An act of Roth – Glass talks to one of the UK’s most exciting young actors: Jack Roth


AFTER missing out on a place at university and missing the auditions for drama school, Jack Roth was told he should go and audition for Catford Broadway Theatre’s A Clockwork Orange, by a set designer friend. Not expecting a particularly large part, Roth went along to the auditions and got the lead. Since then, he’s appeared in the play, Quadrophenia; film, Strawberry Fields; and has memorably portrayed Dolge Orlick in BBC’s Great Expectations and Max in Sky Living’s second series of Bedlam.

He will soon be on our screens again this winter in the BBC’s Great Train Robbery and is fast emerging as one of Britain’s most exciting young character actors to watch. Here, he speaks to Glass about living and working as an actor, not going to drama school, and forging his own path, despite his famous acting father – Tim Roth.

Jack Roth. Photograph: Justin van VlietJack Roth. Photograph: Justin van Vliet

How did you get into acting?
Kind of just being around it. I was raised on sets and it was introduced to me very young. When you’re actor it’s a great way of escaping, getting away from your own life and delving into something else. You keep going through it and hopefully you’re good enough and people take notice of you.

Jack Roth. Photograph: Justin van VlietJack Roth. Photograph: Justin van Vliet

I guess at this point you usually get asked about your dad and how that’s affected things?
As much as he’s been a great person to talk to on the phone, he’s kind of set me adrift and doesn’t really help me, he talks to me when I need to but we’ve never worked together, he’s never got me a job. That’s been the best thing because it’s allowed me to have that struggling career as a young actor and it makes you – it makes you or it breaks you.

You said in an interview a while ago that it’s character acting that really interests you.
Yeah, I could delude myself and say I’d love to be the pretty boy, but I love all the roles that you really have to delve into, where it leads you down somewhere mentally and in your own self too. For me, they’re the roles you remember… someone who’s got that stage quality where it’s dangerous and it’s free, I think that’s a far more interesting position to be in as an actor. You know – Romeo’s great but Mercutio’s fantastic.

Jack Roth. Photograph: Justin van VlietJack Roth. Photograph: Justin van Vliet

Did you have a moment at the beginning when you thought “this is my break”?
At the time, Catford Broadway Theatre, I thought was the biggest thing in the world! After that, I did Quadrophenia for six months and since then it’s been mostly TV and film … There’s something about putting on a costume and walking on set and all you have to do is let yourself go and the lines are all so well known… it’s amazing. Great Expectations for me was when I got to stand among these giants. [Roth starred in the BBC adaptation along with Ray Winstone, Gillian Anderson, David Suchet, Douglas Booth, and Vanessa Kirby].

How can playing a role seep into your own real life, as an actor?
I don’t know, it sounds kind of self indulgent to say that my mother and some of my girlfriends have lived with some really horrible people but it’s true, you’re always thinking about it and you do take it home a bit. There’s that whole drama school thing, which I used to take the piss out of because I never went to drama school, but it’s about “how would your character play the piano?”, you never need to know but as soon as you start thinking about it, you think about how he responds in any situation.

Jack Roth. Photograph: Justin van VlietJack Roth. Photograph: Justin van Vliet

I’ve always wondered how actors are affected by more traumatic roles, whether after playing something like that you can feel quite affected or whether it’s fine and you keep a safe distance?
The best performances I’ve ever seen have been played by some of the most troubled people, I’m not saying you have to be troubled to be a great actor but I mean the more you’ve seen, the easier it is. Orlick in Great Expectations was horrible to live with. I didn’t wash for a long time and I had mud in my hair … And when I played Alex in A Clockwork Orange I felt rude and depressed.

You didn’t go to drama school, why not and how do you think it’s affected your work?
I missed all the auditions for drama school and got an A, a B and two Cs for my A levels and didn’t get accepted anywhere. I didn’t know what I was going to do with myself, I was just kind of sitting around, getting shit off my parents, so I thought ok – I’ll find a course doing writing or acting or anything to do with theatre so I could audition the next year for drama school, but as always tends to happen when I have a big plan – I got a job.

A friend of mine was set designing for A Clockwork Orange at the Catford Broadway Theatre and said I should audition. So I kind of went down there thinking I would get something like, you know, ‘spear carrier number three’ but I got the lead and after that agents called me…and by the time I would have gone to drama school I was already working and I just never looked back.

I might be getting into risky territory here and I might piss off a lot of people but … I think drama school works for different people. I think some people thrive on that coaching … but for me I’ve always thought that drama school takes very interesting rough diamonds, polishes them up and puts them out as ‘the same’. I kind of got lucky, and also I was very lucky from a very young age to watch my dad going on set.

Jack Roth. Photograph: Justin van VlietJack Roth. Photograph: Justin van Vliet

Do you think you feel particularly comfortable on set because you were on sets as a kid?
I’m always humble because I’m very thankful for where I am, because I’ve come from nothing. When my dad left and went to America and got married again, me and my mum sat on the dole and got ourselves out of a massive hole, so I’m kind of you know … very humble and very grateful for the jobs I’ve been allowed to work on and I’m never expecting anything. Jesus, the next thing I expect is not to work for a year, so every time a job comes, that keeps me working hard. Usually I’m the last person to say who he is, but I’m very thankful, I’m very grateful. It’s a double-edged sword.

Jack Roth. Photograph: Justin van VlietJack Roth. Photograph: Justin van Vliet

Can you tell us about some of the acting and films that have inspired you?
James Dean is one of my favourite actors, Christopher Walken, Harvey Keitel, Steve Buscemi, Ray Winstone – the old ones – any of those guys who were doing it in a true way. Al Pacino. Sergio Leone – Once Upon A Time In America is one of the best things I’ve seen… And more recently Breaking Bad for me is just one of the best TV shows I’ve seen for a long time. This Is England too, Nil By Mouth.  This is what we need, not all CGI – it’s just writing, acting and filming. We need more of these to be made …

And then the next movie is Star Wars 10 and there goes our budget for all the little movies of the year! It’s weird but my optimistic thoughts are that because of the current financial and political way things are we kind of have to get back to basics. We can’t really afford to do things the way we used to, we have to start being more creative. It could be a very nice silver lining.

The Great Train Robbery, photographed by Robert ViglaskyThe Great Train Robbery, photographed by Robert Viglasky

What would your advice be for aspiring young actors?
Shit, am I not a young actor anymore?

No you are! But aspiring, aspiring actors.
Ok … some of the best advice I’ve been given: Pick your battles when you’re working, some people like to complain a lot but if you do that people will start not taking any notice of you. Whereas if you’re quiet and you work hard and then something really pisses you off that you can’t let go, then pick that and people will probably listen.

The Great Train Robbery, photographed by Robert Viglasky The Great Train Robbery -L-R Ronnie Biggs (Jack Gordon), Roy James (Martin Compston), Gordon Goody (Paul Annderson), Charlie Wilson (Jack Roth). ©World Productions.. Photographer: Robert Viglasky

What are you going to be in next?
The Great Train Robbery is the big one, I think that’s going to be really good, it’s a true story and it’s done with a lot of panache.

The Great Train Robbery, photographed by Robert ViglaskyThe Great Train Robbery. L-R Charlie Wilson (Jack Roth), Bruce Reynolds (Luke Evans).
©World Productions. Photographer: Robert Viglasky

And finally, what are your hopes for the future?
I’ve been very lucky because I’ve never played a boring role and I’ve kept working, and that’s all I want. I feel very blessed to be doing what I’m doing … because I could do this stuff for free. But you just want to keep going, never dry up. When I’m not working I go absolutely mental. I want to keep going because you know, work’s easy, doing what you love is easy, it’s all the other stuff that’s hard.

by Tara Wheeler

Photographs by Justin van Vliet


BBC’s The Great Train Robbery will be coming to TV screens soon.