He’s a rogue with a bit of a brogue
By Joe Neumaier
NY Daily News, August 26, 2004
In “Vanity Fair,” opening next Wednesday, Reese Witherspoon is the cunning Becky Sharp, who uses her sexy wiles to win over the powerful players in 1820s English society – including the callous and confident George Osborne, played by Jonathan Rhys-Meyers.
Rhys-Meyers can relate. In movies like “Velvet Goldmine,” “The Governess” and “Bend It Like Beckham,” the 27-year-old Irish actor has been noticed for his rascally good looks.
“I do suppose I have a bit of that pull,” he says. “Yet I don’t think of myself as a sex symbol in any way. I mean, I’ve never been sent a pair of knickers or anything.”
Rhys-Meyers (pronounced Reese-Meyers, like his co-star’s first name) began acting on a lark. Growing up in County Cork, Ireland, where he helped his mother rear his three younger brothers after his father left, he was kicked out of high school (“I set a science lab on fire,” he says sheepishly) and was hanging out in a pub called the Vic. In 1994, movie-casting agents stopped in the tavern to find rough-hewn types. Rhys-Meyers didn’t get a role, but he saw acting as a lucky clover:
“Somebody wanting to pay you a lot of money at 17 years old to do a film, what do you say, ‘No thank you, I’ll just stay here and hang with my mates?’ It was a way out of poverty – I was a very poor kid. To suddenly have a bunch of money, it was like, ‘Sure, I’ll do this, why not?'”
He did commercials and small TV roles before gaining attention as a David Bowie-circa-Ziggy Stardust gay rock star in 1998’s “Velvet Goldmine,” opposite Ewan MacGregor. Supporting roles in “Ride With the Devil” and “Titus” followed, and in 2002 he did a sweet turn in “Beckham” as the soccer coach who tutors Keira Knightley and Parminder Nagra.
“I had some fears when I started,” he says. “I’m always winging it. But I think every actor is winging it in some way. And you can’t worry about how you look – the only worry I had doing ‘Velvet Goldmine’ was that I was going to break my neck in those platform shoes.”
After “Vanity Fair,” Rhys-Meyers will be seen in this fall’s epic “Alexander” with friend and fellow Irishman Colin Farrell, and he’s making Woody Allen’s new film with Scarlett Johansson.
Still, his friends at the Vic tavern keep him grounded.
“When I’m hanging out with mates and they ask, ‘What did you do today?’ and I tell them I sat around on a set with Angelina Jolie, they say, ‘Oh, you poor guy!'”
Rhys-Meyers has even gone through the “rite of passage” for a British actor: being talked about for a James Bond role – in this case for a rumored “Young Bond” film series. He denies he was approached, but does have ideas about being an action star.
“I have a plan to save the Bond movies,” he says. “Why don’t the producers have James Bond fight his own son? He’s had so many affairs, it’s feasible he has a child who’s exactly like him, but who hates Bond because his mother was treated badly.
“I’ve got some sexual danger to me, a mischievous look in my eye. I should go all out and become a villain!”