Who Is Dom Hemingway?
Dom Hemingway is pure contradiction. Endearing yet offensive, determined yet dangerously
unhinged, he's a man of voracious appetites and mad, annihilating urges yet he harbors a caring soul.
He has a mouth that goes off like a hand grenade, "magic fingers" that can pilfer any cash-containing
safe, but also a heart that seeks to unburden some very deep regrets. From the get-go, the filmmakers
were aware that all these complementary contradictions, would be highly attractive for an actor ready
to leap into unexplored extremes of eccentric human behavior, to reach what Stanley Kubrick once
called "a state of comic ecstasy."
But in the beginning, they could not have foreseen that Jude Law, the English leading man
who has been listed on multiple "beautiful people" lists, would be that actor.
Ultimately, Dom and Jude would seem to have been fated for each other. But in the
beginning, Dom was just a flicker in Richard Shepard's imagination as he sat down to write a scene in
which a man is about to be released from 12 years of prison after not ratting out his boss -- and is
already gung-ho to get every last delicious drop of what he has coming. The scene would become the
film's bold and literally naked opening, and set the character off and running.
"It was a very shocking and, I would hope, funny sequence. As soon as that came out of me,
I wrote the rest very quickly," Shepard recalls. "I loved Dom and I wanted to see what was going to
happen to him."
His story came reeling onto the page. To a certain degree, Shepard tapped directly into the
gritty, gangster zeitgeist of London's East End, which since the 17th
Century has been explored as a
den of crime, sexual deviance and human vice. But there was more to Dom -- a transcendent quality
that made him emblematic of anyone anywhere who can't stop their mouth, their mischievousness or
their tendency to screw up the very things that matter the most.
Even the name came organically. "I liked the name Dom. It seemed interesting," Shepard
reflects. "And Hemingway had allusions to something macho."
But what actor would go to the lengths of macho mayhem necessary for the character? "I
didn't think about Jude while I was writing it," the writer-director states. "But now I would say that if
Jude Law didn't play Dom then there'd be no movie. Now there's no way to imagine any other actor
It all gelled when Shepard and Law met in a West London pub where they discussed Dom
and his many foibles, both alluring and frightening. "I knew from those first few pints with Jude that
his vision of what Dom should be was exactly what I wanted," Shepard explains. "He became a
collaborator. It was the first time I've ever had a leading man come and read for all the other
auditions -- he was very motivated to make sure that we got the best cast that we could. And then we
got to a point where we were reading each other's minds about what would make sense for Dom to do
and it was incredibly fun to be part of that."
Law knew there was only one way to come at Dom Hemingway: full tilt. "As an actor you
look at this character and think: there are loads of elements to this guy I've never tapped into before,
or been allowed to," Law explains. "There was something incredibly scary about taking that on and
also something completely unavoidable. A part of me knew deep down that I had to play him. Dom
is an original and Richard Shepard made him. He wrote him, and I don't think I've come close to
playing anyone else who contains all those colors at such a high volume." In fact, Law became so
enamoured with his Dom that he decided to bid farewell to his character following completion of the
film in a decidedly cheeky way. Surrounded by fellow cast and crew members, Law held a burial for
Dom's unforgettable prosthetic teeth. "It was an ideal way to close out this loud mouth," says Law.
For Law, the key was tapping into was Dom's perilously uncalled-for self-belief, a
confidence that never wavers even when it should -- and then revealing that behind that, there's a man
going through a storm of mixed-up emotions. "He's a car-crash of a man really," remarks Law.
"He's ultimately a decent guy but he's abusive to himself and others. Part of it is being aggressive,
and part of it is soaking himself in alcohol and drugs so he doesn't feel anything. He's got all of these
puffed-up layers . . . but eventually you start to see there's more to Dom than meets the eye. To me,
it's not a story so much about Dom's revenge. It's about a guy who's a mess, who then takes one
little step towards grace."
Shepard and Law worked closely to hone Dom's dialogue which Shepard wrote to veer
between foul-mouthed and semi-profound, with ranting soliloquies. "The idea for me was that Dom
uses language as much as his fists to gain attention," Shepard says.
Law and Shepard agreed that the opening scene would be the marker by which the actor
could set the tone for Dom across the rest of the shoot. With its explicit yet poetic bombast, it's a
moment that captures everything eloquent, eccentric and menacing about Dom.
"I said to myself, 'If I'm going to do this role, I'm going to walk on set naked and do that first
scene, and then I'll know I can do the whole thing,'" Law recalls. "That was a great start."
Law's intensive physical preparation came from the idea that Dom's poor diet and lack of
exercise would have taken a terrible toll over 12 years in prison. He refers to the process as Dom's
"unhealth." "Looking at Dom's lifestyle and how much he drinks, I realized it was probably wise to
bulk up a bit," he explains of his decision to put an extra 20 pounds on his usually athletic frame,
along with some authentic beer-guzzling bloat. "I exercise quite a lot normally, and I'm someone
who doesn't eat very much, so I just stopped and ate absolute rubbish, a lot, all day long. Then I
started to worry that I hadn't put on enough, because I wanted to have a combination of bulk and flab.
Cola really helped."
Later, Law's metamorphosis into Dom's skin was completed with creative hair and make-up,
including a special fixture inside his nose to give it a broken kink and dental fixtures that darken and
disfigure his mouth. He also grew a styled beard that he and the crew lovingly referred to as "Dom
Chops." But the real transformation went past the character's look, to the nooks and crannies of his
inevitably explosive psyche.
At times Law went so far into the character, it stunned the cast and crew. "When we started
the film, none of us had really taken on board how much Jude had buried himself in the role. I don't
think even Richard could have imagined how much he was going to give physically and
emotionally," says director of photography Giles Nuttgens. "He had no absolutely no fear."
"Jude changed himself for this role," concludes Jeremy Thomas. "Dom is a man who has
been in jail for 12 years, he's a man who can handle himself in a fight, he's cock of the walk, he's a
very charismatic character. And Jude really entered into the idea of being Dom Hemingway for us.
It's great when you find an actor prepared to go that far into finding a wonderful character."
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