Jude Law technically started off his career in 1990, acting on a British soap opera, but the industry didn’t take notice of Jude Law’s glistening blues until his devilishly charismatic portrayal in the 1997 film, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, opposite Kevin Spacey. But even after twenty years in the limelight, the actor feels like he’s been knocking around for far, far longer. “Sometimes I feel like I can’t remember anything else before this job, this life,” he says, speaking at the press junket for new movie, Black Sea at London’s Soho Hotel.
“And then when you step back, you realize, it’s not that vast an amount of time. Time ticking by, it’s a tricky concept.” In those tenuous years however, the 41-year-old has amassed huge success as one of the more diverse Hollywood stars. With two Oscar nominations, both for Anthony Minghella films: The Talented Mr. Ripley and Cold Mountain, Law has gone on to enjoy a varied, dynamic career with starring roles in Gattaca, Alfie, The Aviator and Guy Ritchie’s successful reinvention of the Sherlock Holmes vehicle.
Over a year into his forties, the actor looks set to be entering a new phase of his career, away from the foppish, caddish roles of old—into meatier, challenging work, including his latest feature, Black Sea, a submariner thriller directed by Kevin Macdonald.
Unfortunately, Law’s personal life has always attracted the press, whom he enjoys a contentious relationship with. After the breakdown of his marriage to Sadie Frost, mother of his three-eldest children, Rafferty, Iris and Rudy, his subsequent relationship with Sienna Miller was hounded by the paparazzi and hit fever pitch when news broke of his devastating affair with his children’s nanny, Daisy Wright. However, it came to light that Law and Miller had both been phone-hacked by the News of the World, straining his relationship with the press even further. Nevertheless, they refused to back off when his brief fling with model, Samantha Burke, resulted in daughter Sophia in 2009. And more recently, all were shocked with reports of another child on the way from another failed relationship, this time with 23-year-old, Irish singer, Catherine Harding.
Jude, it seems, doesn’t make things easy on himself when it comes to the press. Exceedingly taller and far bulkier in person, wearing black jeans and a loose dark grey V-neck t-shirt, he discusses his ease with aging, feeling like a mentor, and finding his feet as an actor.
STRIPLV: So where did the story for Black Sea come from and why did you find yourself interested?
LAW: It came from the Kursk disaster ten years ago. Kevin [Macdonald] was interested by this Russian sub that went down. Most of the crew died in the explosion that sent them down to the bottom of the sea. Some survived in a pocket of air, but they too, all died before they could be rescued. And Kevin thought that was the most horrible way to go, and a great setup for a film. How did they get there? Where were they going? What were they doing? And he wanted to make the story about greed and references of the Treasure of Sierra Madre John Huston film. And that was it. He spoke to me about the plot and I was hooked, line and sinker, so to speak.
STRIPLV: Now, as Captain Robinson, your Scottish accent is gaining positive reviews.
LAW: Good, (laughs) I’m so glad. It was a bit of a risk. It made sense, because Kevin is Scottish. I wanted Robinson to have a grativas and dignity and a reference to maybe that he’s from a family that has suffered from mistreatment by a government or the banks—or his father was, I don’t know, a docker who’d lost his job, a generational thing where his father had been done by the system, just like him. He needed to be a workingman, a regional man, and the accent suited so well. Although we did look at Southern Irish also, because I’d played a sailor in “Anna Christie” [onstage] at the Donmar, but that didn’t really fit. Then we talked about Glasgow, but again, not right, so we headed towards Aberdeen. It’s a sea-faring city, big docks, and a place where a lot of submariners come from. So much of the film is about the workingman, the skilled man who’s spat out by society and being done over. And there’s something about the accent. There’s a solidity, and it has a Basque quality to it. It’s sort of very even, but has a poetry to it—a methodical nature—and that’s who Robinson is. And without that accent, he would have been a different character.
STRIPLV: Why not the Irish accent?
LAW: I played a sailor who came from the West coast of Ireland in “Anna Christie” and I think Kevin talked me out of it because of [co-star] Michael Smiley, who was already representing the Irish as it were in the crew. It would have been too much and he wanted to make it a tad more diverse. Maybe that sounds a little United Nations, perhaps. Poor Kevin though, he was surrounded by these tapes of my voice with an Irish accent, with a Scots accent—poor guy was probably driven demented by the sound of my voice.
STRIPLV: Why did Kevin cast you in this role? It’s not the Jude Law that we know.
LAW: Right, you’re so right. It’s not the Jude Law that anyone knows, not even that I know. Like, for this role, I had to completely change shape. If you’re going to command men in a role like this, you’ve got to have a certain presence. There’s only so much you can waggle your finger and shout. You’ve got to have some sort of physical presence, especially when they’re six-foot-five and Russian. You’ve got to know that you can maybe stare someone down and bite their knees, if need be. (laughs)
STRIPLV: How was spending time in a submarine?
LAW: I’m not someone who would ever say: “I submerged myself for months to create this character.” (laughs)
STRIPLV: Nicely done.
LAW: Thank you. (laughs) But it was an opportunity that was offered by the Royal Navy. They said: “Do you want to come?” and it just seemed like an amazing insight. There was a sense of… you become a submariner for life. You feel like you lose touch with the world up there. They spoke to me about feeling dysfunctional when they were away from their boats, and trying to fit in with married life again. I found that pretty fascinating to imagine. But spending a couple of days with them… like, their sleeping patterns, are weird. You sleep for six hours, you get up for six hours. You’ve got to keep it running. You’re sharing beds, and the proximity and environment is so close, is so tight, it’s almost like being in a prison. You can’t get out, you can’t get away from people that are annoying you. Like for a prisoner, you often don’t know where you are in the world. You’re just told.
STRIPLV: You turned 40 last year and spoke about looking forward to a new decade—a new staring block, as it were. Can you expand on that?
LAW: You feel slightly more confident and comfortable in who you are. And in the job I do, you suddenly realize that the complexities of a man in his forties and going into his fifties will benefit any part you may read for, because there has been layers and history. Sometimes younger roles are slightly more frivolous and light. When you start out, people are trying to box you in: “You’re this kind of actor. This is the kind of role you should be playing.” After escaping maybe ten years trying to avoid that, you get to your forties and can kind of start afresh, as it were.
STRIPLV: Is it weird that young actors see you as something of a mentor now?
LAW: Yeah, it is weird. You feel like, ‘Hang on, I’m not that old and I have nothing to teach anyone.’ I would never assume to give advice or take on that role, but only because I hate when people give me advice. Like with [actor] Bobby Schofield [who plays an inexperienced sailor in the film], everyone sort of took him under their wing. He had no film experience whatsoever, so we all looked after him. Ben Mendelsohn really looked after him.
STRIPLV: Did you have any mentor figures in your early days offering advice?
LAW: I think what you learn very quickly is the best advice is set by example. You follow people. I’ve always been a great believer in civility and manners and work ethic and turning up and being positive and getting on, and appreciating everyone around you because everyone is there to make each other’s job better and easier and it’s a wonderful opportunity. And art form, has to be… you need everyone there, otherwise it won’t work.
STRIPLV: Does it feel like you’re embarking on a new chapter now in your career, with films like this and Knights of the Roundtable: King Arthur?
LAW: Well, that’s a rumor, by the way. I’ve just been told that today.
STRIPLV: Well, congratulations.
LAW: Ha (laughs) yeah, thank you. I don’t know about chapters, I hope if I keeping doing roles like this, I’ll be very happy. Black Sea is a game changer, because I wouldn’t have been able to play Robinson before. I wouldn’t have been old enough—it wouldn’t have been believable. So it’s another side that maybe people haven’t seen to me, so maybe it will open doors to more parts in this area. But I don’t know, I’m not a fan of repeating myself. I like the thrill of the curiosity of what I do... the variety and challenge. And I don’t like to repeat myself. But I feel I’m in a good place now. I’m not complaining.