There are two things about Jude Law that everyone can agree on. One, he's a terrifically talented actor. Two, he's a terrifically handsome man. But after Alfie's terrifically ugly $6.2 million debut last weekend, there's a third point to consider: Combine those two excellent traits, and you still may not have a Hollywood box office leading man.
Perhaps it's just that the British cad Law plays in Alfie simply doesn't appeal to American audiences. And considering Alfie's incredibly stiff competition (The Incredibles bowed the same weekend to a superpowered $70.5 million), its poor showing shouldn't have been a major surprise. But for some, the failure still came as a shock. Paramount poured millions into marketing Alfie, the movie got decent reviews, and it has performed rather well in the U.K., where it opened Oct. 22. Furthermore, Law, a two-time Oscar nominee featured in six movies this fall, has been popping up everywhere in the U.S. (hosting Saturday Night Live, smoldering on the cover of Vanity Fair) as part of an apparent plan to position him as a leading man.
But maybe that's just not what he is. And maybe that's not such a bad thing.
Desperate to anoint the next Tom or Mel or Harrison or Bruce, Hollywood is forever on the hunt for the Next Big Leading Man the kind of superstar who can ensure that a film strikes gold in its first weekend, even if the film stinks. ''Jude seemed like the Appointed One because of The Talented Mr. Ripley and Cold Mountain. He was so good in those movies,'' says a Hollywood agent, who notes that looks plus talent do often equal superstardom.
''I don't think Jude perceives himself as a quote-unquote movie star,'' Alfie director Charles Shyer told EW last month. ''I think he perceives himself as an actor, and that's the difference.'' Indeed, Law, 31, has gone out of his way to eschew blockbuster parts, favoring character and ensemble roles helmed by smart directors: Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, Mike Nichols, Anthony Minghella, Sam Mendes, and David O. Russell. His next starring role is in Nichols' Closer, a brainy ensemble drama (albeit an ensemble featuring Julia Roberts), and he pops up for a few minutes as Errol Flynn in Scorsese's The Aviator.
''He is a fully qualified character actor in a leading man's body,'' says casting director and producer David Rubin, who worked with Law on The Talented Mr. Ripley and Cold Mountain. ''Jude's interest is much more in being challenged as an actor than in cashing in on a kind of cosmetic appeal that he might have.'' Since he broke out in 1999's Ripley, many of Law's roles have been supporting parts that haven't depended on his looks. In 2002's Road to Perdition, he spooked as a balding, gimpy, yellow-toothed assassin. September's Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow was more about dazzling visual effects than Law's (or, for that matter, costar Gwyneth Paltrow's) dazzling smile. He is just the narrator in Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events.