UNIVERSAL CITY, Calif. - Irish actor Jonathan Rhys Meyers thinks he still has worlds to conquer, though he’s won five awards and been nominated for even more.
Audiences and critics were stunned by his performance as the young Henry VIII in Showtime’s elegant series, “The Tudors,” which begins its third season on April 5.
But, like Henry, Rhys Meyers is battling his own dragons. “Even though I’ve had the body of work I’ve had, and the success I’ve had, I do not rest on my laurels whatsoever,” he says in a quiet guest room at a hotel here.
“Everything I’ve done up till now has been an apprenticeship. I haven’t even started to do my real work yet. I haven’t really hit the stride yet.”
He’s always compelled to exceed himself, he confesses. “I think it’s secretly demanded of you by whoever gave you the gift. Also people demand improvement because they’re paying money to sit down and watch you, so you’d better get better.”
Though he never had an acting lesson, Rhys Meyers has been working as an actor since he was 18. “I got paid 20 grand for my first film. And that’s the lowest I ever got paid,” he says.
Before he donned Henry’s crown, Rhys Meyers costarred in “Velvet Goldmine,” “Bend it Like Beckham” and Woody Allen’s “Match Point.” But American audiences first became enamored of his sinewy good looks and intriguing acting style on the miniseries, “Elvis,” where he personified the “king” of another era.
Playing those roles was not as difficult as Henry, says Rhys Meyers, who’s wearing a black tuxedo jacket with satin lapels, acid-washed jeans and tan cowboy boots.
“The hardest part about playing Henry has always been the hardest part about playing Henry. It’s not like when I played Elvis or even ‘Match Point’ where I could look in the mirror and I could see the character. I can’t look in the mirror and see Henry. I have to see my own version of Henry,” he says.
“Yet none of the actors who are in the series look anything like the people they’re playing. But I’m the only one that gets any flak for it because Henry was so immortalized by Holbein’s paintings. That’s not necessarily what Henry looked like. It’s just great art,” he says.
“History has a way of skewing people’s view. Playing Henry can be very, very difficult at times but it’s also very, very freeing because there’s not one person in the world - I don’t care how many books they’ve read - there’s not one person in the world who can tell me what Henry talked like, what he walked like, how he behaved himself. Nobody can tell me absolutely that that’s the way it was because they don’t know. It’s all guess work.”
Rhys Meyers grew up in Cork County, Ireland with three younger brothers. His father is a freelance musician, who lives in the south of Spain. His mother mostly reared the children and did volunteer work. “My dad was around a bit,” says Rhys Meyers, “but as a musician, they have to travel the roads.”
Maybe Rhys Meyers inherited his wanderlust from his father because he loves to travel. He’s explored Morocco, the Sudan, Egypt, Tibet, Nepal. “I liked traveling when I was younger, now I travel for work,” he says. “When I was young I just traveled. My plan was to travel, work, travel, work. So I haven’t done some of my own traveling for a while, but I will,” he pauses.
“I’ve had a lot of holidays booked and canceled in my life which also makes it very, very difficult to have a relationship because moving the way an actor moves is the same way an arch criminal moves: they’ve got to GO (he snaps his fingers). If you get a phone call from Steven Spielberg or Martin Scorsese on the eleventh hour, you’ve been offered this role - bang, gone. Which is why I’ve stayed away from marriage and children so I can be the gypsy if I want to.”
Though he has no sweetheart, nor is he looking, he says, “I think, I’d like to do that (marry) at some point in my life. But I just turned 31 and it’s all about my work right how. I’ve got a good body of work, a bunch of nominations and some awards and now is the time to go forward and do proper, real male roles because I worked through my 20s.
“It’s very difficult to cast somebody in their 20s because you can only cast them as a teenager and they don’t really have the experience to play the male roles yet. So I think it’s when you get into your 30s that those roles actually come.”
Even so, Rhys Meyers has been acting since he was a boy. “As a kid I spent an awful lot of time pretending I was somebody else,” he admits. “I think growing up in the 1980s wasn’t very exciting so you kind of create this secret life of an alternate person.
You pretend to be whatever you need to be that day, so you live in that dream world. So it’s very easy to be an actor. I did a lot of acting when I was a kid. Not professionally, just to get myself in and out of trouble.”
Jill Scott is known as a singer, but has landed a plum part in HBO’s appealing new series, “The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency,” premiering Sunday. The series was produced by Anthony Minghella (“The English Patient”) and Sydney Pollack (“Tootsie”), both of whom have since died.
This is Scott’s first big acting role, but she says she wasn’t afraid to try playing the saucy entrepreneur from Botswana. “If someone as kind and as gentle and as genius as Anthony Minghella has faith in you, it doesn’t hurt,” she says.
“You can’t help but have faith in yourself. When I walked around and people would call me ‘Mma Ramotswe,’ ‘Oh, hello, Mma Ramotswe’ - automatically, they heard I was playing the role and then I became her whether I was on set or not. It is a challenge. We do have dialect coaching every day, every single day. I did have to wear some padding. I wasn’t pregnant at the time when I first did the film, so there was padding and it was hot. It was sometimes 110 degrees in the morning. But when you have an opportunity to play a character who is so big, who is so warm and open, the challenges kind of melt away and you just want to do good work, period.”
Eric McCormack is starring in the new sci-fi movie, “Alien Territory,” opening April 3. In a way it was science fiction that first attracted him to acting. “I was about 9 when I realized that Don Adams, that was his job. To be Maxwell Smart was his job, and he made money at it. I thought, ‘That’s all I want to do.’ My parents thought it would change, and they did the traditional, ‘You should have something to fall back on.’ They went to my grade 11 theater teacher, who was my mentor, and they said, ‘We’re worried that he’s taking this very seriously.’ And he said, ‘Don’t stop him.’”
For people who just can’t get enough of “Gilmore Girls” there’s one more chance to suffer the camaraderie of Lorelai and her precocious daughter when the show moves to Soapnet on April 4. Lauren Graham, who plays Lorelai, says that she wanted to be an actor, but really felt she should do something more practical. “I started in a conservatory program at NYU. I was 17 when I went to college because I had skipped a grade and it just didn’t make any sense to me. I come from a pretty academic family, so to be in that training program then just felt not where I wanted to be yet. I had a lot of friends who were in big colleges. I thought, ‘You know, I should read more. I should study more before I roll around on the floor pretending I’m a lion.’”