Jude Law: No Surrender
Long after the tabloids declared open season on Jude Law, he's still putting himself in the firing line: remaking a much-loved film, taking on Hamlet, and doing his bit for charity. He explains why he's happy to do so.

Telegraph, 10 November 2007
By Vicki Reid

There was an irony behind my meeting Jude Law – less than 18 hours earlier he had been arrested for allegedly assaulting a photographer (no charges were brought). For all that the media had acknowledged the premiere of "Sleuth" – a film he both produced and starred in – at the Venice Film Festival days earlier, and reported his recent trip to Afghanistan with Jeremy Gilley, the founder of the Peace One Day organisation, this was the story that made the headlines.

Jude Law: ‘In a way it was like washing your laundry in public and, yep, there you go, you’ve seen my underwear, and now I feel like there’s nothing left, and I can get on’.

But that's how it is being Jude Law. Now 35, an internationally famous film star, he has been working professionally since he was 17, and has two Oscar nominations (for The Talented Mr Ripley and Cold Mountain) and a thriving production company to show for it. Yet the subtext to his career is the public's almost obsessive fascination with his looks and, therefore, his loves.

And however hard Law has tried otherwise, it is his relationships that have tended to keep him in the spotlight. Both his marriage to (and subsequent divorce from) Sadie Frost, followed by his engagement to Sienna Miller, were played out against a backdrop of paparazzi flashbulbs. This culminated in a spectacularly public fall from grace in the summer of 2005, when he was forced to admit to an affair with his children's nanny, after she sold her story to the tabloids. What followed was a messy feasting on his shame, which resulted in a broken engagement and, in the public's eye, a severe loss of credibility. And still, no fact remains too small to merit scrutiny. As Michael Caine, his co-star in "Sleuth" wryly commented on the phone, 'I've just had lunch with Jude Law, so I know everything about him. He had chicken.'

On this particular morning in late September, however, tucked away in the library of the Covent Garden Hotel, Law seems pretty upbeat, dressed down in jeans and a white shirt, relaxed on the sofa. For those still keen on the minutiae, he ate only a pear, drank sparkling mineral water and his shoes were brown. Just back from Venice, he has a matter of days in London before his schedule takes him to the Toronto Film Festival, for another screening of "Sleuth", and there he remains for much of the rest of the year, filming Repossession Mambo with Forest Whitaker.

Law is happy with how the film premiered – 'it was a really emotional night' – receiving a seven-and-a-half-minute standing ovation. 'You may ask me how I know that,' he says with a smile. 'It's because the credits are seven and a half minutes long and they wouldn't let us leave. I felt immensely proud at that moment.' That was until he arrived back in London and, as he says, 'hit the ground with a bump, because the rest of the world was cheering us and London as usual was sticking the knives in'.

advertisementSeveral British critics seem to have taken offence at the fact that this is a remake of the 1972 film of the same name, adapted by Anthony Shaffer from his own stage play, which starred Laurence Olivier and Michael Caine. A psychological thriller, it was nominated for four Oscars – including for both actors and the director Joseph L Mankiewicz. Remake is perhaps the wrong word – it is essentially an adaptation of Shaffer's play, written by Harold Pinter, directed by Kenneth Branagh. As Caine points out, 'I don't think Pinter was even aware that the movie had been made of it.'

Pinter has taken the original and turned it on its head. The story remains the same – successful crime novelist Andrew Wyke (Caine taking on Olivier's role) plots revenge on the young actor Milo Tindle (Law in what was Caine's role), who is having an affair with his wife. This film is no longer a battle of wits between a wealthy eccentric and his adversary, but one that has been stripped bare by Pinter, revealing an altogether darker, bleaker tale about two men fighting for the same woman. Benign eccentricity has been replaced by a psychotically jealous husband, worthy of a character in one of Wyke's novels. 'What I love about Pinter's world is that it's like he can dip in acid all the eccentricity of the Shaffer concept,' Law says. 'It's not meant to be realistic; what we're saying is use your imagination, there are meant to be scenes, smudgy areas to this piece and it surprises me that that maybe challenges people too much, that what they want is reality.'

The four of them could just as easily have presented it as a play but Law is adamant: 'It was a Pinter script, sure, which meant we were in his world – a world of verse and ambiguity and suggestion, but I simply saw that, as a filmmaker, as a challenge.'

'Filmmaker' here refers to Law's role as producer. "Sleuth" is a project he has worked on for five years, an idea born out of a conversation he had with friends. 'It just came up as a point of reference,' he explains, 'and someone said, "At the core is a classic, like a Greek drama – old man, young man, fight over a woman you don't meet. That could be timeless, that could be anywhere." And it sort of stuck in my head as a good idea.'

Through his production company, Riff Raff, he came up with a list of potential writers, of whom Pinter was one. They had lunch and 'suddenly Harold wanted to do it and loved it. I guess it rang a bell with him and the work he's done in the past – there are similarities. Once he was on board, [for me] as a producer it just felt like this was really important. I have to see this through.'

For the next two and a half years Pinter wrote. Law would be sent drafts to wherever he was filming. When he was back in London the two would meet and discuss the script's progress. 'Harold could have bitten my head off, and told me to get out of the room,' Law says. 'Instead he took on board my thoughts and we worked together. It was a really amicable and very exciting working relationship. I had to be on my best game, you know, I couldn't just go, "Oh, beef up my part a little bit" – it's Harold Pinter.'

Caine signed up two years into the project, intrigued by the idea of a Pinter adaptation. 'I would never have done a remake of Tony Shaffer's script,' Caine says, 'because I thought Joe and Larry and Tony and I had done quite a good job in the first place. I'm not being boastful but I didn't really think you could do much better than that, but when he said he had a script by Pinter that changed everything.'

'It was very clear Jude was going to be a hands-on producer, that he was taking it seriously,' Kenneth Branagh tells me. Branagh joined the project about a year before it went into production and was struck by the tenacity of his producer and what he had already achieved – and what was ultimately achieved. 'I think the key note in all of this has been Jude – he's a genuine fella, that's what everybody saw. He's been persistent and diligent, he does a bit of leading by example and nothing seems to be too much trouble. He's a perfectionist, he's very realistic about the film process, he doesn't mind things taking ages, he knows that happens.'

As for Law taking on the role of Milo, Branagh remembers, 'It was more or less implicit he would do it, but there was definitely a moment, maybe three months before we started [filming], when it suddenly hit the pair of us that he was acting in it and we had better do something about it.'

Law confesses he was so caught up in the production demands he had more or less lost sight of the fact that he was also acting in the film. This makes him laugh: 'I read it and thought, "F***! This is a really great role – and a really hard role." But the hard ones are the best ones. When you fail you sail, you know, because you feel tested. You always learn the most from the hard ones, I think.'

In that context, Law's career has taught him a lot, one way or another. He has never been afraid to take on difficult or morally complex characters. He has been, for the most part, successful: commanding the screen as Oscar Wilde's beautiful, demanding and treacherously petulant lover Lord Alfred 'Bosie' Douglas in "Wilde" (1997); and, in "Gattaca" (also 1997) as Jerome Eugene Morrow, a man willing to sell his identity, genetically perfect but bitter with alcohol and constrained to a wheelchair.

Equally, he has made some duds – his first substantial screen role, as the teenage nihilist Billy in 1994's "Shopping", when he was 21, was memorable mainly for the fact that he met, fell in love and subsequently married his co-star, Sadie Frost. Even as the eponymous heroes in both "Sky Captain" and the "World of Tomorrow" and "Alfie" (both 2004) Law couldn't prevent both films falling flat, and he looked painfully out of place in last year's puffball of a romantic comedy, "The Holiday".

His career has occasionally see-sawed between almost parodying his looks (he seemed to be having lots of fun as the android Gigolo Joe in Steven Spielberg's forgettable 2001 film "AI: Artificial Intelligence") and deliberately disguising them (with a mouthful of bad teeth and a sweaty, slouched countenance to play Harlen Maguire, an assassin for hire in Sam Mendes's "Road to Perdition", 2002) – as if conflicted by and ill at ease with what is undeniable. He more or less admits as such himself, when he talks of his earlier choices: 'It was a bit "thou dost protest too much". I was trying to prove myself as an actor and didn't want to be the next pretty young thing.'

It was as Dickie Greenleaf in Anthony Minghella's "The Talented Mr Ripley" (1999) that brought Law worldwide attention. Once again it was a role that played to his looks, but the complexity he brought to the character earned him an Oscar nomination (ironically he lost out to Michael Caine, for "The Cider House Rules"). As did his second collaboration with Minghella, the American Civil War drama "Cold Mountain", in 2003. He plays Inman, a man who barely spoke, hidden behind an enormously bushy beard, yet he was the heart of the film.

When asked about his choices he pauses before answering, 'I often find… I don't spend my days thinking, "God, back then when I was…" I leave them very much in the past, very quickly, and move on, because the best job is the one you are about to do. There's no kind of logic for me, there's no plan. I think I said years ago, it's quite nice finding evil in the good guys and the good in the evil guys, because that's demonstrative of all of us.'

Logic must play a part, however, even if it boils down to the basic fact that having children – he has three with Sadie Frost: Rafferty, 11, Rudy, seven, and Iris, five – must surely affect decisions taken involving work. 'More than perhaps in the past,' he says. 'I think your life always affects your choices in a way. I mean, in my twenties things were going on that were affecting my life: having children and being young and in a marriage, which meant the jobs had to be something special and I really kind of set a high bar of who I'd work with and on what, because I'd rather be at home with my babies, you know. And I'm really glad I had that reality because it meant, in my opinion, I made some good and bold choices early on.

'And then true, your life changes and you go through maybe more uncomfortable learning curves that affect how you see yourself, sometimes just how you want to spend your day. It's true to say there are a couple of decisions I made in the last couple of years which were purely "I'm living the drama – I don't really want to act it out."' He starts laughing. '"Let's go and do something fun… please."'

It is pretty obvious what he is referring to. Law has been through divorce (he separated from Frost in 2003), a new engagement (he fell in love with Sienna Miller on the set of "Alfie" a year later) and then suffered the consequences of an affair, exposed during the filming of "Breaking and Entering". 'There's no regret,' he says carefully, 'you can't regret. I mean, I've felt regret but I've also refused to allow regret to sow a seed and live in me because I don't believe it. You feel it, it's like guilt, it's like jealousy, it's like all those horrible things and… you've just got to snip them and get them out, because they're no good. Because if you regret, in a way, have you learnt and moved on?

'I feel like this,' he continues. 'It all came out and in a way I'd never had an argument, I didn't try to defend myself, I took it on the chin. I was an idiot, I behaved badly. I've also been treated badly; it goes both ways. I made mistakes – who hasn't? I also like to think that because of the scale on which I had to then, um, admit to them, I learnt my lesson and I ain't going to f***ing do it again. I don't ever want to experience that pain, that upset, that confusion, that humiliation ever again. I'm not happy I hurt people, but I'm kind of happy it was on such a public level.

'In a way it was like washing your laundry in public and, yep, there you go, you've seen my underwear, you've seen all the rubbish –' he is smiling now, '– you've seen me putting out the trash and now I feel like there's nothing left, you've seen it all and I can get on and in a weird way,' he laughs, 'that's kind of wonderful.'

Set against this and throughout much of our conversation is Law's standing as a father and his responsibility to his children – it is what defines him most clearly, and a subject he keeps returning to. In relation to how he conducts himself, publicly, privately, it is his children he measures himself against. 'If you're going to give advice,' he says, 'then it's got to be from the right place, it's got to be because you know what you're saying is true and if you're living in denial then they're going to find out, eventually, when you're senile and they read your diaries, or when they finally hear a story from Mum that they were too young to know.'

But, he adds, as much as it is about his children, there was something that went deeper, for him as a person. 'I think at the end of the day, I had a lot… I just don't want to carry crap and complexities any more. And I think I did, I think I built it up and carried quite a lot. I don't know whether it was from my childhood or from my marriage, we all do right? And I think I just got to bit of a burn-out point. Now whether that expressed itself in a single act, whether it expressed itself just in a culmination, whether it was just time to behave… stupidly. I just thought, no more. I'm too old. It's, like, hang on, I'm 34. What am I going to do? Keep doing that? Am I an idiot?'

Law's behaviour cost him his privacy and dignity. It has given total strangers cause to pass judgement but it still remains his personal life lesson, one he shared with only very few friends: 'I don't have loads and loads; I've got about seven people in my life now and it's really nice. I have a very close family. I think also, in the end you've got to do it for yourself, haven't you?'

And in doing so, I imagine, re-evaluate your life. 'Yes. Everything. Everyone. It's nice getting rid of a lot of dead wood. It's very sad how often you're let down and that's been, I think, one of the saddest realisations through this. When you've been there for people and they aren't there for you, all those sort of things. But it's also a life thing.'

Jude Law was born on December 29, 1972, in Lewisham, south London, and grew up in Blackheath and Hither Green. Both parents were teachers – his father, Peter, was a deputy head and his mother, Maggie, taught English to immigrant children before going to drama school and training as a director. Two and a half years separate him from his older sister, Natasha, an artist. His first secondary school, Kidbrook, was, in Law's words, 'a rough old place', one he never really settled into. 'To be named after a Thomas Hardy novel and plopped into a state school with literally 60 kids in a class, it didn't rub the right way necessarily.'

He moved to the public school Alleyn's when he was 15. 'It's funny, I always quite liked school but people at it didn't seem to like me much. I think they saw that I knew what I wanted to do and it was just a bus stop,' he says with a smile, 'to get on with things. Maybe I was overly confident, I don't know. Having said that, I had nice experiences as well, at least I got to play football and cricket. But I didn't arrive looking to make lifelong buddies.' Having made his career intentions clear when he was six, Law joined the National Youth and Music Theatre aged 14, where he met Jonny Lee Miller, 'my dearest friend'.

His parents were, he says, stalwart in their support of his ambition. So when he was offered a role in the television series "Families", aged 17, 'they didn't think twice'. Law moved to Manchester where he filmed two seasons of the show, over 18 months. 'Back then,' he says, 'it was just "yeah cool, thanks Mum", but looking back now, that's amazing, isn't it? They let me move to Manchester on my own, where I lived – in 1989 as well, when Manchester was Madchester.' He laughs. 'Luckily I was under the radar at that point.'

Law's close relationship with his parents has filtered through all aspects of his life. They provided the emotional support that gave him the confidence to leave school and work professionally. He was 16 when they sold their house in London and moved to France; what was an initial shock ('it was odd, suddenly my childhood home was gone') has translated itself into a place of refuge, 'it's my escape, and the kids love it. It's the one place where I've been in my life where I think, I could get old here.'

Law left "Families" because he wanted to focus his attention on theatre. His first production was at the Hampstead Theatre, in "The Fastest Clock in the Universe", and for the next two years he worked more or less continuously, including productions at the Gate and the Royal Court theatres. After filming "Shopping", Law returned to the stage in Jean Cocteau's "Les Parents Terribles" at the National Theatre and won an Outstanding Newcomer award (and many new fans, who revelled in his having to emerge naked from a bathtub). It transferred to Broadway, was renamed "Indiscretions" and he picked up his second Outstanding Newcomer award.

It is with the Young Vic theatre, however, that Law has the longest standing relationship. He was taken there by his parents and on school trips, and has performed in two plays: "Tis Pity She's a Whore" in 1999 and "Dr Faustus" in 2002. David Lan, the Young Vic's artistic director, directed him in both productions and has remained a close friend. 'Jude has a tremendous generosity of spirit,' he says, 'he's a good-hearted guy, he's kept that in circumstances in which it would be very easy to lose it.' As patron Law played a significant role in fundraising for the rebuilding of the theatre. 'He gave us a lot of time,' Lan continues. 'We needed his status and he gave us that for nothing, he gave us money – he was brilliant.'

This likeability and generosity of spirit is something that came up in every conversation I had with those who have worked with him. He is easy, articulate company, engaged and engaging – laughing a lot, mostly at himself. He is someone, as Lan says, 'who has been given a lot and so he's going to give back a lot'. Whether it is conceived, as Law describes it, 'as this sort of crazy, idealistic idea' in the form of his first production company, Natural Nylon (put together in 1996 with friends Jonny Lee Miller, Ewan McGregor, Sadie Frost, Sean Pertwee, Bradley Adams and Damon Bryant), or lending his support to a first-time director, Kerry Conran, by co-producing "Sky Captain" and the "World of Tomorrow", or raising funds for the Young Vic – if it is a project Law believes in, he will throw his heart into it.

The latest and possibly most far-reaching was his trip to Afghanistan, with Jeremy Gilley, for Peace One Day. Eight years ago, Gilley had the idea, brilliant in its simplicity, staggering in its audacity, to create a world day of peace. And through sheer force of will, strength of personality and commitment, he achieved it – his proposal to recognise September 21 as a worldwide day of peace was unanimously adopted by the UN on September 7, 2001. Gilley has filmed every step of his progress, every meeting, every conversation, with people ranging from the Dalai Lama to Kofi Annan, and made a documentary of his journey in 2004. Another is planned for release next year.

The two have been friends for 15 years, having met when Gilley was acting at the RSC. It was while Law was helping to promote this year's Peace One Day concert at the Royal Albert Hall that Gilley asked if he would join him on his trip to Afghanistan the following month, 'just for the hell of it'. 'Jude's involvement had massive impact,' Gilley says. 'It changes everything. People ask what difference can celebrity make? It gives you an opportunity to allow a call to action to be heard.'

Law, Gilley, plus a cameraman and a sound operator, travelled to Kabul in August. They were there for 10 days, travelling the country, meeting with various organisations and people, including the ministers of finance and education, visiting hospitals, schools and village communities, all the while promoting and discussing the possibilities of Peace One Day. 'I felt it was the most important thing I had ever done,' Law says. 'I thought if there was one place to go and one place to never come back from, it was Afghanistan campaigning for peace. I also felt, on a personal level, it was a good thing to do, to be able to explain to my child-ren quite honestly, what was going on and what I had seen.'

'The amazing thing about Jude,' Gilley says, 'is that he listens to what needs to be done and he's not somebody who's just going to take over. He had a role to play, he wanted to help the process. He wasn't there for the glory, he was there for the good of the mission and he was incredible and I'm immensely grateful to him.'

Law has made a few big decisions recently. On a less altruistic level, returning to the stage is one of them. As part of a recently announced West End season for the Donmar Warehouse, he is playing Hamlet, directed by Kenneth Branagh, which opens in 2009. He has long considered returning to the stage and various reasons have prevented him thus far from doing so. 'The sad truth,' he admits, 'is suddenly economically you think, "Oh, God, I can set the kids up here" and then you get into bit of a rut and you have to realise that actually, if you start living like that then you have to keep working like that to pay for it, which I didn't really want to get into.'

The other reason is more personal. 'I've never really wanted to be like "Jude Law in…" because I don't want the attention of that, I don't think a play needs the attention of that. Also,' he laughs, 'talk about a sitting duck! Shot straight off the wall.'

Which, he recognises, entirely contradicts the fact that he has chosen to place himself firmly on that wall. "Hamlet" was an instinctive decision, he says, one that Branagh put to him at the end of filming "Sleuth". 'I feel I'm in very good hands. I wouldn't say it's a life dream or obsession of any sort, it just felt safe. I'm not trying to hide under a rock or anything because obviously it's a leading role in a wonderful play. I just felt very secure.

'Funnily enough, the first thing Ken said was that what he learnt with Hamlet is that there is no character of Hamlet, that you are Hamlet, whoever plays Hamlet is Hamlet, sooo,' he pauses, 'that scared the hell out of me.'

Branagh is confident in their collaboration, 'It's an X-ray part and it requires everything of your personality, everything of your gifts as an actor and it's very exposing in that sense, so it's a brave decision.' He cites Law's qualities as those of a 'renaissance man', perfect for the part – 'he's very interested in the world around him and it infuses his passion for acting. I feel the breadth of his interest really informs not only who he is because it means he listens to people, watches people, he's interested, but it makes him very available as an actor to direct. He's open enough to know there are more things in heaven and earth than acting – I'm sure his family have an enormous influence. I think all of that contributes to a kind of completeness in terms of his acting equipment that is very useful.'

Before "Hamlet" we will see Law in a variety of other projects – he stars in Wong Kar Wai's first English-speaking production, "My Blueberry Nights", with Norah Jones. He is really excited about "Repossession Mambo" – 'it's about the most original thing I've ever read. It's a kind of Clockwork Orange, Blade Runner type film.'

He has also, intriguingly, taken part in a project called the "World as a Stage" for Tate Modern, with the Polish artist Pawel Althamer. It involved Law being filmed in Borough Market, a sequence which is being screened as a cinema trailer asking viewers to turn up at the market at a certain time on November 30. There you will see Law re-enacting what was filmed, 'the idea being that you arrive and look around for the people in the trailer but what you end up doing is looking at real life'. This came about after a 'very enjoyable dinner party celebrating the release of Robert Mapplethorpe's photos and I sat next to one of the curators of the Tate and she didn't know I was a big fan of art and I knew Pawel's work. Then she commissioned him and asked me to do it.'

Law has collected art for at least 10 years. His favourites include the photographer Hiroshi Sugimoto and the artist Joe Tilson. 'I don't really enjoy sitting down and talking to other people about it necessarily, but I like the idea of putting things on a wall that the kids are going to grow up looking at.'

It's for the children that Law's home remains London. But even renaissance men need a break and it's something Law admits to building dreams around. 'There's part of me that wants to get on my bike and go away and not do anything, to be honest – grow veg and chill out.' He pauses, then almost immediately contradicts himself. 'There are still lots of things I'd like to do. Maybe when that box is ticked, that's when you can go off, not for ever but you can turn your back on it for a while. I think I've got to find another 10 years in me somewhere.' He smiles. 'I'll be frustrated otherwise.'

"Sleuth" opens on November 23.

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