Interview By: Michael Dance
While most actors rise to fame thanks to one breakthrough performance, Jonathan Rhys Meyers has actually had several. First was Brian Slade in Velvet Goldmine. Then his lighter side as the coach in the surprise hit Bend it Like Beckham. Then Elvis Presley himself in the 2005 Elvis miniseries, which brought him a Golden Globe â€“ a remarkable feat considering in real life he has a strong Irish accent.
It was Woody Allen’s devious drama Match Point that finally propelled him to true star status: he played a selfish, philandering, but fundamentally lucky person who finds himself driven to murder. After that critically-acclaimed turn came a supporting role in Mission: Impossible-3 and the lead role in one of Showtime’s signature series, The Tudors. His role as a young King Henry VIII no doubt helped the show, which will return for a second season, become a ratings hit.
Before that returns, however, Meyers stars in August Rush, a simple, magical story about a young music prodigy (Freddie Highmore of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) searching for parents that don’t know he exists, played by Meyers and Keri Russell.
“I think a lot of why Freddie is the way he is, like such an amiable guy, is he’s got very nice parents,” Meyers says of his unaffected young co-star. “Really nice. Very supportive, but not pushy. And he’s got a great brother, Bert, very sweet guy. I met them last week, and we both go to football, back in London, because we both support the same team and we’ve both got season tickets.
“He’s older than his years because his experience has dictated that he’s older than his years,” Meyers continues. “But he’s not precocious. He’s still very much a kid, and I think that’s the parents. But really, when you get down to a real conversation, he’s also grown up. Because he lives in this grown up world of, you know, you have to be on set at 8 a.m., and I know you’d like to go play football with your friends, but you’ve got to be on set. With Johnny Depp. Or Luc Besson. Or Keri Russell.”
For Meyers himself, he had a lot of fun with his character, a former lead singer in a rock band. “It was actually more fun, really, rehearsing â€“ because we got this studio space and Paul Simon was recording his new album there,” Meyers gushes, truly star-struck. “You can only imagine, I’m standing outside smoking cigarettes with the guitar swung over my shoulder, being just too cool for school, and Paul Simon’s coming in, and you’re like, ‘Hey, what’s up Paul.’ ‘Hey, what’s going on.’ ‘Yeah, nothing, just layin’ something down.'” He bursts out laughing but keeps up the charade. “‘Yeah, just me and a couple of guys. We’re just riffin’.'”
Rehearsing wasn’t too hard, either â€“ Meyers has a fairly solid musical background. “I play a little bit of the flute. The guitar. Sing. You know, the regular Irish thingâ€¦My three brothers are musicians. One of them plays my drummer in the film. My dad plays. All my aunties, they’re all choir singers.”
In fact, his dad was once the bass player in a band, although it wasn’t exactly typical Irish music. “Country Western, baby. He was in a Country Western band called Hector Pick Axe & the Floatin’ Crowbars.” Meyers jumps into a surprisingly good Southern accent. “My daddy was the bass guitar player.”
Meyers’ upbringing hardly seems typical in any fashion. “A couple of years ago, I did an interview and someone wrote that I was brought up in an orphanage. I wasn’t. But I did live, sort of, on the street a lot, like, I ditched school a lot. You know, just misspent youthâ€¦You’d have to have been there, but Ireland was like, definitely a second world country in the ’80s. Just growing up with that â€“ no TVs, no cars, satellite dishes, VCRs and stuff like that â€“ it didn’t exist for us. So that was my upbringing. And actually, I quite liked my upbringing. But my parents weren’t together, and one of them was a musician, so in that way it was very similar [to August Rush] from that point of view.”
And how about The Tudors? “Next season, what can I tell you about next season? It’s so vicious, it’s so hard what happens to these people. There’s no cowardice in cutting someone’s head off. That’s not a pleasant job. When they cut Catherine Howard’s head off, they had to wedge the blade from the bone. It took four blows. For Anne Boleyn, he had a sword made. A sword that would cut cleaner. He had it made and inscribed. So the tearing down of the Boleyn family â€“ they get torn down like wild animals.”
Okay then. Any…happier news? “Peter O’Toole plays the Pope. He’s magnificentâ€¦ My Henry’s older this time. I’ve got some facial hair, my hair is longer, and I put on 14 pounds in muscle. I didn’t want to put fat on, because, like, I can’t go and be Fat Henry.” He gestures down toward his wiry frame. “You know, I just can’t do it â€“ if that’s what they wanted, get another actor. That’s how it started: I can’t go there, so choose somebody else if you want the character to go there. I was going to go somewhere else with the character. I did put on a little bit, and with the costumes I probably look 34, 35 years old. And the writing is very, very sharp. It’s much pacier. It’s a lot more involvedâ€¦there’s two or three more absolutely beautiful girls, so definitely the sexual element has stayed, but the political element is now much more important in the second season.”
And how about those period costumes? “At the end of the day, once you’ve done the second season of The Tudors, putting on those costumes is just like putting on jeans and a T-shirt. I’m so used to wearing them now. But it was kind of funny to see Ryan Seacrest wear it at the Emmys.” He giggles. “He looked a little uncomfortable.”