Tim Roth has built a formidable big-screen resume in a gallery of dark-themed films such as "Pulp Fiction," "Reservoir Dogs" and "Funny Games." But with a new television project, Fox's "Lie to Me," Roth takes a step toward the lighter side of darkness by playing a human lie detector.
In the Fox series, Roth is Dr. Cal Lightman, the world's leading deception expert who by merely scrutinizing a person's facial expressions and body language can determine if that person is being truthful. It's a skill that naturally unnerves many of his interviewees -- and some of his colleagues. (The series is based on Paul Ekman, who serves as a consultant on the series.)
"This guy is an obsessed doctor, but I'm finding out that he's hopefully kind of fun," said Roth recently during a break on the series set in Los Angeles. "I'm certainly trying to wring every bit of enjoyment out of him."
At first glance, the program seems similar to CBS' hit new show "The Mentalist," in which the central character uses his powers of observation to solve crimes. But Samuel Baum, the creator of "Lie to Me," contends the new Fox series is more grounded in reality.
"What viewers will see is the real science used by the Secret Service and other governmental agencies," he said. "We can explore a range of cases, so it will be like a different movie each week. We'll also look at when lying is the best thing to do, when honesty is not the best policy."
Lightman, a character with a twinkle in his eye, is something of a departure for the British Roth, who is perhaps best known as the love-struck diner gunman in "Pulp Fiction" and the mysterious blood-soaked Mr. Orange in "Reservoir Dogs." He also starred in one of last year's most controversial films, "Funny Games," about an affluent family terrorized and tortured by preppy thugs.
"I tend to like to mix things up as much as possible," he said, speaking of his new TV show. "I've been around for about 25 years now, and this was really a shot to do something different. I like to keep myself guessing."
Going from a vibrant film career to starring in a series was an easy choice for Roth, who said he wanted to spend more time with his young children: "I've thought a lot in the past about doing this. This keeps me home in Los Angeles so I can be around for the end of their childhood."