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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 Carrillo.

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 after 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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Jude Law



... in Enemy at the Gates

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