Lie detector: Psychologist tries to keep new Tim Roth series truthful
LOS ANGELES - Dr. Paul Ekman is a rather mild-mannered psychologist who just happens to be involved in a line of research that scares the living daylights out of some people.
He knows when you are lying.
Ekman, 74, has spent his life documenting every twitch, eye movement, body shift and lip quiver that offers clues about who is telling the truth. His work is the basis for the new Fox series "Lie To Me." The series debuts at 8 p.m. EST Wednesday.
How scary is Ekman? "Lie To Me" executive producer Samuel Baum explains that even the crew scampered when they saw Ekman coming.
"There was a guy on our crew. This huge 250-pound dolly grip. Very confident guy. And on the day Dr. Ekman came to set to consult, you just saw him go, 'I don't want to be anywhere near that guy.' He just cleared out," Baum says during an interview just days before the launch of the new show.
Ekman has faced that reaction before. The psychologist suggests the reason for the fear is that people assume he can read their minds. That's definitely not the case. All he can do is put together all the unconscious clues a person reveals, which is used to make the decisions about who is truthful and who is a big fat liar.
The series based on Ekman's work stars Tim Roth ("The Incredible Hulk"). The British actor plays Dr. Cal Lightman, the world's leading deception expert. Not only can he figure out if you are lying, but he also can figure out the reason for all the fibs.
Even Roth gets a little nervous around Ekman.
"It's like traveling with a critic from the New York Times. And wherever you go there's the guy going, 'No, I don't believe you. The performance was terrible,'" Roth says.
It would take years for a viewer to learn the medical skills used to solve mysteries on "House." The same goes for the bone knowledge that serves as the vehicle for "Bones." Ditto for Ekman's abilities. He offers training programs and material - for a cost of $175 and up - through his Web site, paulekman.com.
Be careful what you learn, he says, because knowing the truth may not be a good thing.
"The truth sometimes can be painful. Do you want to find out your spouse is cheating? Do you want to find out your kids are using hard drugs? Do you want to find out the person you hired is embezzling? It's your own choice," Ekman says. "The program will tell you about it. You may sometimes be confronted with painful truths.
"But I operate on the assumption, and it is an assumption, it is a matter of faith, that we're better off knowing the truth than being misled ourselves."
No one is safe. Ekman's book "Why Kids Lie: How Parents Can Encourage Truthfulness," documents his own experience with his children and their attempts to lie.
In addition to the search for truth in many TV shows on the air today, "Lie To Me" is another show that features actors from other countries. But unlike "House" or "Fringe," where the lead actors are from other countries but talk with American accents, Roth is not being asked to do so.
And Roth is happy.
"I've done dialects a lot. I know the work that goes into it and that you have to get pretty specific to convince some people that that's where you're from. Do you want that added work when you're working seven days a week? I don't know where you're going to fit it," Roth says. "My feeling was it's the kind of character that you've got to be really flexible with and play around with and you have to be really light on your feet when you're doing him.
"To have the added weight on you of trying to get the accent right would just be a waste of time. So it was a deal-breaker for me."
And as Ekman could confirm, Roth was not lying.