The ardor that Law elicits has not been dampened at all by the frequency with which he plays bad guys from the careless, egocentric Dickie Greenleaf in The Talented Mr. Ripley (dispatched by the oar) to the creepily murderous Maguire in Road to Perdition (the shootout). There's a troubled, sometimes even unwholesome streak that runs through all Law's characters even Jerome, the athlete whose identity Ethan Hawke's character assumes in Gattaca (the garbage disposal). It's as if Law, who has the green eyes, long lashes and aqueduct eyebrows of a very pretty girl, has been on the run from his gentle side.
Or, perhaps, from his gentle fans. "I wanted to avoid [romantic] roles in my 20s," says Law, "because I didn't see much longevity in my career were I to take that path. I've not seen many films like that when guys come across as anything but shallow. It's all [in a dopey voice] 'I'm in loooove.'"
But now that he's hit 30, Law has finally taken on the type of role he seems genetically engineered to play man in loooove. In Cold Mountain, Anthony Minghella's captivating Civil War epic from the Charles Frazier book, Law embodies the cinematic romantic hero down to the chest hair. He plays Inman, a curt country carpenter who falls for the new preacher's sophisticated daughter (Nicole Kidman). They share perhaps six awkward conversations (his declaration of love: "It's like when you wake up and your ribs are bruised thinking so hard on somebody") and one kiss before he marches off. To get back to her, he has to battle not only Yankees and Confederate Home Guards but also the suspicion that his soul is now too polluted to be capable of love.
But even with a story that romantic, Law prefers to focus on the Homeric aspects of his character over the Titanic ones. "Inman was the first person I've played that I wanted to learn from and emulate," says Law. "I don't see me in him at all. A lot less than all those bastards and murderers I've played. There's a simplicity to him and a morality to him that I love."
Simplicity appears to be the last attribute Law has wanted to project in his life. He glares into cameras, moving and still, oozing an omnivorous, feral sexuality. Adder-hipped and puff-lipped, he possesses a beauty that seems almost fanged. He and ex-wife Sadie Frost were Britain's hippest couple, hanging out with her cool friends (who include Kate Moss) or his (who include Ewan McGregor). After their divorce this year, with its attendant rumors of infidelity and satyriasis, he's even more precious tabloid metal, the single dad mucking about with his three kids or on the town with his current co-star and new girlfriend, Sienna Miller. It all bespeaks such virility, it's no wonder that Martin Scorsese has him playing Errol Flynn in the all-star Howard Hughes biography The Aviator. His press makes it clear: the man is gorgeous, charming and 20° cooler than you the moment he wakes up.
The pictures don't lie, exactly, but in person, Law is rather more chipper and unassuming. He can't quite seem to get all the buttons of his shirt into their corresponding holes, and his pants sit well south of the top of his undies. He makes an unabashed bid for the devoted-dad-of-the-decade title, showing off pictures of his three kids, Rafferty, 7, Iris, 3, and Rudy, 18 months, and chortling over their Christmas-present lists. (Spoiler alert, Rudy! You're getting a toy car.) For a looker, Law is unnervingly eager to please and in an act of impressive self-control, he checks himself out in the mirrored wall only once during our interview.
But for a looker, Law isn't afraid to work hard for his roles. The Cold Mountain shoot, which took place mainly in Romania, was particularly brutal. Law dived right in, being buried alive and dragging himself through swamps, mud and snow. A former vegetarian, Law discovered he was 20 lbs. underweight and had to bulk up for the role. "I remember looking out the window of my hotel room in Brasov and seeing Jude running up and down the hotel car park with his personal trainer on his back," says Minghella. That trainer the 200-lb. Eddie Joseph, who has a good 40 lbs. on his client chuckles at the memory. "There wasn't any gym equipment there," he says, "so I also had Jude pull big logs and push one of those tennis-court rollers around too. He did it all without a word of complaint."