The world of psychopharmacology is a tricky one to navigate, and one that Jude Law got first-hand experience with playing Dr. Jonathan Banks in Steven Soderbergh’s Side Effects. In the story, the character not only faces accusations of moral misdoings when it comes to treating his patients – facing serious questions after use of a drug he prescribed leads to a violent episode – but is even shown to be a user himself. So how did the actor start looking through the eyes of Dr. Banks? With faith in psychopharmaceuticals.
With the new thriller in theaters this weekend, I recently had the pleasure of sitting down with the film’s star to talk about taking on the project, what he believes the film has to say, and the importance of keeping a performance genuine.
When did you first get involved with this film, because I know that you worked with both Steven Soderbergh and Scott Z. Burns on Contagion before thus
I read it when I had just done Contagion just because Scott and I got on very well and he wanted me to read some of his stuff. And then Steven got involved and I ended up getting a call at the beginning of the year… no, it was over Christmas break, actually, and I got on-board.
Was it something that he mentioned while you were making Contagion or…
No, no, Steven wasn’t involved by that point. He got involved later. I read it and I knew it… but they tweaked it a little bit.
How did they change it?
Just little things about order. When you got to see about [Rooney Mara’s character]’s life – her past life with her husband and all that stuff. Subtle changes.
So not like an overhaul.
Scott had been working on it for a good eight, nine years – the idea of this project.
When you first started reading it, and I guess this applies to how you work in general, what is the element that you’re really honing into? Do you look specifically at the character you’d play or are you looking at the whole picture?
Hmmm….I don’t know. Obviously you want to look at the character and see what’s in it – and is there anything you feel you can or can’t do, or if it’s something you’ve done before or is out of your comfort zone or whatever. And I like the idea of always looking for something in that capacity – something different and challenging and that’s going to prick my curiosity. And then you’re also looking at the whole thing. Does it work? And who’s directing it? What will they bring to it? What is it saying? All of those things. And you get a sense of that pretty quick. For example, you can read something that’s good, but maybe, I don’t kno0w, mystifies – but then, “Oh, they’re directing it?” and you know, “Oh, they’ll bring this to it.” You know?
Which was the case with Side Effects?
I think it was a bit of both. I wanted to work with Steven again and I loved the project, I loved the script, I loved the part! So it was a pretty easy decision.
Part of what makes this such an interesting character is the balance between his strength and weakness. He’s a guy who is not only living behind the 8 ball, but it seems like someone keeps putting him there. But he’s also a fighter and doesn’t just concede to the situation. Can you talk about your approach to balancing those sides of the character?
Well, an awful lot of that journey is in the writing. And as long as you make an attempt to bring realism and commitment to a part. We were very clear about letting his…I remember kind of grading it, as it were, and I wanted his breakdowns to be quite extreme. I wanted it to be clear that he was losing it. And I liked the idea also, and I think we discussed this on set, that one moment the audience can start to think, "Hang on, is he going mad?” That’s right around the time he goes to the other doctor and he asks for drugs and you think, “He’s losing it.” And I liked that because it plays along with the twist even more. “Oh it’s him – he’s the nut!”