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Law, Jude (1972-)


Main image of Law, Jude (1972-)

Although in recent years he has been as famous for his lively private life as for his acting, there is little doubt that Jude Law has emerged as one of the major British screen actors of the last decade, as comfortable in large-scale epics as in intimate chamber pieces.

He was born on 29th December 1972 in Lewisham, and acted with the National Youth Theatre from the age of 13. He made his debut as a 'mayor's stableboy' in the Beatrix Potter adaptation The Tailor of Gloucester (ITV, 1989), followed by a lead role in the Kay Mellor-created soap opera Families (ITV, 1990). He had more significant stage parts as well, including appearing in Jean Cocteau's Les Parents Terribles (or Indiscretions) at the National Theatre. His film debut proper, the ram-raiding drama Shopping (UK/Japan, d. Paul W S Anderson, 1994), was not greeted with enthusiasm by audiences, critics or censors, but it introduced Law to his first wife, Sadie Frost.

He soon found more interesting film projects. While I Love You, I Love You Not (France/Germany/UK/US, d. Billy Hopkins, 1996) sidelined him as merely 'the boyfriend', he was beautiful, petulant, and vile as Lord Alfred 'Bosie' Douglas opposite Stephen Fry as Wilde (UK/Germany/Japan, d. Brian Gilbert, 1997), which depicted Bosie as both the source of Wilde's happiness and his eventual downfall. He made his American film debut proper, complete with wobbly accent, as the murdered hustler Billy Carl Hanson in Clint Eastwood's Midnight In The Garden of Good and Evil (US, 1997). However, a far more intriguing role was the crippled, bitter Jerome Morrow in Gattaca (US, 1997), selling his DNA to Ethan Hawke's ambitious would-be astronaut, a role which indicated Law's willingness to play against his striking, almost effeminate good looks.

There were some misfires as well, such as the forgotten romantic comedy Music From Another Room (US, 1998), the incomprehensible vampire film The Wisdom of Crocodiles (d. Po-Chih Leong, 1998) and the faux-Dogme posturing of Final Cut (d. Dominic Anciano, Ray Burdis, 1998), though David Cronenberg's virtual reality comedy eXistenZ (Canada/UK/France, 1999) was more effective. Many of these were produced by Natural Nylon, a company that Law formed with Sadie Frost, Ewan McGregor, Jonny Lee Miller and Sean Pertwee.

However, the role that established him in the Hollywood A-list was in Anthony Minghella's The Talented Mr Ripley (US, 1999), in which Law's spoilt, privileged and beautiful Dickie Greenleaf revisited Wilde's Bosie character but added infinitely more charm and wit. He won a BAFTA, and was nominated for an Oscar and Golden Globe.

His desire not to be typecast as a conventional romantic lead can be seen in the wide range of projects he undertook afterwards. He was a grimly determined sniper, defending Stalingrad against the encroaching Nazis, in Enemy At The Gates (US/Germany/UK/Ireland, d. Jean-Jacques Annaud, 2001), an android gigolo in Steven Spielberg's A.I. (US, 2001) and, most memorably, a scarred, photography-obsessed hitman in Sam Mendes' Road to Perdition (US, 2002). A reunion with Minghella led to a commanding lead performance as the Civil War deserter Inman in Cold Mountain (US, 2003), for which he was again Oscar, BAFTA and Golden Globe-nominated.

Always a prolific actor, he now undertook a wide range of projects in which he juggled starring and supporting roles. These included the ambitious sci-fi spectacular Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (US/UK/Italy, d. Kerry Condon, 2004), the bewildering satire I Heart Huckabees (US/Germany, 2004) and the title role in the 're-imagining' of Alfie (UK/US, d. Charles Shyer, 2004), which led many tabloids to assume a connection between his philandering, faithless character and the actor's own private life.

He was highly enjoyable in a brief cameo as a dashing Errol Flynn in Martin Scorsese's The Aviator (US/Japan/Germany, 2004), and satisfyingly unpleasant as Dan, the obituary journalist-turned-failed novelist, in Mike Nichols' adaptation of Patrick Marber's Closer (US, 2004). With upcoming films including the political drama All The King's Men (US, d. Steven Zaillian, 2006) and a reunion with Minghella (who has described Law as 'my muse') in Breaking and Entering (US, 2006), there seems little danger of Law's star fading in the near future.

Alexander Larman

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