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Jude Law on Books, Dating and Bulking Up for Submarine Thriller ‘Black Sea’

Jude Law on Books, Dating and Bulking Up for Submarine Thriller 'Black Sea'

In 1997, Jude Law was cast as the epitome of male perfection, a tan, toned, bronzed Adonis with an astute mind to match his angular features, in “Gattaca.” The science-fiction fable depicts a world of genetically-altered uber-humans and tainted normals (Ethan Hawke plays the normal guy). It thrust Law into the spotlight and onto the covers of myriad magazine. The “The Talented Mr. Ripley” solidified his sex symbol status, as well as his genuine acting chops, earning him an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor.
For almost 20 years, Law has been considered one of the sexiest men alive, a moniker that (unfairly) outshines his acting prowess. His first attempt to shed his gorgeous visage came in 2002, when he played a ghastly photographer-cum-murderer in Sam Mendes’ “The Road to Perdition.” But two years later he was back to being a sex symbol as he took-up Michael Cane’s mantle in the poorly-received remake of “Alfie.” But last year Law, 40, finally embraced the advent of middle-age with gravitas as the mutton-chopped meathead Dom Hemingway in the film of the same name. The film earned middling reviews, but many appreciated Law stretching his range (though, let’s be real here, it’s impossible to make that man ugly, not matter how bushy his sideburns).
Now in the second year of his not-pretty phase, Law leads an eclectic cast of character actors—Ben Mendelsohn, Scoot McNairy, Konstantin Khabensky— in “Black Sea.” Law plays a submarine captain named Robinson who galvanizes a group of swarthy old sea dogs to help him find a sunken Nazi sub which purportedly contains millions of dollars worth of gold. With his hair buzzed to stubble and his face festooned with scruff, Law is bulkier and burlier than moviegoers are used to seeing him. He also sports a Scottish accent. Indiewire talked to Law about submarines, whales, and books. 
Your character in “Black Sea” is a submarine captain, and he mentions staying out at sea for three-month stretches, which ruins his marriage. Do you think you’d be able to stay trapped in a submarine for that long?
Well, I was fortunate enough to be invited by the Royal Navy on a submarine exercise. So I spent four or five nights underwater, which was an extraordinary experience. Not necessarily a huge help for the film, I mean I perhaps picked up little details here or there, but I don’t think I could spend months and months, no. I don’t know if I’d have the stamina.

So you had to gain a bit of weight for this and “Dom Hemingway.” 40 pounds. What was your favorite food to eat during your bulk phase?

I wanted him to look like a guy who could take care of himself.
So… what kind of food did you eat?

Protein.
Ah. That’s cool. What are some of your favorite submarine films?
Ah “Das Boot” is a classic! That’s the obvious answer. There’s a great one called “Run Silent Run Deep,” which I loved. Lemme think. I would also have to say there’s one I quite liked called, “Gray Lady Down,” a sort of late Charlton Heston movie. It’s pretty cool.
I don’t know that one.
They get stuck on a ridge.
Kinda like what happens…

Exactly! Not a lot of submarine films deal with that issue. Getting stuck at the bottom. 
The film has an impressive, eclectic cast of character actors, and you were all working in tight, confined spaces on the submarine. Did that closeness and intimacy affect your relationships with the other actors?
Fortunately, we got on very, very well. And very quickly. We bonded, you know? And it’s interesting how, when you’re in a film with a group, and you spend all day, every day in a small space together, you become a kind of team. A crew. Also, because of the confined space, there was a lot of humor. Some sea shanty singing. A lot of piss-taking. It was good.
So Ben Mendolsohn has had a late-career resurgence in the last few years playing depraved crazy men, and I just need you to assure me that he’s not actually crazy in real life. 

No, he’s not crazy. He’s charming, incredibly smart, witty, so generous. Such a warm man, and such a wonderful actor. He taps into a great sense of freedom. He can really lose himself and go places.
You don a Scottish accent for the film. How have the Scotsmen received your attempt?

Well, Kevin is Scottish. Kevin Macdonald the director. He kinda steered me in the right direction. And I had a voice coach who was also from Aberdeen. I based it on an old recording I heard from a woman’s father, who was an old Alberdonian docker. I liked the idea that Robinson’s character had this hint of a less-than-perfect past, and Aberdeen has a great sense of pride to its sound. A great sense of grit. It’s actually called the Granite City, because of the color of the rock. It just seemed to suit Robinson.

It’s kind of funny. You’re playing a Scotsman, and Sean Connery, who is a Scotsman, plays a Russian in “Hunt for Red October,” and there are Russians in your film, too. That wasn’t a question, I realize, I just thought it was funny. I don’t know why.
That’s what actors do, I guess.
Yes. They act.

They assume other roles.
You just wrapped up production on “Genius”…

Yes!
…And you’ve worked with the director before, on “Henry V”…

And “Hamlet.”
…Yeah, that too. By the way, I enjoyed your “Henry V,” not that I’m a theatre critic.

Oh, great. Thanks so much.


So what’s it like working with a director who’s a veteran of the stage but has never made a feature-length film before?

I had great faith, since I’ve worked with him on two very big projects for the stage. He has a natural and seemingly boundless understanding of actors and drama and storytelling. His production always have an incredibly cinematic quality. Beautiful productions, and the pace of the storytelling, the focus of the storytelling, was incredibly evident and bold. I was so excited to see how he’d embrace the filmmaking process. It was a wonderful experience. It was also exciting to see someone so talented discover film for the first time. If I’m honest, watching him fall in love with the process helped me fall in love with it again.
It makes me think of the late, great Mike Nichols, who made a similar transition. You worked with Nichols. Did they have similar approaches to directing, given that they were both theatre directors?

No, not really. The great thing about being an actor is I get to work with all sorts of directors. All sorts of wonderful directors. Directors only get to work with themselves. Unless they make a conscious effort to go watch other productions, or if they themselves go act in someone else’s movie. They evolve their own process and that’s it. We get to try it out with all these different directors’ processes.
Nichols was supposed to be a great actor’s director. What does that mean, “an actor’s director?” It’s such a vague claim.

It’s all in the nuance. To say, “He’s a great actor’s director” doesn’t necessarily mean that other directors are bad actor’s directors. It’s just that his ability and his understanding… he had incredible intellect and wit. He had great empathy for the process that actors go through. He had great faith in your range and he knew what he was looking for. He cast well, he was able to draw on people’s skills. It comes down to his razor-sharp intellect. Just his embrace of humans, I think.
One of my favorite movies from last year was “Grand Budapest Hotel.” What’s it like being directed by Wes Anderson, whose style is so precise, tight, unwavering…

It’s like that. It’s an incredibly precise approach, but he does it with style and grace. I went out of my way to flatter him, and ask to get involved with one of his films. I’ve been a huge fan. From watching his films, I guess you kinda know what you’re getting yourself in for. That was fine by me. I was keen to work with him.
In “Black Sea,” there’s this line you say: “This time the shit’s fighting back.” And—no offense—it’s such a horrible, horrible line. But you deliver it with such sincerity and conviction! How did you manage a straight face saying that?

[laughing and clapping] That’s really funny. I guess you said it: it’s sincere. He really means it. You know, Robinson really believes like he’s been treated like excrement, and all these men at the heart of the film, these are great men. Skillful, smart, prideful men. And they’ve been thrown away by society. So I guess it comes from conviction.  

What kind of research did you do for your role?

Well, I’m not a big fan of divulging what research I do. It’s like a magician showing how he does his tricks. Working with the Royal Navy was eye-opening. There were some films and books…I kinda poked around to find Robinson’s motivation.
“Swiss Family Robinson?”

No, surprisingly not. “Heart of Darkness,” “Moby Dick”…
That’s my favorite book.

Really? 
I love “Moby Dick.” A truly unfilmable novel.
Yes! Unfilmable indeed. But, actually hasn’t Ron Howard just done a film about the real life story that inspired the book?
“In the Heart of the Sea,” or something. It got pushed back to next year. 
There’s a little bit of Ahab in Robinson. Two films that inspired Kevin were “Treasure of the Sierra Madre” and “Wages of Fear.” Funny enough, just after I finished filming “Black Sea,” I was in “Henry V” [points at me and winks knowingly, as if we now share an awesome inside joke], and I’d done a little bit of prep work. There was a sense of “King Henry” about him, too. Learning to be a leader, and stirring those who think they’ve got so little to take on so many. 
So, you actually got all the way through “Moby Dick?”
Uh, yeah.
People are always going on about how hard it is. It’s not that hard.

I never understand that. What, because he describes rope and types of whales? I love that stuff.
Are you a big reader?
I am.
What are some books you’ve read recently?
Well, the Michael Grandage film “Genius” is about…
Thomas Wolfe.
That’s right. So I waded through two of his novels, which was no mean feat cause they’re so long. Some of his short stories, too. That sort of inspired me to go back and look at the Max Perkins library. I revisited Hemingway and Fitzgerald during the filming of “Genius.” I’ve just started—I don’t know how you say her name. Marilyn…You know, “Gilead.” Oh, Robinson! Hah, Robinson, hey. I’m a huge Marquez fan.
Gabriel Garcia?
Yeah. I love his style. “100 Years of Solitude” is probably my favorite novel at the moment.
So, “Genius” is about Thomas Wolfe, and…
Well, the word “Genius” doesn’t necessarily refer to him. It’s about the wrestle between the Apollonian approach to art, and…
The Dionysian?
That’s right. Exactly. Do they need each other? Are they the same half of the whole? A whole? It’s like that.
You don’t have to answer this if you don’t want to, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask you to divulge some dating advice, for me mostly, but by proxy also the readers. 
I can’t, I’m afraid. I’m useless at it. You’re asking the wrong guy. Everywhere I go, I have an… altered perspective on dating.
That was just ambiguous enough to end the interview on.
Good. That’s what I was hoping.
 

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