If you ever have the pleasure of talking with Jonathan Rhys Meyers, prepare yourself for some heavy truths. Consider: "I believe people have been getting blow jobs for hundreds of years," he says matter-of-factly. "You should see The Libertine. There's everything in that. You know, dildos, blow jobs. Believe me, sex is as old as the hills."
To be fair, Rhys Meyers is not waxing willy-nilly on medieval bump 'n' grind; rather, he's referring to a particularly hot and heavy, royal-on-royal scene in his upcoming series The Tudors, which begins airing on Showtime this month. While Rhys Meyers's résumé boasts a list of larger-than-life personalities, this might be the biggie: With undisguised relish, he plays the wife-beheading, Pope-baiting, turkey-leg-gnawing tyrant King Henry VIII. Which brings us to Rhys Meyers-ism number two: He's very particular about the parts he chooses. "I was pretty hesitant to accept the role because I don't look like Henry VIII," says the slight actor. "I said, 'Listen, guys. If you want me to put on 60 pounds and dye my hair red and wear a ginger beard, I'm not your guy.'" Luckily, that's not what the producers had in mind. Cue Rhys Meyers: "The reality of it is, they wanted to make Henry a bit more appealing. If you want something to sell properly, then you have to make it a little more attractive."
He should know. The London-based Irish actor, 29, has used his sinewy, Calvin Klein-model good looks well, whether playing an assassin in Michael Collins, a spandexed glam rocker in Velvet Goldmine, or a vicious bushwhacker in Ang Lee's Civil War epic, Ride with the Devil. He also scooped up a Golden Globe for his 2005 portrayal of the original pelvis-swiveler in the miniseries Elvis.
To his credit, Rhys Meyers can also play wholesome, which he did in Bend It Like Beckham, as Keira Knightley's soccer coach. "I thought it was going to be terrible!" he says. "For months and months and months, I refused to tell anybody that I'd been in a film called Bend It Like Beckham. Even in the beginning I was like, 'I don't want to do this.' But I spoke to my brother and he said, 'Do the film. Everybody's going to love this.' It's one of those girly, guilty-pleasure movies. It's on that shelf with Dirty Dancing, Footloose, and Beaches."
That said, the actor, who currently has a nonceleb girlfriend in London, does seem more at home on the dark side, particularly as a social climber who gets away with murder in Woody Allen's Match Point. "I think everybody's got a malicious side," he says. "Nobody's perfect. And if you think they are, you're sadly mistaken."
Of course, you can't blame him for trying to achieve perfection while at work. Prerequisite number one: a really good imagination. "As an actor, I'm an interpretive artist. I go through several different realities in a week," Rhys Meyers says. "I've been in many historical circumstances. I know what it's like to charge with the Confederate Army. I know what it's like to fight at the Battle of Gaugamela in Alexander the Great's army. I know what it's like to die in the Battle of Waterloo. And I know what it's like to be King of England in the 16th century." Really?
"Oh, yeah," Rhys Meyers says. "It's just another fantasy fascination I could have in my head. Could I imagine myself as king? Of course I could."