By Ed Symkus
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The last time Jude Law proved to be unrecognizable onscreen, it was a purely physical thing. It took quite a while to figure out that was Law underneath the strange makeup and weirder hairdo when he played the dour Karenin in “Anna Karenina.” In his newest film, “Dom Hemingway,” the unrecognizability factor revolves around the attitude and behavior of Law as the title character. He is simply, in British terminology, a rotter, a nasty piece of work who might have a good heart, but seems to find pleasure in making others uncomfortable due to a combination of his language and behavior.
At the film’s start, Dom, a safecracker, finishes a 12-year stretch in prison, having taken a fall for a higher-up criminal. Now he wants what he feels is coming to him in terms of rewards.
Law, soft-spoken but excited over the film and the part, talked about it in Toronto.
The opening scene, where you’re naked and admiring a certain part of your body, might make prudish audience members a bit uncomfortable.
It was actually the first scene we shot. The first time I read the script, I hadn’t read anything that made me laugh as loudly and shock me quite as much. In a world where we watch and take in endless content, it was quite a surprise to be as shocked and yet laugh as much as I did from this piece of writing. The character was immediately a contrast of everything sort of awful and also endearing about man. That first scene took my breath away, and the script didn’t really let up beyond that. One of my requests to [writer-director] Richard Shepard was that if I do the film, we shoot that scene first, just to set the bar at a certain height for me the rest of the film.
You have lots of monologues in the film where you really get to let loose.
I kind of thought of them as rants as opposed to monologues. I think at the heart of this seeded and bespoiled man is this poet. He’s sort of Falstaff in a modern guise. He has a brilliant turn of phrase and a wonderful ability to riff off ideas, much of which is punctuated with fantastic profanity and the use of the F word and many other words in various different guises. But there’s a sort of beauty to the way he constructs it, and it’s at once very entertaining and also appalling. But it’s a kind of key to who he is.
Dom has all sorts of anger issues. Did it take a lot of energy to play the part?
I’ve got quite a lot of energy anyway, so I tend to sleep for a couple of weeks when the films are finished.
You have some wonderfully funny and troubling scenes with Emilia Clarke as your estranged daughter and with Richard E. Grant as your best friend. Were those easy for you?
I think you learn something from every actor you work with. It’s a very extraordinary experience, acting opposite someone. If you’ve never acted, it’s a hard one to explain. It’s like dancing with someone, and you don’t get to dance with many people. But you always pick up something from them. It’s a very intimate experience, an amazing experience of trust. It’s always shocking because you see something of them that you don’t see if you just sit and meet and have a cup of tea. Sometimes you learn subconsciously what never to do and sometimes you learn what you want to do.
Did you get a kick out of the abundance of black humor in the film?
The humor, albeit sometimes out and out comedy and sometimes very black comedy, was rooted in the reality of the adventures and the journey and the reactions and the situations that Dom and all these characters find themselves in, and how they respond to them. We often laugh at awful things in life. If someone falls over, we don’t immediately think, “Good lord, I hope they’re OK.” Sometimes it’s very funny, and then you worry about the fact that they banged their head and maybe hurt themselves. And I think playing in this film was a constant process of watching each other fall over, (laughs) a lot!
Ed Symkus can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jude Law transforms for ‘Dom Hemingway’ role
By Ed Symkus