Rhys Meyers says he can relate to Henry VIII’s wild younger years in ‘The Tudors’
The Canadian Press, September 27, 2007
TORONTO – Irish actor Jonathan Rhys Meyers knows a thing or two about wild behaviour, something he drew upon when taking on the role of a young Henry VIII in the acclaimed show “The Tudors,” premiering next week on CBC.
“I was an alleged bad boy – alleged,” says the 30-year-old actor on the line from Ireland, emphasizing the word as he takes a break from filming the second season of the show about the early years of the notorious British monarch.
“I think people sort of have this fantastical idea that I was this crazy wild young Irishman. The reality wasn’t as fantastical nor was it as bad.”
Nonetheless, Rhys Meyers, who’s had a couple of stints in rehab for drug and alcohol problems, says his own tumultuous youth and early fame certainly helped him understand the temptations that Henry faced as a young ruler with the world – and lots of women – at his beck and call.
“I can relate to being in your 20s and thinking you’re too fabulous and at the same time thinking you’re not worth a bucket of piss,” Rhys Meyers says.
“My Henry is a spoiled, egotistical alpha male, but when you’re in your early 20s and you have absolutely everything that you’ve ever desired, by birthright, well then you’re certainly going to misbehave. But Henry also had a lot of insecurities, as we all do at that age. Everybody wanted something from him.”
The 10-part first season of “The Tudors,” a Canada-Ireland co-production written and created by Michael Hirst (“Elizabeth” and “Elizabeth: The Golden Age”), premieres Tuesday night on CBC-TV. The Emmy-nominated series debuted on the U.S. pay channel Showtime in April to big ratings, and the BBC will start airing it next year.
While “The Tudors” takes some artistic liberties – it condenses some years, and amalgamates some characters into one, for example – the series is a lusty and largely accurate look at the scheming and seduction that went on in the court of the king who would change the course of history.
The show features not just a litany of steamy sex scenes, but an impressive international cast that includes Australia’s Sam Neill and two Canadian actors, Henry Czerny as the Duke of Norfolk and Kris Holden-Reid as Henry’s best friend, William Compton.
But Rhys Meyers is the true standout, lending an energetic passion to Henry despite his initial fears that critics might not like him in the role since he bears such little resemblance to the monarch, either in his youth or in his later years (“Thank God for that,” the actor says in an aside.)
He was also concerned some might suggest he took too many liberties as he humanized the character.
“But the more I thought about it, who’s to say that the way I play Henry isn’t really what Henry was like?” Rhys Meyers muses. “He’s human. Henry might be a king and be treated as a god, but he’s still only a man – flesh and blood, regardless of whether the blood was blue.”
Czerny had nothing but praise for Rhys Meyers’ performance when he promoted the show during CBC’s fall launch last spring.
“Michael Hirst says there are actors who are bleeders and there are actors who are performers, and Jonathan’s a bleeder,” Czerny said with a laugh. “He’s trying to offer up every last bit of Jonathan Rhys Meyers for every single take – he’s a real bleeder.”
Rhys Meyers is also sympathetic to Henry, a man known mostly for being an overweight tyrant who did away with wives when they became inconvenient.
“I mean, Henry historically was quite well-behaved for a king of his time. He was quite moralistic. Some kings of Europe had these harems of a thousand women,” Rhys Meyers says.
“As an Irishman in school, you always thought of Henry VIII as this big, slovenly, repulsive character. But there were a lot of pretty cool things about him as well. He was a great musician and had his own band and played with them as the lead singer. Throughout his reign the hyenas were around him the whole time waiting to get their paws on his throne, and it can’t have been easy.”