Tim Roth knows his way around beautiful piece of dialogue. But in “Chronic,” he’s largely silent. In fact, he spends most of the film doing menial labor. In the latest from austere Mexican director Michel Franco (“After Lucia”), the esteemed actor, 55, plays David, a quiet caretaker often viewed in long takes tending to his sickly patients, one of whom (played by “American Horror Story”’s Robin Bartlett) wishes to die. Slowly, though, it becomes apparent that David has far more going on that he doesn’t like to talk about. Roth talks to us about loving to act in long takes, dying with dignity and one of his older best films.
When I watch movies like this, where there are very long takes, often showing very mundane activity, I wonder what that’s like for the actors.
We find it very invigorating, to be honest. It has a theatrical feeling. It feels like it’s for the actors, where usually film is a director’s medium. We establish the performance in rehearsal, then [the director] decides where he wants the frame to be. And we continue the performance sometimes on-screen, sometimes off-screen. It’s very liberating.
You’re also conveying the character through action, and not always through dialogue. That’s a cliche: that an actor’s performance is judged through how he or she delivers dialogue. On one hand, that means less lines to learn.
Oh, I don’t mind homework. I’m looking at homework right now. The homework was fine. A lot of work, though, was done before filming. I worked with two nurses, met their patients and was trained in certain things you see in the film. We had two nurses on set with us as well. That was all difficult. The filming of it, though, was wonderful, because we could put all of that work onto the screen. It was for me — weirdly [laughs] — one of the most enjoyable films I’ve been involved in.
It’s interesting to watch the movie slowly take shape. At first it seems like a character study of a lonely man. Then we slowly learn little bits about him, and it becomes much more complicated, even disturbing to watch him. And we gradually realize this is a film about death.
Comparison is not a good game to play, but I think [Franco] has something of Ken Loach about him. The way he shoots stuff is not the same. But his subjects are big. Death is one of the last taboos. It’s something we don’t handle well. We try to avoid discussing it. And it hits absolutely everyone. He’s taking on this huge issue, but in a quiet way.