Tennis the Menace
By Dave Itzkoff
Spin, January 11, 2006

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Whether he’s feuding with his directors or talking dirty to Scarlett Johansson, Match Point’s Jonathan Rhys Meyers is an actor with balls to spare

A word of advice to aspiring silver-screen heartthrobs: If your current headshots and audition reels aren’t getting you noticed in Hollywood, try hanging out in dingy, smoke-filled Irish pool halls. Jonathan Rhys Meyers was just 16 years old, still “a little spotty, a little small, a little skinny,” and goofing off in one such establishment in his home county of Cork, Ireland, when he was noticed by a talent scout and invited to his first film audition. The unlikely encounter did not lead to overnight success–or even a job offer–but it did imbue him with a healthy distrust of anyone affiliated with show business. “There was always an element of, These people are full of shit,” says Rhys Meyers, now 28. “But, you know, so was I.”

Five years later Rhys Meyers was preening and strutting his way through his breakthrough performance as Brian Slade, the Bowie-esque glam god of Velvet Goldmine. As his character crooned some classic Roxy Music songs and essentially stole the show from costars Ewan McGregor and Christian Bale, Rhys Meyers was beginning to feel like a bit of a rock star himself, until an unimpressed critic startled him out of his moonage daydream. “One review that I’ve never, ever forgotten said that I had all the charisma of chewed bubble gum,” he says. “I told my friends this, and whenever I’m being an absolute prick, they just go, ‘Oh, fuck off, charisma of chewed bubble gum.'”

These days, however, Rhys Meyers isn’t exactly known throughout the film industry for his humbleness. He admits he’s clashed with previous directors, from Vanity Fair’s Mira Nair (“we both had our little mental excesses; I’m not going to go into mine, and I’m not going to go into hers, either”) to Oliver Stone, who cast Rhys Meyers in a minor role in the epic 2004 bomb Alexander. “I didn’t like working with him,” Rhys Meyers says, “because I felt I didn’t have enough to do. I think I idolized Oliver, and therefore I ended up resenting him for it.”

So when he was called in to meet with Woody Allen about a project the filmmaker was about to shoot in England, Rhys Meyers devised a plan to avoid alienating another of his cinematic heroes. “It was really easy,” he recalls. “I didn’t say anything in the meeting and got out of there as soon as possible.”

The scheme apparently paid off: In Allen’s 36th directorial effort, Match Point, Rhys Meyers plays an ex-tennis star who is torn between his duty to his faithful wife (Emily Mortimer) and her wealthy family and his lust for an enticing American ingénue (Scarlett Johansson), and who makes a truly horrific decision in attempting to choose between the two women. Like much of Allen’s recent work, Match Point is fascinated with the sexual intrigues of hip metropolitan youth, but unlike any other movie he’s made this millennium, it happens to be good. Match Point is also an opportunity for Rhys Meyers to prove his leading-man mettle by appearing in almost every scene, a risk that did not even slightly bother the perpetually agitated director. “He’s like Sean Penn and Michael Caine,” says Allen, “but with the same passion as a young Brando. And he’s more beautiful than me.”

Rhys Meyers evidently realized how much was at stake, because his costars report that he actually behaved himself during filming–for the most part. “We would just get into some of the trashiest off-set conversations,” says Johansson. “We’d be shooting some intense confrontational scene where we were going crazy and screaming at each other, and then the moment Woody would yell, ‘Cut!’ he’d turn to me and ask, ‘So how old were you when you lost your virginity?'”

Beneath all his charm and borderline harassment, Rhys Meyers says he was genuinely intimidated to work with Allen, at least until the director offered him a valuable piece of advice. “He goes, ‘Why are you nervous?'” Rhys Meyers says, perfectly capturing Allen’s adenoidal voice. “‘You’re already in character when you wake up in the morning.’ Then I was able to relax. It’s like, well, I’ve earned my fucking place in front of his camera.”

Since wrapping Match Point, it’s hard to say how much of this pep talk Rhys Meyers has retained. He recently finished work on this summer’s Mission: Impossible 3 but declines to reveal what role he plays or even admit to himself that he’ll be appearing in the film. (“We’ll have to see how the editing goes,” he says.) And he may soon be playing Ian Curtis in a Joy Division biography to be directed by Anton Corbijn, a casting opportunity he’s certain will please his mother. “My mom was only 21 when she had me in ’77,” Rhys Meyers says, “so she was a huge New Romantic the whole I was growing up–I was a bit of a Cure-head myself when I was nine or ten.”

Rhys Meyers claims he won’t do much preparation until he’s officially offered the part, but if he’s looking for a hedonistic young artist to emulate, he can always turn to his longtime friend and countryman, Colin Farrell for inspiration. “I defy any 28- or 29-year old who has that type of success to not run amok a little,” Rhys Meyers says. “It’s fucking healthy. I’m more worried if someone gets that type of success, and then they’re robotic and they don’t make mistakes. Now, that freaks me out.”

Sinead O’Connor, Throw Down Your Arms: “She was born to sing reggae.”

Wu-Tang Clan, Wu-Tang Forever: “Any music that’s the music of the people, the Irish are going to love it.”

Special thanks to Vanessa for transcribing this article.

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