Rock ‘n’ Ruler!
By David Hochman
Angeleno, April 2007
Jonathan Rhys Meyers seems to have it all: the looks, the lips and a lockdown on the royal act. He played Elvis, and now he does Henry VIII in this month’s mega Showtime miniseries The Tudors. But has the trash-talking Irish rogue really gone from pauper to prince?
Catching up with Jonathan Rhys Meyers is trickier than it appears. On one hand, the Irish actor is everywhere these days. He’s playing a young, virile version of King Henry VIII in this month’s 10-part Showtime series The Tudors, and his face is all over ads and buses as the new Hugo Boss boy (this after he peddled his icy good looks last year for Versace). On the other, the actor works so tirelessly—he’s made 34 films and tv shows in the last dozen years—that he barely has time to purse those inflatable lips before jetting off to another location.
Rhys Meyers, 29, has been a man on the run as long as he can recall. Growing up poor in County Cork, Ireland—”I went without a lot of things: toys, sometimes food”—he was raised by a single mom and moved homes frequently. Later, he was expelled from an all-boys Christian school, only to be discovered at age 17 by a casting director in a local pool hall.
Even after finding success with rakish roles in projects like Velvet Goldmine, Bend It Like Beckham and the CBS miniseries Elvis (for which he won a Golden Globe in 2006), Rhys Meyers never settled down. Today, he maintains residences in London, Dublin and Morocco, and recently bought his first place in Los Angeles (although he admits he has yet to spend a night in the new house).
“Jonathan isn’t an easy person to pin down,” says Morgan O’Sullivan, a producer for The Tudors. In fact, tracking him down this time involved scouring the boondocks of China, where he was filming The Children of Huang Shi, about the Japanese invasion of the world’s largest country in the 1930s. But it’s not just his physical location that’s tough to determine. “I think it’s the Irishman in him, but from minute to minute, you never know quite which Jonathan you’re going to get. He can be angry, joyous, sad and racy in the span of a few minutes,” O’Sullivan says.
So to help you understand this mercurial spirit, we’ve laid out the many royal sides of Rhys Meyers, in honor of his latest kingly portrayal.
THE YOUNG KING
Most people know Henry VIII as the fat guy depicted in the Hans Holbein painting. But that was Henry in his 40s. Rhys Meyers gets to play the king in the prime of youth, still married to his first queen, Katherine of Aragon, and studly as all get-out. In the miniseries, the monarch comes off as less a rat than a Renaissance Rat Packer. “Henry is the best king England ever had,” Rhys Meyers says. “He was perceived as a misogynist, but he actually gave people independence and gave England its greatest queen, Elizabeth I. He was a great politician. He read Machiavelli.” And, oh, did we mention the parties young Henry threw? To portray that splendoriforic Tudor era, the designers called in 2,500 costumes, including some tailored black leather and gold ensembles that would have made the old Henry groan with envy. No wonder the chain-smoking Rhys Meyers was cast.
THE TOWN CRIER
Unlike so many public figures in these PR-muzzled times, Rhys Meyers isn’t afraid to call it like he sees it. The actor famously told Oliver Stone that the script for U-Turn was “s***,” and, on the set of Alexander, reportedly hurled a piece of armor at the director when he got frustrated during the shooting of that ill-fated epic. Sure, Rhys Meyers quit drinking afterwards, but then he clashed on the set of Vanity Fair with director Mira Nair. Let’s face it: The man just can’t keep those big lips sealed. Of Angelina Jolie, Rhys Meyers once said he was “really disappointed” when he saw her in person the first time, since she didn’t look as “airbrushed” as she does in movies. And let’s not even repeat what he once said about America’s most notorious former Mouseketeer. Oh, what the heck: He said, “If I had a thousand d**** I wouldn’t stick one inside Britney.” As you can see, it’s easy to understand what Rhys Meyers means when he says, “I got into acting to stay out of jail.”
Perhaps O’Sullivan puts it best: “Jonathan’s ability to generate sexual magnetism is quite impressive.” You can say that again, considering the literally thousands of fansites gushing about how “HOTTTT!!!” he is. But despite being romantically linked to several actresses—among them, Toni Collette, Asia Argento, Rachael Leigh Cook and Estella Warren—he’s actually had just one woman by his side for the last four years. The actor is rarely seen at high-profile outings without Reena Hammer, a young intellectual type who studies ancient Latin translations. “We actors are egotistical, and I don’t need that, which is why I’m not dating an actress,” he says. “I’m happy with the woman I have.” And even though the two have been together for a while, when asked on a scale of 1-10 how content he is these days, Rhys Meyers replies, “When I’m with my girlfriend, 11.” You can practically hear the “Awww!”s from the legions ot teens in cyberspace now.
THE COURT JESTER
“There’s rarely a dull moment when Jonny’s around,” says O’Sullivan, who describes Rhys Meyers as having “a youthful vitality that either has you laughing or crying, depending on the moment.” Apparently, there was lots of laughing on the set of Match Point, much of which had to do with Rhys Meyers’ dead-perfect impersonations of director Woody Allen’s nasally whine. And given the right set of circumstances—say, if you just start talking to him—Rhys Meyers will come at you with one of those too-bawdy-to-believe jokes better left in the back of some Dublin pub. A favorite involves two tramps, a fast train, a girl tied to the track and a certain sexual act. The punchline isn’t suitable to print in a mainstream publication.
THE PRETENDER TO THE THRONE
For all his bluster and bravado, Rhys Meyers is the first to point out his own shortcomings. He has said he “wasn’t very good” in Vanity Fair, that he was “appalling” in Velvet Goldmine and “miscast” as the soccer coach in Bend It Like Beckham. He didn’t even watch his award-winning performance as the king of rock ‘n’ roll. “It’s a bit weird to watch yourself and I guess I’m overly critical,” Rhys Meyers explains. But he says his frequent misgivings drive him to improve himself. “It takes a lot of confidence to stand in front of the camera. The more I do it, the more confidence it takes. It doesn’t get easier. It gets harder, actually, because I want things to be really, really great. I have little patience, but I’m willing to stay for 20 hours until I get it right. I’d hate to be an actor who goes in, gets paid and goes home.”
THE BEAU OF THE BALL
Fashion magazines have gushed that Rhys Meyers is jarringly handsome, and he’s even been likened to a work of art sculpted by Michelangelo. Whatever, says the actor. He claims his look is basically thrown together, but he also fesses up to being enough of a style hound to occasionally spend a couple grand on crocodile-skin cowboy boots. “My own style really comes from not liking to spend a lot of money on clothes, and I pretty much wear whatever I want,” says the actor, who names John Galliano and DSquared as being among his favorite designers. “If I see something that everybody else is wearing, I’m more likely not to wear it. But I like things that are streamlined and fitted. For me, I find going out into the world is like combat every day, so I kind of dress for defense and attack.” Given his knack for speaking his mind, that’s probably a smart idea.