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Wednesday, April 28, 2004

Winning charm points with Mum and Kurosawa


The demands of stardom are not easily ignored: When Jude Law failed to show for a Tokyo press conference in early April with director Anthony Minghella and co-star Renee Zellweger, the disappointment was palpable -- not just among his many female fans, but also that of the film's distributor, who is counting on Law's popularity to sell a Civil War flick in Japan. The fans (and distributor) finally got their wish, though, when Law turned up in Tokyo Saturday to appear at the film's opening.

News photo
Renee Zellweger and Anthony Minghella (below) got to Tokyo first to promote "Cold Mountain," followed by a last-minute visit by Jude Law (above). YOSHIAKI MIURA PHOTOS
News photo

Watching Zellweger and Law in action, at two separate news conferences, was an interesting contrast in star personas. Zellweger, so sharp and witty on-screen, seemed a bit flustered amid all the attention and gave long, rambling answers that chased their own tails. Law, on the other hand, was both disarming and utterly relaxed, joking with his interpreter, removing his blazer (which caused a collective craning of necks among the women in the back rows), and handling even the most inane questions with charm.

How was he enjoying his stay in Tokyo? "The food I ate last night [teppan-yaki] was simply the best meal I've ever eaten in my life. . . . I woke up this morning dreaming of it!"

And the city? "It's got a unique kind of atmosphere on the streets . . . incredibly conducive to spending money!"

And, ahem, how would he describe his ideal woman?

"Oh, gosh . . . I'd have to say my mother . . . "

When pressed, he continued "It's about the heart, the head, being informed, informative, fun. . . . I'm gonna get in trouble. [Laughs.]"

To his credit, when asked whether he'd like to work in Japan, he said he was a big fan of Takeshi Kitano, thus being one of the only Western film celebs (other than otaku like Quentin Tarantino) to name-drop someone other than Akira Kurosawa.

Speaking earlier in the month, director Minghella paid homage right off the bat to "the maestro Kurosawa, who features a lot in the way that I shot this movie." Of course, someone took the bait and asked Minghella exactly how Kurosawa's work had influenced "Cold Mountain."

"I had to establish the war in a very few minutes," the director explained. "So I looked at the people who have most beautifully captured the madness and the reduction of war, where men become part of patterns. And the person who has done that most brilliantly is Kurosawa in 'Kagemusha' and in 'Ran.' The sense of telling a story through the movement on screen is uniquely his invention, I think, and I was very happy to borrow it from him."

There were, thankfully, also questions about the movie in question. When asked about how she prepared for her Oscar-winning role as Ruby, the film's feisty mountain girl, Zellweger described how she started by studying the social and cultural particulars of Civil War-era America: "In the beginning, it was more about becoming familiar with the social elements from that period of American history. I guess her physicality came from understanding what her life would have been like at that time, and the challenges she would face on a daily basis.

"In terms of changing on the outside, we darkened my skin a little bit so she'd look a little more weather-beaten. And I had a lot of help: Ann Roth is a phenomenal costumer. The clothes sort of dictate the way you move, the way you feel. And [Ruby's] spirit -- she's so childlike and curious and fearless. I wanted that to be part of her physical language as well. I wanted her to be big and like a child, not restrained like a person who's better socialized, brought up with proper mannerisms. It came out daily -- it was more a process of discovery than putting it together initially."

When it came to his role as Inman, the Confederate deserter who decides to walk away from the war, Law noted that step one was to "bulk up, look like a guy who could plow a field." But beyond that, Law said it was crucial that he conveyed the spiritual journey within the character. "For that Anthony guided me through literature that inspired the book," the actor said. "Works like the Book of Job, 'The Odyssey,' 'Pilgrim's Progress,' a modern book called 'Songlines' by Bruce Chatwin. Through their help, [I] tried to chart this guy's rise out of hell. In a way, he leaves his body behind at the battlefield when he's shot, and his spirit journeys home -- it's about his absolution. And finding that, and plotting it internally, was the key to Inman."

Minghella seems to have directed much of the film in a conceptual way, noting how "Nicole and Renee represented different elements, with Nicole representing air, and Renee, earth. A lot of the character and design ideas came from that notion." But he also placed his film squarely within reality -- and a current context -- in the way he described its themes. "At the heart of it there's a debate about conflict, and what is the most effective way of resolving conflict," Minghella explained. "The movie begins on a battlefield and ends around a table. And on the battlefield, there's an apparently effective way of solving an argument, which is by killing somebody, by using force. But obviously it doesn't heal problems, because if you look at America and the Civil War, it's been a scar that's never fully healed.

"And at the end of the movie there's a table with a strange family of survivors who've got nothing in common, really, neither class nor ideology, but they've learned and survived and been compassionate with each other. And we live in a time where force is seen as the most persuasive way of solving problems.

"The film is a little plea for the values of the table, for listening and working things out through a much slower and fuzzier, but I think longer-lasting, solution through conversation and dialogue."



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