JONATHAN RHYS MEYERS
By Shari Roman
Flaunt, May 2006
The Irish heartbreaker broke ground in Velvet Goldmine, Bend It Like Beckham, Alexander, and the miniseries Elvis. The blockbuster Mission: Impossible III seals the deal on his bankable fame.
“If I was a director,” bluffs Jonathan Rhys Meyers, “I would torture my actors. Torture them, torture them!” It’s a rainy afternoon in Manhattan in April, and up until 7:45 this morning, Rhys Meyers has been shooting the film August Rush with Keri Russell, his costar from Mission: Impossible III. It has etched brooding circles under his already intense eyes.
“When I direct, I will be a fucking nightmare. I wouldn’t be happy until at least one actress breaks down wailing every day. Wailing!” He pronounces these last few words with a broad Irish inflection that gets thicker with each word. “In fact, I wouldn’t be happy unless I had a painter,” he holds up two rigid fingers, “with two tins of paint and a brush come to set every day to repaint the outside of my trailer because so many people had written, ‘You fucking horrible fucking cunt!’
“I will be the Sam Peckinpah of directors. I’ll direct with a Winchester 42. I will be Werner Herzog on Aguirre, the Wrath of God. Klaus Kinski packed up his stuff, was walking off the set. He said to Herzog, ‘I’m leaving you, you fucking sow!’ “Herzog runs up to him with a gun and says, ‘I’ve got ten fucking bullets. I’ll put nine in you and the last in me!’ There was no trouble after that.
“Or maybe, I’ll direct with a machine gun. And if I couldn’t get one, I would bring a tape recorder onto set. Every time one of my actors tried to speak with me, I would [push a button] and it would ‘Brrrrrrattatatttttt.’ ‘But Johnny, I wanted to’…Brrrrrrattatatttttt…’I really feel’…Brrrrrrattatatttttt.” His eyes are nearly tearing with laughter. “I’m going to get into trouble for this, I know. I am a bit too free when I speak, but I just can’t edit it down. You know what I mean?”
We are sitting in a darkened club underneath the W Hotel in Union Square. He searches for his cigarettes in his jacket pocket. “Where are me smokes?” he croons, “I love me smokes. Philip Hoffman,” who played the villain in M:I:III, “wouldn’t give up his smokes either. He is a gorgeous man. He’s the actor every actor wants to be. He’s won an Oscar and he smokes! Smokes!” He shouts over the room’s cheesy disco soundtrack.
“Thank You For Smoking is the greatest film title of the decade. Just saying it fills my lungs with nicotine.” Rhys Meyers jackknifes to his feet, Marlboro Lights in hand. “Got to go to the toilet. I’ll be right back.” He lopes up the stairs, rolling on his heels like Malcolm McDowell as Alex in A Clockwork Orange.
When Rhys Meyers was three, his father left the family and his mother raised him and his three younger brothers in Cork, Ireland, on very little means. Taken in a few years later by “landed gentry” in local Buttevant, he was made to feel one of the family, but even their tenderness couldn’t slow down his admittedly “terrible temper.” After a series of ongoing rows, at sixteen, he was permanently expelled from school and was discovered soon thereafter, by casting agents who had somehow ended up in his local pool hall. Moving into film via tiny roles in excellent movies such as Michael Collins, wtih Liam Neeson, his break came with the role of a bisexual glam rocker in Todd Haynes’s provocative Velvet Goldmine, in which he costarred with Christian Bale and the pre-Obi Wan Ewan McGregor. Tumbling soon afterward came Ride with the Devil, Titus, Bend It Like Beckham, Alexander, the title role in the miniseries Elvis, which earned him a Golden Globe Award, a slot as one of Tom Cruise’s indestructible M:I:III team members, and his rise toward bankable fame.
“Some people do it for the clothes, or meeting the girls,” he says, sinking back into the couch to explain his state of mind on such things. “For me, it’s fear of poverty, it’s great discipline, and it’s the young actor thing–making hay while the sun shines. It’s not going to last forever. I’m twenty-eight. And for the next ten years, it’s the time to work.” He sips at his soda. After shooting Oliver Stone’s Alexander, he stopped drinking. His friend and former cast mate Colin Farrell also followed suit after Miami Vice. Rhys Meyers excuses himself for another cigarette break, and shrugs. “We’re hard-fucking, hard-drinking Irish boys. You cannot go out there and party like that and produce your best work. It’s not physically possible.
“I saw Colin here recently. We were discussing reviews; him, for The New World, and myself, for Match Point, and we were like, ‘Yeah! The ones that give the bad reviews. The ones who have said I have all the fucking charisma of chewed bubblegum. They’re the ones who know!”
It’s hard to imagine that the greater public has only been recently aware of Rhys Meyers. In the past twelve years, he has appeared in thirty-odd projects, in which he is as comfortable with rage, violence, and psychosis, as he is with tenderness. Yet from the first moment he appears onscreen, Rhys Meyers steals his corner of any movie with a perilously erotic sensuality.
In Titus, he is ultimate evil. Tapping into primal emotions, like a milksop he suggests a feral innocence wronged by life. In Match Point, he is a self-serving sociopath who takes a shotgun to his pregnant mistress (Scarlett Johansson), in order to maintain his marriage to an heiress (Emily Mortimer).
“Why did he cast me?” he asks. Blithely uncaring of anyone (and that means every female present) who is furtively watching him in the increasingly crowded, noisy room, his voice goes all quivery and his shaking hands grab the air as he segues into a rather excellent Woody Allen impression. “I wouldn’t have cast Jack Nicholson, no one would’ve believed it. I cast…yeah…I cast Jonathan because there’s something really sympathetic about him,” He grimaces.
“Yeah, and sometimes I was truly shite. I mean, first off, I played an ‘Irish tennis player,’ but Woody hadn’t written anything Irish into the character. So when the reviews came out, it was like, ‘Where’s his fucking Irish accent? Where is it!?” He pokes me cheerfully, repeatedly, just above the heart, for emphasis.
Perhaps, I suggest, he frets too much about his lack of formal training. He leans in, his face this close to mine. All I can see is lips, teeth, and eyes. “You don’t see fucking streetwalkers go to school for whoring. I can’t talk about artistic expression because I have no method for it. I don’t know where it comes from. I don’t. It’s something I feel.” Worry flashes across his face, but he laughs and plays it off. “You know, they give me costumes, the makeup, the lines. It’s not like there aren’t challenges, but if you can’t fucking do it, forget it!”
“I love Kurosawa–Yojimbo, Ran, Seven Samurai. But there’s this samurai movie called Lone Wolf and Cub. [A samurai's] wife is killed and all that’s left is his son, a baby. In front of him, he puts down a sword and a ball. Now, if the kid picks up the ball, he’s going to cut his head off. If he picks up the sword, he’s going to take him on as his apprentice. The boy pushes away the ball for a moment then picks up the sword. I have to say, it is one of my favorite movies.”
Special thanks to Vanessa for transcribing this article.