Actor Jude Law on remaking Alfie
The Jude Law 2004 cinematic onslaught continues with Alfie, a modern day version of the classic womanizer. The original film made Michael Caine a star and really turned heads with its view of sexuality. The remake isn’t up to its predecessor’s standard, but is a surprisingly enjoyable film. Jude has a lot of charm and carries the film with a host of excellent female co-stars. Jude continues the relationship trend with his next film, Closer, a much darker take on the subject.
Alfie is a remake of the classic Michael Caine film. Did you feel obligated to reference the original film?
Jude Law: We talked about the original occasionally, but felt that we knew it so well and we were so inspired it I certainly never went back and studied it. In fact, it was like you have to move away from it and remember the essence; what influence it left on you and be inspired by that. I’d have made a mistake if I tried to be Michael playing Alfie. I had to be Jude playing Alfie and discover Alfie for myself.
Was it difficult acting directly to the camera for as long as you did?
Jude Law: We played with it a lot and every day it was like inventing the wheel. We kind of discovered new ways of using it. The further in the filming process we got, the more we pulled little tricks out. I had done a lot of work in the theatre, especially classical theatre. There are a lot of asides and soliloquies to the audience. That relationship seemed very natural to me. In a funny way, my relationship with the camera became the closest, while these others actors and actresses visited his life. I could never talk to the camera if someone was looking at me. No one could ever see me talking to the camera, so there was always something believable that took me over and that meant I could talk to you and that it came back. That was something we worked out really early on.
What’s your theory on why intelligent women might fall for Alfie so easily?
Jude Law: I think that's an element of Alfie's personality that makes him quite complicated. Because after saying all these awful things, admitting these sort of reprehensible feelings and thoughts about women, he is actually a good guy to be around. I think he makes them feel pretty fantastic when he wants to, when he's not bored or he's not challenged. That's what is so complicated about him. He could probably be a really fantastic boyfriend. But he just can't go that last leap, and indeed the last leap is ultimately probably asking himself, what do I want, really? I think that he's good at not manipulating himself, but working the situation and making them feel pretty fantastic about themselves.
You have quite an elite cadre of actresses in Alfie. What was it like to work with Susan Sarandon, Marisa Tomei, Nia Long, Sienna Miller, and Jane Krakowski?
Jude Law: First of all it’s a testament to the recognition by Charles Shyer [the director] and Elayne Pope [screenwriter] that none of the women of this film are victims. We got such a fantastic cast of women both on and off camera. Susan is such an extraordinary role model and such a powerful person. Marisa, Nia, Sienna, Jane are too in different ways, and I think that’s testament to the fact that they wrote a great bunch of female characters, which we know is a rarity nowadays. Gosh. To go through them all is tricky. I kind of live in the now and I can’t remember. I just remember it was a very good experience. Each one drew something very different out of Alfie, and therefore, out of me as a performer. Each one approached the film very differently. We rehearsed differently with each one. Some liked to improvise, some didn’t. I tried to remember which ones did. I know that Marisa didn’t like to improvise. I know Susan did. Nia and I had an amazing afternoon shooting. Sienna, I remember didn’t like to improvise and then suddenly realized that she was brilliant at it. Fresh blood on a set is always amazing because it breathes life into something. Just when you feel your energy is lagging, someone arrives and they’re alive. It’s their first day. It’s a series of first days. You hope that each new arrival will bring something new and they all did.
There’s a lot of sex in the film and contraceptives aren’t shown. Are you worried about the message that might send?
Jude Law: There’s no sex in the film. There’s not one sex scene in the film. That’s very true. Let’s be honest: shit happens. Does everyone out there who sleeps with seven different women wear condoms? This is the reality of an asshole like Alfie, right? And he gets someone pregnant and that’s serious. That’s not funny. That's fucking serious. That happens in today's day and age and kids are born without knowing their parents or young women have to take a trip down to the abortion clinic. That's a reality. We're not making a movie about sugarcoating it all. The truth is that people don't sometimes. In the heat of the moment, tanked up on Tequila, people don't and that's a reality and that's why the film is what it is. It's not trying to curb any corners.
Abortion is an issue in the film. Talk about how you approached it.
Jude Law: What’s interesting is how several moments, several beats occur in this story. I never know whether if it was done on purpose or not, but goes straight back to the original. One is the abortion, because it's one of the first reality checks. He's got very thick skin this guy or very thick blinkers. It's like a cold shower, a real reminder. You're into this world of Alfie and you think, how long is this going to go on? You're kind of suckered along by it, even though you know that he's doing terrible things. The awful truth is he feels he kind of got away with it, which is why it’s so well placed.
Did you ever have your Alfie days when you were younger? Do you identify with this character in any way?
Jude Law: I’d like to think that everybody, especially nowadays, man and woman, identifies with this guy. Yeah, I had my Alfie days. I think my late teens. Those years when you’re suddenly allowed legally into bars and clubs, and the world suddenly is offering itself to you. I would say I guess that if you look at my life, I was always someone who looked for commitment and that was in my make-up. I have my moment on the Brooklyn Bridge at 21 rather than at 31, and that’s why I got married and had children. There’s so many levels to it. I think the beautiful thing about this film is that it’s not just about a guy that likes to screw around. It’s about relationships. You can stand back and look at the wider picture and I think every one of us can identify having being either the dumped or the dumper or the cheat or the cheater. I think that’s the beauty of it in the end. It’s actually a piece about relationships.
Which one of Alfie’s maxims is the truest in regards to your relationships with women?
Jude Law: I can’t remember all of them. I remember a few but I don’t know if they apply.
Alfie says that he came to New York because they have the most beautiful women on the planet? Will your English fans be upset with you? And now that you and Sienna Miller are together, do you plan to work together again?
Jude Law: I actually never thought about what the English would make of that particular line. Alfie says a lot of things that could be deemed rather shocking. If the British pick upon that, then they’re making a little bit of a fuss. He’s someone who says what he thinks and he sticks by his opinion. It’s Alfie’s opinion; it’s not my opinion. It’s not to say I think there are beautiful women everywhere. Sienna is a brilliant actress, and I’d love to work with her again.
Alfie deals with relationships in a light, humorous way. Closer, your next film, puts relationships into very intense psychological terrain. Not that I want you to compare the films, but is there a link there?
Jude Law: I got involved in both projects around exactly the same time and I really was very excited by the compliments they have, because they’re both about relationships and about sexuality in the modern day. What are the comparisons? Well, it’s hard because I haven’t actually seen the final cut of Closer. I only know it from the work I’ve done on it and the script we worked from. I think the ultimate difference actually would have to be the most obvious. With Alfie, you are on a journey through one guy’s perception of a relationship. It’s only at the end that you start to realize that he’s also a guy who really doesn’t seem to be doing anyone any harm. He can’t help himself. He’s not malicious. He’s not a bad guy. He just can’t help himself and perhaps he’s made up wrong. Perhaps he’s been affected by something subconsciously in the past. Who knows? This is how he survives emotionally. He’s got to realize that the answers are probably in him and not in the external. We’re allowed to laugh at it with him as he laughs. We’re allowed to go on a journey with him alone. Closer, the big difference is you look at each individual and it’s very much about how they relate. Now, that’s not the say that it’s more dramatic or less dramatic, but you see them literally tearing each other apart. Funnily enough you’ll be surprised at the beginning of Closer. It’s very romantic and very humorous, and slips as Alfie does, quite quickly into a darker abyss.
Can you talk a bit about shooting in New York?
Jude Law: The heart of this film was in New York. I’ve been coming here for eleven years. My first job was here on stage. I love this city. I’d be living here ten years ago. Coming to actually film on the streets, literally on the streets, driving a limo around and a Vespa, I had a ball. It breathed a huge amount of life into studio work that we had already done in and around London. As an Englishman coming here, I always feel like something might happen. You always feel you can stay up a little longer, you can sleep a little less, you can squeeze in another gallery or another party. Because it’s just in the stone, so I recognized that and used a lot of that in Alfie’s kind of energy and love of this place.
Can regular guys identify with Alfie? He has all these beautiful women that the average guy would be lucky to be with.
Jude Law: I think that's a very good point. I think that it goes along with the idea that it's about veneer. It's about what one looks like, who they look like. It's almost fantastical in so much that when it starts out, it's like seen through the eyes of Alfie as Alfie sees the world. And as he drives through New York, all he sees is beautiful women everywhere. I think that you've got to make that leap with him. That's his perception. That's what he's seeing. That said, I would like to think that there's still a sense of that being the type that Alfie goes for. I don't know.
Do people assume that because someone is good looking, they’re promiscuous or don’t want a commitment?
Jude Law: I think that's probably fair to say. If one is perceived to be good looking or one is perceived to be beautiful, then one has the capacity to pull and therefore you want to use that. But that doesn't necessarily deal with the internal workings of an individual and what makes them feel comfortable. So I think that the preconception would probably stand on that, but I don't think that it stands up.
You have six films opening in a short space of time. Are you concerned about overexposure?
Jude Law: I could let myself get weighed down with a cynical view that these films that took me two years to make have come out or will come out in a period of about five months, but that seems to be the reality of the situation and I have to look at that positively rather than negatively. I have no say in the matter. I chose them because to me, they all offered something differently, they’ve all come out as very different types of films, driven by very different types of director, very different parts, and I hope that people recognize and enjoy the variety rather than the bombardment. What can I say? I have to live with it. I’m trying to be positive.
Dont't forget to also check out: Alfie