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It’s good to be Jonathan Rhys Meyers. This young actor – only 30, though acting since his teens – has hit his stride. He plays a new kind of Henry VIII in Showtime’s opulent and sexy The Tudors.
I met with Jonathan down in Manhattan’s Soho, at the trendy 60 Thompson Street hotel. It was a chilly, rainy day, but Jonathan appeared wearing a tight, white T-shirt, cut to a deep clavicle-baring vee, a snug sweater over it – one button fastened to emphasize his small waist – and well-fitted jeans. He looked, head to toe, like a page from men’s Vogue. He is impossibly handsome. His features are startlingly lush, the eyes, the famous mouth. Even if Jonathan weren’t a famous actor, he’d stop any room he entered.
The star is kinetic, and at first, almost disconcertingly intense. He laughs, “Oh, I know it. People always say to me, you’re so jittery, you can’t sit still, you’re nervous. But I’m not nervous. I’m just a very excitable guy. I’m enthusiastic. I can’t help myself.”
He says that when he made Mission Impossible III with Tom Cruise, he found somebody else with a similar powerful energy. “I had a great time on that, and when Tom and I were together it was like, whoosh, all the air in the room evaporated. “I remind Jonathan that we’d met briefly once before, at the premiere of his Woody Allen thriller, Match Point. I hadn’t been able to talk at length with him that night. But, when I passed him at the party, I said, “Great film, great performance, but what a sociopath your character is.” Jonathan stepped back and barked, “He’s not a sociopath; he’s just a guy in a bad spot.”
So now I ask, was Henry VIII a sociopath or “just a guy in a bad spot?” Jonathan says: “Neither. He’s a megalomaniac, somebody with absolute power who has been corrupted by it, absolutely.
“He was a great king in many ways, and did great things. But he also did terrible things. Not just to his women, but to his people. In the matter of divorcing Catherine of Aragon and marrying Anne Boleyn, challenging the church, he gave his people no choice. Choose the pope or the king, be excommunicated by the pope or excommunicated by the king. And God help you if you choose the pope!”
“I’m trying to show how he became what he became, why he was so paranoid, why he was so ashamed. He was paranoid because everybody wanted to be king and the knives were everywhere, literally. He was ashamed because in the matter of Catherine and Anne, he knew he’d done wrong. He never doubted the legitimacy of his marriage to Catherine. He wanted Anne, period.”
The second season of The Tudors debuts on Showtime Sunday. And the network is already planning a third season, minus the unfortunate ladies, Anne and Catherine, who meet their respective ends this year. Jonathan says, “I hope Season 3 focuses on the rebellion in Scotland, where you see Henry fight for a change.”
On the big screen, Jonathan will soon be seen in The Children of Huang Shi, in which he plays a reporter covering the infamous Japanese occupation of China in 1937.
But Henry VIII fascinates Jonathan – it is a performance in progress. “I base a lot of what I do with Henry on Sir Thomas More’s remark, “We must never let the lion know his own strength. God help us if we do!”
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