NEW YORK — With an extra 20 pounds, an impressive paunch and bad teeth, actor Jude Law, best known for his golden boy roles, transforms himself into a sleazy, ranting southeast London safecracker in the film “Dom Hemingway.”
It is Law, Oscar nominated for “The Talented Mr. Ripley” and “Cold Mountain,” as he hasn’t been seen before — unfit, unkempt and with a penchant for delivering expletive-filled speeches.
In the film, which opens in select U.S. theaters on Wednesday, Law plays Dom Hemingway, a damaged, hot-headed crook released from prison after a 12-year stint for not ratting on his crime boss.
He paid a high price for his loyalty in lost years, missed opportunities and estrangement from his daughter and is hell-bent on collecting his money and making up for lost time.
The role enabled Law, 41, to mine the southeast London streets of his childhood for the character and to discard any lingering remnants of his matinee idol image.
“The golden boy thing was never a mantle I went out looking for. That was something I was told I was,” said Law, adding that for him it was always about the work.
“To me it was like who cares if it’s about the work? And now, having walked those minefields and survived, and having worked for 20-odd years, it feels like at last having gone over that hump we can maybe just talk about the work,” he added.
From the opening scene when he pontificates about his manhood, through drinking binges and brawls, Law holds nothing back as Hemingway, who is the complete opposite of the tightly coiled Russian aristocrat Karenin he played in the 2012 drama “Anna Karenina,” based on Leo Tolstoy’s 1877 novel.
“The joy of the job is getting to mine these different characters,” he said.
The website film.com called Law’s Hemingway “a career-best performance,” and Scotland’s Daily Record said he “fills the screen with a gloriously over-the-top character.”
“Dom Hemingway gives (Law) a chance to sink his teeth into one of the meatiest personalities in a genre know for larger-than-life types,” said the trade magazine Variety.
American screenwriter and director Richard Shepard (“The Matador”) was a big fan of British gangster movies such as “Sexy Beast” and “Mona Lisa,” and always wanted to make a film in the British capital.
“I had the DNA of a lot of British gangster movies in my brain,” he said. “This is about a low-level safecracker who is a mess.”
Richard E. Grant (“Withnail and I”) plays Hemingway’s loyal friend Dickie, a part Shepard wrote for him. Mexican actor Demian Bichir, a 2012 best actor nominee for “A Better Life,” is Hemingway’s former boss and Emilia Clarke, of HBO’s “Game of Thrones,” is his daughter Evelyn.
For the title role Shepard envisioned an actor who had never played a gangster type before.
“I wanted someone who is a matinee idol a hair or two past his matinee-idol time and who is a risk-taker by nature,” he said. “Very early on in the process Jude’s name came up.”
Law, who collaborated with Shepard in fleshing out Hemingway, was attracted by his honesty, unpolished offensiveness, poetic wit and his explosive energy.
“The energy of this man was what drew, in a way, drew me to him, the opportunity to unleash. There was a lot of unleashing,” Law said.
“It was a chance to play someone who is completely unfiltered and raging and ranting. It was wonderfully cathartic,” he added.