He’s Jude the Far From Obscure.
Two-time Oscar nominee Jude Law already can be seen in and Next comes “Alfie.” And soon he’ll be in “Closer” and “The Aviator” while supplying the title voice in “Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events.”
Hey, Jude, what’s with all these films?
“It’s not ideal for me that they come out all one after the other in four or five months,” says Law, his brow furrowing a tad over those riveting blue eyes. “I did them all because I found them very different — different kinds of films, different kinds of parts. And I hope people recognize the variety rather than the onslaught.”
The 31-year old actor, who made the six movies over two years, says it’s just a coincidence of studio scheduling that they’re coming out so close together. And he hopes one doesn’t necessarily “step on the others’ toes.”
But he does see a “funny side” to it all.
“People keep saying to me now with the release of them all, ‘Gosh, you’ve been so busy.’ And, in fact, since March of this year, I have not worked. I’ve just been taking time off, at home with my children and traveling. And I don’t work again until December.”
Hungry to workThat’s when he tackles the role of Jack Burden, the reporter-narrator in the planned remake of “All the King’s Men” starring Sean Penn — which Law promises will be closer to Robert Penn Warren’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel than the Academy Award-winning 1949 original.
After six films back to back, he realized it was time to have some downtime and be a father. But he denies that the foremost reason he dove headlong into all this work was to seek refuge from the domestic turmoil of splitting from wife Sadie Frost, with whom he has three children.
“The work that came up was really exciting. I suddenly got to a point where I thought, perhaps greedily, that I didn’t want to turn any of it down. And it was logistically possible and doable that I could work on all of them,” he says. “And I suppose, yes, because of certain things going on in my private life — not so private life — you know, it was also a way of channeling energy into a positive thing rather than a negative thing.”
(The “not so private life” interjection is his rueful reference to the tabloid coverage of his divorce back home in Britain. “It’s one of my biggest gripes,” he says.)
Law recoils a bit when it’s suggested that he’s hitting his stride with his career, but allows:
“I felt in the middle of those films that I was able to sit back on instincts and experience that I, perhaps prior to then, didn’t feel I had. You feel, I suppose, like anything, if you exercise a muscle you feel more and more confident that you can use it. And that was certainly the case in the middle and towards the end of this bout of films. I felt well-exercised.”
‘Alfie’ still resonatesLaw was intrigued to take on “Alfie” because director Charles Shyer convinced him that the iconic lothario made famous by Michael Caine in 1966 remained relevant.
“Can and do people still behave like that? And I think the answer to that is yes,” says Law, who then found it was interesting to see how Alfie gets away with it, particularly with modern women.
He also thinks the character isn’t at all anachronistic, in part because his behavior now “applies to women, too.”
“And then beneath that is just a very, very honest and brutal and interesting and fun look at relationships, and I’ve not done a film about relationships...I also like the complexity of a character who relied on his sort of charisma and his veneer and his energy to make himself happy in the moment but not so happy in the long term.”
The movie’s opening includes a crotch shot of a Superman statuette in Alfie’s apartment. Talking directly to the audience, Alfie offers his philosophy on women: He’s always looking for a “showstopper,” one who’ll hold his attention, but the highest grade he’ll ever grant is A-minus. “She doesn’t have enough of the superficial things that really matter,” he says about one conquest.
Law says he’s quite different from Alfie.
“I grew up, I suppose, always looking for commitment and looking for a relationship, and that’s why I got married so young...And I’m in another relationship now,” says Law, who’s hooked up with Sienna Miller (a co-star in “Alfie” along with Jane Krakowski, Marisa Tomei and Susan Sarandon). “So that just seems to be my pattern.
“I’ve never been a great fan of, for want of a better description, Alfie’s way of life. But I think we’ve all been through it at some point or another, even if it’s just for a week at the age of 17.”
More than good looks
Despite being described even by The New York Times as “devastatingly handsome,” Law has managed to avoid roles that mostly traded on his own duende and looks.
He concedes “I kinda stuck my toe in the water” with his Oscar-nominated performance as a playboy in “The Talented Mr. Ripley.” But he wanted to try different things after that, and didn’t find interesting roles that called on those traits until “Alfie” came along.
“It wasn’t a case of consciously saying, ‘I don’t want to go there’ ...I just follow my appetite really.”
His appetite has devoured a smorgasbord of roles in “Cold Mountain” (his second Oscar nomination), “Road to Perdition,” “A.I. Artificial Intelligence,” “Enemy at the Gates” and “eXistenZ.” Among his early parts: the gay lovers in “Wilde” and “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.”
“For me he’s the actor of his generation, if not the last two generations,” says “Alfie” director Shyer. “I think he brought a sense of empathy to a character that you could easily not be so empathetic with...Some of the things he says are politically incorrect. With an actor who’s less engaging, it would be hard to stick with him.”
Taking centerstageLaw, who intends to return to the stage with the opening play of the newly refurbished Young Vic in London in 2006, got interested in acting as a boy because he enjoyed putting on little shows at school and “feeling confident in it.”
Later it was a passion for literature and being a part of telling stories that kept him interested. Plus, his mom took him to the theater a lot and his father brought him to the movies. (His parents, retired schoolteachers, used to run a theater company.)
And speaking of his parents, he straightens out — sort of — how he was named Jude: One story goes that he was named after the title character in Thomas Hardy’s “Jude the Obscure”; the other, after the Beatles song “Hey Jude.”
“Oh, you have to talk to my mom. I think it’s a bit of both,” he says, laughing. “I can never get a straight answer out of my mom, either. It depends how she’s feeling — in a Hardy mood or in a McCartney-Lennon mood.”