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Variety International Star of the Year: Jude Law

Leading man and a looker

By SHARON KNOLLE

(HOLLYWOOD) With a beautiful face, talent and palpable charisma, Jude Law — who's been acting since his teens — should already be established as top Hollywood leading man.

But it's only this year, with Miramax's "Cold Mountain," that the thesp has worn that badge.

Law confesses the romantic male lead is just the sort of part he's been sidestepping since coming to Hollywood's  attention.

"I suppose it has been not so much a choice, but more a habit," Law says of his tendency to gravitate toward supporting roles. "It  wasn't necessarily that I was  avoiding playing the leading man, it was just at the time, I either didn't feet that I was right for the part or there were other parts that  I thought were more interesting."

"He's been incredibly smart, working with the directors' equivalent of the 1927 Yankees: Steven Spielberg, Sam Mendes, Anthony Minghella, Martin Scorsese. Those are what I call good choices," says Miramax co-chair Harvey Weinstein.

He started to act at age 12, then left school four years later to pursue acting full time on the London stage. A well-reviewed perf in the Jean Cocteau play "Les Parents Terribles" led to his first significant film role in 1997's "Gattaca."

"I think if you grow up in London, you don't expect that you're going to end up working in movies, especially abroad," Law says. "Gattaca" "was the first script I read after eight or nine years in the theater that I really loved and felt an affinity with and was excited by. It felt like the biggest achievement.

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"It was an easy bridge to cross into the world of film from theater because I believed in the part and I was very keen to play it."

After that breakthrough role, Law alternated supporting parts  for top-tier directors such as Clint Eastwood (1997's "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil") and Steven Spielberg (2001's "Artificial Intelligence: AI") with lead roles in little-seen indies like "The Wisdom of Crocodiles."

Along the way, he delivered acclaimed turns in 1999's "The Talented Mr. Ripley" and 2002's "Road to Perdition," two films that made very different uses of his stunning looks.

Sony Corp. chairman-CEO Howard Stringer says of Law, "He's a good judge of parts. He's not simply intent on being a box office favorite. He's found those kind of parts he can really sink his teeth into and turn into something spectacular. If you perform well alongside Tom Hanks, it stretches you and gives you a kind of longevity and reputation."

In choosing a role, Law explains, "The one thing I try is to change or push myself as far away from the piece I've just done as possible and to try to keep it a challenge, keep it exhilarating," adding that becoming a leading man is an "opportunity to step into a new arena."

Law follows "Mountain" with another lead part, taking over the title role from Michael Caine in the remake of "Alfie."

"Alfie Elkins is very much the part I've been avoiding for 10 years, never really wanting to play the lothario or the young buck," says the actor. "Now I'm hitting 30 and those kinds of roles are the challenging parts, because I've not gone there and they're not necessarily the muscles I've flexed as art actor." Hes quick to add, "Not that that's the direction I'm going in, full stop, but it's a reason for the direction I went with 'Alfie."'

Also down the pike is a remake of "Sleuth," with Law taking Caine's role and Caine stepping into Laurence Olivier's shoes.

"It will be a couple of years of me following the Michael Caine path, if anything, just because he's obviously had excellent choices in the past in these fantastic roles," Law says.

"For the first time in my career, I've made the decision to do several films back-to-back, which is a challenge in its own right," he says. "But the fact that all the parts, and all the directors I'm working with have been so interesting and challenging has been just a delight."

Tellingly, Law says, "I didn't pursue the "Cold Mountain" role, which reteams him with "Ripley" director Anthony Minghella.

"I had sort of steered clear of the whole project because I bad heard it was going elsewhere," Law says, "I'm never one to necessarily chase down parts, and beat down people's doors. I'm happy to let things unfold."

Fortunately, Law is at a point where he can sit back and wait for offers to come to him.

"Jude has no ego about his work; he's been unafraid to take roles in quality movies, both large and small. His relationship with Minghella pushed him into full leading man status. Jude is an artist first," says Weinstein.

"He's obviously an extremely handsome guy, but I think it's the other qualities which are at the heart of his appeal, his sly humor, clear intelligence, and absolute intensity as an actor.

"It's the worst kept secret in Hollywood. Jude is a movie star and he will be for a long, long time," concludes Weinstein.

Despite his current success, Law remains philosophical. "I think however many films you've made or hits you've had, I always imagine that there are lots of parts that you aren't getting and lots of parts you are," he muses. "Or the inevitable period when you aren't getting offered anything and you think, 'Well, what have I done wrong?"'

Published in Weekly Variety, Dec. 1-7, 2003



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