Tim Roth, it should come as no surprise, makes a concerted effort not to bring his work home with him. Of course, for a guy who spent three quarters of a movie writhing in blood, whipped out a revolver and held up a diner on a whim, ruled over a planet of monkeys with an iron fist, and bitch-slapped the Hulk up and down the streets of Harlem, it’s less a personal preference and more a survival mechanism. These days, Roth has been introducing himself to American TV audiences as human lie detector Dr. Cal Lightman on the Fox series Lie to Me, the latest stop on a long and bizarre career that has left as much of a mark on his body as it has left on pop culture. Now a family man in his 40s, Roth thinks his days of marking significant events on his flesh may be reaching an end—unless, of course, the next big thing comes along.
INKED: How many tattoos do you have now?
TIM ROTH: Hang on a minute, I dunno. [Counting them:] One, two, three, four, five, six, seven … eight? [Laughs.]
Are you sure?
[Laughs.] I think so. Hang on. Let me look. … They’re all little, so … they’re only little things. Basically what I did was I kept them like a diary, really, as I was going on, of major events. But I never went down the road of someone like Colin Farrell, which is a humongous commitment, you know? I think because of what I do for a living it would have been a nightmare with cover-ups and all that. Although it’s better now—the new makeup and all.
Are any of them tougher to cover than others?
My stuff is really mundane. I wanted a few with my kids’ names in it, stuff like that. Very sort of simplistic. But I remember when I was in San Francisco with my wife—not my wife then, we were engaged at that time—and there was a guy who did the armband I’ve got, which is pretty corny, I suppose, nowadays.
The tribal tattoo?
Yeah. It’s very sort of pedestrian now, but the stuff that he was experimenting with and the drawings he was doing at that time—I’m trying to remember his name. … His girlfriend, who was pregnant at the time, was sort of his canvas and he was doing these big, huge pieces. But the kind of work he was doing, with no outline, just sort of different kinds of drawings, seemed to be the way things were changing. I think the kind of work tattoo artists are coming out with now, it’s so much better than it was. A lot more interesting and varied, and the colors are better.