If Jude Law once had an “Alfie” period in his own life, it quickly passed, and he realised that he certainly wasn’t cut out to be a womanising dandy who cares little for the feelings of his numerous partners. Fortunately, this hasn’t stopped the London born actor vividly creating a thoroughly modern charmer who wants little more than to bed as many beautiful women as possible.
“I guess the fact that I got married when I was 22 and had 3 kids by the age of 30 says a lot about my opinion on the Alfie lifestyle,” says Law, who points out that Alfie actually does have a pivotal moment of self doubt after causing chaos in the lives of some of Manhattan’s most beautiful women.
Indeed, the remarkable journey that Alfie, a devastatingly handsome Englishman living in New York, travels is at turns funny, sexy, revealing, sad and ultimately a rather lonely one as he realises that maybe, just maybe, he has lost far more than he has gained. There’s one scene where Alfie meets an old flame on the waterside and the terrible truth of what he has become flickers across his face.
Law himself was never a Romeo type and even found the dating game a hard one to play. “I like to think that I had my moment on the pier outside of Manhattan when I was about 19 when I realised that going out and going to clubs and getting drunk and trying to go out with someone is exhausting and it ain’t going to get you anywhere,” says Law.
At first, when director Charles Shyer, who co wrote the script with Elaine Pope, approached him to play role, Law was resistant to the point of saying a flat out ‘no.’ Foremost in his mind was the remarkable
performance given by fellow Brit Michael Caine in the memorable 1960s original. But this Alfie, Charles assured him, would be different and fortunately Law decided that he couldn’t resist the challenge. Quite
simply, it was too good to turn down.
“I realised I was saying ‘no’ initially to myself because I was really scared. I was scared of the challenge of pulling a character like this off, scared of being in every scene in a film, I was scared of stepping into something that I felt couldn’t be improved upon, not that that was the point, but I was generally scared.
“But what I then saw was a role that demanded of me to open up and play up sides of myself that I hadn’t played up before as an actor. And then I realised that the fear was the best part of it and that that was the
challenge. I kind of like looking for parts that scare me and make me think ‘I can’t do this..’
“And then it was simply being in conversation with Charles. We sat down and talked about the relevance of the film today. Just the whole palette and there was so much to go back and get our teeth into without treading on anyone’s toes, without trying to be disrespectful to a great piece of art, the original film.
“I also liked the idea that all of that came in the shape of a film that dealt with relationships and I’d never felt I’d done a film really, truly about relationships. And I think Alfie a very honest, pretty, happy, ugly,
dangerous film about relationships.”
Alfie has left his native England to go to the one city in the world where he can be assured of meeting the most beautiful women - New York. For the emotionally underdeveloped Alfie, Manhattan is a big playground – for adults. And to play the game properly you have to have the right look -haircut, clothes,
style - the right amount of charm - an English accent and a drop dead smile certainly help - and a devotion to the art of seduction. Alfie has all of this in abundance.
In fact, you might say that chatting up, and “shagging” - a very Alfie word - beautiful women, is his life’s work. He has a job, as a limo driver, and vaguely dreams of starting his own business, but really, it’s very time consuming keeping several women (relatively) happy.
Law is joined by a sparkling array of talent in Alfie - Marisa Tomei plays single mom Julie, Nia Long is Linette, the gorgeous ex girlfriend of his best pal Marlon (Omar Epps), Jane Krakoswski is a bored housewife, Dorie, who seeks thrills and passion outside of wedlock, Sienna Miller is Nikki a beautiful, dangerously unstable, hard drinking party girl and Susan Sarandon is Liz, a mega successful businesswoman who knows exactly what she wants and might just be more predatory even than Alfie.
Law, 31, was born in South East London and attended the National Youth Music Theatre as a 14 year old. He has starred in numerous films and television productions in England and made his American movie debut, opposite Uma Thurman, in Gattaca.
He starred with Gwyneth Paltrow in The Talented Mr Ripley, playing playboy Dickie Greenleaf which earned him both a Golden Globe and Oscar nomination. He was also nominated for an Academy Award for his role as Inman, the soldier desperately trying to get back home to the woman he loves during the American civil war, in Cold Mountain.
He has just completed a remarkably productive period. As well as Alfie, Law was recently seen opposite Ms Paltrow in the ground breaking sci fi epic Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow and he will also feature in I Heart Huckabees from director David O Russell, Martin Scorsese’s eagerly awaited Howard Hughes biopic, The Aviator, opposite Julia Roberts in Closer and with Jim Carrey in Lemony Snicket’s A Series Of Unfortunate Events. Soon, he will start filming All The King’s Men with Meryl Streep and Sean Penn.
Law and his former wife, Sadie Frost, have three children. He is currently dating actress Sienna Miller who plays Nikki in Alfie.
Q. Do you have to empathise with a character like Alfie at all?
A Well, I suppose it’s the same process you go through if you were playing Macbeth you hope that the morality of the piece as a whole resolves it for you. I’m only interested in playing characters that have a journey, a sense of evolution within the piece as a whole anyway. And I certainly think in this there is a journey that Alfie goes on where you, as the audience, are seduced, you are invited in, you are as much as a culprit as he is, as the women in his life, who are suckered by this veneer, this presentation, by this energy that he has and hopefully by the end you are apart of his dismantling when he finally realises that the only person who is going to make him happy is himself. And that’s why I refer back to
Macbeth in a way, if you embark on a classical piece like that you are playing a mass murderer and you are hoping still to seduce an audience and for the audience to understand and empathise with his actions in the hope that the writer, in this case Charles and Elaine, resolve the issues and I believe they have done in Alfie.
Q. But do you have to find some common bond with the character?
A. I like the idea that it’s about someone, and this is something we are all guilty of in this day and age, of relying of the veneer, relying on a facade, pretending everything is alright, never asking one self deep down ‘am I happy? Am I OK?’ And being surprised when things are falling down around you and it’s like ‘why am I not happy? I’ve got great clothes, I’m sleeping with great women or great men...’ And yet the problems lie within and that’s at the base of this piece and it’s incredibly interesting.
Q. Was it hard addressing the audience by speaking directly into the camera?
A. I remember talking to someone who said was that the most shocking thing when they saw the original back when it came out in the sixties – Michael Caine talking to the camera. We lost that tool because we are used to that nowadays, we’ve seen it on TV and in other films. So we talked a lot about at least raising the bar so that it wasn’t as comfortable as it is in the original. We wanted to push it as far as we could. Also I remember us talking about the asides we get used to in theatre, I’ve done lots of plays, classical and modern where there is an aside, and it’s all about a relationship with an audience. It’s all about continually reminding one self that as an actor that instead of talking to an audience you are talking to yourself and therefore allowing an audience inside your head. The interesting thing was that the camera became the constant; the relationship with the camera was in a way my relationship with Charles and the DP and with the designer and the props man. And I remember thinking half way through ‘my God I’m very lucky because I’m being visited by these great actors and actresses every week..’ It was like a different one every week and I got to learn from them which was wonderful. But my constant throughout the whole thing was the camera. And the camera became my best mate and the others were visitors into his world.
Q. What’s it like trying to follow in the footsteps of Michael Caine?
A. I didn’t really feel like I was. It wasn’t like going back and trying to replicate or mimic. I think if I’d done that I’d have been in big trouble, only Michael Caine can play Michael Caine. I remember one of the reasons I was finally educated into playing this part by Charles and others, it was because the creed of Alfie exists on the same level as like a Casanova or a Hamlet or a Don Juan. There is enough there to keep going back and revisiting it. You know, does it stand up forty years on? 100 years on? And in my opinion, you could re visit Alfie in another fifty years and there will still be Alfies out there, there would still be people behaving and thinking and living like that. I think Michael (Caine) found Alfie in him and I couldn’t go and play Michael playing Alfie, I had to find Alfie in me. And so I hope that whilst playing homage, we’ve also separated ourselves from the original.
Q. But people will compare the two of you…
A. Of course and when they do I hope that they compare us generously.
Q. You said you had to find Alfie in you, what are the similarities?
A. It’s not so much the similarities. Actually, maybe that is a better question for Charles. I wanted to make Alfie dark and seedy and Charles kept reminding me ‘but no one would want to go out with him..’ He kept saying ‘you have to sell yourself..’ And it was exhausting. You know, keep smiling and being up and being sexy and it was all of that stuff which had sat inside me for some years.
Q. Alfie wears some great clothes, did you have any input on the wardrobe?
A. I didn’t really need to. I was in great hands. Charles has impeccable taste and he was talking about how in the modern day it’s all about veneer and caring, too much about the wrong things. My one input was that when I turned up for the wardrobe thing there were racks of suits and shirts and
I said ‘this guy is a limo driver he can’t have bought all of this..’ I said ‘I want three suits, five shirts, two ties, two pairs of shoes and a pair of jeans..’ that’s it. Because this guy hasn’t got any money.
Q. You’ve resisted playing a big heart throb character in the past. Was that a conscious decision?
A. Not a conscious decision. I just didn’t feel that I had been asked to play a part that was a romantic Lothario, appearance driven guy. We are all so obsessed with how we look, aren’t we? This was the first time I felt that I was able to pull a part like this off, like there was more going on in him and in the piece than just a kind of story about a pretty boy and a pretty girl and they fall in love. It felt like there was
something else underneath and I liked that.
Q. Would you describe Alfie as a dandy?
A. Yeah, I think Alfie is absolutely a dandy of today and I think David Beckham is a perfect example of a dandy (of today).. He is, he’s a dandy. He can afford to be, he’s a brilliant...he enjoys what he wears.
Q. What is your own opinion of Alfie’s lifestyle and how would you look at women having the same lifestyle as he has?
A. I think the interesting thing about revisiting this film is that women can watch this film and relate to Alfie now as much as men. I think the most interesting element is that forty years of sexual liberation
and revolution for women has brought them to the same spot with the same thought process and inner thinking and workings as men. What’s my opinion? I guess the fact that I got married when I was 22 and had 3 kids by the age of 30 says a lot about my opinion Alfie’s lifestyle. I like to think that I had my moment on the pier outside of Manhattan when I was about 19 when I realised that going out and going to clubs and getting drunk and trying to go out with someone is exhausting and it ain't going to get you anywhere.
Q. Do you remember your first date?
A. I’ve never had any confidence with women. I can’t remember my first date, I think it was probably at a swimming baths when I was about six (laughs). With me I was always obsessed with the movies so I probably went to see a film.
Q. Is there a bit of Alfie in you?
A. I think one of the best lines in the bible is ‘treat others as you would have them treat you..’
Q. You are working very hard at the moment. Six films coming out, a new movie with Sean Penn just announced…
A. The funny thing is I finished Closer in March this year and I haven’t worked since and I won’t work again until the beginning of December. All of these films came in a row over a period of two years and it was the first time I had embarked on a series of films so close together, it was simply they were all very interesting. They were all very different with incredible directors wanting to take me in different directions, they all seemed to compliment and contrast with one another and they all worked out logistically because most of them were shot in London where I live and my kids live. It’s no secret I was going through a divorce so it was good to channel emotional energy and a lot of time into something positive instead of tearing my hair out. I don’t know if it’s a shame or what that they are all coming out within a few months, but I hope people will enjoy the variety, I hope they will realise that they are certainly not treading on each other’s toes. And yes, I’m doing a film with Sean Penn and Meryl
Streep called All The King’s Men in New Orleans.
Q. How do you deal with the level of scrutiny that comes with so many movies being out?
A. In the end it’s not so much the effect it has on your work it’s more the effect it has on your private life and therefore on your children and I’m immediately responsible for them as their father and responsibility
stretches to how I put myself out there as a public figure, as an actor and I know nowadays that it has repercussions on them so I guide myself by them and indeed have to kind of structure my life, my living
circumstances and how I portray myself for them, really.
Q. Was it difficult filming the intimate scenes in the film?
A. It always depends on little things like what time of day it is and who it is. I remember doing one at seven in the morning and everyone had just had coffee and you never felt less sexy in your life. It was ‘hello, nice to meet you, we are going to kiss..’ (laughs). Days like that no one really wants to do it. Other days the moment and the dramatic content takes you there and it’s the same as building up to an argument and screaming at each other. It’s about finding the right moment as an actor and that is made easier by circumstance and by the person working opposite you and how easy they are. It’s always awkward because in the end it turns into a technial feat. It’s like ‘wow that was great, but did we get it?’
And you got it but the lighting was wrong or they were slightly out of focus and then you have to go back. It’s just part and parcel of making film.
Q. What qualities do you appreciate in a woman?
A. Humour, intelligence and I have to say, and I know this is incredibly misogynistic, but I do love a woman who can cook. I really do. My mum was a great cook and I like cooking, I like food.
Q. What did you do with your seven months off?
A. It seemed right to take a breather, I’d been working hard. I enjoyed being with my kids, going to the cinema, the opera and the theatre, going to see my local football team. You can live a very basic life, you can cook your kids’ breakfast, just, or get them to bed, just, if you’re filming. They can come and visit and have a laugh on set and laugh at you making a fool at yourself. But it takes over your life so for two years I was pretty much on set and doing all of that and I saw a lot of my children and didn’t really do much else. But I had a really great summer, I went to Wimbledon, I went to the cinema, I came to New York for two weeks, I’d never been here and not had to work, it was heaven. I just lived my life and it was very nice.
Q. Are you interested in directing at all?
A. Maybe. I’ve got too much to learn as an actor still.
Q. The song asks ‘what’s it all about Alfie?’
A. I think that question is the one we all ask ourselves and the answer changes on what we need and what we want. I think it’s what is extraordinary about the tale of this man, at the beginning you could say he skips through life and yet in the end he is asking the big question because he is not happy and that is the question we all ask ourselves. It’s very important to realise that he doesn’t have the answer. But it’s the biggest step that he can make, maybe any of us can make, to ask the question and we are fools if we think we can live in a world where we can have an answer. What is the answer? I don’t know. No one knows. But to start to think about an answer means you are moving in the right direction.
Q. Did you learn anything about seducing a woman that you didn’t know before when making this film?
A. My mum was a very strong woman, a very strong influence in my life and she was very influential at being very nice and polite and friendly and I could never pull women and I realised that I should have been an arsehole (laughs).