The Lord Meyers
By Sylvia Patterson
Glamour, June 2006
He’s always had the leading man looks. Now, with a Golden Globe in the bag and his first starring role in a blockbuster, Jonathan Rhys Meyers’ career has caught up. But, insists Sylvia Patterson, it’s his huge personality she’s fallen for. Yeah, right!
“Take it from me, if you cheat on your girlfriend,” Jonathan is blaring, through those intoxieatingly full lips, “as I have in the past, she will turn up in a year’s time more beautiful, taller, richer and happier than you will ever be. She will! It’s the law!”
It’s a stirring outburst, which offers no more personal details, except a theory for women as to why so many men cheat.
“Because they’re eejits!” he roars, cackling away. “Men… are… eejits. Or, men in their twenties are eejits. Don’t look for any grand, clever, psychological reasons here. Bih-jaaay-zus… what do women always say? Men in their twenties… useless! They’re right. I’ve been there, I’ve been an arse and hopefully, at 28, I’m over it. You reap what you sow, reap what you sow, isn’t that the truth?”
Jonathan Rhys Meyers (“call me Jonny”) is an unstoppable verbal force who hasn’t so much kissed the blarney stone as eaten it. And it’s testament to his beguiling acting gift that you’d never know that he’s so profoundly Irish. We’ve admired him as an androgynous rock star in Velvet Goldmine, a dreamboat football coach in Bend It Like Beckham, a Napoleonic bounder in Vanity Fair and the role for which he was Emmy nominated (“Of course I was disappointed I wasn’t Oscar nominated!”), Chris Wilton in last year’s Match Point — Woody Allen’s thriller. Starring opposite Scarlett Johansson, he played a failed tennis pro calculating his way to marital comfort while having an affair with
his fIancÃƒÂ©e’s brother’s fiancÃƒÂ©e. And now, after 25 films, comes his first blockbuster — Mission Impossible III.
“Working with Tom Cruise is an education for any young actor,” he marvels, padding round his temporary apartment in New York, where he’s filming fantasyÃ‚Â drama August Rush (with Robin Williams). “No matter what you get in a Tom Cruise movie it will benefit you to work with him and see how he operates. And let me tell you it’s exhausting being Tom Cruise, it’s a 24-hour job for him, carrying the knowledge of that power. When Tom Cruise walks into a room you know he’s there, because the amount of power he carries almost comes in the door before he does. That level of fame is not achieved by many…”
A decade ago, Irish director Neil Jordan cast Jonathan as the assassin in Michael Collins and dubbed him “the new Tom Cruise”, though only, insists Jonathan, “because of my alarming confidence”. Early this year, he won his first world-Ã‚Âclass accolade, a Golden Globe for the US TV mini-series Elvis, playing the hip-shakin’ King.
“But Elvis played by a young guy from Cork?” he splutters, “it seemed very unlikely to me…”
Since the release of Match Point last December, Jonathan is, at last, edging beyond The Guy With The Lips label to become a household name; and is also, to some, the most strikingly beautiful man on earth. “Jonny is fabulous to look at,” notes Brokeback Mountain director Ang Lee, who directed him in Ride With The Devil. “Personally, I feel he has a poetic quality.”
And his profile now rocketing, Jonathan can feel the plains shifting underfoot towards A-list fame:
“I haven’t changed and my life hasn’t changed,” he muses, “but people’s perceptions of me have. You’re putting yourself out there in the public eye and selling what’s essentially your personality. So if the public buys you for 12 bucks in a movie and pays for popcorn, well, you feel you own a little bit of that person. So when people then become famous and go [wails], ‘Oh God, I hate the press; God, I hate the paparazzi,’ I’m like, ‘Dude, it’s not like you didn’t fockin’ beg for it.’ Really! I’ve spent ten years working my arse off so I can’t in my heart of hearts be one of those guys going [Californian stoner dude], ‘Hey, man, no fuckin’ photographs, man, I’m an artist.’ If I’m on set and a paparazzo comes up, I’m like, ‘Hey, take your shot, if you get 300 bucks, good luck to yer.’ I couldn’t imagine anyone paying 300 pence for a photo of me, but if they can have a job from doing that, great…”
Born Jonathan Michael Francis O’Keefe in Dublin in 1977, he’s the eldest of four boys; his folk musician father moved out when he was three, leaving his mother to struggle with the kids. As the eldest, Jonathan spent time in an orphanage and was a disruptive character who was expelled from school at 15, bedevilled by insecurity despite being continuously told he had “The look of a Hollywood film star”.
“Well, this is what people told me when I was younger,” he scoffs, “and I was very insecure about the way I looked. Y’know… it’s just what young men do. I find young guys are worse than young women. They are! They’re all fockin’ insecure! And all actors are incredibly insecure, of course they are, they spend their whole lives trying to be someone else, something they’re not…”
With no acting training whatsoever, he was spotted by a casting agent in a pool hall in Cork, the place he’d hustle for money. He then got rejected for film roles for the next 18 months until his first paid work – Ã‚Â£500 for a Knorr soup TV ad. Tiny parts ensued until 1994 and a substantial role in the film A Man Of No Importance.
“I was out there at 18, 19, 20 years old making films,” he notes, “and I found out that what you look like determines what parts you play. You can be very successful purely on your physicality. Now, what happens when you get yourself in that position, is the really, really good ones learn their craft while they’re there.”
After acclaim as the captivating visual centrepiece in Velvet Goldmine, the naturally skinny, pretty Jonathan felt typecast as the artistic, fey type and built a path out of that cul-de-sac. He became a seven-day obsessive “gym junkie”, putting on 35lb of muscle, which led him to more ‘masculine’ roles. “Now,” he notes, “I’m very comfortable with my physicality.” He thinks about the concept of luck, one of the themes in the exceptional Match Point. “Luck is about taking an opportunity,” he decides, “and what I did was
I took a suggestion of Jonathan Rhys Meyers and took it as far as I could go.”
Today he owns a home in Cork, another in Morocco, has bought a house in Ireland for his mum and shares a London home with his 19-year-old girlfriend, Reena Hammer (her father owns the Urban Retreat spa at Harrods; her mother is Ruby of Ruby & Millie make-up), who is studying Latin and English Literature at London’s King’s College.
“Why not be the brainiest thing in the universe?” hoots Jonathan. “Instead of going, ‘Yeah, I wanna be a doctor so I can make loads of money’, Reena’s just doing it so she can be fantastic. And she is fantastic and she’s very beautiful and I love her very much.”
Contemplation of his own beauty, meanwhile, causes an outbreak of cynicism. “I’ll walk into a restaurant,” he snorts, “and be standing in the room I was standing in two years ago, next to a girl who was ignoring me and now it’s [American shriek] ‘Oh, he’s so adorable!’ Oh, please…”
Which only makes him, of course, even more adorable. A luck-creating, self-made dynamo of formidable ambition, Jonathan believes in “working as hard as you can”, has no qualms over forthcoming fortune — “If I hadn’t seen such riches, I could live with being poor,” he quips, a line from the 1989 James anthem Sit Down — and is already looking forward to life beyond those “useless” twenties.
“Who is the guy that all women love no matter their age?” he booms. “Who… is… the guy? George Clooney! In his forties. That’s a proper man, not the 23-year-old kid who goes, ‘Yeah, I’m a fockin’ man now.’ You need life experience. You can’t play those really fascinating, interesting man roles until you’ve had some really fascinating, interesting man experience. So as far as I’m concerned, it’s all up ahead.”