Tim Roth may be best known as the gut-shot Mr. Orange in “Reservoir Dogs,” but in “The Incredible Hulk,” the London-born actor takes a step up into the front ranks of screen villainy.
As Emil Blonsky, a commando relentlessly pursuing fugitive scientist Bruce Banner, he radiates menacing intensity and bulletproof bravado. Even so, the slight, 5-foot-7 character actor had an uphill battle convincing Marvel Studios executives that he was a suitable adversary for the 9-foot-tall Hulk.
“I’ve always wanted to do one of these movies because they’re such fun,” Roth said in a phone interview. “Such a good day out for an actor, really. I think I was the first person Louis (Leterrier, the director) approached, but I think the Marvel guys were, `Excuse me?’ Because it’s one of those characters you can put movie stars in the role.”
Eventually the director won the fight and Roth was cast alongside two other quirky actors’ actors, Edward Norton as Dr. Banner and William Hurt as his nemesis, Gen. Thunderbolt Ross. Choosing challenging performers rather than better-known screen idols was “kind of the way they went with `Iron Man’ as well,” Roth said. “I think it’s because they’re going for younger, edgy directors who are trying to put their stamp on these things. Maybe that’s why we (character actors) are getting a crack at `em.”
Leterrier constructed the “Hulk” movie like a freewheeling indie movie with a $150 million budget, Roth explained. “That’s how I treated it, too. It had that independent spirit about it, as far as I was concerned. I could play around with the dialog, I could have some fun and make a juicy character for the audience.”
Norton created some of the film’s most memorable moments on the set, Roth said. In one exchange, Blonsky confronts Hulk face to face. Jutting his chin at the monster that has just laid waste to a dozen armored vehicles, Blonsky taunts, “Is that all you’ve got?”
“I thought it was hilarious. Ed wrote that. It was a thing that we kept thinking, `What’s the best way of saying it? There’s got to be a line there, just before “crunch,” you know?’ And that was the one we came up with. In a way it’s just sort of an old Western moment but it’s also got that cheeky kind of thing going as well.”
Filming was akin to a marathon for Roth, whose character chases his quarry at top speed in scene after scene. It was strenuous enough to run sprints in a black ops suit while filming in summertime Toronto. When the location shifted to the sweltering slums of Rio de Janiero, “it was really something,” he said with classic British understatement.
Roth also performed motion-capture scenes for shots in which Blonsky is transformed into a giant juggernaut called the Abomination, who battles the Hulk in a climactic showdown. “It was partly on my insistence,” he said. “The creature that Blonsky finally becomes, you want to believe that he’s part of the same person. And so I wanted to work on how he moves, how he behaves.”
Physical challenges aside, Roth considered working on a comic book movie “a vacation, a holiday” after starring in Francis Ford Coppola’s ponderous metaphysical epic “Youth Without Youth” and “Funny Games,” a creepy art film where he and Naomi Watts were tortured by a pair of sociopaths.
Roth says he made “Hulk” in part for his 12- and 13-year-old sons, so they could see him doing some cool comic-book action scenes. When he took them to the Los Angeles premiere recently, “it got the thumbs-up from them. They really loved it. I’m the cool dad now. Brownie points.”