Interview: Tim Roth of Lie to Me Talks About Season Two

In January 2009, FOX aired the first episode of a new series based on the work of Dr. Paul Ekman, an expert on body language and facial expressions, or facial “microexpressions,” and the art of using them to ferret out the truth. In the TV show, Lie To Me, actor Tim Roth plays Dr. Cal Lightman, loosely based on Dr. Ekman. Lightman knows all about using these microexpressions and has founded The Lightman Group, a private consulting company to help local and federal law enforcement in investigations.

[amazon-product]B001QOGY54[/amazon-product]Aiding Dr. Lightman are a number of colleagues, including Dr. Gillian Foster (Kelli Williams), Eli Loker (Brendan Hines), Ria Torres (Monica Raymund), and Ben Reynolds (Mekhi Phifer). All of these characters (including Lightman) have serious issues left to resolve from their pasts or that are currently being worked on.

Gillian’s husband Alec (played by Tim Guinee) was suspected of having an affair throughout most of the season. Instead it was discovered that he was a recovering addict and the woman he’d been seeing had been his sponsor. At the end of the season, Gillian and Alec separated.

Loker is more of an academic than a people-person, but has this unique quirk that he adheres to a principle of radical honesty – therefore he doesn’t lie. This presents some unusual problems throughout the season, including when he divulges sensitive information during an investigation in one episode. Loker has a “thing” for Torres that he hints at even in the pilot episode by telling her he wants to have sex with her.

Torres is the newest member of the team during the first season, and is initially found working airport security. Lightman sees her as a natural lie detector when he observes her and hires her on the spot. She sometimes finds herself in conflict between what she sees in microexpressions and what she feels emotionally, which causes issues.

And Reynolds is an FBI agent who assisted the Lightman Group in several investigations throughout the season. His street smarts and connections in law enforcement made him a valuable asset. And by the end of the season, Lightman had made him a job offer he couldn’t refuse.

The stories were a bit uneven at the beginning of the first season, but gained some consistency about halfway through. For me though it was the interactions between the characters and learning more about the theory of microexpressions that was absolutely fascinating.

Character-based dramas with a scientific element often have a lot of crunch to them, but rarely survive to see a second season. I think it’s a testament to the actors, writers, and crew that it lasted a season. My wife and I were both immediately hooked on the series in January, and we were quite pleased when we heard it had been renewed for another season. The second season premiere of Lie To Me airs on FOX on Monday, September 28, 2009.

Actor Tim Roth took some time out of his busy shooting schedule to speak with us about the upcoming season and had a few interesting things to say. He was very enhusiastic about Shawn Ryan, the show runner who helped with some of the late season one episodes and is running all of second season.

“Last season was – I thought of it as an experiment, really. It’s my first experience of doing this, and it was – I found it quite difficult at times. And we were working on stories just to find out – trying to find our feet, really, and I think by the end of the season we did. And when Shawn came on, he came on to do a couple of episodes last season, and I think it’s episodes 11 and 12 he came on to do, and with that, he brought a couple of writers in, and that was when I think we really found our strife, found a way of making this work, so it was very good when he came onboard this year.

The changes are many, but the one that I suppose I notice more is in the way the writing takes place and in the kind of scripts that the writers’ room are generating. The new writers that came onboard come from all walks of life. They’re very different and have very different ideas. And Shawn’s the kind of lynchpin, really, brings them all together and oversees things, and it’s been an incredibly creative force.

And then we have Dan Sackheim and Vahan Moosekian and those guys have taken on the look and the feel of the show and the casting, so it’s a very – it is a different animal, but I think its heart is still with last season, at least with the end of last season and moving on from there. But it’s been an extraordinary experience. I’ve loved it this year, really have. Last year was a struggle. This year has been an absolute pleasure.”

When I asked what the most difficult or enjoyable aspect was of playing Dr. Lightman, if it was the jargon, the attitude, or the combative approach he takes with his relationships, he said that it has changed slightly.

“I think initially it was the science and how… There’s a certain about of exposition that you have to deal with, and I found that that was very difficult in a limited amount of time to slide that into the audience and not to hit it on the head with a hammer, so that was an aspect that was tricky. It gets easier. The better the writing, the easier it gets. And this season, it’s been really very good, I think, very high standards.”

Another reporter asked if Roth was still shocked by the amount of work that goes into a television series or if he was settling into it.

“It is a ton of work. But when it works, there is – it’s very long hours. It’s a high page count. But when you’re enjoying it, when you get to the end of a day, or we get to the following morning, if you feel like you’ve accomplished something, then I’m okay with it. And I do very much feel that the season – that everyone who’s – from my assistant through to the set dressers to everyone, the V.P.’s and so on, everyone feels that they’re involved in something that’s very creative, and I think there’s a satisfaction to be had in that. Of course, you want your sleep, but hopefully, we’ll be around to do this for awhile. It’s a real pleasure at the moment. I’m happy in my job.”

This season they’ve added a number of new characters to the cast with Phifer joining as a regular and Hayley McFarland also joining as a regular as Lightman’s daughter Emily. (She was excellent in the role during the first season.) Someone asked Roth if it felt more like an ensemble this season, providing more people to play off on the set.

“I have more people to play off, but I’m still working the same amount of days. I just said goodbye to Brendan. He’s got 12 days off. And I thought – I’m wondering what that must be like.

It just gives me more to play with. I’m sure there’ll be more characters down the line. I know there’s hints of girlfriends and that kind of behavior, and maybe they’ll be recurring, maybe they won’t be. I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re not. Would like them.

But, no, it just gives me more people to bounce off, and I must say I do enjoy that. And Mekhi and Jennifer (Beals) are terrific actors to work with.”

Erika Christensen plays a schizophrenic in the season two opener, and when Roth was asked about how she was to work with and how she handled the multiple personality issues of the character, he seemed really pleased.

“She was terrific. She was – I had seen her in Traffic. I did Traffic, but I didn’t know it was the same girl. I found her to be completely grounded, hysterically funny, very funny girl and way older than her years and with some serious acting jobs, and we laughed a lot, which is always a good thing, very, very important.”

Roth’s enthusiasm for the new season was great and I look forward to seeing the what the season holds for Lightman and his group. Be sure to tune in on FOX for the Lie To Me season two opener on Monday, September 28, 2009!


p.s. Pick up Lie to Me season 1 on DVD and other great shows at Amazon below!

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