By Pauline O’Connor
Elle, March 2007
Like Henry VIII, whom he portrays in next month’s debut of the The Tudors on Showtime, Jonathan Rhys Meyers suffers no fools (among them unambitious women, do-gooding actors, and prying journalists) gladly.
Jonathan Rhys Meyers can make even the most wholesome act—like sipping a mug of hot cocoa in the garden patio of Beverly Hills’ L’Ermitage hotel—seem positively louche. It’s not just because with lips like overripe cherries and cut glass cheekbones, the 29-year-old Irish actor looks like Dionysius. It’s also the vaguely menacing energy flickering behind his penetrating, ice-blue gaze, flaring up in the crooked smile that starts with a curl of his upper lip. Dressed in designer jeans armored with rows of brass studs down the sides, a bracelet made of rifle bullets, and a T-shirt emblazoned with OLD FART, he seems both beauty and the beast. Next month, he stars in Showtime’s new series The Tudors, playing a young, sexy Henry VIII. When ELLE interviewed him about this, his new house in Los Angeles, and other aspects of his life, the actor was not always amused.
ELLE: Was it hard to channel someone who’d behead his wives?
JONATHAN RHYS MEYERS: [Icily] Do you know a lot about Henry? I don’t behead any wives.
ELLE: Well, the promotional disc I got says, “He took six wives, he beheaded two.”
JRM: Yes, he did, but not in the first season.
ELLE: Have you ever come close to getting married?
JRM: I was engaged once.
ELLE: What happened?
JRM: We didn’t get married.
ELLE: Too young?
ELLE: I read that you got kicked out of school. What for?
JRM: For not being there. School is vastly different in the Republic of Ireland than it is here in the United States of America. It wasn’t the sort of, “Let’s drive our convertible Lexuses up to the high school and kick it for two hours in algebra class.” In my country, if a teacher gave you a punch in the head you probably f–kin’ deserved it, ya know? You were probably being a little dickhead.
ELLE: What do your mends from that era think of you now?
JRM: They think I’ve become a flowery Hollywood arsehole. [Laughs] No, they don’t actually. They kinda keep me on my feet.
ELLE: Who are your role models?
JRM: Gregory Peck was extraordinary. He accomplished what it was to be that masculine, handsome, sensitive man, ya know? I was influenced by Warren Beatty. I love Steve McQueen.
ELLE: What’s the hardest job you’ve had so far?
JRM: Match Point was pretty difficult. I should never have made the character Irish. Most of the criticism in England was because of that one fact. England never wishes to see themselves as these silly, stuffy people, but [Match Point] is not Guy Ritchie’s London; this is Woody Allen’s London.
ELLE: Who would you like to work with?
JRM: Fernando Morales. Martin Scorsese. Sofia Coppola. Terrence Malick. I’d love to work with Woody again. Rachel McAdams. Natalie Portman. I’d just end up ogling her all day.
ELLE: Very interesting. So, what do you look for in a girl?
JRM: I like women who have their own careers. I wouldn’t be with a housewife under any circumstances. Same as I couldn’t go out with a girl, regardless of how beautiful, if she wasn’t smart.
ELLE: A lot of men have longer lists: has to be pretty, know how to cook, be double-jointed—
JRM: And that’s why they’re single and jerkin’ off. I met this girl one night, and she was like, “Why can’t I get a guy that looks like Brad Pitt? I want a guy that looks like that, that’s what I want.” And I turned to her and said, “Well, if that’s what you want, you gotta look like f–kin’ Angelina Jolie. So put down the gin and tonic and start going to the gym.”
ELLE: I’ve read that you don’t want to go out with actresses.
JRM: I’d rather not, but I dunno; I might fall in love with one.
ELLE: But often people’s social circles are determined by their jobs.
JRM: Yes, certainly. A lot of actors who’ve, I suppose, had the success I have suddenly start dating only actresses and models. They’re all really just pamperin’ their own egos.
ELLE: But you also consider yourself a narcissist.
JRM: Oh good God, of course. I’m not going to say [exaggerated California surfer dude accent], “Hey, I’m just a normal guy, man. I got no ego, I’m not vain.” [Reverting to lrish accent] F–k off! I’m all of those things! Not necessarily with good reason; it’s just part of my makeup. If you’re a jock, you’re competitive. If you’re an actor, you’re narcissistic.
ELLE: Do you ever want to give it up and work in an orphanage?
JRM: No, that’s even more narcissistic [pompous voice]: “I’ll give up acting for six months and work in an orphanage, then go back to my mansion and win an Oscar with my new found spirituality.”
ELLE: Speaking of mansions, how will you decorate your new house here? What’s your design aesthetic?
JRM: Minimalist. I’m not somebody who’s got thousands of photographs that they wanna frame and put on their wall. And I don’t own posters of my own movies, so I won’t be building an homage to myself in my gaff.
ELLE: What about record albums, stuff like that?
JRM: Record albums? How old are you? IPod, iPod.
ELLE: Okay, okay, iPod. What are you listening to on your iPod?
JRM: lt depends. Today I was listening to Ali Farka TourÃƒÂ©. Tomorrow I might be listening to Arctic Monkeys or Leadbelly; I don’t know. My musical selection is vast. I’m not a guy that says [meathead accent], “Yeah, I’m into rock music, and I’m into jazz.” No. I’m into the human voice, it’s the most beautiful thing in the world. I listen to a lot of Rokia TourÃƒÂ©, Arne Diab, Billie Holiday, Nina Simone.
ELLE: Do you know Amoeba, the huge music store on Sunset?
JRM: I like Amoeba. I bought some DVDs from there of things that were banned from television.
ELLE: Like what?
JRM: Like documentary footage of a hostage situation in San Salvador where one of the hostages runs out and gets shot by a policeman from three feet away with a six-gauge shotgun. Boom, right in the chest. And the kid just stops, goes on his hands and knees, and that’s it. There’s no screaming. There’s nothing. He’s dying, beyond screaming—just shock. It’s extraordinary. Hard to stomach, but I wanted to see it. I wanted that visceral image of what it’s really like when you’re shot.
ELLE: Have you studied a lot of these films?
JRM: I was held hostage when I was 17, back in Ireland.
ELLE: What happened?
JRM: Just that. They broke into the house with balaclavas, held me at gunpoint for an hour while they robbed the house.
ELLE: Sounds unpleasant.
JRM: I wouldn’t recommend it, but it’s nice to have lived through.
ELLE: You seem like a rather serious young man.
JRM: Really? I don’t think I take myself seriously at all. I’m trying to answer the questions seriously.
ELLE: Okay, but you do have this intense quality.
JRM: The intense act-or.
ELLE: I imagine it’s difficult to win an argument with you.
JRM: Depends on if you’re right. I’m not a fool.