Earning an ‘A’ for Androgyny on the Screen
New York Times, September 13, 1998
Good-looking and bursting with raw talent, 21-year-old Jonathan Rhys Meyers has been hailed as the latest new star in Hollywood.
ONCE upon a time, the talk was of the “It Girl”. These days, Jonathan Rhys Meyers has film-makers extolling what is called the “A Boy”.
The “A”, of course, stands for “androgynous”, which is a quality — an infectious smile and raw talent are others — that has the 21-year-old Irishman leading the latest Anglo-Irish thespian wave.
The actor, who has been compared to Leonardo DiCaprio, stars in Ride With The Devil, which is expected to be released early next year, co-starring Tobey Maguire and Jewel.
“Johnny’s fabulous to look at,” said Ang Lee, who cast Rhys Meyers as a long-haired villain-with-a-difference in the Civil War film. “Personally, I feel he has a poetic quality.”
Director Todd Haynes, who picked Rhys Meyers to play the vaguely David Bowie-esque glam rocker Brian Slade in Velvet Goldmine, which is to open in the United States on Nov 6, said: “We had to have a beautiful man who could be very skinny and strike an impressive and arresting pose.
“To convey a viable rock ‘n’ roll icon in a fictional film is a really difficult task.”
Rhys Meyers, for his part, takes a pragmatic view of his appeal. “The way I look is the way I look,” he said.
But he’s too smart not to be rather more self-aware. “I’ve got an androgyny anyway — I’ve always had a very, very strong male side,” continued the actor who was 2-1/2 when his father left their home in County Cork, Ireland, leaving his mother and brothers to cope.
“Because I grew up with a single parent, I equally have a strong feminine side, and I’m not afraid to let that come out. I’m hoping I’ll get some of the emotional intelligence that comes from having a female side. I find that very beautiful.”
In Velvet Goldmine, his enigmatic Slade makes his way through 11 wigs and 17 makeup changes to capture the sad heart of a film that, for all its apparent glitter, is as much a requiem for an era as a celebration of it.
“It’s very hard for somebody to wear all those different haircuts and look well in every one of them,” said Rhys Meyers. (The costumes, which include leopard-print trousers and sparkly platform boots, heighten the effect.)
“That was the challenge — was I willing to let vanity take second place to courage? I decided I’d take a risk.”
A similar impulse prompted him to accept the part of Henry Cavendish, the increasingly anxious suitor to Minnie Driver’s closetted Jew in The Governess.
“I thought, a really subdued 1840s Victorian piece — oh wow, let’s go whip myself,” he said. “And I get constantly rejected!”
Now, Rhys Meyers is in near-constant demand with films awaiting release from, among others, Michael Radford (B. Monkey) and Mike Figgis (The Loss Of Sexual Innocence).
Also unseen in the United States is his first major role, shot when he was 18, in Sue Clayton’s The Disappearance Of Finbar Flynn, an eccentric Irish comedy in which he plays the errant lad Finbar who falls in with a snowbound community of tango-obsessed Finns.
With fame comes the inevitable comparisons, most often to DiCaprio, whom Rhys Meyers somewhat resembles, though with a more pouty, fuller-lipped effect.
“But,” said Rhys Meyers, “when Daniel Day-Lewis first started acting, nobody said he was the new anything. What I’d like is to be a Johnny Rhys Meyers. I’d like to be accepted as myself.”