Jude Law wore a horrifying concoction of scents, a pungent blend of “blood, fecal matter and sweat,” to play Henry VIII in “Firebrand,” a historical thriller about the final days of the king and his sixth and last wife Katherine Parr.
“I read several interesting accounts that you could smell Henry three rooms away. His leg was rotting so badly. He hid it with rose oil,” Law said at Monday’s Cannes Film Festival press conference for “Firebrand,” which debuted at the Palais a day prior. “I thought it would have a great impact if I smelt awful.”
So, he found a perfume specialist to create a custom, revolting blend of smells to capture the odor of the king, who suffered from swollen ankles and leg ulcers in his final years. “She makes wonderful scents, and she also makes awful scents. She somehow came up with this extraordinary variety of blood, fecal matter and sweat.”
“Initially,” he said, “I used it very subtly and thought I’d use it myself.” But he then went rogue. “It became a spray-fest.”
The film’s director Karim Aïnouz shook his head as he remembered the stinky brew, which permeated the entire production. “When Jude walked in on set,” he said, “it was just horrible.”
“Firebrand” was greeted at Cannes with an eight-minute standing ovation, which was cut short because Alicia Vikander, who plays Katherine Parr, was motioning for the audience to stop so she wouldn’t cry. Adapted from the 2013 novel “Queen’s Gambit,” the film takes place in blood-soaked Tudor England as Parr outmaneuvers her husband to survive his tumultuous final days on the throne.
Despite embodying a monarch for the film, Law says he’s uninterested in the happenings of the aristocracy. Earlier in the press conference, the actor burst out laughing when he was asked by a journalist to share his thoughts on the British Royal family.
“I kind of see it like theater, although I’m slightly more obsessed by theater,” Law said. “But I’m not one for gossip. I don’t really enjoy it. I find no interest in it, and I don’t really enjoy following tittle tattle stories.”
But he is fascinated with the way the past can inform the current times. “There was something remarkable about looking at the photos of this medieval ceremony and how it applied to today made me feel very modern,” Law continued, alluding to the recent coronation of Charles III and Camilla.
Vikander is equally indifferent about the Swedish monarchy. “I agree with Jude on most things that he said. But yeah, I don’t follow it really myself.”
Though he played a cruel and mad character, Law remembers that he and Vikander kept it light on set. “It sounds really twisted because of course we did awful things to each other,” he said. “But my memory is that we were laughing a lot.”