Discovery: Jack Roth


In writer-director Joe Martin’s feature debut Us and Them, Jack Roth stars as Danny, a disaffected member of the British working class. After overhearing a well-to-do couple on their first date at his local pub, Danny decides it is time for action. He rallies his friends around him, and together they attempt to take a stand against the injustice of the class system. 

“I think Us and Them is exactly what the film industry needs right now—important films that don’t have to have the highest budgets in the world, but can say something to society or people that feel left out,” Roth explains. “It’s great to have the superhero thing,” he continues, “but that doesn’t reflect on what we feel or live through … I’m not saying that this is going to change the world, but shit, it might make a few people think about things, and that’s important.”

Though Roth comes from an artistic family—his father is also an actor—he describes his introduction to professional acting as “kind of a fluke.” After leaving school, Roth was unsure of what he wanted to do with his life, and it was a set-designer friend who suggested that he audition for a production of A Clockwork Orange at the Broadway Theatre in Catford, South London. Roth landed the lead role of Alex, and subsequently signed with an agent. “My first director basically saved me from obscurity,” the London-based actor says. “Me and him fell in love with each other and just had so much fun doing Clockwork. It was fantastic. It was one of those situations where you get to play onstage and really enjoy learning yourself, which is important.”

In addition to Us and Them, which premiered at SXSW earlier this month, Roth also appears in Martin Koolhovens’s TIFF drama Brimstone with Kit Harington, Dakota Fanning, and Guy Pearce, and the recently-released Star Wars: Rogue One. He’s currently working on a miniseries called Britannia, in which he plays a druid alongside Mackenzie Crook. In his spare time, he writes, performs stand-up, and paints.  

“Acting is very much on the film industry’s terms,” Roth tells us. “I can’t act any time I want, I have to wait till a film comes up, or I get the audition. That’s not why I’m an artist. I’m an artist because there’s shit inside me that I have to get out … I’m trying to do anything that keeps me in that world and exorcises those demons.”

GROWING UP: I was raised on set when I was young, watching my dad [Tim Roth] and everything he did with it. It was very hard for me to ever go into something that wasn’t part of the arts—an office job. The great thing about that is once you get on set yourself, you’re very relaxed and you’re not thinking about everything that’s going on, you’re just trying to focus on a performance. You know a lot, and then they throw things at you and you’re like, “Oh, my god!”

EARLY LESSONS: My early career wasn’t as strong as it could have been. I kept getting cut. I was an extra on a [Robert Altman] film called Vincent & Theo [1990]. They put me in costume and I was supposed to play in a puddle of mud. I didn’t want to ruin my costume and I cried, and then they didn’t put me in the movie. [laughs] [Later] there were a couple of letters to Robert Altman apologizing for not being a ready actor. Then I was in Reservoir Dogs [1992] in the background of one scene and it got cut from the film.

SCHOOL PLAYS: Did I do a lot of school plays? Oh my god, every single one, trying to get the lead. You’d get the leads occasionally, but what really is a good lesson is not being the lead and watching other people—having to give the performance over to someone else. I think that’s an important skill to learn.

FAVORITE FILMS: It’s very hard for me to lose the sense of watching a film. I’m always looking at the lighting or the costume or thinking about how they set shots up. It’s the old ones—the Scorsese films, Once Upon a Time in America [1984], Scum [1979], Nil by Mouth [1997]. True Romance [1994] and Gary [Oldman]’s performance in that. It’s usually the actor that makes me forget what I’m watching. If it’s a spellbinding performance or a film that just blows me away at every moment like Old Boy, the Korean version, which is one of my favorite films just because in every way—the way it’s put together, designed, shot—it’s just phenomenal.

US AND THEM: It’s one of the first things where I don’t look like a serial killer or some sort of oddball; it’s something that’s recognizable, which is great. You get to play in your own body rather than something that’s very characterized. Joe [Martin] has done a fantastic job in the way he wrote it. It’s like an onion and by the end you realize really what’s going on. He’s very much of the Quentin Tarantino-ilk in that way. Also in the way he’s directed it, it’s very dynamic, and he obviously loves the style. What it feels like to me, almost, is one of those character studies, like Taxi Driver in a modern world, which is exactly what I want to be as an actor.

THE BIGGER PICTURE: I think Us and Them is incredibly relevant. Politics has blown up all over the world, and for obvious reasons. It’s become very extreme and right now, we’re in sort of a right world. The issues in the film, as much as they are important to England and what we’ve always gone through, I think for America it’s hugely relevant because of the discovery of the 1% and how corrupt the system is. Class systems have been in literature and film for hundreds of years in England. It’s always been something that we’ve had to fight with and deal with, and it’s been so apparent in our society. I’m not saying the class system hasn’t existed in America, I think it’s just being discovered in the sense that you didn’t have the statistics and the figures that were shown to you as much. I think society and the people are becoming just as frustrated, the world over.

I worry about America because it’s my second home. I’m a dual citizen. I worry about its people because it’s one of the most amazing places, but then it’s a country based on extremes. You have the kindest people in the world, and then you also have the Westboro Baptist Church. You have it all. America and England very much forget the people that they deem don’t matter, and move on.

PERFECTING THE CRAFT: You just refine. You get to know yourself, and know how much you can push it without over-acting. I think the hardest thing to do is to show off without showing off, and that’s the aim. To be able to do all the exciting things that make people want to watch you, but without delivering them unnaturally.