“I’m a better actor now than I was when I was 18,” Rhys Meyers says, pulling at the parts of the fake shearling cuff he hasn’t yet burned away. He considers the most difficult aspect of his job having to act like he’s handsome even when he doesn’t think he looks so hot. “Let’s not kid ourselvesthis business is about being good-looking. Look, Brad Pitt is an incredible actor, but do you think he’d be a famous movie star if he didn’t look like that? Come on! Some mornings, some days, you just don’t have that physical confidence. That’s a horrible feeling. A lot of my success is because of what I look like. I know that.”
It’s hard to imagine Rhys Meyers having days like that. His face is long and angular, and a goatee and a mustache accentuate his strongly defined chin. His eyes are blue in one light, silver in another, and green when it gets dark. A 20-year-old scar near his lipfrom an injury sustained in a hurling accidentgives him a subtle ruggedness. He has a strange habit of looking over my shoulder into the eyes of almost everyone who walks past our table. Eventually, a family of four stop and ask if he is Jonathan Rhys Meyers. He happily confirms and stands up for a snapshot.
“Part of being a narcissist is being terribly insecure,” he says, sitting back down. “If I wasn’t so insecure about myself I wouldn’t work as hard as I do. I am constantly seeking approval.”
Rhys Meyers grew up Jonathan Michael Francis O’Keefe in Cork, in the south of Ireland, in a four-room flat he shared with his mother, Geraldine Meyers, a charity worker, and his younger brother Alan. When he was 3 years old, his father, John O’Keefe, left his wife, taking Rhys Meyers’ two other brothers to live with him at their grandmother’s house. Rhys Meyers and his dad wouldn’t become close until he was in his early twenties. He is dismissive of this biographical detail at first. “I’ve talked about all that,” he says. “Not interested in going into it again.” But then he admits that his marked insecurity is in part fed by the sense of failure he had as a boy: “I was just a kid and I didn’t have a dad. That’s hard, because when you’re a kid, you blame yourself for everything. And I blamed myself for him not being around, for my parents not being together.”
Unable to sit still for even an hour, Rhys Meyers took to slipping out of class as a teenager. “I wanted to do anything but be in school, anything that [wasn’t] fuckin’ science, fuckin’ math, fuckin’ history.” At 15, he was asked to leave school. “My mother had a go at me for that one,” he recalls. “She was livid. We didn’t have any money, and she really believed education was important.”