In Joe Wright’s imaginative take on “Anna Karenina,” Jude Law turns in a career-best performance as Alexei Karenin, the cuckolded husband of Tolstoy’s titular heroine (played by Keira Knightley). In our exclusive interview, Law talks to us about playing repressed.
I wanted to first of all talk about how you take on a character who’s so … I wouldn’t say “repressed,” but…
No, repressed is right. (Laughs)
Can you give me some examples of those rules?
I liked the idea that he followed only straight lines. Everything stayed together. I tried to almost minimalize use of facial expressions. I didn’t want him to raise his voice. So there were scenes of huge emotion and anger, but I think if you listen he never raises his voice once. And there’s a stillness to him — apart from the knuckle-cracking, which is his sort of one expression of irritation and frustration.
That became terrifying by the end of the movie.
Did it? (Laughs) Someone said to me yesterday they thought that when I cracked my knuckles I was going to hit her. I was like, this guy is barely alive. He’s not about to hit his wife.
Were you actually cracking your knuckle?
I was initially. Take four, they weren’t making much noise.
You’re keeping every emotion inside. Is that frustrating to play?
No, because the frustration when you’re playing a part is not feeling that you’re getting the right support or information from the director, and Joe [Wright] was really clear, and we talked endlessly in preparation about his repression and his severity and also his almost introspection. He’s a man who thought his way through life and didn’t feel. Like, he had to thaw his heart in order to understand what it was going through once this affair began and dragged him into the world of feeling, you know? There were strict rules, if you like, that I applied to myself. And when you’re given such a bold and visual universe to play in, such as the one that Joe created for us, that can sometimes be very straightforward.