The New York Times, 9/3/06

Eighteen months have passed since Jude Law, then on location in New Orleans with the production of a new version of “All the King’s Men,” was surprised to find himself the butt of the Oscars.

Like millions of other viewers, he had kicked back to watch the awards show on television with a few friends. Feeling what he now describes as anger and embarrassment, Mr. Law — who had just appeared in five films, including “Closer” and “The Aviator” but was nominated for none — first saw the host, Chris Rock, savage his professional stature.

“You want Tom Cruise, and all you can get is Jude Law?” Mr. Rock, a first-time host, counseled filmmakers. “Wait. It’s not the same thing, O.K.? Who is Jude Law? Why is he in every movie I have seen, the last four years? He’s in everything. Even the movies he’s not acting in, if you look at the credits, he made cupcakes or something. He’s in everything. He’s gay, he’s straight, he’s American, he’s British. Next year he’s playing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in a movie. If you can’t get a star, wait, O.K.?”

Sean Penn, Mr. Law’s co-star in “All the King’s Men,” took the stage to defend him, and thus managed to prolong the moment. Then a personal scandal involving Mr. Law’s fiancée, his ex-wife and his nanny kept his name in the gossip columns for months to come.

Only a bit less ubiquitous this time around, the 33-year-old Mr. Law, twice nominated for Oscars in the past, appears in three movies that may figure in the annual awards race.

In “All the King’s Men,” directed by Steven Zaillian and set to debut at this month’s Toronto International Film Festival, he plays Jack Burden, a newspaperman swept into the fray with Mr. Penn’s ruthless politician, Willie Stark. Then Mr. Law stars as a morally confused landscape architect in the director Anthony Minghella’s “Breaking and Entering.” And he follows with his first real turn as a romantic leading man (“Alfie” notwithstanding) in “The Holiday,” a comedy directed by Nancy Meyers.

“He’s an extremely serious, hard-working actor. But when he trusts a director, like he did with me, Jude can be very funny and free-wheeling,” Ms. Meyers said of a performance that she believes will temper his rather intense image with warmth and humor.

Interviewed by phone last month from his London home, Mr. Law, his three children playing in the background, spoke about the Oscar incident and Mr. Rock, whom he said he had met only once, while promoting their film “A.I.” In that one, Mr. Law noted, “Rock had a small part as a robot who gets blown up for making bad jokes.”

Q. What was your initial reaction to Mr. Rock’s remarks?

A. At first I laughed, because I didn’t think he knew who I was. Then I got angry as his remarks, I felt, became more personal. My friends were livid. I was moved when Sean came to my defense. As a celebrity I know I’m fair game for a lot of things that I don’t like, but Rock crossed the line when he made his point and got his laugh then seemingly wouldn’t stop. It’s very unfortunate that I had five or six films come out at the same time. However I had no control over that.

Q. In “All the King’s Men” you play the dream role of any actor, a journalist. What was it like?

A. How do I defuse that loaded question? Clearly the reason I took the part was to show myself in this noble profession. I loved the idea that my character, who was a reluctant journalist, was digging up dirt on people and had no moral quandary about what he was doing because he didn’t care about the repercussions of his work. I believe in the end we are all perfectly involved in our own decisions.

Q. What did you learn from working with Paul Newman in “The Road to Perdition?”

A. If you’re fortunate enough to work with a legendary actor and a gentleman like Mr. Newman, you learn to be more respectful to the cast and crew. He’s from a blue-collar background like myself; my parents were both teachers, so we had that in common. You may think you’re the most prepared actor on the set until he appears, and his focus and humor makes it visibly apparent that he knows the mental aspect of acting better than almost anyone. Paul taught me how to prepare my family for long shoots on distant locations and a lot about cars, which impressed my children.

Q. Why aren’t there any romantic films on your résumé?

A. When I was in my 20’s I was more interested in doing more challenging roles. I’m not a fan of modern romantic comedies. They lack the delicacy which you find in Cary Grant films like “The Awful Truth,” “Bringing Up Baby” and “The Philadelphia Story.” You need a real skill to play a sophisticated comedy character on screen. In “The Holiday” I play the bimbo and lose a laugh fest to Jack Black. The Cary Grant legacy has nothing to fear from me.

Q. Any advice to the academy if it considers having Chris Rock be host for the Oscars again?

A. The proof’s in the pudding. If you can’t get Billy Crystal, then wait.