Articles

Here’s Johnny
By Jennifer Pierce Barr
Elle, November 1998

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In Velvet Goldmine, Jonathan Rhys Meyers dons the glitter in a tribute to the age of Ziggy and Iggy

Swaggering across Manhattan’s Bryant Park on a quest for cigarettes, Jonathan Rhys Meyers looks as if he just stepped out of a CK commercial: Tall, skinny, with a messy ponytail and lips like Jim Morrison’s, the Irish actor could pass for a rock star. Which seems appropriate, considering his role as a pop idol in Velvet Goldmine, Todd Haynes’s exuberant celebration of early British glam rock, opening this month. Playing an androgynous, Bowie-like icon, Rhys Meyers poses, struts, and sings with the sort of haughty insouciance and puckish determination that make you think he was born to be in front of an audience. But Rhys Meyers (“Hi, I’m Johnny”) claims he never wanted to be an actor while growing up in County Cork: “What would I be doing otherwise?” he says with his Irish lilt. “I’d probably be in jail… I don’t love acting. This is a job for people who aren’t happy being themselves. If I was happy with myself, I wouldn’t want to run around being somebody else. And, well, who am I? You see, I can’t put my finger on it, because the things I like change every day.”

And, well, they should when you’re twenty-one. In the four years since he was discovered in a pool hall (he left home at fifteen, “to go make something of myself”), Rhys Meyers has acted in a dozen film and TV projects, including Michael Collins, The Governess, and next year’s Ride With the Devil and B. Monkey.

To prepare for Goldmine, Rhys Meyers locked himself in a “rock-star-y London apartment” with a microphone and a guitar and listened to the New York Dolls and the Doors, American bands that would have reached a British kid in the ’70s. After making a demo tape with his three musician brothers, he convinced Haynes to let him sing on the soundtrack. “Johnny’s ability to command a stage wasn’t something I’d tested before – it was a leap of faith and I hit the jackpot,” says Haynes.

In case you were wondering, Johnny Rhys Meyers smokes his Marlboro reds all the way to the filter. He believes in Jesus Christ, various Buddhist prophets, and the future. He’s been in love (he thinks). He’s passionate about horseback riding and music – his tastes range from English artist Nick Drake to Sufi singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. And he thinks war (Ireland’s included) is pointless. Ultimately, he gives the impression that he’s equipped for survival, even if it means making his own luck along the way: On his cigarette mission, Rhys Meyers forgets to ask for matches. Instead of bumming a light from a passerby, he scans the sidewalk. Spotting a discarded book nearby, he pockets his find with the delight of a child.

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