In the animated feature Rise of the Guardians, the voice of British actor Jude Law terrorises children with his portrayal of the bogeyman, an evil spirit known as Pitch Black. But the 39-year-old actor says he has a strangely sympathetic take on the universal villain.
''I think most people can relate to the feeling of being misunderstood, and Pitch Black has a huge resentment for being shoved under children's beds for thousands of years,'' Law says with a grin.
''I remember as a teenager feeling one thing and realising the world is reacting in a different way, so you always feel misunderstood at various stages in your life - especially if you're an actor and you get endless stories written about you.''
"I think most people can relate to the feeling of being misunderstood'' ... Jude Law.
"I think most people can relate to the feeling of being misunderstood'' ... Jude Law. Photo: Getty Images
The film, based on the new Guardians of Childhood book series by children's author William Joyce, imagines a secret history and mythology that binds Santa Claus (Alec Baldwin), the Easter Bunny (Hugh Jackman), the Tooth Fairy (Isla Fisher), the Sandman and the Man in the Moon as members of a group ordered to protect the innocence and imagination of all children.
When Pitch Black arrives with a plan to rob children of their hopes and dreams, the Guardians need the help of a reluctant new recruit, Jack Frost (Chris Pine), to save the world.
''If any character's well written there's a dark side and a light side, and the joy is trying to balance that out,'' Law says. ''I always used to say that if you play a good guy, you try to find the dark side of him. So if you play a bad guy, like I did in this film, you've got to find the good side of him.''
One of Britain's foremost actors, Law has battled with his own version of the bogeyman since he discovered News International had been hacking his phone repeatedly over three years, during his relationship with actor Sienna Miller and their break-up in 2005 - feeding the tabloid stories that revealed he cheated on his fiancee with the nanny of his three children, now aged 16, 12 and 10.
After the hacking scandal was exposed, the actor sued and accepted a six-figure settlement earlier this year, declaring: ''I was truly appalled by what I was shown by the police and by what my lawyers have discovered.
"No aspect of my private life was safe from intrusion, including the lives of my children and the people who work for me. I hope this means that they will never invade my privacy again, and they have also finally given a proper apology.''
Before the scandal, Law's work was always the focus, including two Oscar nominations: in a supporting role in the 1999 drama The Talented Mr Ripley and for his starring role opposite Nicole Kidman in the 2003 drama Cold Mountain. The down-to-earth star seems more at peace now the storm has passed, and shrugs when asked if he has regrets. ''I think in order to get to where you are, you have to go through what you go through,'' he says. ''And I don't know what's sadder - the people who publish that stuff or the people who buy it. That's all I'll say.''
Law grew up in South London, the son of school teachers, and began acting with the National Youth Music Theatre when he was 15. His early theatre work led to his breakthrough role in The Talented Mr Ripley and other films, including Road to Perdition, Alfie, Closer, Sherlock Holmes and the coming remake of Anna Karenina.
Unlike actresses approaching 40, Law embraces the coming milestone. ''I'm excited about the next 10 years, because for men the parts can get more complex and interesting,'' he says. His next film, Queen of the Desert, stars Naomi Watts and Robert Pattinson, an irony not lost on the former tabloid darling.
''I feel sorry for the poor guy,'' Law says. ''It's all the attention you don't want, and then in 10 years he'll be asked the same questions you're asking me now.''
Rise of The Guardians openes in New Zealand on January 1.