LAW, JUDE: ENEMY AT THE GATES
LAW TAKES GUNS IN OWN HANDS
Multi-faceted actor Jude Law plays wartime Russian sniper Vassili
Zaitsev, in Enermy at the Gates, and discovers how frighteningly
easy it is to learn how to use guns, he tells Jenny Cooney
Jude Law just keeps getting hotter. His portrayal of the charming
Dickie Greenleaf in The Talented Mr. Ripley earned him an Oscar
nomination and a plethora of offers. His new film is a dark,
gritty portrayal of a Russian sniper, Vassili, in Jean-Jacques
Annaudís Battle of Stalingrad drama, Enemy At The Gates, a
true tale of a Russian sniper and a German sniper playing a
deadly game where only one of them can survive. The 28-year-old
English-born father of two, married to actress Sadie Frost, will
next be seen in Steven Spielbergís highly-anticipated drama
A.I., playing a robotic gigolo, and then stars opposite Tom Hanks
in the drama Road to Perdition.
This character in Enemy at the Gates is based on a real
person. Did you learn much about him?
I initially relied very heavily on Jean-Jacquesí knowledge
of him. By the time I read the script he had already sort of
squeezed the essence of the man into the words on the page. The
script was a wonderful read. The benefit of playing a real
character is that youíve got all this wonderful fodder and
homework to color you and detail your performance. Iím quite
a restless actor. I always like to be reading something relevant
so it was good that there were things to read. The diaries were
slightly colored with propaganda, which was somewhat overblown
that I didnít believe but that Jean-Jacques had warned me
about. What I did get was that this guy was really a reluctant
hero. He was very much the salt of the earth, very unassuming, a
modest man with this extraordinary capacity to live with the
psychological effects of having to kill people without a choice.
The choice was kill or be killed. The greatest achievement for
him in the film is the ability to live every day knowing that he
has killed all these men, men whose faces he still sees, day
You had to be trained to use the guns we see in the film.
How did that feel?
I think I was most scared that it was so easy. You realize very
quickly that guns have been very well designed to be as easy as
possible. You pick them up, point them, pull the trigger and
hopefully kill something. Thatís how scary they are, really.
The finessing that it takes to be a sniper is where it becomes a
kind of artistry, where you canít afford to miss. You have
to kill them on the first shot and often from a great distance.
That makes it a craft. I worked really closely with a guy who was
an expert in camouflage and talked to several others who had been
in battle who had to lie in wait, sometimes just two feet away,
not being able to move and choosing the best place to hide
themselves and also choose how long to remain in your spot after
the shot has gone before you can get out of hiding, so as not to
give yourself away.
Have you learned anything about war and heroes?
In the past I kind of shied away from studying war because it
scared me. I am not a great fan of warfare and fighting and
combat. I suppose that even though I canít presume to know
what it must have been like to really kill people and be
surrounded by carnage and death, what I did experience was really
harrowing and upset me and reminded me that war is such a
terrible waste of time and waste of life. Especially this
particular battle. It was basically a game of chess played by two
crazy egotists who were both extremists and both awful kind of
narcissistic dictators who were using real men and women as their
pawns. Whatís wonderful about Vassili is I think heís
not only a symbol of Russia at that time but also a symbol of the
Everyman in conflict round the world at any time. Heís
simply a pawn in someone elseís game, and yet out of
conflict so often comes incredible human suffering but also
incredible human achievement and bravery.
You must know a great deal about a different kind of
propaganda and manipulation that comes with being famous?
Well, I suppose one has to recognize the responsibility that it
brings and, I mean, it may sound selfish, but I feel like my only
obligation is to keep myself interested and stretched and pushed
as an actor. Thatís the only thing that drives me looking
for parts that touch on the things I havenít played before,
working with people that I know are going to push my boundaries,
test me as an actor, improve my craft, keep learning. So I donít
know about manipulation. I suppose thereís manipulation in
as much as itís fun to manipulate oneís appearance, oneís
persona. I am not particularly an advocate or interested in
manipulating myself or using myself in a public kind of way to
manipulate anything other than to make audiences believe in the
parts Iím playing.
What can you say about working with Steven Spielberg?
It was a great experience. He was a man with much success behind
him and obviously more power and skill and genius than most
directors, yet he was far more collaborative than I ever imagined
possible. He really wanted ideas and encouraged people to give
ideas. I was surprised. Everyone says he shoots really fast and
that is so true but he shoots so much faster than you can ever
possibly imagine, it makes your head spin! Most of my scenes were
with Haley Joel Osment so he really paid a lot of attention to
Haley in those scenes but he was very hands-on and is very humble.
I have never read anything that doesnít talk about
how gorgeous you are. Does that get boring and do you look for
characters that take the focus away from your looks?
Kind of, but then I donít want to be accused of being too
obviously looking to go in the opposite direction. My theory on
it is always that as an actor, anything that boxes you is
limiting. Anything that boxes you is annoying because youíre
not then able to try something new. If youíre considered the
ugliest actor in the world, youíre boxed, same as being the
fattest, or the most beautiful, tall, whatever. So itís a
challenge, and itís always interesting to see who will cast
me as, like, a hunchback or something!
Published July 26, 2001
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Curated & presented by Andrew L. Urban, discussion to
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