A starring role alongside Matt Damon and Gwyneth Paltrow in The Talented Mr Ripley has finally given the mainstream
break he richly deserves. , Maybe he'd have gotten there sooner if he hadn't been so damned
handsome. Words: Barry Mann/IPA and Alan Morrison
10 THE LIST 3—17 Feb 2000
'I WON'T GET CAST AS QUASIMODO,’ ADMITS JUDE LAW, 'which would be a great part to play, even if I had to get into prosthetics.’ Not that the 27-year-old actor is complaining; he’s just being realistic about the good looks that nature has bestowed upon him. ’Someone who’s got a more interesting or odd-looking face might get really fantastic, meaty, cameo roles or character parts which I may not be offered. On the other hand, I can say I’m lucky: people think I’m attractive looking and they will cast me in those kind of roles.’
Smartly dressed, coolly relaxed, achingly handsome, Law could be a playboy who’s deigned to descend from the social elite to mix for a while amongst the proles. Maybe it’s this surface image that encouraged Anthony Minghella to cast him as man-about-The-Med Dickie Greenleaf in The Talented Mr Ripley. More likely, the Oscar-winning director of The English Patient looked behind the cheekbones and discovered a seriously good actor with a sharp mind and engaging manner.
’When you’re a young actor and you’re starting out,
you’re just desperate to be hired in whatever capacity,’ Law continues. ’Then, if you’re fortunate, you get to a position where you’re offered parts, but you have to awaken to the reality that you’ll probably only be offered certain types of parts. Like most true actors, I just want to play really good roles. Roles that make people go, "Oh, he’s tried something different there”.’
Throughout his career, the London-born actor has always been keen to try ’something different’. Having seen the ’next big thing’ tag of ram-raiding flop Shopping almost become a millstone around his neck, Law went on to win acclaim for stage work (notably a Tony nomination for West End and Broadway hit Indiscretions) and kudos for a string of intriguing, left-of-centre movies - Wilde, Gattaca, Midnight In The Garden Of Good And Evil and eXistenZ.
His latest screen outing finds him living Ia dolce vita in Italy in the 19505. As Dickie Greenleaf, the American son
of a business tycoon, Law represents The Talented Mr Ripley's main object of desire. Not only for ex-pat girlfriend Marge (played by Gwyneth Paltrow), but also for social wannabe Tom Ripley (Matt Damon), who'll go to deadly extremes to assimilate himself into Dickie's lifestyle. Minghella tells the story very much from Ripley’s point of view, creating a sense of something more than ambiguity about the relationship that develops between Tom and Dickie. Of course this is heightened by the baggage Law brings with him from previous roles as gay characters: namely as Lord Alfred Douglas in Wilde and Billy Hanson in Midnight In The Garden Of Good And Evil.
'You’ve got to tread carefully about Tom Ripley's sexuality,’ Law reckons. ’l mean, if anything, he’s almost nonsexual. There's certainly something about him, how he’s
seduced by Dickie, but it’s so much more than that. If Dickie were to turn around and go, "Okay, come on, let’s consumate this, I love you”, I think he would freeze up. It’s more about the unattainable and the image of it in his own head.’
This theme is handled more openly by Minghella than it was in the original novel by Patricia Highsmith or the 1959 French film version, Plein So/ei/ (Purple Noon), starring Alain Delon. ’Yeah,’ agrees Law, ’but remember, the book was written at the time  and Patricia Highsmith by all accounts was a gay woman living exactly as Dickie was, on the run from Ivy League society in Italy. The subtleties in the book are actually there, but we’re more capable of registering them nowadays. What Anthony’s done is he’s heated up the book and let a lot more of the essence and richness arise.’
Law is as gorgeously unattainable off-screen as on. Married to actress Sadie Frost, the pair have a three-year-old son, Rafferty, who, more than anything, defines his dad’s lifestyle. And
that’s not just in terms of shooting commitments
(Law and Frost try to work alternately so one of them is always on hand to mind the kid), but celebrity behaviour as well. Despite what the tabloids might think, Law isn't one for hanging out at London’s trendy Met Bar.
’lt’s really bizarre because, when I’m at home, I get a baby-sitter maybe once a week and I don't go to the Met Bar,’ he maintains. ’I go to dinner with my friends or I stay at home. It’s a kind of perception in
the same way that Tom perceives Dickie — that kind of heightened perception of what life is like in the fast lane. But, for me, the fast lane doesn’t exist. It’s fun for me reading about it because it’s like, "Oh, was I there?
Did I do that?” I see the same old photo coughed up
with me coming out of the Met Bar from two years ago.
I mean, I’ve been there maybe twice in two years.’
Anyway, bar-crawling would get in the way of such a busy career. Law is currently filming Enemy At The Gate in Berlin with director Jean-Jacques Annaud, playing a Russian sniper during the Siege of Stalingrad. He also has a small part in soon-to-be-released gangland Britcom Love, Honour & Obey alongside the same bunch of London luwies —- Frost, Ray Winstone, directors Dominic Anciano and Ray Burdis — who put together last year's disastrous, little seen, self- financed movie Final Cut. That's not the only role Law has beside Winstone. 'Ray's got a football team called the Ray Winstone All Stars. I play with them, but he’s bloody terrifying. He tackles his own players.’
Maybe that’s because, when your best mates are all film stars, fiction starts to merge with fact. The . experience of going to see Star Wars: The v vjj‘:'f;:gj Phantom Menace with Rafferty has certainly ~‘ had an odd effect on Law’s son, particularly relating to friend and partner in
production company Natural Nylon, 'Uncle' Ewan McGregor. ‘He’s not Ewan anymore, he’s Obe-Wan Kenobi,’ Law smiles. 'l’m not allowed to call him Ewan, I’m not even allowed to say the word "Ewan". Raff tells me off.’
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The Talented Mr Ripley opens on Fri 3 Mar.