Spring 2014

Looking the Part

For a director, getting an actor to try a radical new look is not always an easy process. Say, Jude Law in mutton chops?


Richard Shepard 

IN CHARACTER: Shepard (left) directs Jude Law and Richard E. Grant in a scene from Don Hemingway.


Two months from shooting our film Dom Hemingway, Jude Law stares at me with a politely strained expression that seems to say, “Get me off this picture.”

We’re in a meeting to discuss what Jude should look like as the title character, and I mention with clear confidence that I would like Dom to look sort of like Lemmy from Motörhead, only wearing a three-piece suit intentionally tailored to be uncomfortably tight.

Jude tries to smile. But you can see the wheels turning. And they seem to be turning in one direction: toward the exit.

Already knee-deep in it, I then asked Jude to gain 25 pounds and grease his hair back for the role so I can see how it recedes.

Jude, who even in his scruffiest moments looks like a million bucks, wants to be collaborative and find the look for Dom together, but he’s also scared shitless. My doodle of how I imagine the character doesn’t help.

“Really? Lemmy?”

“Just the same facial hair.” I say, trying to hide the sweat stains now soaking my shirt.

“How about a mustache?”

“Sure, we can talk about it. But I was thinking full-out mutton chops. I think it will be cooler.”

“Cooler? You think?”

To be honest, Jude’s fear is justified. This character is a risk for him. Dom Hemingway is an excon just out from prison who uses his wit more than his fists. He’s a massively entertaining egotist who shoots himself in the foot at every turn. It’s a great, big theatrical role, but truth be told Dom is hard to like; only an out-there, balls-out performance will work. The type of role where you either hit a home run or they hold it against you for years to come— especially the mutton chops.

It’s an independent film. Not a lot of money. The ones you do for love. And Jude doesn’t love the facial hair concept—not one bit.

“Really, mate? Lemmy?”

I’m a director who believes that wardrobe along with hair and makeup is the key to helping actors find their character. It’s not till the actor gets into costume—gets their hair just right, finds the right accessories—that they start walking in that character’s shoes, literally and figuratively. In this case, where we have to convincingly believe that prettyboy movie star Jude Law is a hardened con with an ego the size of South London, this facial hair is a vitally important first step to help him lose himself— and find Dom Hemingway.

Jude quietly sips some tea. “OK. I’ll grow out my beard and hair and see how it goes. But I’m really liking the idea of a mustache...”

“Great!” I say, knowing this is going to be a tough and protracted battle. As a director who likes to rough up the way certain male movie stars are perceived, I settle in for the good fight.

Back in 2005 on The Matador, Pierce Brosnan had a similar reaction when I suggested his character have a degenerate porn-star mustache. Pierce almost stopped speaking to me, and nearly dropped out of the movie.

“Maybe Pierce can shave off the mustache in the first scene?” one of the producers suggested nervously.

“Maybe Pierce’s mustache should look more like Clark Gable’s?” suggested another.

“Maybe Pierce should be clean shaven— it would be easier to market the movie.”

I held my ground. The mustache represented everything I wanted from Pierce in the movie—to break with things that made him comfortable and to make him someone else, both physically and emotionally.

But holding true to your vision is a tricky thing, especially when the star of your film is quickly losing confidence. Film is a collaborative medium, and disagreements breed creative solutions that are sometimes fantastic. You can’t be too hardheaded, but you also can’t give in just to make things easier.

I now faced a similar situation with Jude.

Jude is nothing if not passionate, and he wanted to find Dom in an organic way. So while not quite agreeing to mutton chops, he agreed to grow his facial hair and make the funny business decision down the road. He also agreed to eat and drink whatever was presented to him so he would gain weight, and to let Julian Day, our brilliant costume designer, have a suit made that was significantly tighter than he was used to.

Richard Shepard Jude Law 
The doodle Shepard first showed Law and the end result.

But as production loomed, the facial hair situation remained unresolved.

Jude would call me up and say, “I’ve been thinking, I’m still not feeling comfortable with the mutton chops. I just want a mustache.”

I would reply, “I hear you, but let’s wait till your suit is made and see the whole picture.”

And I did hear him. He was the one who had to play this part. If he didn’t feel comfortable, how could he do it? That said, I also knew that for me, Jude with that specific facial hair was Dom. I just had to get him there.

With the clock ticking toward our start date, our producer suggested nervously:

“Maybe Jude can shave the mutton chops off in the first scene?”

“Maybe Jude should just have a mustache, like Clark Gable’s?” offered another.

“Maybe Jude should be clean shaven—it would be easier to market the movie.”

Finally, two days before filming, Julian had a beautiful tailored suit ready to go, significantly tighter than Jude was used to. The theory was that this was the same suit Dom wore to prison 12 years before. Julian also found the most amazing pair of boots that basically said ‘Fuck me or fight me,’ and Jude loved them. Using part of the plastic nipple from a baby bottle, Jude had fashioned a weird device that would go up his nose, allowing him to breathe but distorting the nose so it looked broken. With his suit on, boots on, nose distorter in place, and hair slicked back, Jude stared into the mirror at his bearded face and said, “Let’s start shaving. We’ll start with the Lemmy. Then go to the mustache.”

Filming was starting in 48 hours. I knew that if we got to the mustache only, there would be no going back to the mutton chops. So if this fight was going to be won, it would have to be won now.

I took a few photos on my iPhone. I loved the way he looked, but I knew that unless Jude organically came around to loving it too, we were in deep trouble. You can’t force it.

Jude kept staring at himself silently. Kept going for walks along the fading hallways of Pinewood Studios. No one said a thing.

During that time I texted one of the photos I had taken to my girlfriend Jenni back in New York. A few minutes later, she texted back.

I walked over to Jude, told him I had sent a photo to my girlfriend, and showed him her reply.

He read it silently. A few minutes later Jude said, OK, he was ready to move forward with the mutton chops.

We hugged. The weight of the world lifted. We had found Dom.

The text reply from Jenni had said simply: “He’s never looked sexier.”

Funny Business

First-person columns written by directors about their humorous experiences working in features and television.

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