Richard Shepard’s latest film will catch most audiences by surprise.
“Dom Hemingway” stars Jude Law as a foul-mouthed, binge drinking, chain-smoking ex-con who must seek forgiveness from his daughter after being in prison for more than a decade.
“He’s always shooting off his mouth,” Shepard said of the film’s titular character. “No matter what he does, he shoots himself in the foot. He’s his own worst enemy, but at the end of the day, you can’t help but root for him.”
The film, which screened Sunday at the Phoenix Film Festival, was inspired by Shepard’s love of British crime films.
“I’m a huge fan of films like ‘Sexy Beast,’ and other such heist films, and I wanted to make a heist type crime film without ever showing the actual heist,” Shepard said.
From the film’s opening monologue, an epic poem of sorts about Dom’s manhood, it’s clear exactly what type of person Dom is. He absolutely should not be likeable, and yet, he just is. Shepard says that despite this, writing Dom wasn’t as difficult as one may think.
“Dom came from a sort of place where I was writing it as someone who hasn’t said or done these things, obviously, but from the place where I imagined what it would be like to,” Shepard said. “Writing the character was really fun because in a way I got to live dangerously through him.”
Jude Law plays Dom, and turns in a career-best performance. Demian Bichir (FX’s “The Bridge”) plays Dom’s boss Mr. Fontaine and “Game of Thrones” star Emilia Clarke plays Dom’s daughter Evelyn, who is essentially Dom’s Achilles heal. Bichir’s character was written as being a Brit originally, but Shepard says that at Law’s suggestion, the role was opened to be more international. When Bichir read for the part, Law and Shepard knew it was the right fit.
“I was a huge fan of Demian’s and his work, and his charisma really worked for the part,” Shepard said.
As for Clarke, Shepard says the way she squared off with Law was a big part of her casting.
“Emilia is a great actress. She’s truly talented, and when we saw the way she stood her ground against Jude, and the way she refused to back down, we knew she was right for the part,” Shepard said.
Both Dom and Evelyn need each other, despite wanting to acknowledge it, but more importantly they need something from the other. Dom needs redemption from Evelyn. He needs to be let back into her life despite being gone for 12 years since he was in prison. On the contrary, Evelyn needs Dom to be forgiven in order for her to allow herself to open up again and let people in.
“Emilia really is Dom’s kryptonite. She destroys him emotionally,” Shepard said. “And I really wanted to explore that, and go deep with it, because I wanted Dom to be more than a two-dimensional character. After all, the film’s named ‘Dom Hemingway.’ Not ‘The Heist’. He’s presented with his flaws and all and really given what I feel is a deep emotionality.”
Besides writing and directing “Dom Hemingway,” Shepard has directed several other films, including 2005’s “The Matador” starring Pierce Brosnan, as well as six episodes of HBO’s hit show “Girls.” He also directed the pilot of “Ugly Betty,” for which he won the 2007 Emmy for best direction. His next project is the upcoming pilot of WGN’s “Salem,” which premiers April 20.
“It’s really different,” Shepard said of the episode. “It’s dark, sexy horror that really has a great epicness to it.”
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