Cat and Mouse
Jude Law and Michael Caine Discuss Their Sexually Ambiguous Roles in Their New Movie and the Games That Men Play
The Advocate, 16 October 2007
Jude Law walks in the room rather meekly and slinks over to a water pitcher and pours himself a drink. He just was chased by paparazzi into the Park Hyatt hotel, where he's stopping during the Toronto International Film Festival, and he's not looking his best. Slightly built, with his thin hair a mess, he is dressed in jeans and striped shirt and wearing scuffed tennis shoes. It's poetic justice, because the last time I was in a room with Law alone -- while on the phone with Julia Roberts -- he teased me by pointing out that I was wearing two different style loafers, setting his "Closer" costar to cackling hysterically. At the time, he said he was playing the role of a poorly dressed reporter (for "All the King's Men") and he'd have to use that. Today I was dressed a bit better than Law, but then again, he's being chased by photographers and was just arrested in London on charges that he grabbed one.
Law is relaxed in Toronto, he says, because the people here like to talk movies. This time he's not only starring in his latest film, "Sleuth", but he is responsible for putting the package together as the producer, convincing Harold Pinter to rewrite the script, Kenneth Branagh to direct, and Michael Caine to star opposite him. The film is about a wealthy novelist (Caine) whose wife ran off with a young man (Law). Caine then engages Law in a revenge game of cat and mouse with decidedly homoerotic undertones. Caine starred in the original version of the film, playing the younger role opposite Laurence Olivier, and was nominated for Best Actor at the time. But they all insist that this is not a remake of the 1972 classic.
"I don't think he would have agreed to be a part of this if he felt we were going anywhere near the earlier version; he's done that," Law says of his costar. The two actors seem inextricably linked, as Law played the role that Caine made famous in "Alfie" in a recent unsuccessful remake. Interestingly, there was a homoerotic moment in a men's room in "Alfie", and the same thing happens in "Sleuth". But Law says he plays with the same ambiguity in all his roles, from Oscar Wilde's bisexual lover in Wilde to the gay hooker in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil to the libidinous robot in "A.I.: Artificial Intelligence" and the murderous Dickie Greenleaf in "The Talented Mr. Ripley".
"I think what interested me as a producer was just this notion of two men fighting, why men fight, why we return to the sort of animal, primal urge and almost forget about the thing we're fighting over," Law says. "And when Harold [Pinter] agreed to do it with me, for me, he made that clear that it wasn't going to be an adaptation. He said it was going to go somewhere new. When I started I really felt like it was a new character, I was creating a new character."
Both characters in "Sleuth" are battling over a woman who's never seen, and there's palpable sexual tension between the men as they argue, which Law playfully acknowledges. "I don't know, in a funny way Harold never gave us any answers," Law says. "I rather enjoy saying I don't know. It's all up to you. I think there are just certain words he uses which suggest sexual connotations."
Caine, of course, has played plenty of ambiguous characters, such as the bisexual husband in California Suite and the playwright in Deathtrap. He tells me about a study he read on "morbid jealousy," which Branagh gave him. "In the study men will actually kill the lovers of their wives -- and you had several cases of that -- and if a man can't kill or doesn't want to kill, he will try to wreak the ultimate revenge, which is to engage in a certain homosexual relationship and so humiliate the woman," explains Caine. "She can't be more humiliated than that, to have a husband take a lover away from her. We never carried it quite that far."
Director Branagh says he's not even sure about the sexuality of the characters. "I found myself asking questions like that and not really quite knowing," he says. "This is what I find very rich about this particular version of this piece, that there are good and positive question marks that you leave the theater asking...I think that's one of the secrets. It's a positive question mark and not an irritating one. "
Law adds, "That kind of ambiguity's very Pinter. I think that Dickie was maybe bisexual for five seconds and no more than that. In this one I still don't know. That's what makes it so interesting. We just play the truth. I just play the moment."