Actor Jude Law attends a special screening of Fox Searchlight Pictures’ "Dom Hemingway" hosted by The Cinema Society with Links of London
Actor Jude Law attends a special screening of Fox Searchlight Pictures' "Dom Hemingway" hosted by The Cinema Society with Links of London at the Landmark Sunshine Cinema on Thursday, March 27, 2014, in New York. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)

Moviegoers think they know what they’re getting when they see Jude Law’s name in the opening credits. At 41, a tabloid darling, the “Aflie” of his generation, Law’s screen presence is summed up by British critic Brian Viner:

“Best suited to pretty-boy roles,” he wrote of Law in The Daily Mail.

But putting on 30 pounds, a collection of tattoos and fearsome facial hair for “Dom Hemingway” “poleaxes” that image, Viner noted. Law “grabs his opportunity to fill the screen with a gloriously over-the-top character” John Millar raved in The Daily Mail. Reviews for “Dom Hemingway,” which has Law playing a comically loud, wild-eyed and violent ex-con who gets out of prison seeking repayment for the years he lost, have been mixed. But Dom is still an eye-opening detour for Law. We caught up with him in New York.

Q: What’s the appeal of playing someone this unfiltered?

A: I like the idea of playing someone who has gone to seed. Life today is about trying to hide all your excesses — physical, emotional. He’s someone who wears them on his sleeve, on his face and on his chest. The challenge is playing someone so offensive, yet also weirdly likable ... ‘How’s that going to work?’ I wanted to play around with that equation, work that out, just for myself.

Q: He’s so over-the-top, he must be putting on an act, right?

A: He’s held onto his rage. It’s how he’s survived ... He’s an angry guy. So we watch him learn that he has to embrace other sides of life and move on — forgiving, and asking forgiveness.

But he is an actor, yes. There’s an important scene where he talks about his childhood, in a reform school. A teacher cast him in a play and he was pretty good in it. That’s a hint that you get about his past. He’s playing this brutish part. Maybe if the dice had landed differently, he could have been an actor. He’s that kind of confident, larger-than-life person. He performs instead for anyone and everyone who will listen — with bluster, this violent bravado that he puts up as a front.

Q: Most people don’t get to act out in the real world the way Dom does. Was living with him fun?

A: There’s a certain amount of release in playing a guy this loud, this impulsive and violent. I was always curious about what makes someone this way. That’s what I need to know to pull it off, to make him realistic and rounded, to me. People have to forgive him and like him, after all ... There’s a vibrancy at his center that is exciting to channel. I got to unleash that every day, and that certainly had an effect on me. And Dom came with me, sadly. Every night ...When you’re sporting a pair of mutton chops like that, it’s hard to take a character off every night.

Q: You just played “Henry V” on the London stage. You have a Melissa McCarthy comedy coming up, and another Sherlock Holmes film (with Robert Downey Jr.). Might “Dom Hemingway” be a game-changer for you?

A: People are going to see me differently after this, I suppose. I’m always trying to keep myself guessing about the sorts of parts I can do, what works and what doesn’t work ... There’s something to Dom that could make people think, ‘Yeah. He’s savable. And he’s not at all who we first think he is.’ I can identify with that. And that’s why it’s great that we make films about people like Dom. It’s why we should give people like Dom an hour and a half of our life to understand them. In a movie, you don’t have to confront him in public, which is even better, considering what he’s capable of.


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