FOX’s new drama Lie To Me has been a success story for the network, being the season’s number one new series in the key demo of adults 18-34. The show stars Tim Roth, an always intriguing English actor, known for playing attention-grabbing characters in offbeat films like Reservoir Dogs. He brings his intelligence and charisma to the role of Dr. Cal Lightman, a lie detection expert who doesn’t always know when the truth hurts. With ex-wife Zoe Landau heating up his personal life, while partner Gillian Foster reminds him to stay out of hers, Cal has lots on his mind as the season draws to a close. I was delighted to take part in a media call with the very personable Roth, as he talked about playing a human lie detector and what we can look forward to in the final two exciting episodes.
The actor has been living in Los Angeles for almost 20 years and has done an American accent on several projects. Asked whether it was refreshing to be able to use his own accent on Lie To Me, he replied, "It was a decision I made in the beginning when I was doing the deal. I knew there would be a lot of work and I would be very busy line learning for episode after episode. I wanted to be able to breathe and be free with the character, to play around. When you are doing an accent, that’s another layer that gets in the way of your freedom with the lines and freedom with the character." He added that he feels his London accent is "a different kind of sound for an American TV show."
The premise of Lie To Me is based on the work of Dr. Paul Ekman, who consults for the show. Roth admitted he gets nervous when he’s around Ekman. With a laugh, he said, "As an actor, I feel like he’s busting me on my acting." With people he meets on the street, however, there is the opposite tendency. Roth explained, "People do make the assumption that I actually can read them. It’s a bit worrying, really. I cannot take my work home. Except my kids very much think I know when they haven’t done their homework, so that’s quite useful."
The science of lie detection involves noticing facial micro-expressions and involuntary body language and the writers embed an explanation of Lightman’s techniques in each episode. Asked whether it was a difficult balance to give enough explanation for new viewers and yet not too much for the continuing audience, the actor said, "I think the policy with the network is that each episode is self-contained. I think there’s a limit with that. You want people to tune in week after week. I think gradually we found our feet. The first season in a sense is an experiment."
With each episode teaching viewers about micro-expressions, the actors nailing those expressions is a priority. Nevertheless, Roth noted, "We don’t have much time to rehearse on a TV schedule. It’s very tough. I have a huge amount of respect for television actors now. The writers, when they are dealing with a particular micro-expression during a particular episode, will work with the actor to try and get them trained up. Luckily for me, I don’t generally have to perform the micro-expressions. That’s for the other actors to do."
Fortunately for Roth, he enjoys the frantic pace of TV. He said, "It’s more work than I’ve ever really had as an actor. It started off as a seven day week and ended up as a six day week. It’s a very brutal schedule, but I suppose, because of that, very satisfying … there’s something pleasurable in that struggle."
As the season comes to a close, Lightman’s relationships with his co-workers and his family have become increasingly complicated. Usually a tightly controlled character, Cal is less so with the important women in his life: daughter Emily (Hayley McFarland), ex-wife Zoe Landau (Jennifer Beals), and partner Gillian Foster (Kelli Williams). Asked whether the hints of an attraction between Cal and Gillian would be explored next season, Roth admitted he didn’t know. He did say, however, that aspect of their intriguing relationship would come up a bit in the finale, observing, "There’s a very interesting dynamic with those two. There’s a kind of nurturing element to Kelli’s character that is intriguing, but there’s a tougher edge to her that I think we can get to as well."
In “Better Half,” Jennifer Beals made a splashy entrance as Lightman’s ex-wife. Roth had acted with Beals previously in Four Rooms and he really enjoyed working with her again. He noted, "There was a very interesting banter back and forth between the two of us, based not just on what was written but really on our sense of humour. It was very refreshing. It was a fascinating time to join up with her again." Zoe will make another appearance in the season finale. Asked whether there is a chance Zoe will be a recurring character, he responded, “I would hope so. I think she’s fantastic. I think there’s room to really expand on that character and expand on their relationship."
“Blinded” introduced another multi-episode guest star, Mekhi Phifer. Phifer plays an FBI agent who comes to the Lightman Group for help catching a serial rapist. He stays on to help with a terrorist case in the season finale, "Sacrifice." Roth explained that having an FBI agent affiliated with the agency opens doors. "We don’t have to struggle to access tapes or access sources for a case."
With the prospects looking very good for a second season, Roth hopes the audience will continue to bond with the characters. Tune in next Wednesday for the exciting finale as the Lightman Group tries to identify who was responsible for a terrorist bombing, only to have the case take a very personal turn. Lie To Me airs on FOX at 8 pm ET.