“PUSSY!” Jonathan Rhys Meyers bellows. “I want pussy!”
We are on a crowded street next to St. Stephen’s Green in Dublin, Ireland, dodging French and Italian tourists who might not understand what Rhys Meyers is shouting, but can surely sense the carnal tone. And certainly those of his countrymen also out strolling on this lovely autumn afternoon can comprehend exactly what he’s saying. The Irish actor is performing, of course. He’s doing his impersonation of a man trying to have a conversation in a crowded nightclub.
“I said, ‘Pussy! Pussy!’” he shouts. “P-u-s-s-y.”
Rhys Meyers himself no longer goes to those sorts of mobbed, cacophonous venues. A notorious partier, he’s recently sworn off alcohol. “I didn’t drink until I was 25, and I never drank every day, but when I did, it was bad. It would be a couple of days that just wouldn’t work out for me, waking up with a hangover. Drink doesn’t fit into the groove of where my life is going.”
Rhys Meyers, now 30, has been in rehab twice.
“I want to do really good things with my life,” he says. “And drinking is not synonymous with that. The [Richard] Burton days, the [Peter] O’Toole days, they are gone.”
By now we’re seated at a wooden table that’s resting unevenly on the cobblestone sidewalk outside a touristy café. Rhys Meyers orders a Coke and lights a Camel.
A foul odor envelops us.
“It’s me,” he says. “I’m burning the fake hair off the sleeves of this jacket.” He has been stealthily flicking a white plastic lighter in his left hand under the table since we sat down. The cuff of his distressed leather jacket used to hang over his wrists, he explains, but he’s been systematically singeing it away for the last few days.
He shrugs and looks down at the lighter, as if it were acting on its own. “Something to do,” he says.
It’s hard to determine exactly why Rhys Meyers is as famous as he is. (Does he have the promise of a pre-Brokeback Jake Gyllenhaal? A pre-Walk the Line Joaquin Phoenix?) Why one of his trips to rehab made the headlines in Us Weekly, why his make-out sessions in bars are covered on “Page Six,” why celebrity bloggers care enough to speculate about his sexualityat this point these questions are part of his mystery. He’s a TV star, but Showtime’s The Tudors is not really a hit show (the season finale in June drew 465,000 viewers). He’s a movie star, but he’s never been the marquee name on a big one (this month’s mystical epic, August Rush, should change that). Since his breakout role as the heartthrob coach in 2002’s you-go-girl movie Bend It Like Beckham, his career has been a herky-jerky ride through a bewildering list of independent and Hollywood films. Ever seen The Tesseract? The Emperor’s Wife? Octane? Rhys Meyers has also shown up in big-budget action movies like Mission: Impossible III and Alexander. But along the way he’s to turned in enough compelling performancesthe effeminate glam rocker in Velvet Goldmine, the homicidal social climber in Woody Allen’s Match Pointto establish himself as a provocatively talented, and potentially massive, star.