Jude Law: 'I'm clear about the things I don't want to repeat and those I do'
“My parents will love you when I tell them that,” he says. “It was my mum’s idea. On my passport I have a different first name. Same with my sister.
“I’m called David after my father’s best friend, but I’ve only ever been called Jude at home. It’s just some weird thing my mum and dad did. I blame them for the acting. They were the instigators. They always loved film and theatre. They were always involved in amateur dramatics. They’ve since set up a professional company. They always knew I had a desire to get involved. So they let me get on with it when it happened. And the name helped.”
Law had barely reached his teens when he began taking roles at the National Youth Theatre. In 1990 (offering a gift to later “when they were young” TV clip shows) he secured a regular role on the ITV daytime soap opera Families. There was the occasional slow period. But it doesn’t look as if he was ever in danger of having to find a proper job.
“I don’t remember deciding to become an actor,” he says. “It’s been in my life as something I enjoy for as long as I can remember. I remember, as a kid, putting together stories for assembly and loving the comfort of it. I think also, when you’re a kid, when you’re told you’re good at something, you want to keep doing it.”
If we must name a breakout film then Brian Gilbert’s Wilde, released in 1997, will do as well as any other. Stephen Fry was just a little too over-excited as the titular Oscar. But Law was quite brilliantly horrible as the snobbish, petty, childish Lord Alfred Douglas. Suddenly, Law found himself trading in the era’s most saleable posh totty. He did period sleek in The Talented Mr Ripley. He did robot sleek in AI. Along the way, he secured two Oscar nominations: for Ripley and for Cold Mountain.
“Both years I was nominated I didn’t feel I had to get on some kind of Oscar wagon trail,” he says. “Maybe that’s because of who I was nominated against and they weren’t doing it either or maybe it just wasn’t done then. There were certain events you had to attend and things you had to be seen to be doing but now it’s a given that you’ll dedicate months of your life to this process.”
Culture of enthusiasm
In 1997, he married actor Sadie Frost and became one half of Cool Britannia’s most photographed couple. Alongside other gadflies such as Ewan McGregor, Sean Pertwee and Jonny Lee Miller, they formed a production company called Natural Nylon. There were good films such as eXistenZ. But there were more financial disappointments than hits. Indeed, the company turned into a bit of a punch bag for catty journalists.
“It did feel a little bit like that,” he says. “I think ambition and enthusiasm is embraced a lot more than it was then. I never thought I’d say this, but I think the culture of talent shows and reality shows has actually helped. I think all those endless searches for the best singer and the best chef and blah, blah, blah have encouraged that. The idea of getting out there and doing something doesn’t seem as ludicrous as it did 15 or 20 years ago.”