Jude Law is one of those actors who has settled into an odd position in Hollywood. Never quite making it into the A-list, Law was known for years for his physical attractiveness. These days, he’s known for his portrayal of Dr. Watson in Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes, and for having been attractive in the past.
Law’s had a prolific career, though. In 2004, when he seemed closer to the A-list than ever, he was in six films. Since then his career has transitioned, with more roles portraying Law as a serious character. Let’s look at how Jude Law’s career has grown and changed, and at what his most recent projects are.
Musical Theater & Early Film
David Jude Heyworth Law was born in South London in 1972, growing up in Greenwich. He attended Alleyn’s School, a secondary school in London known for its theater department. In 1987, Law began acting with the National Youth Music Theatre, eventually going on to appear in a West End production of Les Parents terribles which earned him the Ian Charleston Award for Outstanding Newcomer.
For the next few years, Jude Law performed in several minor roles for British television. Starting in 1989, Law was in over two dozen different shows and televised films, notably Shopping. On the set of Shopping, Law met Sadie Frost, with whom he formed a relationship almost immediately.
After Les Parents terribles changed its name to Indiscretions, it was transferred to Broadway in 1995. Law was part of the cast moved with it, and after acting opposite Kathleen Turner, Law was nominated for a Tony. After performing alongside Stephen Fry in Wilde, the Oscar Wilde bio-pic, Law won Most Promising Newcomer from the Evening Standard’s British Film Awards.
Early Hollywood Roles
Law’s first major role came later in 1997, in Gattaca, where he performed with Ethan Hawke and Uma Thurman. Gattaca is noteworthy for how it introduces Jude Law to future audiences. Hawke’s character wants to be an astronaut, but is deemed genetically unfit in the eugenics-obsessed dystopia that is Gattaca. Jude Law’s DNA is perfect, though. Sadie Frost, his partner since 1994, thought so to, and married him in September of 1997. They would eventually go on to have three children before divorcing in 2003.
His physical appeal is the focus of many of Law’s roles through the rest of the 90s. He’s attractive, to the point his physicality is the focus of entire plots, like Gattaca. In Clint Eastwood’s adaptation of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, Law plays a prostitute who is killed by Kevin Spacey’s character. The film is not a success, commercially or critically, which won’t be the first time Law performs in a dud (or as a prostitute, for that matter.)
In 1998, Jude Law was in three films, Final Cut, The Wisdom of Crocodiles, and Music from Another Room. I’m only listing them because they are so bad that they aren’t even mentioned in most accounts of Jude Law’s career. Music from Another Room focused on the obsession Law’s character has for a young girl he helped deliver when his character was five. Final Cut had a stronger plot, but was most notable for its nepotistic casting: Jude Law starred alongside his wife and her sister, who brought on two brothers.
In 1999, Law performed in eXistenZ, another cerebral sci-fi thriller like Gattaca. It was with his role in The Talented Mr. Ripley where Law again was allowed to draw focus to how hot everyone thinks he is; the plot is based on Jude Law being so good-looking that Gwyneth Paltrow and Matt Damon both want him. After Damon’s character’s advances are refused, he kills Law’s character. This only drives home the point that, in the eyes of Hollywood, Jude Law is so attractive, if you can’t have him, no one should.
Receiving a Golden Globe nomination for Best Supporting Actor, The Talented Mr. Ripley was the first real success Law had seen in America. For the next few years, Law seemed to squander that, starring in relatively few films. Enemy at the Gates, while a strong film, went largely unnoticed. In Spielberg’s sci-fi film A.I., Law plays another prostitute. In A.I., Law’s character isn’t even human, to excuse his perfection. While nominated for another Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor, box office reception proved A.I. was relatively perfect, and pushed Law’s entry into A-list a little further down the line.
In 2002, Jude Law gave a strong performance in Road to Perdition, and while a relative success and critically rewarded, most attention focused on Daniel Craig, who was new to film at that point.
In 2003, Law played his first lead Hollywood role, a Confederate soldier in Cold Mountain. Directed by Anthony Minghella, who directed The Talented Mr. Ripley, Cold Mountain was a box office hit, but again, most of the buzz went to a costar. This time Renee Zellweger got the fame, winning Best Supporting Actress.
2004 to Sherlock, Jude Law’s Perpetually Imminent Breakout
2004 was Law’s best year so far. Opening the year with I Heart Huckabees, Jude Law was put beside some of the biggest names in Hollywood. Unfortunately, all that star power couldn’t save a bad production, and the movie failed to break even. Closer, released later that year, also relied on an ensemble cast, and while it fared better, it did little to boost Law’s career.
Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow was expansive, with trailers showing big action scenes and intense close-ups of, among other things, Jude Law’s face. With its use of contemporarily advanced special effects, Law was so supportive of the film he brought in Gwyneth Paltrow. Unfortunately, despite a strong publicity campaign, audiences didn’t bite, and Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow failed to bring Jude Law fully into stardom. In Martin Scorsese’s The Aviator, Law is cast as yet another flawless man. With a small role, The Aviator failed to progress Law’s career beyond a slight boost to screen recognition.
The strongest evidence that 2004 failed to bring Jude Law’s career into bloom is his remake of the Michael Caine film, Alfie. Reliant on Jude Law’s box-office draw instead of traditional appeals like plot or cinematography, Alfie‘s failure showed that audiences weren’t interested in seeing Jude Law on a screen without something else to bring them there. The trademark of A-list, ticket sales, just wasn’t there for him.
Another mark, tabloid coverage, was. Law divorced Sadie Frost, with rumors of infidelity circulating, supported by his relationship with Sienna Miller. Doing nothing but fan the rumors, Law and Sienna Miller got engaged on Christmas Day in 2004. By that time next year, Law was rumored to be cheating on Miller with their nanny, while Miller was rumored to be cheating on Law with Daniel Craig.
Perhaps that was why Jude Law didn’t appear in a single film in 2005. In 2006 he was back, showing up in 3 films in 2006. All the King’s Men was a critical and commercial failure, as was Law’s third film directed by Anthony Minghella, Breaking and Entering. The Holiday, another ensemble film, was a hit with audiences, but that likely had more to do with the combined star power of people like Cameron Diaz, Jack Black, and Julia Roberts.
In 2007, Law starred in another remake of another Michael Caine film. This time, it was Sleuth, and even featured Michael Caine. No one particularly cared for the film. It wasn’t until 2009 with the updated Sherlock Holmes that Jude Law had another strong role.
Playing as Dr. Watson, Sherlock Holmes relied on the success Robert Downey Jr. had seen with Iron Man. Downey Jr.’s portrayal of Sherlock Holmes was a massive commercial success. The second film, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows was released in 2011, and while ultimately successful, did not see the same response as the first. The second Holmes is remarkable for having much more success in Law’s native England than in America, despite being a US production.
Jude Law Now In 2018 – Recent Updates
Repo Men, released in 2010, was Law’s only film that year. With overwhelmingly negative reviews, the movie quickly left theaters. In 2011, Law was in three films, the critically acclaimed Contagion, Hugo, and Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows. Contagion did well, but, as with The Holiday, the credit is with the rest of the cast, not necessarily Law. Hugo is notable for being a self-proclaimed ode to silent films, and did about as one would expect for a 3D movie homage to silent movies. In 2014, Law was in Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel. The movie was nominated for several awards, and was a commercial success in the UK. Spy, a 2015 lampoon of spy films, kept Jude Law’s name relevant through the earlier part of the year, but the next film Law worked on, Genius, won’t be released until July 2016.
In 2006, Jude Law began acting on stage again, and in 2009 joined West End for their production of Hamlet. With mostly positive reviews, Law has acted in several performances across London since. Most notable is his portrayal of Henry V in the Shakespeare play of that name, which ran at the Noel Coward Theater. As of the end of 2015, Law is performing in the Donmar Warehouse rendition of The Vote.
In May of 2015, HBO announced The Young Pope. Jude Law will be starring as a conservative American Cardinal who is elected pope. The miniseries, directed by Academy Award winner Paolo Sorrentino, is highly anticipated and is thought by many to be the best role Law has been given. The show will premiere in 2016.
Outside of acting, Law has recently cultivated an interest in political activism. In 2007, Law was in Afghanistan for 10 days for a film about UN activities in that area, eventually titled The Day After Peace. In 2008, Law returned to Afghanistan to renew commitments built while he was last there. Jude Law also joined pro-democratic protesters in Belarus in 2011.
Since their initial interest during his relationship with Sadie Frost, the tabloids have kept an eye on Law. After separating from her in 2003, and then from Sienna Miller in 2006, Law had a brief relationship with an American model. This gave him his daughter Sophia. In 2015, Law had a fifth child with Catherine Harding, whom he had already left in 2014. Plenty of fodder to keep paparazzi busy, which may be why Jude Law’s name has such staying power, despite a relatively inactive career.
Jude Law is not an A-list celebrity, and at this point, it doesn’t look like he ever will be. This hasn’t kept him from many of the trappings of that lifestyle. Featured alongside the biggest names, with publicized affairs and children hounded by the press, Jude Law has secured his name as a celebrity, without having a single role to point to and thank for it. Hopefully, The Young Pope will be the production we can all remember him for, instead of as the man typecast for being obnoxiously perfect.