Kicking On
By Victoria Young
The Sun-Herald, July 7, 2002

The movie Jonathan Rhys Meyers thought would be a disaster for him is a major hit, Victoria Young reports.

If you haven’t seen the new British comedy Bend It Like Beckham, meet one major reason to buy a ticket quick – actor Jonathan Rhys Meyers. The movie also happens to be the funniest of the year so far and one of the most successful British-financed movies ever, but back to Rhys Meyers…

The 24 year-old Irish actor plays Joe, coach of the all-girl Hunslow Harriers soccer team, which 18-year old Jess (Parminder Nagra) joins after being spotted playing in her local park.

So how did it feel being surrounded by ball-wielding females on set everyday?

“Well, come on now, you know what it’s like,” said Rhys Meyers, “If I’m on a set with 20 girls, then I’m a boy. So I was the brunt of all male jokes. It wasn’t that much fun. It wasn’t like ‘oh, 20 girls on a film set, eye candy all day’. I was afraid of them most of the time.”

Jess’s dreams of one day playing professional football, like her hero, England star David Beckham, clash with the more conventional life her Indian-born parents envisage – law school and a sensible marriage to a nice Indian boy. A romance with Joe would really send them into a spin.

Set in west London’s Indian community, this comedy is the third feature from Indian-British director Gurinder Chadha (Bhaji On The Beach, What’s Cooking?). Joe, a sporty, boy-next door type, is a departure for Rhys Meyers, who is better known for his edgy roles such as the David Bowie-inspired 1970s glam rock singer in Velvet Goldmine (1998), in which he co-starred with Ewan McGregor and Australian Toni Collette.

This was a chance for him to play someone with a completely different approach to life: “In the film I’m really athletic, [off-screen] I wake up with a pack of Marlboro.”

Initially Rhys Meyers didn’t hold high hopes for Bend It Like Beckham, which has become his most commercially successful film to date.

“I thought it would be a disaster at first because it’s not the type of film I like making, and its not the type of movie I usually do,” he said, “It’s my 22nd movie and I felt like I should do something with a little bit more benevolence, a little more sympathy and empathy in the role instead of being so intense.”

Rhys Meyers was spotted at 14 by a casting agent in a pool hall in Cork, Ireland. By 19 he had made seven movies.

“I never dreamed of becoming an actor. God no, never even thought about it.” said Rhys Meyers, who left school at 15 and spent his early years growing up in a Cork council flat.

“It was something people thought I could do – which I’m still really not convinced of anyway. I don’t think I’m a particularly good actor. Why do I do this? Money.”

Before Bend it Like Beckham, the movie which looked most likely to make his name internationally was Velvet Goldmine, but it flopped at the box office. Since then he has starred in Ang Lee’s Ride With The Devil (1999), Titus (1999) and BBC TV’s Gormenghast. He is currently filming the thriller Octane in Luxembourg, which starts Madeleine Stowe and Norman Reedus (supermodel Helena Christensen’s boyfriend). Earlier this year he was in Thailand filming The Tesseract, the sequel to The Beach. Down-to-earth and unaffected, Rhys Meyers is quick to dispel any myths about the glamorous life of the actor.

“People have a huge misconception of what it’s like,” He said. “After every film I’ve got to run and chase the next movie. I just lost a movie a few days ago to a kid who hasn’t made a film before. Most people think I’m just offered parts. I’ve got to fight harder. It was easier to find a part when I was 19.”

An avid reader (which helps when you’re always in hotel rooms by yourself, he said), a keen writer (short stories) and traveler, Rhys Meyers lives in Cork and owns an apartment in a fishing village in Morocco. Before his present girlfriend Chacha, a Dublin student, his first love was Collette. They went out for a year after meeting on the set of Velvet Goldmine and they still keep in touch.

“She was the first woman I fell in love with, so of course we’re going to be friends,” he said. “I respect her not only as an ex-girlfriend, but also an actor. She’s a very good actor.”

During their time together Rhys Meyers stayed in Sydney with Collette in 1998 for a month.

“I got to hang out with her family, so it wasn’t like I was a tourist staying at a hotel in Sydney going around with a backpack on and a See Australia book,” he said. “I was going round with somebody who actually has mates there. “We’d go to this really nice coffee shop in Glebe, then go out to her parents’ house in Blacktown and hang out with her brothers’ mates in the back garden, drinking beer. I much preferred seeing [Australia] with an Australian – especially an Australian that I was in love with.”

Special thanks to Silvia for transcribing this article.

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