Reel Life Interview: Tim Roth Talks Lie To Me, Cal Lightman Stare and Columbo

Lie to Me‘ (Mon., 9/8 PM on Fox) continues to gain ratings steam, as more and more viewers discover the lie-detector wizardry that is Tim Roth.

Tim Roth stars as Cal Lightman on Lie To MeIs the truth really written all over our faces, as the show’s tagline suggests? Yeah, it really is, especially if you’re Cal Lightman eagle-eyeing some poor soul for pursed lips or nervous twitches. Oh, to be on the receiving end of that piercing stare. No thank you!

I talked recently with Roth, who stars as Lightman, and learned that “the stare” actually originated from an interesting connection in his earlier years. Read on to find out more and learn what Roth had to say about my son’s impression of Lightman.

What goes on in Cal Lightman’s head? You’ve mentioned the word “difficult” in describing him. What’s his deal?
He’s not very good with authority. I think of him as the kid that sits in the back of the classroom and gets into mischief. I think we’re going to start concentrating a little bit more on that rogue element.

That’s what I love about him.

Yes, he dances around the edge of illegality and operates in the gray areas a bit. He’s very eccentric. We worked on a back story where he was sent to the University of England on a scholarship, so we might explore a bit of that, and Ireland and Bosnia. But it’s open to interpretation. We have a couple of very solid writers taking charge of the show now, and I think that will be good for us.


Can you tell us a bit more about the writers?
It’s Alexander Cary, someone that Shawn (Ryan, producer) brought on; he’s an English writer. And, another young guy, David Graziano, so those two are showrunning. Shawn was coming onto a show that was somebody else’s creation, so that was very unusual for him. He kind of reshaped the writer’s room and brought in a couple of very interesting characters, and we’ve taken that and run with it. I originally didn’t want an English guy in the process room at all. I wanted to stay away from that, because I thought that was a problem for the network, but they’ve embraced it completely.

My son and I are huge fans of ‘Lie To Me’; he’s 16, and he does this great impression of Cal Lightman — the way he walks and tilts his head to see if people are lying. Now he gives me the Lightman stare all the time, so … thanks for that. [Laughs] There you go! A 15-year-old, good luck!

I know, it’s an interesting age. Where did you come up with that piercing stare?
It seems to be reminiscent of the old kind of detectives on American television shows. It just came about in rehearsal one day, and people responded to it, so I stuck with it. I try not to let it get too out of hand, but it’s a lot of fun.

Yeah, we love it. And it does remind me of Colombo, now that you mention it.

Yes, and those are the shows I used to watch with my dad. We used to watch ‘Colombo’ and ‘Cannon.’ Remember him? He was a strange fellow. And ‘McCloud.’ I liked all that stuff.

I know ‘Lie To Me’ is based on the theories of
Dr. Paul Ekman. Have you met him?
Yes, he works with the writers on the scientific aspects, and he’s been on set a few times.

Tim Roth stars as Cal Lightman on Lie To MeI wanted to ask you about the episode where Cal’s daughter said he promised never to use his lie detection skills on her. I immediately thought that would be a great skill to have if you’re a parent.
Well, I think you’d have to have some sort of arrangement within the family and trust that if your partner or your kid was deceiving you, they’d feel free to come to you if it was something important or endangering. Otherwise, people deceive each other all day at various levels. If you’re constantly seeing that, there has to be a very firm arrangement, and you can’t make assumptions about what people’s feelings are. You can know someone’s deceiving you, but you don’t why. It may be for the most innocent reasons.

Do you find yourself trying to figure out if people are lying in real life now?
Well, I don’t study the stuff. I stay away from it, because I wouldn’t want to take my work home. But if you’re watching politicians, as it were, then it’s fairly obvious. We work on the assumption that they do it all the time.

Do you like doing a TV series, as opposed to film?

I like it, although the 14-hour days can be pretty tough after six months, but you try to keep them down to 12. And, it’s a central character, so he’s not going to get many days off. But, one thing film actors tend to complain about is that there can be a lot of waiting around before you actually do a small amount of work. With television, it’s just the opposite. There’s a very small amount of hanging around, and you’re busy all day. It feels good at the end of the day. You’ve managed to achieve something.

How much of the year is spent working on a TV series?

If you’re doing 22 episodes, it’s over a 10-month period, and the weekends are spent learning lines for the next episode. So it’s very exhausting but, you know, I can’t complain.

Images: Fox





  1. sarah henry Avatar

    Cal Lightman is super cool and I’m jealous you had the opportunity to interview Tim Roth, who sounds very “real” and grounded, which are not words you’d automatically choose to describe many actors.

    I think my son might like the show, too. I love the idea of your boy doing his Lightman impression. Funny.

  2. […] dishes at his Austin home when we talked during the first season of Friday Night Lights. And Tim Roth was between scenes while filming Lie To Me earlier this […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *