As 2012 came to a close, Jude Law celebrated his 40th birthday. Whereas a few years ago we might have known everything about it – where and how it was marked, who was there, eating what food – it now passed quietly, and without public comment. For 11 months earlier, Law had accepted £130,000 from the publisher of the recently defunct News of the World in compensation for years of intrusion by the newspaper into his private life.
‘It was a beautiful, happy day,’ Law admits, with a broad smile. ‘A big lunch surrounded by all the people I love most in the world – my children, my parents, my sister, my nieces and nephews, my godparents. Dad made the loveliest speech… I felt very happy. Very at peace.’
Law has lived a lot in his relatively short life. Aged 17 he dropped out of school to start acting professionally in the Granada sitcom Families. At 22 he won the Ian Charleson Outstanding Newcomer Award for his performance in Jean Cocteau’s Les Parents Terribles at the National Theatre.
One year later, he had his first child, Rafferty, with Sadie Frost, whom he married the following year. In 1999, aged 24, he was nominated for an Academy Award for his performance as Dickie Greenleaf in Anthony Minghella’s The Talented Mr Ripley. By the time he was 30, Law had three children and 17 films to his name and was widely considered to be one of the most bankable film stars in the world.
This success did not come without a price, and Law’s halo seemed to slip with every news story about his private life. After divorcing Frost in 2003, he embarked on a scandal-filled on-off-on-off engagement to Sienna Miller (they finally split up in 2011) and became a father for the fourth time in 2009 when a daughter, Sophia, was born as a result of a short-lived relationship with the American model Samantha Burke.
Unfortunately for Law, this has often meant that the public has overlooked his professional achievements during the past decade – 23 further films, not to mention a critically acclaimed return to the stage (for which he was nominated for two Olivier Awards and a Tony Award). He has also used his public profile to positive effect with his charitable work. According to Jeremy Gilley, the founder of the peace movement Peace One Day, it was absolutely thanks to Law’s presence on two trips to Afghanistan with him in 2007 and 2008 that Unicef and the World Health Organisation were able to vaccinate millions of children against polio on the days of agreed ceasefire that resulted.
Through all of this, Law has remained firmly committed to his work. His latest film, Side Effects, is – rather neatly – the 40-year-old’s 40th. His second collaboration with the prolific Steven Soderbergh (‘Working with him is too interesting a proposition to refuse’), it is a tightly plotted psychological thriller that is also a searing critique of the prescription drug culture in America.
In it Law plays Dr Jonathan Banks, a successful English psychiatrist whose life and work is derailed when his care for one of his young patients (Rooney Mara) badly backfires.
‘He is very, very good at playing a guy who is an obsessive, who has a bee in his bonnet about something,’ Soderbergh says. ‘He also loves to immerse himself in interesting subjects because he is curious about everything. One of my favourite things about Jude is that he’s not too cool to get excited about something.’
Speak to anyone who knows Law and they will attest to his energy, his determination to work harder, learn more, live life. ‘Yeah, and I only feel like I’m getting into my flow now,’ Law says. ‘Like I’ve only just scratched the surface of what I can do.’
It is a cold, snowy day in London and Law has walked – with only an overcoat and an oversized cashmere beanie hat for anonymity – from his home around the corner to the low-key cafe in which we meet. He is clean-shaven and clear-skinned and, although age is undeniably beginning its cruel creep around his eyes and his hairline, there is an irrepressible boyishness about him.
‘It feels like a very real time to take stock and make changes for the right reasons,’ he says of turning 40. ‘I’ve made an awful lot of decisions, deep down, about things I don’t want to repeat. I’ve thought about what I like and what I don’t like about myself and I’ve realised that there are sides of myself that only I can change.’
If Law’s life were a car, he says, he would be at biting point, that moment where the power is in the balance, and he could go forward, or he could go back. ‘And I feel like I can move forward now, propelled by everything that has gone before. But not bogged down by it, you know?’
On the inside of Law’s right forearm is tattooed a cluster of ants, a homage to Anthony Minghella, his great friend and mentor. The pair worked together three times – on The Talented Mr Ripley, Cold Mountain and Breaking and Entering – and Minghella was a tireless ambassador for Law’s talent. Shortly before he died, Minghella summed up what he believed to have been the biggest stumbling block to the young actor’s credibility: his extraordinary good looks. ‘Jude is a beautiful boy with the mind of a man,’ he said. ‘A true character actor struggling to get out of a beautiful body.’
Certainly, it can’t be a coincidence that Law’s credibility as an actor has taken a marked upward turn in the past five years. As he entered into the second half of his 30s, Law also seemed to enter into a more serious and productive working phase. As his golden good looks started – inevitably – to lose their glow, Law seemed liberated, turning in his most layered and interesting performances to date. On stage, his 2009 Hamlet, directed by the Donmar Warehouse’s then artistic director Michael Grandage, was acclaimed as ‘spellbinding’ by The Daily Telegraph’s theatre critic Charles Spencer while his performance the following year as a shipwrecked Irish stoker, Mat, in Eugene O’Neill’s Anna Christie was considered by Michael Billington in the Guardian as ‘a breakthrough’ that would ‘release Law from the tyranny of always being seen as the good-looking lead man’.
When the subject of his gilded cage comes up, Law laughs self-consciously. ‘It’s funny… I don’t know whether I was in my own prison – or should I say constraint? Constraint is better. Or whether that constraint was put on me by the film industry. But certainly, yes, in the last couple of years, I have felt a freedom, which has been very fulfilling.’
In last year’s Anna Karenina, Joe Wright’s adaptation of Tolstoy’s classic novel, Law’s was the standout performance. Whereas a few years previously he would have been cast as Anna’s dashing, destructive lover, Vronsky, Law took on the role of her repressed, controlling husband, Karenin. Thin and pinched, with small round glasses and a receding hairline that he voluntarily had shaved for the part, Law’s Karenin was surprising and heartbreaking in equal measure. No one is happier than Law himself at this professional change of direction. ‘Unless you show people something different, they are not going to look at you differently, are they?’
In Dom Hemingway, a black comedy written and directed by Richard Shepard, and due for release later this year, Law gained almost two stone to play the title role, a bloated, balding petty criminal recently released from prison and back on the streets of London. In the photographs from the set, Law – who spent an indulgent summer eating and drinking whatever he wanted (‘10 Coca-Colas a day, amazing!) in preparation – is totally unrecognisable.
‘Oh, it was a joyous role to take on,’ he says, grinning. ‘Because I am at a stage in my life where I’m panicking a bit. “Ooh, am I going a bit bald? Am I getting a bit…?” You can’t help doing that in your late 30s, can you? When you realise that you’re no longer the 21-year-old you used to be. So playing someone who was letting it all go was really liberating. And actually – even better than that – now that I’ve lost the weight and my receding hairline isn’t quite as bad as we made it look for the part, I can look in the mirror and think, “Oh, it’s not that bad! I’m still looking all right, actually!”’
‘Jude is honestly one of the least vain people I’ve ever met,’ Shepard says. ‘There are two career paths he could have gone down – the fading matinee idol or the true actor who relishes the opportunity to get away from what they’ve been typecast as.’
‘Some people deal with getting older in a fantastically negative way which is, in itself, a kind of vanity,’ Grandage says. ‘But not Jude. As a man going into the second part of a life, he is feeling more at home in his body, more at home as a father and more at home as a human being than he ever did.’
With Rafferty now 16 (Iris is 12, and Rudy, 10) Law finds himself in the precarious position of parenting a teenager. ‘It makes me review my own life choices in a way that I never have before,’ he says. Law’s own childhood was a happy one. His parents, Maggie and Peter, were both teachers, who actively encouraged their children to have an interest in theatre and the arts (Law’s older sister, Natasha, is an artist). When Law landed the part in Families, they were calmly supportive of his decision to leave school and live in Manchester, where the series was being filmed.
‘I can’t believe that now,’ Law laughs. ‘It was so cool, and trusting of them.’ Law paints a picture of himself as a much more worrisome parent, anxious about educational choices, panicked at the thought of losing his beloved babies to adulthood, baffled by their addiction to new technology (Law himself is resistant; an iPhone 5, given to him as a present, sits still unopened on his desk, and is constantly vied for by all three).
Law has more cause than most to be an overprotective parent, having watched his children suffer the side-effects of their father’s fame. For years in the 2000s, he was shadowed by the paparazzi wherever he went, with the innermost details of his private life exposed by the tabloids. Law veered between paranoia and rage, regularly having his house swept for bugs, occasionally reacting violently to the photographers. But nothing could stop the stories: love triangles, infidelities, broken engagements, DNA tests. Any career successes were secondary.
And then, at the end of 2010, Law got a call from Scotland Yard. They had uncovered the notes taken by a private investigator who had been hired by the News of the World to pry into the lives of public figures. Among these notes were every aspect of Law’s life – his credit card details, the phone numbers of his friends and family, transcripts of voicemail messages left and received by him.
Emboldened by this unsettling evidence, Law sued the paper’s publisher, Rupert Murdoch’s News Group Newspapers, and settled, last January, for £130,000 and a public apology. Interestingly, he decided against testifying at the Leveson inquiry.
‘I felt like this whole thing had been about trying to preserve and recreate some kind of privacy,’ he said later. ‘I didn’t want to be on TV talking about my life.’ When the subject comes up, Law visibly stops himself from being drawn into it. ‘I desperately don’t want to be the guy that keeps going on about it, because I think we all know now. Thank God. We all know what was done. And it certainly feels to me, in terms of my own life, that the worst is over.’
For all his reasons to be cynical, Law – who is currently single – retains a tangible optimism. ‘Can you be cynically optimistic?’ he says, laughing. ‘No, I’m not sure you can. And yes, if I had to choose one of those things, I would choose optimism, because I do still, rightly or wrongly, believe in the innate goodness of life and humanity.’
At the moment, as he prepares to play Shakespeare’s Henry V in Michael Grandage’s autumn production, this is a subject that particularly interests Law. ‘The idea of playing Henry intrigues me, because here is the ultimate mythical hero being played to an audience living in a world that is desperately short of heroes. We have, I think, been short of inspirational leaders for a long time now; someone who leads the few to face the many.’ ‘Jude has a belief system,’ Grandage says, ‘that, at its most basic level, is founded on trying to be good and wanting to understand the nature of how difficult it is to be full of integrity in the world that we live in now.’
Law has already started his preparation for the role in earnest. ‘I’ve got a lot better at knowing what I have to do to make myself feel ready,’ he says, and this – he is refreshingly unashamed to admit – involves accepting all the help he can get. ‘I have an acting coach. I have a vocal coach… I take it seriously. If I’m going to do something, I’m going to do it properly. What’s the point otherwise?’
There was a moment, during the Anna Christie rehearsal period – which he was performing at the Donmar – two years ago, when Law suffered a crisis of confidence. ‘I was prowling around my house practising my thick west-coast Irish accent. I was big and built up with a bushy beard and, just in a moment, I caught myself and I thought, “What are you doing? Who are you fooling? This is going to be a disaster!” It was an all-consuming panic and I sat down, and I thought that the only possible way I could get out of it was to keep working at it, and hopefully I would come out on the other side.
‘What I realised in that moment,’ he continues, ‘was the most crucial thing I could ever have learnt, which is that fear is a good thing. And the reason it’s a good thing is because there is only one way out of it, and that is to work harder, commit more, and believe in what you’re doing. The fear comes from having been kicked about a bit.’ He laughs. ‘Which means, of course, that that kicking hasn’t been for nothing. That actually, it’s been a good thing. And that, in turn, makes it much easier to bear.’
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1 Response to “Jude on turning 40, and why his looks no longer matter”
Thank you very much for this article.
For some strange reason, I have needed lately to believe
that Jude Law is basically a good man.
It has been difficult over time because of all the negative press
and I by nature admire men with high moral standards-
He will always be handsome- the way Gary Cooper was always handsome-
and he was a beautiful younger man as well.
I respect and need (as do others) his concern for justice in the world that
results in some action.