Much Cuter Than Beckham
By Suhaila Sulaiman
The Straits Times, July 6, 2002
Gorgeous Irish actor Jonathan Rhys Meyers usually plays mad, bad characters but in Gurinder Chadha’s Bend It Like Beckham, he’s really an average Joe.
The task: Run around and play footie with 20 girls, all of whom are dressed in shorts, some topped in athletic bras.
That is what Irish actor Jonathan Rhys Meyers had to do in his latest movie, Bend It Like Beckham.
It’s a tough job, but hey, somebody has got to do it, right?
The rhetorical question is met with a boyish giggle at the other end of the line.
Speaking to Life! from his hotel room in Luxembourg, Rhys Meyers, 24, reveals with an endearing Irish lilt: ‘Everyone I talk to goes, ‘Oh yeah, you spend half the time in the field with 20 girls, how cool is that?’
‘But it’s really not that cool. Because when you are on a set full of girls, they treat you like a kid.
‘A boy should never do a film with 20 girls,’ he concludes good-naturedly.
In Bend It Like Beckham – his 22nd film in his eight years in showbiz – Rhys Meyers plays Joe, a coach in charge of an all-girl football team from West London.
Directed by Gurinder Chadha, of Bhaji On The Beach fame, the film trails 18-year-olds Jess and Jules, who are determined to make a future in professional soccer.
Fair play turns foul, however, when the two friends end up falling for their very dishy coach.
Maybe that’s it then. Could the reason for their bullying him be grounded in the fact that he is just too good-looking for the girls to handle?
After all, in a separate interview with Life!, Parminder Nagra (who plays Jess) admitted she ‘almost forgot’ her lines during her kissing scene with him.
‘Naww… I don’t think myself good-looking at all. God, no,’ he says.
‘What’s ‘good-looking’ anyway? I know some people who think certain people are good-looking whom I think are not at all. It all depends on who’s looking at them.’
Well, from where the rest of the world is standing, he is the stuff Calvin Klein models are made: Tall, pencil-thin, of the pillow lips of a Botticelli angel, a fabulously sharp chin and a blue stare that is icy and sensual at the same time.
In a similar way, he is able to turn the air of fragility about him into a menacing one in seconds. Little wonder that one reporter called him the Irish James Dean.
The eldest of four brothers – ‘No, they don’t look like me,’ he says – Rhys Meyers was spotted at the age of 16 in a pool house in his native Cork by a casting director.
Had it not been so, he, who was expelled from school at 15 and poverty-stricken, would surely have led a life of delinquency, he says.
‘If I became absolutely broke tomorrow and I was living on the street, I’d rob you blind and I wouldn’t care,’ he once said in an interview with the Daily Mail.
His big break came in 1996 with Neil Jordan’s film Michael Collins, where he played a young assassin who killed Liam Neeson’s title character.
He played a rapist and murderer in Titus and a psychopathic creep in Lee Ang’s Ride With The Devil.
His Lucifer-like Steerpike in BBC’s Gormenghast received critical acclaim, as did his Bowiesque Brian Slade in the 1998 glam-rock movie, Velvet Goldmine.
Given these are all twisted characters, playing the average Joe was different for him, he admits.
‘I needed to do something where I had empathy and a certain level of benevolence for other people.
‘In this film, I am… softer,’ says the star who just got engaged to his girlfriend of four years, Cha Cha Singe.
He agrees that Bend It Like Beckham is a feel-good film. And that although it reveals the ways of the Punjabi community in Britain through the character of Jess, the movie ‘played up stereotypes’.
He says: ‘I remember Gurinder turning around to me once and saying: ‘I’m not about to tear away conventions. I’m making a British hit.”
He did, however, manage to bring an edge to it. Originally an English character, Joe became Irish when he did the reading.
‘One scene had Parminder turning round to me and saying: ‘Somebody called me a Paki, you wouldn’t understand that.’
‘Off the cuff I answered: ‘I am Irish, I know how it is being a minority in London.”
Now that he has nearly two dozen films under his belt with the latest one being named the biggest British sleeper hit since The Full Monty, does he still feel disparaged as an Irishman?
‘Not that much. Now I have a job that makes hell of a lot of money, and money is amazing – basically it changes everything.’
But of course he has to add: ‘And that’s what shallow about people.’