Law is on the phone from his dressing room in London's Donmar Warehouse, where he's been playing Mat, the swaggering Irishman, in a much-praised revival of Eugene O'Neill's Anna Christie. He's taking a break to talk about deadly viruses and Steven Soderbergh, his Contagion director, between the play's matinee and evening performances.
"A lot of the reason I wanted to be a part of this project was because the script was so strong, and obviously a strong script and a brilliant director like Steven, you feel, as an actor, confident that you're almost halfway there," says Law, who dove deep into the blogosphere to research his role.
"I don't want to list anyone in particular," he says, asked to cite a couple of influential bloggers. "I'd rather people see it and draw on their own imagination, but yeah, I certainly looked at an awful lot of blogs, and bloggers who have been interviewed and who have made a bit of a name for themselves, who have become personalities. . . . I drew on a few and tried to create someone that seemed to fit that particular persona.
"And yet, what was most exciting was that Steven didn't want to judge him, he didn't want him to necessarily be a bad guy. . . . Maybe this guy was correct all along, who knows?"
Crisscrossing the planet, Contagion interweaves multiple storylines, beginning with Gwyneth Paltrow's Beth, returning from a Hong Kong business trip and heading home to Minnesota - where she lives with her husband, played by Matt Damon. Law doesn't share any scenes with Damon and Paltrow, but the three have worked together before, most notably on The Talented Mr. Ripley.
Others in Contagion's sprawling cast include Jennifer Ehle, as a Centers for Disease Control scientist, Laurence Fishburne as her boss, Kate Winslet as another CDC doctor, Demetri Martin, John Hawkes, Monique Gabriela Curnen, Marion Cotillard, and Elliott Gould.
Law does get a fiery scene or two with the latter, the veteran Hollywood star.
"What a joy that was," he says, laughing. "That was a really happy and exciting couple of days on my part. I made many phone calls back to my mum. 'I'm working with Elliott Gould!' She was over the moon."
Twice nominated for Oscars, Law has been going nonstop these past few years. From Contagion he went to work in London and Vienna on 360, Fernando Meirelles' relationship drama, opposite Rachel Weisz, Anthony Hopkins, Ben Foster, and Eminem.
Law did "a very, very small" part in Hugo, Martin Scorsese's family fantasy. "Anything Marty puts his hands on is going to be exciting. And this being a film for youngsters, and based on a book that I adored by Brian Selznick and in 3-D was just intriguing, so I was pleased to be a part of it."
And then he reteamed with Robert Downey Jr. for another Sherlock Holmes adventure. Law plays Watson to Downey's action-hero sleuth. Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows opens Dec. 16.
"Literally, it felt like there was no gap," Law says about returning to director Guy Ritchie's steampunk take on Arthur Conan Doyle. "We went into it with a little more confidence and swagger. We were very proud of the last one, but when you pick up a canon like that, it's hard to know how the world will respond.
"And [audiences] were really enthusiastic, and appreciative."
Law says that Noomi Rapace, of the original Swedish-made Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and its sequels, plays a Gypsy in Game of Shadows, and Jared Harris is on board as the infamous Professor Moriarty.
And are Law, Downey, and Ritchie likely to do another Holmes and Watson if their sequel is a hit? Are the two actors going to turn into the Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce of the 21st century?
"It's not up to me, obviously, but I don't see why not," Law muses. "I love working with Robert and Guy and the whole team. I'm a big fan of the books, and there's obviously huge amounts of material to dip into and use and be inspired by, so we'll see.
"I always steal a line that Robert said: If everyone else is as enthusiastic and happy for us to carry on doing it, then we'll probably carry on doing it."
Duvall in "Utopia." When Robert Duvall was handed the script to Seven Days in Utopia, a down-home yarn with an uplifting Christian theme, the character the producers wanted him to play - a guru of golf - was too good, and too bland, to be true.
"In essence, it fell flat and added up to not a lot," Duvall reported, refreshingly frank, on the phone from New York the other day. "I told them, 'There's only one Jesus Christ - give me some faults.' Any good piece of drama has obstacles in it, character flaws, weaknesses. So they gave me some to make it more believable, rather than just la-de-da-de-da.
"Even if it's faith-based, there's got to be drama. It can't be just floating along."
So the writers honed the screenplay, and Duvall headed for the hill country of Texas, where he reteamed with his Get Low costar, Lucas Black, for the story of a young down-on-his-luck golf pro who gets mentored by a crusty cowboy who also happens to be a former PGA champ.
Although Duvall looks like he knows what he's doing as he walks around the links and fairways in Seven Days of Utopia, the veteran actor and Oscar winner hardly knows how to grip a club.
"No, I don't play at all. It takes too much time. . . . But you don't have to be a murderer to play a murderer," he adds, chuckling. "It's an acting thing. I got around. I sopped it up as much as I could."
Duvall, whose nothing-to-sneeze-at credits include To Kill a Mockingbird (1962), The Godfather (1972) and The Godfather: Part II (1974), Apocalypse Now (1979), Tender Mercies (1983), and The Apostle (1997), confesses that the offer to do Seven Days in Utopia was too good to turn down.
"Financially, it was a terrific thing," he says. "And I'm well-liked in Texas, and it was a Texas-based film, so when they were raising money my involvement helped. That doesn't necessarily fly in other films that I've been attached to, but in Texas it works.
"So, it was a good offer, it was working with Lucas again, it was going to be in this beautiful town - turned out to be one of my favorite locations of my whole career - so the overall package was quite inviting."
Does he think Seven Days in Utopia will fly in the moviehouses?
"Look at Crazy Heart," he says, referring to the 2010 Academy Award winner in which he has a key supporting role opposite Jeff Bridges. Duvall also produced the film. "I wasn't sure how it was going to do. But it did very well. For everybody."
Contact movie critic Steven Rea at 215-854-5629 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his blog, "On Movies Online," at http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/onmovies/