You might not immediately recognize Jude Law but chances are you’ll soon be Wilde about him.
“Mortality isn’t really an option in life,” says Jude Law, as he takes a drag on a Camel Light. His eyes close and he exhales slowly and elegantly. He’s been longing for this moment for the past four hours. It’s one of the drawbacks of being an up-and-coming movie star… no smoking on set.
And so we’re huddled in the filthiest room in London’s Pearl Insurance building, a former financial institution that’s now used only by film companies, and where Jude is now filming Wilde opposite Stephen Fry and Vanessa Redgrave. Smoking outcasts from Mission Impossible, The Borrowers and The Saint have all been banished to this tiny office before us.
Of course there are no ashtrays in this makeshift smoking room – just polystyrene cups. And the only furniture is two school chairs and a cardboard box. But it doesn’t bother Jude. He’s as happy as a clam merely to be allowed to indulge in his addiction.
At just 24, Jude Law is tipped to be the next “big thing” – likely to become a bigger name than his best friend and fellow Brit, Ewan McGregor of Trainspotting fame. You’ve already seen Jude opposite some of Hollywood’s hottest talent – how’s Uma Thurman, in Gattaca, and Kevin Spacey, in Midnight In The Garden Of Good And Evil, for heat? As you read this he’ll be on our screens in Wilde, and by the end this year you should swoon watching him in I Love You, I Love You Not opposite Clare Danes. And it’s not just his exquisite features that are taking this boy places. He also possesses a natural flair for acting.
“When Jude auditioned we all looked at each other and said, ‘He’s going to be a movie star.’ We just knew,” insists Andrew Niccol, director of Gattaca.
Phyllis Huffman, who cast him in the Clint Eastwood-directed Midnight In The Garden Of Good And Evil, agrees. “He’s a combination of what makes a star a star,” she says. “He’s gorgeous, he has charisma. And the good news is – he’s a very accomplished actor. There are only a handful of people who have that kind of power at that age.”
Hollywood first sat up and took not of Jude when he appeared on Broadway in 1995, starring in Jean Cocteau’s Les Parents Terribles – which Jude pronounces with the most delicious French accent but which the Americans retitled Indiscretions. It seems they had trouble pronouncing the play’s original title, not having the benefit Jude has of practicing his French, during his periodic escapes to his parents’ retreat in the Loire valley.
The insanity of the New York opening night of Indiscretions still shocks Jude, who’d already performed in the play during its London run.
“I was so embarrassed. I have never seen so many famous people. There’s this thing in America where they all come backstage after the show and shake your hand. There was Harrison Ford, Demi Moore, Laurence Fishburne, Yoko Ono, all the Barrmores, Woody Allen. I mean, flaming hell!”
There were also casting agents in the audience, and before the curtain dropped at the end of the evening they’d already submitted invitations for Jude to star in their forthcoming pictures. He made a quick detour back home to London to visit his then-girlfriend, actress Sadie Frost, whom he met on the set of Shopping – a film he reckons only two people have seen and he knows both of them. Then made the great leap across the Atlantic into his first Hollywood movie, Gattaca.
“It was quite daunting,” he admits, “but to be honest, I was going out to play a cynical alcoholic paraplegic in a wheelchair. And because I was nervous about being in a Hollywood movie I decided I was going to be really cynical about it for the part. I thought it would really help. So I said to my friends that I was just going to turn up and do it and really do it brilliantly, and then I was going to leave.”
He laughs, recalling his faux arrogance.
“And it really helped actually, because you just turn up and you see Uma Therman and you’re like, ‘Oh hi, Uma.” All nonchalant.
“Strangely enough Uma was more nervous than I was when we worked together. Because what you forget it that when you’re Uma Thurman you have all this press saying you’re the best and you’re the most beautiful and when it comes time to do your bit you’ve got to try to forget all that. Whereas, as Jude Law, I have no baggage!”
Perhaps not yet, but Jude’s carefree days are numbered.
He left the New York stage with an esteemed Tony nomination and a certain notoriety for a much-appreciated nude scene. His role as Bosie, Oscar Wilde’s beautiful young lover, in Wilde is certain to attract more of the same attention. The film spans 15 years of Wilde’s life, including the height of his career when he had several West End successes, including The Importance of Being Earnest and Lady Windermere’s Fan.
Bosie – or Lord Alfred Douglas as he was more properly known – has gone down in history as the man responsible for Wilde’s demise after he coerced Wilde to take his, Bosie’s, father to court for slander for calling him a “Sodomite.” Wilde lost the case and, as homosexuality was then illegal, he was imprisoned in Reading jail for two years. In 1897 he fled to Paris, where he died in poverty in 19900 at the age of 46.
“Bosie gets a lot of bad press because he’s considered the man who ruined Oscars great life, but it was more complex than that,” says Jude. “He was both Oscar’s muse and nemesis.
“He was a young aristocrat who’d been brought up without much contact with his parents. His sexuality was very much a part of a rebellion against his parents.
“On arrival at Oxford University he aspired to be a writer, a poet. He was hugely inspired by Wilde’s writing and eventually became his lover.
“He also became the person in Oscar’s life who would raise the stakes – every time Oscar took a stand against convention, Bosie would say, ‘Well, now we have to live this. You can’t just preach it. You have to perform it.’ There’s a wonderful quote that said if Oscar was bold, then Bosie was bolder.
“Not that Bosie had Oscar’s intellect – most of the poetry he wrote was pretty bad, although he did coin the phrase ‘The love that dare not speak its name.’ But Bosie had a fire withing, a drive to impress and to shock, and he was possibly the first sort of ‘out’ homosexual. He wouldn’t mind walking into restaurants with Oscar and letting everyone see them as a couple. And his father was aware of this.
“His father, the Marquess of Queensberry, was a frighteningly physical and violent person. He invented the Queensberry Rules of Boxing, and he thrashed all his children repeatedly, driving his elder son to suicide. And it was because of his father’s dislike for Oscar and their relationship that Bosie encouraged Oscar to take his dad to court.”
On the day of our interview Stephen Fry, who plays Wilde, and Jude are filming a scene that occurs shortly before Oscar leaves for Paris. The scene will last just 45 seconds on the screen – but it takes a couple of hours to film.
The weather outside is ominous and Heathrow Airport has diverted most planes to fly directly over the Pearl Insurance Building. There’s a man on the roof looking out for them but still, every time filming is almost complete, a plane jets out of nowhere and the roar of its engine ruins what is meant to be a poignant scene in the late 1800’s.
It’s tiring and annoying for all concerned, with the exception of Jude. Although these are precious hours spent not being permitted to smoke, he’s just so relieved that his parents chose today to visit him on set. Today’s scenes are fairly tame compared with some he’s had to film.
“Bosie was a very sexually active young man. He wasn’t, quote, ‘a homosexual’ because there was no such thing in those days. He was just a very sexually driven young man with a fury in his soul.
“There are records of his picking up a young man, seducing him, then taking him to a prostitute’s house, sleeping with the two of them again, them taking him to Oscar’s – I mean, he was quite a ‘man about town,'” Jude grins.
“So I was quite shy filming some of the scenes. There are very intimate love scenes with Oscar which aren’t sex scenes – they’re just caressing and post-coital. And then there are these other scenes with rent boys which are purely sex. But I wouldn’t have taken the part if I thought they were excessive.
“They’re really important to Bosie’s personality so I had to walk in thinking, ‘What the hell, I can do this,’ because that’s the energy Bosie would carry, and I’m not particularly embarrassed about being naked.
“In fact the intimate stuff was harder because we had to put together a montage of images and you feel like a dummy because they’re saying ‘Hold your head higher,’ ‘Moisten your lips’ and then you have loads of time to think: ‘What the hell am I doing?” he laughs. “I get home to Sadie and I think, ‘What did I do today? I made love to a man.’ It’s really bizarre!”
Jude and Sadie Frost (who starred in Bram Stoker’s Dracula) have been merrily married since September 1997 after living together for a couple of years. The start of their relationship in 1994 was “very complicated” because Sadie was still married to Spandau Ballet’s Gary Kemp, but “one of the nice things was it meant we just became really good friends first. It was kind of a gradual thing, although I fancied the pants off her as soon as we met!”
The couple have a one-year-old son, Rafferty, who was an incentive for their barge wedding last year.
“We got to the point where we wanted to take out relationship to a new level. Baby makes a difference. And there is also a fickleness in acting relationships that is starting to really freak me out. So to build a relationship like this is really nice,” notes Jude.
Sadie and Jude are also co-owners, along with Ewan McGregor and Jonny Lee Miller (Sick Boy in Trainspotting), of a film production company called Natural Nylon.
“We started the company because we want to be hands on and not just out there in the market place waiting for other people to offer us projects. We felt we had good ideas and we also wanted to be able to offer jobs to our friends and do films together,” says Jude.
Hellfire Club, based on the exploits of a bunch of young, aristocratic rabble-rousers in the 18th Century, will be their first venture in which the three best friends star. Ewan, Jonny and Jude lived together for five years back in the days when they were all still single and hotly pursuing success. Today they live in separate homes with their respective wives in London’s plush suburb of Primrose Hill, but they’re still within spitting distance of one another.
“I’ve been very lucky, very lucky in the last couple of years,” says Jude, shaking his head incredulously. “It’s funny because I never went to dram school.
“I left school at 17 because I was offered a TV job and then I acted in theater and now I’m moving into the movie world. You know this is only my fourth film and I’m only just starting to get the hang of it. And hopefully with a good 60 years ahead of me, I’ll get better!
“Though I have to say that watching Sadie give birth to Raf, and just holding him and loving him – that, that surpasses any acting experience, I tell you.”
And with that the loving father and husband stubs out his last cigarette and steps out in front of the lights and cameras to deliver and extraordinarily credible performance as a homosexual lover.
PERSONALITY May 15 1998