Interview: Tim Roth discusses his moving new film, Punch. | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Wednesday, February 28th, 2024  

Tim Roth Discusses His New Film “Punch”

A Moving Script

Mar 11, 2023 Web Exclusive
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Yes Jordan Oosterhof, Tim Roth’s co-star in the new film Punch, took up boxing to prepare for this, his first ever film role. But the veteran character actor of Reservoir Dogs and Rob Roy fame pulls off his own, subtler physical feats in this acclaimed micro-budgeted New Zealand boxing drama.

Roth plays Stan, the booze-addled father and trainer of Oosterhof’s pugilistic prodigy Jim. When Stan struggles with his addiction or doubles over during bouts of bad health, Roth never goes over the top, remaining thoroughly convincing. That’s even truer during Punch’s dialogue heavy scenes, which Roth plays mostly straight faced, making his flashes of agony all the more poignant. This follows his similarly tip-of-the-icebug performance in 2022’s Sundown, for which Under the Radar also interviewed the 61-year-old Londoner who burst on the scene in the early ‘80s as part of the Brit pack.

Roth understandably declined to discuss his son’s tragic recent death. But he detailed how his Punch role was informed by his father (a WW2 vet whose sepia photo sat on a shelf behind him during our Zoom call). He also mused about the paternal echoes between this new part and his breakthrough role in Reservoir Dogs.

Under the Radar: Punch is New Zealand writer-director Welby Ings’ film debut. How did his script compel you to sign on?

Tim Roth: It hit me on various levels. My father was an alcoholic, and he had incredible PTSD from the Second World War, from fighting in that war when he was a child, when he was 17 through for five years. His journey into adulthood was under incredible stress. He saw things that he could never talk to us about. He self-medicated. Which was something I saw in my character.

The script also dealt with homophobia incredibly well. That was something Welby knew of personally. Something I recognized from growing up as well. My gay friends, the ones who felt they could speak to me, suffered greatly. The ones who were more open suffered physically. It was a very difficult time. My father would tell me: “Remember who was in the death camps alongside the Jews. Homosexuals. The Romani community. And anyone that was ‘the other.’ Always remember that. And that there’s a chance it could come back.” And that’s still rampant.

So I felt the script was very moving. My character buries his feelings, and has a complex 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’s central to the film: the buried sexuality of this boy, and how that emerges. There’s also a crossover into New Zealand’s Māori community. You have so many layers going on. As simple as it is — and I like that it’s simple — it is very, very complicated. So this script one of the ones you do for love, as opposed to keep the roof on. Immediately it was that.

So I agreed to it. Then we made a film. With brand new actors, those leads—they’d never been in front of a camera before. It was incredible, being part of that. We also found ourselves with an amazing crew. Because they’d been doing Lord of the Rings type stuff for years, they were desperate to do something different. So when this film came along we got these incredible people to do it. It was quite something.

Speaking of the young cast, I was struck by the physicality of Jordan’s performance—

Just incredible! He took up boxing for the film.


Yeah. Because that’s what the character did. And he still does it now. He’s absolutely hooked. That’s the way he stays physically healthy. But even before that, he was already something.

Your performance also has an interesting, but subtler, physicality. What decisions did you make to achieve that?

He had to be a functioning alcoholic. We talked about this, me and Welby, at great length. The alcohol is so much a part of him that… that it’s not obvious. It’s not that he’s slurring all the time, or unable to stay vertical. It just is him. There’s so much that he’s repressing. There’s so much pain that he’s burying in alcohol, and he feels it’s helping him do that. I don’t think there’s 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 of him. There’s a moment in the film when his son speaks the truth to him and is surprised by his father’s reaction, which I think is one of the most beautiful parts of it. It’s why you want to do the film. And that still is a conversation between an alcoholic and his son, but you have to see the truth in that. We had to be true to that moment and have a long conversation about it—about the levels of his physical inability, his intellectual capacity, his ability to communicate. There were things the film needed that we had to live up to. 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 were in Sundown. Your performance in it, as in Punch, was very understated, with bubbling multitudes under the surface. How do these roles, or performing styles, speak to you?

It is very rare that you get the chance to deal, in such a delicate way, with such big subjects. That comes down to the director. And those tend to be the things I love doing the most. You don’t get them very often. I did another film, Chronic in 2015 with Sundown’s director, Michel Franco. And we’re working on a new movie now. So yes, those are the things I love. There’s the ones you do for love, and the ones you do to keep the roof on. They’re not necessarily the same [smiles]. It’s a wild journey though, for sure.

There’s a delicacy to them. I don’t think I have any dialogue in Sundown for the first 45 minutes! [Laughs]. I love that. I think it’s so brave. Especially now, where it’s all about that. If you’re crossing the road, you tell the audience, “I’m going to cross the road now.” These directors are comparatively 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, having finished a network procedural like Lie to Me and playing Abomination in some Marvel movies, and now enjoying more freedom?

Well, you do both. You hope that they’re one in the same, and they match. I really never know what’s coming, though. I do love that. I still have this anarchy in my career. I have no idea where I’m going to be. I actually just found out yesterday where I’m going to be in a month. It’s like that. I think that that’s a good thing. Of course I wish I could just do the ones I love all the time. But honestly there’s ones I do, and think “I gotta 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 do have a wonderful time, because it’s a personal journey.

Speaking of journeys: have you come full circle in a sense? You and Jordan have a moving elder-junior dynamic in Punch. And you came on a lot of our radars as the youngster alongside Harvey Keitel in Reservoir Dogs.

Yeah, we always thought, Harvey and I, that it was a father-son relationship. That’s a good point. Until you said it, it hadn’t really crossed my mind. I can see an echo in that. I was doing it, in an accent of some kind. I was scared. Although I was ten years in. It’s very different from Jordan, whose experience on this film is his first. But I was in a strange land. Though the script was magnificent. And we all felt we were part of something very, very big. It changed my life, that film. As did Made In Britain, my first film.

But yeah, I remember Harvey taking me into makeup, to get all the blood off, and him saying “I think this is something. I think this is 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 man. And I was such a fan. So it was a bit of a thing. It was Harvey Keitel, for chrissakes. What are you going to do?

We were a bit like father and son off camera as well. I loved him for that.

Punch is now playing in theaters and is available on demand digitally as well.


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