Opening this weekend is director Steven Soderbergh’s psychological thriller Side Effects. Written by Scott Z. Burns (Contagion, The Informant!), the film is about “a successful New York couple (Rooney Mara and Channing Tatum) whose world unravels when a new drug prescribed by Emily’s psychiatrist (Jude Law)—intended to treat anxiety—has unexpected side effects.” The film also stars Catherine Zeta-Jones.
At the recent Los Angeles press day I landed an exclusive interview with Jude Law. During our wide ranging conversation we talked about old projects like Gattaca, eXistenZ, and A.I., how he got involved with Side Effects, what it was like to work with Soderbergh again, how he prepares for a role, and more. In addition, we also talked about future projects like Sherlock Holmes 3, the new Wes Anderson movie The Grand Budapest Hotel, Dom Hemingway, Queen of the Desert, his thoughts on the comic book genre and whether he’s interested in doing one, and a lot more. Hit the jump to either read or listen to the interview.
Click here for the audio or the full transcript is below.
Law: That’s very nice of you, thank you.
When did you first realize you won the actor’s lottery ticket in terms of getting good, juicy rolls and being able to be an actor in Hollywood?
Law: I don’t know that I always feel like that. There are always seasons to a career and perhaps always the grass is often greener, you’re often looking at other people’s careers going, “Damn, they get all the good roles. Why didn’t I read that? Why didn’t they ask me to do that?” Having said that I feel very fortunate in this particular case in that I had obviously established a relationship of sorts with Steven and Scott [Z. Burns] and these kinds of films aren’t made that often. But I suppose a big turning point- I don’t know, it’s always a little bit of a slog fighting to get the ones that really matter and that have got a good substantial meat to them. To me it’s also just about refreshing and reminding people that you can do other stuff because otherwise you do tend to slot into a groove and become typecast.
I’m going to bring up three films for you and I want, if you don’t mind, one sentence of what you remember. Because believe me I could spend all fucking day talking about some of these, but one sentence of what you remember on Gattaca, if you don’t mind.
Law: No, not at all. It was my first time working in Hollywood and I made a great friend in Ethan Hawke.
Ok, eXistenZ, I dig that movie.
Law: eXistenZ, yeah, it was like being on a science trip, we were in these bizarre locations living in Cronenberg’s head.
Ok, and A.I.
Law: My daughter’s born and I remember I was very excited by the sets. I’d never worked on such enormous sets before.
Thank you for indulging me. Believe me, I could go through a lot more but I’m going to stop right there. Jumping into why I’m getting to talk to you today, with Side Effects was it the script that got you? Was it the fact that it was Soderbergh? Or both?
Law: It was both. When someone like Steven Soderbergh asks you to do a film you know you’re in good hands. You know it’s going to be slick, and it’s going to be intelligent, and it’s going to have a kind of style to it, and I would probably have done anything to be really honest. I was excited to work with him again, I really enjoyed working with him before and I was keen to do something a bit bigger, a bit more substantial. I thought it was a great character in Contagion, and it just so happened that this script was incredibly entertaining and also it was on a subject that was interesting, intelligent, and thought provoking.
I didn’t watch any trailers so I went in as blind as I could, because it’s Soderbergh and I just want to see it, I was surprised by how much of a Hitchcockian thriller it was. When you’re reading scripts do you try to go in free and clear without knowing what it’s about or do people give you a synopsis and you say, “Ok, let me read it”?
Law: No, I don’t tend to get a synopsis, but just because of the nature of things you do tend to have a… a pitch is often given to you before it gets to you. Whether it’s a rough description by an agent or you’ve had a conversation with a director. I’m quite keen to know who’s directing first because it has a big influence.
I’m curious about your process for preparing for roles. I’ve spoken to a lot of actors who do as much research as they can and then they try to forget it all before they walk on set. Other people will prepare like a week before. I find it very fascinating the way people prepare. What is your typical method of getting ready for a role and what is the most you’ve ever done for a role?
Law: It kind of changes and it’s become more and more complex, actually. I try now to do a process with a woman I work with in London who I met when I was doing Hamlet. Actually, no, we met when I did Sleuth, but we do a lot of work on voice and we do a lot of work on back story. I just find it healthier and easier to understand someone if I know what their life was like and kind of map it all out up to the point the film starts. To me, it helps give a sense of wholeness to the person. I’m keen to do as little or as much reading and watching as the director may advise, and often off that you kind of stem into other things that you find of influence, perhaps the things that you’re watching. It’s a good excuse to get to know a new profession, or a new approach, or a new era. It’s about authenticity. It’s about having the confidence to really feel that you’re saturated and know the world you’re about to step into and understand the person you’re about to be.
What’s the most research or preparation you’ve ever done for a role?
Law: I don’t know if there’s a single one where I could go, “Oh, that was the most.”
I’ve stumped you.
Law: Yeah, you have. It often tends to be about the same amount. It depends; sometimes physically changing yourself is quite hard work.
When I spoke to you in Toronto I asked you about the status of Sherlock Holmes 3, you graciously replied that they’re writing the script, you’re not really sure, but they’re working on a script. Have heard any sort of updates?
Law: I haven’t sadly.
That is actually sad news. I’m a huge fan you two together.
Law: I’m pretty certain that if there is a will there is a way. We were really thrilled that they were successful and people liked them as much as we did and because of that I think we’re bound to do it again. But you know what it’s like, it’s going to be about scheduling, it’s going to be about the right time for the studio and it is about keeping the bar raised, you know, coming up with something that’s really smart and making sure it keeps getting better.
I’m incredibly excited that you’re going to be in the new Wes Anderson movie.
I am a huge Wes Anderson fan.
Law: Me too.
And the cast is ridiculous. Talk a little bit about how you got involved in that one, and I don’t want you to ruin anything about the movie, but can you reveal who you play or anything?
Law: Yes, certainly. I mean, I’m a tiny part, but I was a huge fan of his and I’ve admired his films and wrote to him several times.
Did you write letters or emails?
Law: Letters initially, which is very in his genre isn’t it?
Law: “Dear Wes…” yeah, and now emails; and it wasn’t a case of begging it really was just saying, “I love what you do and I want to live in that world.” And he was very sweet to ask me to be a part of this one. I play an author in this and there are sort of several sections, it’s about storytelling. There’s someone plays me older and then they’re recounting how they were told a first certain story, and then you cut to me being told that story, and then you cut to the story. It’s sort of layers of storytelling.
What was your reaction reading the script for the first time?
Law: Well, it was as joyous as sitting down and watching one of his movies.
He’s like Soderbergh in the terms of he’s a director who has a unique take, in fact his work is just on another level in terms of there’s no other filmmaker like him.
Law: He’s kind of auteur-istic in that way. He’s created a genre; it’s the Wes Anderson genre.
It really is. I also noticed on the always accurate IMDB that you are doing Dom Hemingway and Queen of the Desert.
Law: No, Queen of the Dessert, I don’t think is going to happen now, or I don’t think that I can be involved in it anymore. I’m not sure what happened there, whether they can get it together I don’t know. Dom Hemingway I have completed and I filmed that late last year in and around London and in the south of France. That will come out this year.
For people that don’t know, what’s that about?
Law: It’s a film written and directed by Richard Shepard, who has been directing Girls lately and who wrote and directed a great film called The Matador. It’s about a guy called Dom, who is a kind of petty criminal. He’s just got out of prison. He’s a bit of a waster, he’s a drunk, he’s a loudmouth, he’s a liar and it’s about him trying to put his life back together and he gets into terrible scrapes with his friend Dickie. And it’s also really about him ultimately realizing that he has to make it up with his daughter.
I’m going to switch gears completely, what are the last few films you’ve seen that have really impressed you in terms of either the direction, acting-?
Law: The Master really impressed me. I thought the performances in it were astonishing and I’m a big fan of his work in particular. I found it an intriguing piece of cinema that I couldn’t quite- I still can’t quite get my head around. It was wide open, and suggestful, and moving, very emotional and disturbing. I think almost anything by Michael Haneke at the moment; the last five or six have just been brilliant. I just discovered a director from the past called [Yasujiro] Ozu, this Japanese director, who now I’m whizzing through his box sets because I’d never really heard of him before and I love his work.
Are you a fan of the criterion collection?
Law: Give me them all.
Exactly. Talk a little bit about what you’re thinking about in terms of the future for this year and beyond. I know you probably get asked this all the time, is there a genre you’re interested in? It seems to me, I’m coming out of left field here, but the comic book genre has become incredibly popular.
And it seems that the movies are getting more popular than ever.
Are you a comic book guy?
Law: I’m a massive comic book fan. I was buying weekly installments of “The Watchmen”, and “From Hell”, and “Parallax” and “Johnny Nemo”. I was a huge comic book fan as a kid and I still am, I still am to a degree. Me and my youngest son are both comic book nerds together; make models and stuff. My oldest son thinks I’m a terrible geek. But I don’t care, my youngest son gets me, he always does. Yeah, it’s definitely something I would like to get involved in if, again if the director’s right and the piece is right and the part is right. I was sad not to be a part of Watchmen when they made the movie, but I was busy doing something else.
Law: Thank you.
Right, exactly, Justice League, 2015. Also Marvel is entering their Phase 2. Have you actually asked your agent and said, “Hey, let’s have a meeting with D.C. or Marvel”?
Law: No, but that’s a good idea. That’s a good idea. I mean, I’m quite interested at the moment, nothings lined up, but I’m quite interested at the moment to do something a little more action-y, I’ve done quite a few quite cerebral, period movies and I’d quite like to do something like that.
A summer blockbuster, if you will, is sometimes a six month shoot and it’s very intensive to do these action set pieces, as an actor do you want to jump back and forth between the heavy, dramatic and the action-y?
Law: Definitely, I’m intrigued in all of them. As long as I keep people guessing, I’m happy.
When you’re standing in line at Starbucks and people want to talk to you, what are the one or two films that people always want to talk to you about? Or is the most recent, like Sherlock?
Law: Do you know, genuinely, it really, really is varied. I mean, genuinely, it can be- people go back to Gattaca, they talk about The Holiday, they talk about Sherlock Holmes, they talk about Talented Mr. Ripley; it’s interesting. It’s been very, very varied.
I have to wrap up with you, thank you so much for answering my wide variety of questions.
Law: It was my pleasure.