Gurney's Inn
November 07, 2007

Sleuth Remake Explores The Primitive Side of Man

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Call it bragging rights.

Actor Jude Law wanted to have lunch with Nobel playwright Harold Pinter. He needed an excuse. The excuse was a proposed retelling of Anthony Shaffer's play, Sleuth, which will be out in theaters soon.

Before coffee was finished, Pinter agreed to tackle the project. Law remembered him saying, "I've been writing around the 'men in conflict' theme for 40 years." In essence, it's a very timeless, classic and dramatic setup two men fight over a woman, who the moviegoer never meets.

First brought to the screen in 1972, Sir Lawrence Olivier portrayed millionaire mystery novelist Andrew Wyke, who snares his estranged wife's lover, Milo Tindle (Michael Caine), into a sinister plot to burglarize his mansion and steal the missus' jewels. They agree to split the insurance payout.

The newly released update has altered the rules of engagement. Under Kenneth Branagh's direction, Caine steps into the role of Wyke, while Law portrays the cocky, unemployed, young buck Milo.

Thirty-five years ago, Sleuth was preoccupied over the discrepancies between the British classes. Pinter focused his attention instead on something far more primitive a homoerotic subtext.

"It was like Harold dipped the storyline into some kind of acid. He wanted it to be much more to the bone, much more animalistic, the symbolism of game playing. Ken showed us a psychological treatise on morbid jealousy where there have been real cases of men trying to humiliate their wives' lovers by engaging them in homosexual relationships," explained Law during a recent interview.

"By the middle of this onscreen game of wits, the two men are fighting almost like cavemen. Even in society, we haven't changed. We still want to fight, even losing sight of what we're fighting over. We just want to win and we'll use every tool our age, our money, our sexuality. It's like this primal urge to dominate. Unfortunately, I think man hasn't come to terms with this fact."

Validating this point, the Cold Mountain star recently traveled to war-torn Afghanistan to film a documentary for the charity Peace One Day, founded by Law's close friend Jeremy Gilley. Dad to Rafferty, 10, Iris, six, and five-year-old Rudy, from his former marriage to Sadie Frost, Law visited British troops, United Nations' diplomats, Afghan government officials and village elders.

"The most disturbing sight was some dying babies in a hospital in Jalalabad. They looked so tiny and fragile. It's just so painful," the actor noted.

Law started acting at the age of 12 with the National Youth Music Theatre in his native Southeast London. Dropping out of school, he landed a full time gig on a popular British daytime soap "Families," but it was a stage mounting of Jean Cocteau's Les Parents Terribles that facilitated his transatlantic leap to Broadway in 1995. The production was renamed Indiscretions and garnered Law a Tony Award nomination.

Switching to the big screen, Law starred opposite Claire Danes in 1996's I Love You, I Love You Not, followed in rapid succession by Wilde, Gattaca, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, and as the spoiled and arrogant Dickie Greenleaf in 1999's The Talented Mr. Ripley, that earned him a Best Supporting Actor Oscar bid.

Numbered among a half dozen feature films during 2004 was a remake of Alfie in which Law reprised Caine's star turn. He lightly chuckled over the irony, "I feel rather foolish that I've done both. It's like people might think I have designs to be the next Michael Caine. There's only one Michael Caine. It was two separate incidences, challenges, and I was interested in both parts.

"I think what I've learned from him was more of an affirmation. That you conduct yourself on set civilly, respect others, and enjoy your job. Whether he knowingly did it or not, Michael never lost his accent, by doing so he changed British cinema forever. He became the first working class British star. That meant that a lot of different characters could be drawn out of him.

"Starting out all these years later, I was determined to be a character, not me. I never wanted to show just one side, but rather my versatility because I was afraid I'd shorten my career by just being a pretty boy."

Explaining his short-cropped haircut, he self-consciously brushed his hand over his scalp, "I look like a Marine but I'm headed to Toronto to start filming Repossession Mambo with Forest Whittaker. The movie is about a repo man made up of artificial organs and is similar in style to Clockwork Orange. It's very subversive, very funny, violent, political and full of spills, thrills with Miguel Sapochnik making his directorial debut."

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