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Jude Law On Saying Goodbye to Vanity in Order to Play 'Dom Hemingway'

Photo of Nigel M Smith By Nigel M Smith | Indiewire April 1, 2014 at 3:45PM

On screen, Jude Law is a very pretty man. In person, the actor doesn't disappoint. At 41, he still looks like Dickie Greenleaf, the bronzed, handsome playboy he played to cocky perfection in 1999's "The Talented Mr. Ripley." So it's therefore alarming to see him as the titular goon in this Wednesday's lewd comedy "Dom Hemingway."
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On screen, Jude Law is a very pretty man. In person, the actor doesn't disappoint. At 41, he still looks like Dickie Greenleaf, the bronzed, handsome playboy he played to cocky perfection in 1999's "The Talented Mr. Ripley." The man doesn't age. So it's therefore alarming to see him as the titular goon in this Wednesday's lewd comedy "Dom Hemingway."

In Richard Shepard's film, Law dons a prosthetic nose enhancement, some gnarly teeth, and sports severe mutton chops to play a womanizing safe-cracker out to score after being released from a long stint in prison. The performance is unlike anything the actor's done, and it's clear from speaking with him that he relished the opportunity to mask his trademark good looks to best embody Dom.

In the opening scene of "Dom," you rant on about the size of your member while being blown. Watching the scene, my jaw was on the floor. Was it the same reading it?

Jude Law in "Dom Hemingway."

Well I was just shocked, you know, it's quite hard to shock people I think nowadays. And I was genuinely quite shocked because of the excess, and the immodesty of him. I was immediately just sort of drawn, at the sheer balls of the character, and at the sort of vitality, and also because it genuinely made me laugh, it made me laugh out loud. And I still find it very very funny. But, the first scene sort of set the bar.

That scene is just you talking directly to the camera. Did you practice that one in front of a mirror?

No, I've never really rehearsed in front of mirrors. I mean, the whole thing, the whole script, Richard and I picked through word by word. Over a period of about four months, we kept meeting and he'd go and just do tiny, tiny little tweaks here and there, and over that period I was learning it, and writing a kinda whole back story so that we both knew exactly what had gotten Dom exactly where he was, so that those little references had some kind of resonance. And we ran a bunch of stuff together, the monologues together, in various situations. And really it was a case of just sort of monitoring. I remember a key note from Richard was, "As Dom's rants start to rev up, he starts to enjoy himself, and there's a sort of relish in him using these words, this poetry. And as soon as you start to see that, you know he's on a role, and that he's not going to stop."

Watching you as Dom was a rush. What was it like to play him?

It was a wonderful cathartic purge, you know? And there's something great about going, there were nuances and tones to him, cause he's a deep and complicated and layered kind of human, as we all are, as you start picking him. But there's a wonderful kind of release. He's got a front, and it's protecting vulnerability. There's a wonderful kind of swagger that is incredibly fun to step in to. That rubs off on you, you know? And when you walk around in an electric blue suit and Cuban heel boots, you can't help but walk around with a bit of attitude.

How did you work on developing that swagger? Dom is one cocky dude.

I don't know, none of that is sort of done consciously. I mean a little bit, you rehearse bits, and try stuff and he reminded me a lot of a couple people I grew up with and knew as a kid, and one of them had this particular kind of walk like he was gonna fight anyone, at any moment. So I stole bits from them, the boots helped, and a lot of that comes from inside as well. It comes from 'if I scare people off, then maybe no one will see the real me'... that kind of attitude.

To go back a bit, "The Talented Mr. Ripley" put you on the map as a sex symbol, something you and Spielberg riffed on in "A.I.," in which you play a gigolo. You're now at a stage in your career where you're not playing roles that require you to be devilishly handsome. In "Anna Karenina" you play the sad, put-upon husband, and as Dom, you're naked quite a bit, but he's really a grotesque creation. Are you consciously toying with the old perception people have of you as an actor?

Not like there's a plan, or a program afoot. It's just, like, you know they're great parts. And why wouldn't I play them? And they're challenges in different ways; I'm talking about the last few films I've done. And there's also the part of me that feels like, you get over the minefield of being 20 or early 30s in Hollywood and then, it's kind of nice to stick your fingers up and go 'look, vanity has to go out the window, and character has to come flying in.' And it's kinda nice to shock people I suppose.

I've never been a great believer in relying on looks to get you through. To me it's all about the work, and what you do in the workplace. And if a part like this that demands that kind of grotesqueness, if you like, comes along then why not embrace it with two hands and relish it? That's not to say that leading men roles don't interest me any more, cause they do, if they've got a challenge. So I don't know if I'm toying with it, so much as really just trying to take the parts that come my way and trying to make the most of them.

Do you feel like your looks ever got in the way of the types of roles you wanted to play early in your career?

Possibly, possibly so. I mean I don't know how much of that was, but possibly. I mean, it's only natural I guess that people judge you on how you appear and also on what you've done, and so it's like chicken and egg in a way, what comes first? And I've realized that over the last 20 years, that I'm always slightly aware that the grass is greener on the other side, like 'ooh, I wanna get offered those parts,' then those parts start to come and you go 'oh now I want THOSE parts,' so it's wanting what other people have.

What did playing someone like Dom teach you?

I don't know that it taught me anything, but I know that certain levels of his energy rubbed off on me. His swagger and his bravado rubbed off on me a little bit. It was really interesting playing someone, monitoring that sort of heavier-set physicality, and therefore slowing down a little bit, even though the character's revving up. That dynamic was very new for me. On film anyway, I've done it on stage. And I kinda used it again in a film I just did in the summer which is called "The Black Sea," which is coming out some time this year. That was kinda curious, playing with that kind of physicality.

In the press notes, Richard cites you as a collaborator, saying how heavily you were very involved in the audition process for the rest of the cast. Is this common for you to approach a project with such zeal?

I'm always as involved, as little involved or as much involved as a director wants me to be. I'll always do my work, and I'll always want to be a part of the team. With this particular film though, it just felt, you know, the film is Dom, and as Dom, I felt the responsibility of sort of leading from the front in a way. So being all over it, and understanding it from beginning to end, seems like an important part of how to pull off the character. He's also incredibly collaborative, and would kind of welcome me into that. And I guess we both sort of knew, from the off, that in order for the film to work, Dom had to work. And we both kinda fell in love with the character, and bonded over our mutual love of this insane, excessive rogue. And through that, we would have shorthand, we understood the world of Dom and therefore, we could kind of construct the film accordingly. But you know I needed him and he needed me, and Dom needed both of us. 

'Dom Hemingway' Invades New York

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'Dom Hemingway' Invades New York

  • photo by Clint Spaulding/Patrick McMullan Co.

    'Dom Hemingway' Invades New York

    The Cinema Society with Links of London hosted the premiere of Fox Searchlight Pictures' "Dom Hemingway" on March 27th in New York. The party was at new hotspot Il Principe at Hotel Hugo, where guests were served Moet & Chandon (who co-sponsored the party). Guests from the film included Jude Law, Demian Bichir, Madalina Ghenea, Nathan Stewart-Jarrett, Kerry Condon, Richard Shepard (writer/director), Steve Gilula (Co-President, Fox Searchlight Pictures). Other attendees included Lena Dunham, Jonny Lee Miller, Allison Williams, Paul Haggis, Maura Tierney, Karen Elson, Salman Rushdie, Dree Hemingway, Elettra Wiedemann, Ebon Moss, Louisa Krause, Peter Scolari, Dylan Baker, Isiah Whitlock Jr (The Wire), Sam Underwood (The Following), Valorie Curry (The Following), Ben Shenkman, Sarah Sophie Flicker & Jesse Peretz, Jenna Lyons, Gilles Mendel, Jamie Chung, Duncan Sheik, Casey LaBow, Will Cotton, Stu Zicherman, Peter Cincotti, Pat Cleveland, Mark Seliger, Paul Sculfor, Olivia Palermo & Johannes Huebl, Ann Dexter-Jones, Alex Lundqvist, Elena Foley, Genevieve Jones, Amy Sacco, Robert Dundon (President, Links of London North America), and Cinema Society Founder Andrew Saffir.

This article is related to: Dom Hemingway, Jude Law, Interviews, Fox Searchlight Pictures, Comedy, Steven Spielberg