Q&A – Jonathan Rhys Meyers (From Paris With Love) Weighs In on Classic Action Style
AMC News, February 3, 2010
As King Henry VIII, Jonathan Rhys Meyers gets a lot of action on The Tudors, but in the actor’s latest film, From Paris With Love, he gets to stretch the action muscles he never knew he had — shooting at terrorists, dodging bullets, and running around with a coke-filled vase. That’s because his character, James Reece, who’s long dreamed of becoming an undercover agent, finally gets a shot, though he’s in way over his head. Rhys Meyers says that Reece only wishes he were James Bond.
Q: What was it like shooting in Paris?
A: Paris is the most beautiful city in the world, but I wanted to see the Paris that you don’t usually get to see. I was staying at the Hôtel de Crillon, which is a beautiful hotel, where Marie Antoinette learned to play the piano, and it’s an elegant living museum. But I walk out on the Place de la Concorde, and I see the Paris that everybody dreams of, and I also see the Paris that is the living nightmare that happens in any First World country: tons of people from different cultures trying to make a life. I wasn’t the tourist coming in and going to the Champs-Élysées or going to Ladurée and having macaroons. I was going out to these areas where people actually live. It made it a real city to me, not just a Disneyland fantasy.
Q: Your scene with John Travolta is in the Charles de Gaulle airport. That was the first time you two met?
A: I was shooting The Tudors on a Tuesday. I arrived in Paris on a Wednesday, and that was the first time we faced each other on-screen, when I busted him out of the customs office. I’ve seen John Travolta in many films, but I haven’t seen him like that. My character has dreamed of what it would be like, the undercover life, and he expects a worldly, sophisticated James Bond-type. But what he gets is a biker boy. And he’s shocked. And John’s character loves that. He enjoys the naïveté that James Reece has; he enjoys seeing him confused.
Q: Is that the basis of their chemistry?
A: It’s a buddy relationship, but it’s more of a mentor-student relationship, and there’s no better way of training him than by throwing him in at the deep end. But it’s all about their energy, and the moments they share, which are better than any explosion. I think it’s chemistry that makes a classic action film — if the characters like each other. Why does Lethal Weapon work? Because it’s Mel Gibson and Danny Glover. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid — would that have been the same movie with Robert Redford and Warren Beatty?
Q: You get to skip out on a chunk of the action because you’re carrying the vase of cocaine.
A: And I accidentally dropped it, running on those steel stairs! I dropped the vase, and I went, “Oh f-ck, the coke!” I had to go all the way back up and do that scene again. The vase became a teddy bear, a blanket, to me, and I felt sad when I had to drop it for the other scene, because it had been my buddy, protecting me from the whole world, this vase of marching powder.
Q: How difficult was it to speak Mandarin in some of those scenes?
A: I did a film called The Children of Huang Shi, in which I had to speak Mandarin and Japanese, so I had already sort of been involved in that language. Actually, the girl who plays the prostitute that I walk in on with the German guy, she’s the girl who taught me how to speak Chinese. I asked the guy whom I was speaking to if he understood me, and he said yes. So that was okay. But that was level two. If I were level eight at Cambridge, I would have been a disgrace.
Q: Your character falls for a woman, but later on he realizes he knows nothing about her.
A: It’s like, how much do you know about your partner, really? He knows that she makes dresses, but he’s a naïve guy. Pierre Morel [the director] and Luc Besson [the writer] know that this guy will go for this girl and he will go for her blindly, because of the beauty, the charm, the elegance, and living in Paris, because that’s the dream. And that will all sort of divert him from what’s actually happening. I think it’s a great ruse. If you want to hide something, hide it in plain sight.
Q: So it’s about blind faith in more than one way.
A: For my character, I’m willing to ignore a lot of things because of love. For her character, she’s willing to blow herself up. Whether its love of religion or love for a human being, it’s about love, and it’s the relationships. Everything that happens in war or terrorism comes down to human choices, human emotions — whether it’s a father who loses a son or a wife who loses a husband. It all comes down to individual stories.