Jonny Goes Round the Bend
By Pauline Mcleod
The Mirror, April 12, 2002

Jonathan Rhys Meyers, star of footie drama Bend It Like Beckham, longs to do a Hollywood blockbuster

Considering Jonathan Rhys Meyers had been very drunk the previous night he is decidedly chipper. He’d planned to watch the Oscars live on TV in the small hours, but woke up on the floor of his swanky Italian hotel suite, having slept through the whole thing.

He’s got good reason for feeling upbeat, though. On his way home to Dublin after five weeks in Thailand – where he’s been filming The Tesseract, based on Alex Garland’s follow-up novel to The Beach – Jonathan has stopped off in Italy to collect a best acting gong at the Venice International TV Awards.

Then there’s his new film Bend It Like Beckham in which he plays the gentle-yet -firm football coach to a team of hormonally-charged teenage girls. It’s the most gloriously quirky and delightfully feelgood British movie since Billy Elliot.

At the heart of the story, written and directed by Gurinder Chadha (Bhaji On The Beach, What’s Cooking?) is an Indian girl, played by Parminder Nagra, whose bedroom is a shrine to soccer star David Beckham, and an English girl, Jules (Keira Knightley) who idolises USA women’s soccer star, Mia Hamm.

They are desperate to play football, but their respective families are equally desperate they don’t. Jules’s mother (a scene-stealing Juliet Stevenson) is against it because it’s just not feminine and Jess’s mum (Shaheen Khan) because it’s just not what Indian girls do.

Into the mix steps women’s soccer coach Joe (Rhys Meyers), who both girls fall head-over-footballing-heels for.

Because he has such a catalogue of work behind him – Velvet Goldmine, Michael Collins, Ang Lee’s Ride With The Devil, Shakespearian bloodbath Titus, and evil kitchen boy Steerpike in Gormenghast – it is easy to forget that Jonny is only 24.

Intense and a bit insecure, but blessed with monumental Irish charm, he took the role of Joe because he’s never normally offered boy-next-door type parts. Just as, he says, he is never considered for big Hollywood action blockbusters.

“I would love to do one of these Pearl Harbor jobs. I would love it!” he enthuses. “Most people think I want to do complex, artistic characters, but I want to do a big toothy smile, wearing a Hawaiian shirt, flying around in an aeroplane — a big, juicy getting-the-girl sort of movie.”

Jonny also gets interrogated every time he flies into the United States because he has lots of Moroccan stamps in his passport. He even found himself staring into the barrel of a gun at Milan airport last year.

“It was two days after September 11. I am a white young male and was travelling on my own to Morocco. It was incredible. There were about 16 soldiers all around with huge guns pointing at me. It was terrifying!”

The reason for him hopping over to North Africa with such regularity is not nearly as melodramatic as it might sound – he has a holiday apartment in a fishing village 40 miles north of Agadir.

“If I drop pebbles from the balcony, they splash straight into the water,” says Jonny. “But I couldn’t live there permanently as I’m quite nomadic. My current address is courtesy of Samsonite.”

The suitcase in question is temporarily unpacked and currently residing in a corner of his room at the Excelsior Hotel on Venice’s Lido. The best actor award he is accepting at the local television festival is for his role in the re-working of Orson Welles’ The Magnificent Ambersons, already shown on TV in the States.

Then there is The Tesseract, directed by the remarkably-named Oxide Pang.

“The book is incredibly complicated,” says Jonny. “The same energy and claustrophobia is there. My character Sean is hired as a courier to go to Bangkok to pick up undiluted drugs.

“He gets covered in cuts and bruises. It’s no beauty contest for me, I’m afraid. They made me look like shit every day.”

Thank goodness, then, that he’s back to his pretty boy best in Bend It Like Beckham.

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