Still with the heart-throb image at the age of 47, Jude Law tells Craig McLean he wants to prove that he is more than just a pretty boy.
It is a Thursday evening in Jude Law's local pub and the actor is lounging in a chair and trying to explain how he came to be photographed wearing a pair of tight white Speedos on the beach last spring. The pictures, taken during the filming of The New Pope, Sky's sumptuous, mad and occasionally maddening sequel to its 2016 series The Young Pope, almost broke the internet when they appeared in April.
How was that scene described in the script?
"It wasn't in the script, of course!" says the actor, laughing. He was, he says, "a little bit" ambushed by his director Paolo Sorrentino, the Italian auteur best known for the Oscar-winning feature film The Great Beauty.
The plan was always that Law's character, insurgent American Pope Lenny Belardo (aka Pius XIII), would appear out of the ocean.
"It was a dream sequence for one of the Lenny fanatics," says Law. "And there was a slight nod to Mr Craig and all that stuff" – he means the scene of Daniel Craig walking out of the sea in Bond film Casino Royale – "and of course the day comes to film it… and [clothing] options are laid out on the bed: large swimming shorts, boxers… then the Speedos."
Sorrentino indicated that all were up for discussion. "But for him it was always the Speedos!" Law says with a grin. And actually, he acknowledges, "you have to go for it, otherwise you could be seen as taking yourself a bit too seriously. As soon as a man puts on Speedos, you have to laugh. It makes me laugh anyway."
Needless to say, the pictures were taken extremely seriously by Law's many fans. A case of male objectification?
"Mmmm," he nods, sipping a glass of hearty red. "I didn't think that was allowed any more – are people allowed to be objectified now? Apparently we are! I don't know," he sighs. "I'm a 47-year-old bloke and it makes me laugh sometimes that, still, I find myself more often than not talking about, ah, physicality rather than work."
Indeed. There is a playful sense of humour in Sorrentino's campy art house drama. But there is also an unashamed, Michelangelo-style adoration to his depiction of Law, who may be into the business-end of his 40s but is still a million miles away from the average middle-aged father of five (he has three children by his ex-wife Sadie Frost, one by a woman he met while filming Sherlock Holmes in New York, and one as a result of a brief relationship in 2014). He even manages to make his receding hair look good.
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Surely he quite enjoys being objectified? Dozens of his films, after all, have played to his pulchritude, including Clint Eastwood's Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, Steven Spielberg's AI and the film that made him famous, Anthony Minghella's The Talented Mr Ripley. But Law is equivocal on the subject: "I was aware that was a way the industry wanted to package or steer me and I was also aware that that comes with the game. You could just as easily be labelled as the guy who plays the best friend, or the boy next door, or the serial killer. There's always a desire to say: this is the kind of actor they are.
"And yet, I was set on proving myself as an actor, and trying to find opportunities to prove versatility, and that I wasn't just this pretty boy that people were labelling me as."
Hence, he says, a string of edgier choices: Minghella's Cold Mountain (for which Law was Oscar-nominated), 2013's Dom Hemingway and last year's Vox Lux, to name but three.
Law stops and straightens. "I think what we're getting at here, is that there's an overhanging sense that you're only getting the jobs because you're pretty, or seen as a heart-throb. And trying to prove to yourself and the industry that that isn't the case is, to me, effort that could be spent elsewhere."
Of course, Law did a fair bit himself to burnish his image as a heart-throb. He had a high-profile relationship with the actress Sienna Miller, and was part of the "Primrose Hill set", a gang of actors and celebrities – such as Kate Moss, Ewan McGregor and Jonny Lee Miller – who surfed the Cool Britannia wave with party-going gusto in the Nineties. However, his party days seem to be behind him now. He married his partner of five years, Phillipa Coan, a psychologist, last year, and they are happily settled in Highgate, north London.
Would he have a sixth child?
"Of course!" he shoots back. "Absolutely. I'm fortunate to be with someone where I'm having more fun than I've ever had in my life. We have an incredibly stable and healthy, wonderful family existence. And that involves my kids who are young adults… and then the younger ones are just so much joy and so much fun.
"Yeah, I love it, so absolutely, why not [have another]? I'm very lucky to be involved with someone I'm madly in love with. So the idea of having more children would be just wonderful."
He'll have to make the time. As well as The New Pope, Law is preparing (and growing a beard) for the part of Albus Dumbledore in the "threequel" to J K Rowling's Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and has promotional work beckoning for gritty thriller The Rhythm Section, and The Third Day, an HBO/Sky miniseries written by Dennis Kelly (Utopia). Then, in the pipeline is a third Sherlock Holmes, with Dexter Fletcher (Bohemian Rhapsody, Rocketman) taking over the writing/directing reins from Guy Ritchie. And, beyond that, allegedly, there's Megalopolis, Francis Ford Coppola's fabled, late-career mooted masterpiece.
Yes, Law confirms, it does exist, after a fashion. "Megalopolis is proceeding at a pace unlike anything I've ever been involved in. Before I even got a phone call or an email or a script, it had been 30 years in development." The logline for the film is: "An architect wants to rebuild New York City as a utopia following a devastating disaster."
Is he said architect? By way of reply, Law squirms and sucks down the last of his wine. "Ah… I'm not trying to be cagey, I promise," he says finally, smiling. "But there's no schedule, we don't know when it's going to be made, and if Francis goes off and makes it with someone else, I'm not gonna turn around and be like: 'F*ck you, it's my role!' For the last year I've been a part of script meetings, read-throughs, he and I have worked together on it – and, yeah, the role I'm reading is the architect. But equally, it's an evolving thing. "All I'm saying is, I don't have any ownership over it. But are we in communication? Absolutely, all the time. And I want to see it happen."
For now, though, he is enjoying reactions to The New Pope which, like its predecessor, goes to great lengths not to either fully condemn or condone the Catholic Church.
"I knew going in that this wasn't an anti-Catholic project," he says. "I had no interest [in doing that].
"The very nature of faith is so personal and individual, who is anyone to say 'this is all wrong'? But also: great storytelling has to come from an interested but also open-minded point of view." Accordingly, Law says he understands the position of staunch Catholics who defend the Church's stance on homosexuality and abortion.
"But from my point of view, it's based in fear, pure and simple. Fear of breaking the word, the written word. That's my opinion of them – and I'm sure they probably have the opinion that I'm going to burn in Hell for having that opinion.
"But I guess we'll have to agree to disagree."
The evening is ticking onwards and Jude Law has to be home for dinner.
Before he goes, let's imagine we're in one of those papal conclaves that his TV series depicts with so much giddy intrigue: if he had to confess something publicly what would it be?
"Ah!" he exclaims. "The irony of that is I feel like I've had to wash my dirty laundry in public for the last 25 years. I don't feel like there's an awful lot [left]. There have been public declarations and announcements of who I am and the way I behave for the last 25 years – with much embellishment.
"So," he adds, with another grin. "If I'm to confess anything, it's that I'm probably a lot more stable and boring and level-headed than people think."
The New Pope screens weekly on SoHo on Thursdays at 8.30pm.