‘Paris’ offers a change of pace for Rhys Meyers
By Amy Biancolli
San Francisco Chronicle, January 29, 2010
Over the past decade and a half, Irish actor Jonathan Rhys Meyers has played – in no particular order – a women’s soccer coach, a sociopathic tennis pro, Elvis Presley, a selfless journalist, Michael Collins’ assassin, a Bowie-esque glam rocker, a murderous Shakespearean cad and a certain multiply-married Tudor king.
In the forthcoming spy thriller “From Paris With Love,” he’s something altogether different: innocent.
“I think it was fun to play, and certainly it would be fun for people to watch,” he says of the role, a wonkish U.S. Embassy worker who’s swept into an anti-terrorism case with a berserk veteran agent played by a very bald, very nervy John Travolta. Rhys Meyers’ character “is a naive guy – most of what he knows about spies he read in books. He’s just a gofer at the embassy, and as the film progresses, he starts to become what he needs to be.”
“From Paris With Love” was produced by Luc Besson and directed by Pierre Morel, the same frenzied French action merchants behind “District 13″ and “Taken.” What Rhys Meyers’ character “needs to be,” therefore, is in a hurry and handy with guns. He also spends a lot of screen time hugging a large porcelain vase. (“We had our moments, but I didn’t take it on a date or anything.”) The whole film moves quickly, kills with abandon and pauses for several well-placed quips, among them a chewy allusion to Travolta’s “Royale with cheese” bit from “Pulp Fiction.”
“You have to do it with a wink and a nod. You can’t take this sort of thing too seriously,” Rhys Meyers says. “If it gets anywhere near too serious, you can’t make that type of a movie. The whole point of it was, how much fun can we make it? And John wanted to do (his part) as a character homage to ’80s badass action guys. That’s the movie we set out to make. We didn’t set out to make ‘The Hurt Locker’ or anything like that.”
Rhys Meyers is on the phone from his London flat, a Chihuahua-pug mix barking in the background. (“He’s really little, but the bark is enormous.”) The actor talks in a pleasant zoom of words, touching on his love of the guitar (“I play for my own personal pleasure, nothing more”), Morel’s approach to filming (“He’s fearless, physically fearless; this guy’s a bit of a daredevil”) and the death of Travolta’s son after shooting wrapped (“I can’t imagine”).
The topic of his Wikipedia page comes up, a compendium of gossipy factoids that range from a heart problem in infancy to variously reported rehab stints over the past few years. Would he like to comment on any of this stuff? No. Does he ever pay any attention to it? No.
“I’d rather not know,” he says plainly.
So would he like to ditch the subject entirely? Yes. End of topic.
But when it comes to his gifts and constraints as a movie star, Rhys Meyers is perfectly willing to talk. Most of the time, he says, he’s a natural choice for darker roles.
“I think a lot of it comes from your physicality, what your physicality allows you to portray,” he says.
After discussing Gary Oldman, Dirk Bogarde and Montgomery Clift, he gets specific about his own appearance.
“I’ve got a very kind of bony face, and I’ve got big lips, and sometimes I can look kind of snarling … kind of Heathcliff-y.”
Aside from that touch of Brontë animalism, he admits that he’s also quite good at accents. Travolta was on hand to help this time, but he suspects the Irish generally have an easier time with American inflections – and he thinks his knack for regional dialects is just a function of his musical ear.
Without thinking, he says, he’ll often mimic someone else’s speech.
“People think that you’re making fun of them,” he says with a laugh. “Especially, I cannot be around South Africans without taking on the South African accent. It’s not a good idea.”