this. And I met with him, and I met with a couple of his people that work with him. And they came to the set and so on. And then there's some disks and stuff that they gave me and some online training guides and do a bit of that. But after awhile, I just thought I'd put it aside. I didn't really want to bring it into my house.

I wanted to know, there's a moment in there where Cal really pushes the envelope trying to get some information out of the Erika Christensen character. I don't want to give too much away for people who haven't seen it, but do you always agree with what Cal does as an actor, or do you just kind of go with it because that's your job as an actor?

Tim Roth: Yes.

How do you reconcile that?

Tim Roth: No, I don't necessarily agree with his methods, but I find that appealing. It's the sort of thing that you wouldn't do yourself, but you get a chance to do when you play the character. So, no, won't necessarily agree with him completely, but I think that's quite a luxurious position. And you're going to see a lot more that too, that kind of behavior. Yes. There's a fun episode there, very, very good. She was terrific after all, Erika.

When we go into the second season, is the grind of the TV series, are you kind of getting used to it now, or are you still kind of shocked at how much work goes into it?

Tim Roth: It is a ton of work. But when it works, there is - it's very long hours. It's a high page count. But when you're enjoying it, when you get to the end of a day, or we get to the following morning, if you feel like you've accomplished something, then I'm okay with it. And I do very much feel that the season - that everyone who's - from my assistant through to the set dressers to everyone, the V.P.'s and so on, everyone feels that they're involved in something that's very creative, and I think there's a satisfaction to be had in that. Of course, you want your sleep, but hopefully, we'll be around to do this for awhile. It's a real pleasure at the moment. I'm happy in my job.

With the addition of several new cast members this season, does it feel like more of an ensemble? Do you have more people to play off of?

Tim Roth: I have more people to play off, but I'm still working the same amount of days. I just said goodbye to Brendan. He's got 12 days off. And I thought - I'm wondering what that must be like. It just gives me more to play with. I'm sure there'll be more characters down the line. I know there's hints of girlfriends and that kind of behavior, and maybe they'll be recurring, maybe they won't be. I wouldn't be surprised if they're not. Would like them. But, no, it just gives me more people to bounce off, and I must say I do enjoy that. And Mekhi and Jennifer are terrific actors to work with.

You mentioned earlier that the first season was sort of an experiment for you. As you were shooting those early episodes, did you have a sense that you wanted things to take this different turn creatively that they've taken?

Tim Roth: Yes, very much so. I was desperate to get some character stuff to play and some drama to play and not just be doing procedural work. And as we neared the end of the season, and was - I think it was episode 11 that Shawn did with Liz and Sarah, the writing team that went with him, it was one about a rapist that was in prison, a copycat or something. It was an interesting episode. And suddenly, I found that was when I was - earlier, when I read the script for it, okay, you can actually mix the two. You can have the character-driven stuff, and you can have a good ... to tell, and that's when they came onboard. That's been the starting point this season. And it's been a lot of interesting stuff to do every day. We're happy at work.

Even though this seems like a great tool for law enforcement and the military, can you also see a downside to it, where it could be used for nefarious purposes?

Tim Roth: Oh, yes. There's a bad side of everything. Yes, you could. I suppose you could use it. I'm trying to think. Corporate, big corporations, jury tampering. You know what I mean? My character has been banned from every casino in Vegas. But, no, I think that there is that, but it is used. Eckman does use it for a very wide range of - his methods are used by a wide range of organizations.

I was wondering, what was it like to work with Erika (Christensen), and how did she tackle the multiple personality thing?

Tim Roth: Very well. She was terrific. She was - I had seen her in Traffic. I did Traffic, but I didn't know it was the same girl. I found her to be completely grounded, hysterically funny, very funny girl and way older than her years and with some serious acting jobs, and we laughed a lot, which is always a good thing, very, very important. So, yes, she stepped right up. She had a lot of work to do, and she tackled it very, very well. It's just very subtle.

You can catch Tim Roth as Cal Lightman when the second season of Lie to Me premieres on Monday, September 28 at 9 PM ET on Fox.