Given how many iconic film roles Tim Roth has had over the years (Mr. Orange in “Reservoir Dogs,” Charles Ferry in “Everyone Says I Love You,” and Emil Blonsky in “The Incredible Hulk,” to name but three), it’s somehow weird to see him taking on the lead role in an American television series. But, hey, it’s Fox, and you can’t blame the guy for wanting to get in on a little bit of that Hugh Laurie action.

Plus, while the role of deception expert Cal Lightman in “Lie to Me” is a bit too close in feel to the character of Patrick Jane in “The Mentalist” for critics to avoid making the comparison, it’s nonetheless one that has the potential to serve Roth well…just as long as he can get past the nagging sensation that the show’s inspiration, Dr. Paul Ekman, sees right through him.

“I get really freaked out sometimes when I’m around Paul,” said Roth. “It’s like traveling with a critic from the New York Times, and wherever you go, there’s the guy going, ‘No, I don’t believe you. The performance was terrible.’ ‘I only said I’m going to go to the toilet.’ ‘Well, I don’t believe you. You betrayed the fact that you are completely piss-free at the moment.’ It’s an extraordinary feeling of of nakedness.”

Producer Samuel Baum noted how much of the show’s focus on seeing through lies revolves around four modalities – the face, the body, the voice, and speech – but Dr. Ekman threw two more into the mix: gaze direction and posture. “All of those get considered,” said Ekman, “and there are so many different variations and a number of different emotions and a number of different signs that you’re thinking of a lot more before you give your answer than might be expected, that they’re not going to have to be very repetitive…and when they do repeat, it will be in such a different context. And when we teach people in law enforcement, in order for people to learn, they have to see these things again and again and again, so over time, they’ll start picking up quite a bit.”

Baum observed that the making of “Lie to Me” has completely changed the way he watches the Oscars. “One of the things Dr. Ekman has proven is that when we fake an emotion, the expression looks anatomically different from when we’re genuinely feeling it,” said Baum, “so a fake smile looks anatomically different from a real smile. So when they announce the Oscar for best actor, you see the split screen, and there are four terrible fake smiles and one genuine smile. You’ll see some of the worst acting from some of the greatest actors when they lose.”

As you’d expect, no-one on the panel for “Lie to Me” was terribly concerned about the accusations of similarities between their show and “The Mentalist”…particularly not Roth, who hasn’t even seen the show. “I think the proof’s in the pudding,” he said. “Let’s just see what they like. I’ve heard about it because these guys talk about it, but, you know, we are what we are. We’re our own thing, and ours is based on something the polls kind of studied for a long time. I don’t think we need to get too worried about it, really.”

“The difference between the two shows is that our show is based on actual science,” said co-star Brendan Hines. “With ‘The Mentalist,’ they deal with a murder every week, but we’re going so many different places, whether it’s a domestic drama or all the way up to the rungs of political power.”

“And it’s based on the most cutting-edge research that’s being used by Homeland Security,” added Baum. “Dr. Ekman’work as been used to train scores of TSA agents, what are called BDOs, behavioral detection officers, to scan for micro-expressions. What you see in the show is based on real science and techniques that are simple, visible to the naked eye that people can bring into their real life. You know, when they are asking their boss for a raise, and their boss lies and says, ‘You know, there’s just no more money in the budget,’ and then you see this little one-sided shrug, which says, ‘I have no confidence in what I just said. Help me, mom.'”

By the way, I made that Hugh Laurie reference at the beginning of the piece, but there’s one big difference between Gregory House and Cal Lightman: Roth is planning to stick with his own accent.

“Tim said, ‘I want to be British,'” said executive producer Steven Maeda. ‘And we said, ‘Okay.’”

“I don’t know how Hugh does it,” Roth said. “My feeling (with Lightman) was that it’s the kind of character that you’ve got to be really flexible with and play around with, and you have to be really light on your feet when you’re doing him. And to have that added weight on you of trying to get the accent right would just be a waste of time, so it was a deal-breaker for me.”

“I think audiences are more comfortable with the British accent than we give them credit for,” commented executive producer David Nevins. “Simon Cowell and Gordon Ramsay, they speak with British accents. He’s not a cop, he doesn’t have to be American, and we can work it into his back story, so I think it makes perfect sense. And Americans think that a British accent makes you smart.”

“That’s completely untrue,” Roth argued.

“In a similar vein,” interrupted Hines, “I am not using my Baltimore accent in the show. I’m sublimating it for the show.”

“It’s not helping you,” Roth replied.

At this, Hines hung his head and admitted, “I know.”

“Lie to Me” premieres tonight – Jan. 21 – on Fox.