In the Fox drama, the Lightman Group specializes in interpreting microexpressions and body language, and leader Cal Lightman (Roth) is an expert at manipulating his own body's language to fluster and confuse people into inadvertently revealing their true motives. Executive producers Alexander Cary and David Graziano explain that Roth deliberately created Lightman's odd food mannerisms as part of his character's work strategy.
"It really is a Tim character choice," Cary tells TVGuide.com. "You look at the type of the scene and then you look at the type of food that's going to most subvert the gravity of that scene. For example, in Episode 301 when Cal's in the bar as a prisoner of two bank robbers and he bites into a pickle. Yeah, that's Tim's choices. That's what he chooses to kind of provoke them. Lightman is a character who likes to put people off their game. Eating and talking through a mouthful of potato chips or three hot dogs is what he does to repulse people to a certain extent." Graziano adds. "He's a provocateur."
So far, Lie to Me viewers have responded to Lightman — repulsive quirks and all — positively. The series won a People's Choice Award for Favorite TV Crime Drama, while Roth was named Favorite TV Crime Fighter. "Sometimes the fans ask for us to have him stop talking with his mouth full and some people like it," Cary says. "You know it's just one of those things we have to be a little judicious with otherwise it become a little bit cartoonish."
In fact, Roth has been pulling back on his performance, creating a sort of Lightman Lite. "You may have noticed in the second half of this season Tim, as he would say, de-quirked his performance of Lightman a little bit," Cary says. "There wasn't quite as many sort of facial tics and sort of body language tics. He played it a little straighter. He played it a little quieter which is a conscious choice of his."
Fans also may have noticed that Lightman's colleague, Dr. Gillian Foster (Kelli Williams), has her own signature eating habit, a weakness for sugary junk foods, that hasn't gotten much play recently, but is still part of the character.
"I think we did a scene to refer to that if I'm not mistaken ... but we took it out," Cary says. "We had to take it for time actually. It's something that we're aware of. Kelli Williams actually quite likes that character trait. We may use it. We may not. It doesn't really go anywhere at the moment."
Lightman's eating habits, however, are an ongoing part of the show, and Roth comes in to work ready to plan the next gastronomic gambit. "The show's about behavior and we have an actor who loves to see the character misbehave," Cary says. "That's what it is. We all like to misbehave. That's what the show is about."
And make no mistake: Roth makes food selections based on their potential to draw laughs. "He likes pickles because they make a funny noise when you bite them," Cary says. Graziano adds: "Some foods are funnier than others. Pickles are hilarious."
(Additional reporting by Adam Bryant)