Jonathan Rhys Meyers: My Dracula is all about suffering but it’s sexy, too

Metro, October 31, 2013

Jonathan Rhys Meyers has a reputation for being a touch intense. But when we meet to talk about his new show, Dracula, he bounds from his chair like an excited puppy, his enthusiasm spilling over into a giddy torrent of ideas surrounding the triple nature of the role he plays.

He’s intense, certainly, but it’s coupled with a still boyish charm (he’s 36), an ability to laugh at himself and an energy that’s infectious.

‘I don’t do anything half-heartedly,’ he declares. ‘When I paint, when I write music, when I write bad poetry, I do it with everything I have. I only have one life to live. Even this interview, I’ll give it everything.’

There’s a twinkle in his eye as he says this and you sense he’s heading off any difficult questions about his run-ins with the media – fisticuffs at airports, plus drink and drug rehab. When you live life at full tilt, sometimes you’re going to get bruised.

It also explains why, as an actor, Rhys Meyers is drawn to larger-than-life characters. Elvis Presley, Henry VIII in The Tudors, his breakthrough role as Steerpike in Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast, all these were performances that demanded to be played in a major key.

‘I experience things in an extreme way,’ he says, happily sending himself up. ‘If I feel pain, it’s great pain, the worst ever. I absolutely never do blasé. Of course, there’s good and bad in that.’

That extreme nature is being put to the test in Dracula, an imaginative spin on the classic vampire story that takes Bram Stoker’s original as just a starting point for a Victorian- era melodrama that finds Rhys Meyers tripling up as the Count, US entrepreneur Alexander Grayson and 15th-century Romanian warlord Vlad the Impaler.

‘For me, Vlad is the fascinating one,’ says Rhys Meyers. ‘He’s the one I relate to. He’s a flawed character, who’s almost forgotten what it is to be human – but there is a spark that’s still there.’

Described thus, it’s a perfect part for this elusive actor – it’s a role within a role, a man playing himself.

And for those anticipating a full-blooded, soft-erotic romp – The Tudors with fangs – this Dracula is something of a surprise. It’s almost restrained, a stylish and cerebral spin on a genre that’s had its eroticism, homo and otherwise, drained dry.

Yes, there is sex in this Dracula but there’s also a surprisingly political subplot about the overthrow of ‘The Order’ – which could be just about any money-broking power-hungry elite you care to name.

Rhys Meyers revels in describing the dramatic subtext, throwing Machiavelli’s The Prince and Sun Tzu’s military classic The Art Of War into the theorising, taking time out to distance himself from materialism.

‘I don’t want an expensive car, or a helicopter or a hundred-grand Rolex or any of those things,’ he says. ‘What I do buy is art, particularly Japanese art. I think it’s because in some way I want to save it.’

He’s also keen to distance his Dracula from the over-crowded vampire competition.

‘We did not want to do a Victorian True Blood or Twilight – vampires as sex symbols has been done to death. Our vampire story is about suffering.’

Yet it’s part of the contradiction inherent in Rhys Meyers that when he talks of the actual biting bits, it starts to sound pretty sexy.

‘My Dracula only feeds on women because it’s something sexual and powerful. The feeling of your mouth on a woman’s neck is beautiful and exciting…’ Er, down boy.

He laughs when, on parting, I say his high-speed conversation has had my shorthand doing cartwheels.

‘Listen, I’m Irish. If you tell me “good morning”, I’ll give you a ten-minute conversation. If you ask me for four words, I’ll give you 16.’

He’s still talking, lilting and lyrically, as his publicist ushers him down the wood-panelled stairway of the ancient house chosen for the screening.

He’s relished his producer role on Dracula, has his heart set on directing – ‘I think that’s definitely my future’ – and listens intently when I tell him that, as fate would have it, I’m off to a dance version of Dracula that night.

‘I’d be really up for that,’ he beams with an air of a man ever open to fresh experience and inspiration. ‘I’ll call you, let’s go together.’ And for a moment, I actually think he might.

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