There’s a familiar bit of Hollywood hyperbole that goes something like “It’s [insert big name actor] as you’ve never seen them before!” Excellent new thriller Black Sea, in the best way possible, may actually live up to that claim. In it, Jude Law plays a Scottish-accented submariner who, after being laid off, sets out to liberate a forgotten horde of Nazi gold from a sunken U-boat. Cue twists as an increasingly desperate captain tears apart at the seams. It’s a long way from the Alfie remake and, for his part, the 41-year-old actor is relishing increasingly heavy roles. Not to mention the fact he’s downing rum for his “research”...
You swing around inside the submarine effortlessly – were there a few sweary outtakes?
No, not many. If you hit your head in one of those things, you either gush blood or knock yourself out. The majority of the film was shot on a real submarine, so it wasn’t going to be a wooden porthole. You can tell when someone’s served on a submarine: they have scars on their forehead.
You spent a few nights aboard a Royal Navy sub before shooting Black Sea. How was that?
I’m not sure how much I am allowed to say – it was all top secret. I was picked up in a Jeep in Gibraltar, driven to a certain location and put on a Rib with heavily armed men. HMS Talent reared out of the water the size of a skyscraper, and I got yanked up. Before I knew it, they were sealing up and I found myself in this extraordinary world of very efficient, very intense submariners. Some bleary eyed, some buzzing – but all unbelievably welcoming.
Were they as salty as your character?
They’re tough men. They’re used to uncomfortable circumstances and intense co-habitation. There’s certainly an element of ‘seasoned depth’ to them. But the thing that impressed me most is that they all know each other’s jobs, because if someone goes down, they have to be covered. Highly skilled.
Where did your character’s Scottish accent come from?
When Kevin [MacDonald, the director], Dennis [Kelly, the script writer] and I started working on [my character] together, it became apparent that we needed to create a past for him that made sense about his state of mind, what he stood for. We wanted him to come from somewhere by the sea with a nautical background. We um’d and ah’d, but because Kevin’s Scottish, we settled and thought it was a good place. Then it’s a case of working hard with a dialect coach. That’s what I did. I was slightly more confident knowing that Kevin is a Scot himself, so I had an extra pair of ears to back it up.
They have to keep the oxygen levels low in a sub, which means everyone gets tired and easily irritated. When the captain turns up the oxygen, it’s a huge treat. Did you experience that?
Ha! I didn’t know that. I didn’t feel grumpy; I was enjoying spending a few days beneath the waves. I’d like to say it helped my character, but I went for selfish reasons – it was an extraordinary experience. I can’t believe they said yes.
Did you have to learn Navy lingo?
Yeah. ‘Wets’ is drink, ‘scoff’ is food.
Is booze forbidden down there?
Smoking and booze have finally been banned. There used to be cigarettes and a ‘rum rash’.
Did you sneak down any whisky?
No, no. I was given a shot of rum at the end. To get your dolphins [the badge issued on completion of training] they put it in the bottom of a glass of rum, and you have to drink it and catch the dolphins in your cheek. They let me do that but, no, I wasn’t going to risk mutiny at minus 5,000ft.
Very sensible. Do you prefer to play tougher characters – the less ‘Jude Law-ish’ ones?
The older you get, the more you get to play characters with life experience. Writers seem to develop more interesting roles for older actors – especially men.
Have you ever thought, “I’ve f*cked up here” after making a bad career choice?
You make a choice and commit to it. It’s only happened once where I thought, “This is a waste of time.” But you have to crack on and give it your best. If you’re in this to hit home runs all the time and make a gazillion dollars, you’re in it for the wrong reasons.
You’re one of the few British stars who hasn’t made a superhero blockbuster. Fancy it?
Depends what they came to me with… I’m not losing sleep over it.
Will we see you tweet? There’s a fake account in your name…
Yeah, I know. I have no interest and no time. I use any excuse available to not to pick up my phone. I have no interest in holding this bloody object all the time – I’d much rather be doing stuff with real people. When I get free time I’m more inclined to listen to music, read or put my feet up.
Was it tough bulking up for Black Sea?
I hate, hate reading about actors bulking up and trimming down. I mean, please! Life is too short. It was fine, thanks.
An eight-eggs-for-breakfast kind of deal?
Something like that… steak for breakfast. Really boring.
You have teenage children – would you encourage them to take up acting as a career?
The treatment of women in film, on the whole, is pretty negative, so I’d probably be more cautionary to my daughter. But if they’re passionate, of course I’d encourage them. There are wonderful aspects to this career.
After 20 years in Hollywood, is it a relief not to be competing with twentysomething heartthrobs any more?
The more you’re in it, the more you realise it moves in waves. There’ll always be a new generation, a ‘hot new thing’, someone having their 15 minutes. To me, it’s about the long game. It’s a tricky profession and it still amazes me that most films get made. It’s a kick, bollock and scramble – but that’s what makes them special. It’s also what makes us lucky people. I can’t believe I’m still doing this 20 years later. You can’t bitch and whine, “Oh, it’s so competitive now.” Well, what did you expect?
Black Sea is at cinemas nationwide from 5 December