Jude Law in a scene from the movie Side Effects. (Barry Wetcher / Open Road…)
No one talks about therapy in London, Jude Law says.
"As an Englishman, if you say you're visiting a psychiatrist, you have a problem," noted the British actor. "In the States, you're looking for an answer."
Law, then, isn't the traditional Brit, because when director Steven Soderbergh asked him to play a shrink in his new film "Side Effects," the actor didn't hesitate. The two had worked together before — on 2011's outbreak thriller "Contagion" — but in that project, Law was a supporting member of a large ensemble cast. This time the 40-year-old was eager to team with Soderbergh for a weightier role and was equally interested in challenging the attitudes toward mental health so prevalent in the United Kingdom.
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In "Side Effects," out Feb. 8, Law plays Dr. Jonathan Banks, a prominent psychiatrist trying to help Emily (Rooney Mara), a young woman struggling with deep depression. Banks prescribes a number of antidepressants, but every medication Emily tries presents a challenging batch of side effects.
To prepare for the role, Law spent time with Sasha Bardey, formerly the deputy director of forensic psychiatry for the city of New York, and a U.K.-based psychiatrist. In London, Law also got permission to attend some group therapy sessions — an experience he found both eye-opening and disturbing.
"No one cared that an actor was there because all the cases were quite uncomfortable and a bit extreme. They were there to get their treatment, and they could care less who I was," said Law by telephone after the New Year, about to head back to London after a family vacation in Hawaii.
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One of the biggest revelations for Law was the genuine belief many doctors appeared to have in the power of prescription drugs.
"A defining thing for most psychiatric doctors, I learned, was that they have to have faith in the medicine," he said. "They believe in the process — it's a riddle, if you like, and if one thing isn't working, there must be a minute adjustment that can be made to create the right recipe."
Law did not reveal whether he himself has ever been to therapy but did say he thinks the psychiatric world is one of "incredible help and guidance."
"In the U.K., people aren't so open about antidepressants — either that, or everyone I know isn't on them," said Law, who will next appear as a high-end thief in "Dom Hemingway." "I know that people in the States are, so that can only be because they are less reluctant to talk about them."
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