Performance Artist
By Vickie Maye
Irish Independent, Day & Night supplement, January 7, 2005

Even with no cameras around – and with a hangover to deal with – Jonathan Rhys Meyers is a great performer, as Vickie Maye found out.

Jonathan Rhys Meyers has seen better days. The eyes that (mostly female) interviewers fawn over are bloodshot. The chiselled cheekbones (that “enter a room before he does”, according to one Vogue writer) today merely serve to frame the dark, almost bruised-looking circles under his eyes. The hair hasn’t been washed, probably not even combed. The clothes — jeans, a green T-shirt and a pair of socks — look as though they were dug out of the wash basket , in the dark.

He’s supposed to resemble a sensual, androgynous, Calvin Klein model (yet another of the gushing descriptions with which he has been bestowed) but he doesn’t. Not today at least. Jonny, you see, is viciously hungover, courtesy of one too many jars in his native Cork the previous night.

“Jaysus Christ I was fucked. I didn’t take a drink til 12, but then from 12 on…” He groans, head in hands. There was a 4:45am wake-up call for a 7am flight to the capital, he continues, and here we are, in true rock-star style, one-and-a-half hours behind schedule. (He needed to catch up on some sleep, the PR apologetically explains. Bless.)

But his overworked liver isn’t the only problem. Rhys Meyers has other matters on his mind. The previous day, he learned that his ex-fiancee Cha Cha had gotten engaged. “Why is it that every girl I go out with gets married immediately?” he implores, listing a long line of ex-girlfriends, all of them actresses, who now, apparently, have rocks on their fingers. “I went out with Asia Argento, Toni (Collette), Rachel Leigh Cook, Estella Warren..” Later, in similar style, he gives an (unrequested) inventory of the great directors he has worked with.

For all the sass, the talk, the bravado and the devil-may-care attitude (comments like “if I had a thousand dicks I wouldn’t stick them in Britney” are a dime a dozen), Jonathan Rhys Meyers wreaks of insecurity. Maybe that’s why he feels the need to catalogue his conquests and achievements, to talk himself up, telling me, for example, that Oliver Stone — regarded as one of the toughest directors in Hollywood — “knew not to cross him” on the set of Alexander.

“One morning I picked up a piece of armour and threw it at him,” Rhys Meyers elaborates. “On my first day of shooting I had a horse accident and when we did the second battle scene he wanted me to be on a horse. I said I’d be more comfortable on the ground. He came up to me and gave me a bollocking and all that, but the next morning he came up to me and said, ‘You’re dead right.’ And I said, ‘Of course I’m fucking right.’

Later on he calls Stone a “fucking dickhead” for cutting his lines in Alexander by half. You have to hand it to Jonathan Rhys Meyers — at least he’s honest. Ass-licking Hollywood pros always rhapsodise over their directors and their co-stars but Rhys Meyers, to his credit, simply tells it like it is. His anecdotes are peppered with (impressive) impressions of Oliver Stone, Colin Farrell, Val Kilmer, Woody Allen, Scarlett Johansson. Even Mick Lally gets a mention.

Lally (yes, that Mick Lally; Miley from Glenroe) makes a fleeting appearance in Alexander and, according to Rhys Meyers, Oliver Stone couldn’t comprehend his thick, Irish brogue. Not one word of it. “He kept going up to Val Kilmer saying (Rhys Meyers hunches his shoulders, raises his arms to his ears and adopts a whiney, American Oliver Stone-like accent), ‘What the fuck is this guy saying?’ And Val is saying, ‘I don’t fucking know.'”

He may be hungover, but Rhys Meyers still gives a good performance. After a sluggish start, he’s animated, alive, flirty (holding my eye for a second or two longer than he should) — and very funny. At one point, midway through our interview, he bolts from his seat in the lavish suite on the fourth floor of Dublin’s Four Seasons Hotel. He strides into the adjoining bedroom — he needs to get a coke, he shouts after me. The remnants of the three empty bottles he’s already put down are being used as an ashtray. Coke and cigarettes — his hangover staples. He pops his head round the doorway. “It’s a bit like a council flat, isn’t it?” he says of the luxury suite. I tell him he obviously hasn’t been in many council flats lately. Not since he was a child anyway.

Rhys Meyers had a tumultuous background to say the least. Jonathan O’Keefe (Meyers is his mother’s maiden name) grew up in a council house in a rough area of Cork. His father left the family home when he was three, he was expelled from school aged 16, and went to live with his adopted family, the Crofts, at their farm in Buttervant,Co Cork. Their house is still home to him (second only to LA, he tells me). His mother lives in a house he owns in Glanmire in Cork but “she’s a nightmare” to live with. Rhys Meyers is noticeably reluctant to talk about his upbringing and discovery, but admits he haboured no ambitions to become an actor.

The story goes he was spotted in a local pool hall as a teenager by casting agents for The War of the Buttons. He didn’t get the part, but his big break came when Neil Jordan chose him to play the role of the assassin in Michael Collins a decade ago. He hasn’t stopped working since. Velvet Goldmine promised fame and fortune four years later, but despite his acclaimed performance, the film bombed. His role as football coach Joe in 2002’s Bend It Like Beckham, however, finally brought success and recognition. These days, he says, he can’t escape attention from fans, even at home in Cork, the city that was once his anonymous refuge.

“Oh Jaysus it’s a nightmare in London, New York and, to a different extent, here. Ireland’s become like that,” he says. “They know myself, Colin, Cillian (Murphy). That’s it. They don’t know Stuart Townsend as much. He lives in LA and goes out with a South African bird — that’s about it.”

“I go playing pool in Buttervant and they’re like, ‘What are you doing here?’ “It’s the only place I can go and say, ‘Fuck off.’ (He puts his head in hands.) But it would be worse if they didn’t (approach me).”

He camps it up both on and off the screen, not that this deters his female devotees. “Because of doing Velvet Goldmine I was always seen as quite camp and quite homosexual,” he says. “Ewan (McGregor, his co-star) hated doing it, hated playing anyone gay. He’s really really insecure with his sexuality.”

He toys with, even encourages, rumours of his bisexuality. I ask him about a quote he made in the past: “Sometimes I speak to girls…and the question comes up, ‘Are you straight or gay?’…I give them a wry smile and a little wink.” So, what’s the reality? Rhys Meyers winks, gives me a smug, self-satisfied grin and changes the subject.

Straight or gay, Rhys Meyers has recently found love. He is currently in a five-month relationship with a “beautiful girl” (reportedly Reena Hammer whose father owns a spa at the top of Harrods).

If fame truly bothers him, he’s in serious trouble. With the release of Alexander today and period drama Vanity Fair alongside Reese Witherspoon next week, he’s about to become a lot more recognizable. And the work just keeps coming. Two days after our meeting he flew to New Orleans to “play Elvis” in a new movie. Meanwhile his summer was whiled away in London, playing the lead alongside Scarlett Johansson in Woody Allen’s latest (and, as always, secret) movie, apparently the director’s best work since Annie Hall. Was Johannson an incredible actress to work with? Rhys Meyers hesitates. “Yeah,” he replies, reluctantly and unenthusiastically. “Because she’s an ingenue,” he concludes.

“She used to play these tricks on Woody. He’s 70, so he goes to sleep on the set, so she used to put stickers on him saying ‘My name is Roger’ or Denis and he’d walk around all day with these stickers without even knowing.” Rhys Meyers is in hysterics. The experience was “beautiful”, he says, compared to the Alexander shoot.

“It was boring,” he says of Alexander. He looks up, disheartened, explaining he had been vying for a bigger, meatier part, that of Hephaistion, Alexander’s lover and best friend. It went to Jared Leto, leaving him with the role of Cassander. “For me, yeah, it was. I wasn’t doing enough. I knew that when I was starting it, that it wasn’t enough, but I did it to work with Oliver.”

“He wanted Jared Leto. I would have loved to have played him because I would have played him a hell of a lot more ambitious than Jared did but also I’d be much more possessive of Colin, more vicious.

“Vanity Fair was beautiful in comparison, the total opposite to Alexander. It wasn’t that I was unhappy with Alexander, I just wasted a lot of time. I could have done a hell of a lot more. I should have turned it down and said, ‘Unless I’m Hephaistion, no way.’ I love Jared but he’s quite moony as Hephaistion. I don’t regret it but it’s not one of the highlights of my career.”

Surely the battle scenes, drenched in graphic blood and gore, were a challenge to shoot?

“They were and they weren’t. You have to be brave, you know. As for (pre-filming) boot camp, I fuckin’ hated it. Jaysus, waking up in the morning with hardly no food, sitting out there with a load of fucking actor arseholes.”

That last comment excludes Colin Farrell. “I learned things from Colin because he’s a very good actor. He gave his bollocks to it. He’s gorgeous, he really is.

“We met when he was 19 and I was 17 (Farrell had two lines in The Disappearance of Finbar; Rhys Meyers had the lead role) and he was already a movie star. Everyone knew it. It wasn’t a presence; it was the way he looked. All the girls were wetting themselves and he was going out with the most beautiful girl in Dublin at the time.”

When we meet, almost a month after Alexander’s US release, Rhys Meyers still hadn’t been to see it. “Am I even in it? I expected to be shite in it. I thought Oliver fuckin’ hated me,” he shrugs. “It was hammered,” he says later of Alexander’s US release. “I was in it enough to be noticed and not enough to be criticized.

“But I’m kind of getting to that point where I just don’t care what people think of me. I only care what the people who love me think. I’ve done 31 films in eight years and I’ve worked with some great directors and I don’t care if somebody likes it or not. I’m not even doing it for myself — it’s just I don’t give a shit.”

“The sign of success is when you’re happy with yourself, when you stroll into a room and just don’t care.” Jonathan Rhys Meyers, it seems, hasn’t quite made it yet then.

Special thanks to Vanessa for transcribing this article.

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