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Very. Important. Pictures.
He glammed it up in Velvet Goldmine and went
Gothic in Gormenghast but, as Stephen Walsh
finds out, Jonathan Rhys Meyers is just your
average bloke from Cork who once did a Knorr
commercial and broke a girl's heart.
Rhys Meyers was born in Dublin in 1977, moved to Cork
when he was three. A wayward youth saw him leave school
and enter the pool hall at 16, where he would probably
have stayed had it not been for a talent scout spotting
him and asking him to audition for War of the Buttons.
He didn't get the part, but he did get a slot in a
then, he's shot the Big Fella (Liam Neeson) in Michael
Collins, glammed it up with Ewan McGregor
in Velvet Goldmine, hung from Gothic rafters as the
devious Steerpike in BBC's Gormenghast, and
appeared in a dozen or so other films.
the next few months, you'll see him in Tangled, a
remake of The Magnificent Ambersons with Madeline
Stowe, and Prozac Nation with Christina
I talk to him, he's walking around London's salubrious
Holland Park area, "watching the beautiful cars
and girls. There's so much money here. I don't have
any of it, though."
A few years ago, money was something that came up
a lot in interviews with Rhys Meyers. Specifically,
how much he wanted it. Either he's got it now, or
he's decided it's just a little crass to talk about
cash all the time. What he wants now is a little harder
to pin down. "It's not about money, fame, people
knowing you. It's not even about enjoying yourself
and being happy. It's about achieving something that's
brilliant, creating something that's brilliant, for
other people. For yourself, you're always going to
be unsatisfied, but if somebody comes up to me and
says, that was a brilliant part, and I really, really
got it. That's essentially it."
not unfair to say that his success to date has more
to do with his face than his acting prowess. He's
one of those men who women call beautiful.
Reading past interviews with him it's not uncommon
to find paragraphs describing his pillow-like lips,
tender playful wide eyes, etc. Of course, that's not
for me to comment on. I don't fancy him... But I digress.
Does it bother him that people talk about his looks
more than they do about his acting?
"They do that when you're a young man. You can't
avoid it. Look at Brad Pitt, Johnny Depp
- all the same. He does brilliant performances, but
nobody talks about his performances - he's gorgeous,
that's the point. With
Brad Pitt nobody talks about his performance, it's
all about being Brad Pitt. I did a film with Bruce
Greenwood last year (Ride with the Devil).
He was a very, very pretty man, but he couldn't get
jobs for years and years, until he did 13 Days, and
he played John F Kennedy and he was absolutely
brilliant. And now everyone's giving him jobs - so
his time eventually came."
Meyers admits that his time hasn't come yet. "I've
got it all to prove. I've got it all to do. At the
position I'm in now, I'm hovering between being 'you're
well known and on your way', and 'you're there'".
a bad place to hover. But he thinks the hard work
is still ahead. "If there's a good script and
a good part, you can be guaranteed that all the best
actors in the world are trying to get it. There's
no such thing as once you get to a certain stage,
everything becomes easy. Everything becomes harder,
you want the best roles, the biggest roles. And so
does everyone else".
the face that put him where he is could also take
him away. Does he fear that as he gets older and his
looks fade, the work might disappear? "No it
won't," he says defiantly. "If the looks
went, I'm not so sure. I think if you're good you're
good, that's the end of it. If the looks go, you achieve
actors in the same bracket have given in to the financial
temptation of the blockbuster. Has Rhys Meyers any
plans to attend the Ben Affleck School of Sellout?
"I'd love to do a big blockbuster action film,
it'd be great, can you imagine? Pay me, no problem.
I'd love to do a huge big 'Mike and Jerry' type film.
They're really great but I don't think Micheal
Beam or Jerry Bruckheimer think too fondly
of me. Wait until I go off and get an Oscar
nomination, then they'll love me to bits."
might, but what if it was a choice between something
like Pearl Harbor and an independent arthouse
film, which would allow him to grow more as an actor?
"All depends on the role, all depends on the
director, I'll tell you. If it was a choice of a Pearl
Harbor or Before Night Falls, I'd do Before
Night Falls. You get to work with a superior director
in a superior part, and you let your muscles grow.
Pearl Harbor is something you do to become a superstar.
If someone wanted me to do that, then no problem.
I'm not going to be one of these actors who says,
oh no, I'm only going to do roles of a certain quality.
Yeah, I'm looking for quality, it's the first thing
I'll think about, but at the same time I'm also looking
for other things."
he's not one of those actors looking for a chance
to direct his own script. "If I was going to
write, it'd be books, not scripts. I think I'd be
awful at writing a script, and worse at directing
one. I think any actor who thinks he can direct a
movie just because he's hung around a film set 30
times is full of shite. It's a skill, either you're
born to do it or you're not. Some actors can do it,
like Matthew Modine, he's a wonderful actor,
but he's a born director. I've seen a few of his five-minute
films and they're extraordinary. Sean Penn
is very smart, Tim Robbins is a very smart
director, too. But I just think it'd be rather vain
Meyers does write short stories ("sometimes they
get a bit too long"), and thinks "books
are beautiful. I love Dostoyevky, Pushkin.
I love Russian writers. Samuel Beckett is the
business, too, and James Joyce and Banana
currently reading Ross Leckie's gruesome account
of Hannibal's drive across the Alps. He'd like
to play the ruthless, ambitious young general "in
a f##king instant. That's exactly the role I'd like
it's exactly the type of role you expect him to land.
There's also talk of him playing a young Salvador
Dali in the near future: "I always tend to
get cast in an extraordinary role for whatever reason.
It's usually because of the way I look, I suppose.
But that's why I'm doing the role in this film (a
currently unnamed project in London), because in this
one I'm playing a normal bloke, a no-strings-attached
Irish kid, who's become a young football coach because
he busted his knee on the way to becoming professional.
that more challenging than playing an extreme character?
"That's exactly why I'm doing it, because it
is harder. Nobody expects this of me, everyone expects
'extraordinary deep drama' with me, But I'm going
to try and do as little as possible in this film and
get the biggest effect I can from it. I'm going to
try to be less."
of the other reasons he may not be in Return to Pearl
Harbor is his refusal to go and live in LA, preferring
to stay in Cork. "I've got a farm I live on in
Cork, it's really beautiful. I love horses. I've no
love for cows. They don't take a saddle well."
thinks that life in Hollywood is the undoing of a
lot of actors: "A lot of movie stars go and make
movies, and then after a while, their performances
suddenly aren't as good. That's because they're constantly
hanging around with movie stars, constantly in that
world. They get stale, they're going to lunch with
this agent, this producer. I don't have any friends
who are movie stars. I go to the local pub in Cork,
I get refused from it, I've never had that huge fame
thing to be bothered about."
still a touch of youthful insecurity about him. "Anybody's
praise or approval is important to me. Anybody's at
all. And anybody's criticism. If the guy selling The
Big Issue turns around to me and says, 'hey man,
in that performance, in that scene, I don't think
you quite got it', I'll listen to him. I take advice
from everybody. The less people have an investment
in you, the more honest the advice is going to be.
But the best thing that was ever said to me was from
my brother. He saw me in Michael Collins and rang
me up and said 'You were shite. You'd want to cop
he ever worry it's all been a big mistake? "Every
time someone shouts my name, I think it's someone
going to say 'Johnny, actually you're crap. You're
finished, and you should never have been here in the
one moment you're nothing, the next moment you're
everything. It's just a grand illusion."
Assuming the illusion sustains for another six years,
where does he hope to be when he's 30? "Sitting
at the right hand of God." Failing that? "I'd
hope to have grown, and become quite (long pause)
I hope to have understood what I'm doing more."
23, Jonathan Rhys Meyers is a curious mix of charming
self-deprecation and hard, clear ambition. He's wise
beyond his years about the business he finds himself
in. "I'm not preventing nuclear war or anything
like that. As Oscar Wilde said, 'All art is
on Jonathan Rhys Meyers? Jonathan Rhys Meyers was
born in Dublin on 27 July 1977, and moved to Cork
with his family when he was almost one year old. When
he was three his father moved out of home and with
that followed a rather turbulent childhood. He spent
some time in an orphanage and was expelled from school
when he was 16. Hubbard Casting discovered him in
a pool hall and he subsequently got the lead for the
David Puttnam production of The War of the Buttons.
After doing the infamous Knorr commercial, he got
his first film roll in A Man of No Importance. The
credentials Since then, Rhys Meyers has filmed The
Governess, Velvet Goldmine, The Loss of Sexual
Innocence, Titus and Gormenghast.
Useless bits of information: He likes listening to
Bob Marley; he sings traditional Irish music and
he's apparently rather embarrassed about the Knorr
He told Rolling Stone magazine in 1998: "You
get on a set and immediately people are wiping your
ass for you, and nobody tells you when you're being
an asshole. I'm sure nobody working for Tom Cruise
would turn around and say, 'Tom, don't do that anymore
because you're a dickhead to do that.' Actually, he
might quite like it."