Jude Law: A Law unto Himself

For the past two years, Jude Law has been a British tabloid staple. First, there was the collapse of his marriage to actress Sadie Frost, their subsequent divorce and his heartbreaking move out of the home they shared with kids Rafferty, Iris and Rudy, now 8, 3 and 2. Then came his recent romance with actress Sienna Miller, his 22-year-old costar in the upcoming film Alfie.

Now, his labors of love -- the six films he poured himself into making during that period -- are all being released in a four-month span. For an actor, this can be a disappointment because it raises the risk of overexposure and, as a result, possible backlash from theatergoers.

But Jude is a professional through and through. He focuses on the positive, brimming with enthusiasm for not only his current film, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, but the five that follow (Alfie, I Heart Huckabees, Closer, Lemony Snicket's a Series of Unfortunate Events and The Aviator). When the 31-year-old actor speaks of his work, he's focused and serious, leaning into the table and motioning animatedly with his hands. His speech comes in rapid bursts, punctuated by pauses when he looks to the ceiling or the floor for just the right phrase while he gnaws on a knuckle in thought. But just when he's getting too intense, he breaks up the room with an unexpected -- and contagious -- laugh or flashes his blinding smile.

Jude began his acting career on a Granada soap opera at the age of 17, then moved onto the London stage. He crossed the Atlantic to appear on Broadway in Indiscretions with Kathleen Turner and later crossed the country to launch his film career in Hollywood. After appearing in a number of independent films, he found his first big-name movie in Gattaca (1997) with Uma Thurman. But he is probably best known for the two roles that earned him Oscar nods: his first partnering with Gwyneth Paltrow, as golden boy Dickie Greenleaf in 1999's The Talented Mr. Ripley, and his starring turn in the Civil War saga Cold Mountain (2003) opposite Nicole Kidman.

This fall, he reunites with Gwyneth in the groundbreaking Sky Captain, in which he plays aviator hero Joe Sullivan to her intrepid reporter Polly Perkins. A throwback to films of the 1930s, Sky Captain offers comedy, adventure and romance. And that's just the beginning of what Jude's got in store for us this season.

You've got six films coming out this fall. Are you comfortable with where your career stands at this point?
I don't think one should ever be comfy with where they stand. [laughs] You always have to think about what's next just to keep yourself interested and interesting, I suppose. It's a little bit of a shame to me that I've spent two years making these films and they all come out in four months. That's nothing to do with me, but?

Is there a fear of being overexposed?
Not so much because I know that they're all very different roles, directors and types of films. I hope the one common thing is that they're all good. I've seen most of them, and I'm really pleased. There is that sense of, "Oh God, not another Jude Law film," [laughs] which I hope won't happen. But I suppose, because of that, I'm not very comfy. I'm sort of thinking: Oh God, I better hide for a couple years. Let the appetite grow.

How did it feel to work with Gwyneth again?
We had a great experience the first time. We stayed in touch and remained really good friends. We also had the relationship [that the characters have in Sky Captain]. There's something terribly rare and special about that bantering, pal-type relationship between a man and a woman. Films of the '30s with Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy created such a wonderful energy around that bantering relationship, and it's something that existed naturally between Gwyneth and I. And she's so much fun, you know? She's got incredible humor, incredible tolerance and an incredible natural intuition for how to step into something and get the atmosphere just right.

What got you interested in Sky Captain originally, and in coproducing it as well as acting in it?
It intrigued me. I'd been looking for this kind of role because it's something that, as a kid, always seemed tempting, tantalizing. Now, having children myself, it suddenly seemed more necessary because my son's forever saying, "Why can't I see the films?" [laughs] And I loved that it was an action-adventure with this noncynical approach. It was retrospective, both in look and feel. It wasn't relying on bad guys being drug dealers and gun smugglers. The good guys were clean-cut, straight up, no questions asked. You're just gonna save the world. That kind of vibe is lacking in a lot of family movies nowadays. They're getting too seedy and too cynical, you know?

Was it important for you to be in a position where your name could carry a movie?
It was never important to me. Once you know you can get work -- which is your first aim as a young actor -- you just want to prove yourself. It's important to get to a place where you can hopefully try to choose work -- to work with people you really like and do jobs you really believe in rather than just crap to pay the rent, you know? And to try and mix the two is really important. But it was a huge eye-opener when [producer Jon Avnet] said, "Look, you get involved in Sky Captain and it'll really help the thing be made." I felt if I could empower someone like [writer/director] Kerry Conran, who I believed in, and had a project that I thought was worthwhile and important, then that was a really great thing. And it meant a lot to me.

Do you think Sky Captain could do for you what Raiders of the Lost Ark did for Harrison Ford? And if you find success with this film, will it draw audiences to your future films based on your name?
Oh, good Lord. [laughs] I don't know. I mean, I certainly didn't go into this thinking that, and I've never made a film thinking: Okay, this is my blockbuster. When we started Sky Captain, there was very little budget, it was a first-time director -- it was just an exciting project. And at the time, it felt almost more art house than action-adventure. Now I think it fits comfortably in between both, but you're absolutely right that if you garner success with something, you gain a reputation for your name. Or people enjoy finding your films, and that draws them to films like I Heart Huckabees, which you do because they are important, heartfelt smaller-scale projects. Or a Closer. Then all the better for it, because I think that's an important balance to maintain.

As your profile grows, have you had to change your strategy with the media and the public?
I'd be lying if I didn't admit to having to change my lifestyle, and preservation of security and personal life with my children. That's just, unfortunately, a fact of having a public career.

How is Alfie different from the original?
It's only different in that the women in Alfie's world -- understandably, because they're 35 years on [from the original movie] -- are very different. That's what intrigued me: taking a very male, very modern and yet very true to the original, cynical -- at times you can say incredibly un-PC -- opinion of women and sexuality, and putting it in a modern world in which modern women are a lot stronger, a lot more independent. The fact that we got such a great group of actresses, led by Susan Sarandon and Marisa Tomei, is proof of that. We didn't get patsies.

Your buddy Ewan McGregor just took three months off and drove around the world on his motorbike. Would you ever take time off to live out a fantasy like that?
Yeah, I would. I mean, I've just had six months off. This is me when I've had loads of time off [laughs] -- and I've got another two months! And in my time off, I'm a dad -- full time. But it's funny, I saw Ewan's uncle [British actor Denis Lawson] in the park when Ewan had just set off. He told me, "Ewan's just totally set the challenge for all of us then! Everybody's going to be saying next, 'So what are you doing? Are you going 'round the world or for a weekend ballooning?'" And we both said we'd have to think about what we'd do to compete with Ewan. I'm going to swim around the world, you know what I mean? I'm going to have to swim with sharks --boatloads of them -- and wrestle alligators! [laughs]

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