The next day, watching his friends walk to school, he says he thought to himself, “‘Now what do I do? I can’t just sit around the house and watch TV.’ My mom wouldn’t have it. So I had to go and look for a job.”

Or at least get out of the house. He started hanging out at a local pool hall, where he eventually met a gentleman farmer, Christopher Croft, who offered to take him on as a hired hand at his 650-acre farm in Buttevant, County Cork. Rather than commute, Rhys Meyers, then 16, moved in with Croft and his three children. (Croft, who has said publicly in the past that he is gay, was arrested last July in Morocco for sexual abuse of a child. He and Rhys Meyers have both said since that their relationship was strictly father-son. And while he acknowledges that he was once very close to Croft, Rhys Meyers says he hasn’t spoken to him in three years.)

“As a kid, I never thought I wanted to be an actor,” Rhys Meyers says. “But I do remember sitting around and watching Johnny Depp on 21 Jump Street—my favorite show—and thinking, ‘How cool is that?’” Having been encouraged by a Dublin casting agent who came through the pool hall where he used to hang out, Rhys Meyers began going up to the city from Croft’s farm for auditions, landing his first major role, as an assassin in Neil Jordan’s Michael Collins, when he was 19. Since then, he has lived the peripatetic life of the working actor. He laments what that’s cost his personal life—or, more to the point, his romantic life. “Not many relationships can survive,” he says, pulling his singed jacket around him. “A woman has got to have a lot of trust when you’re on a film set with a beautiful actress. There is a lot of jealousy.”

The tabloids reported that Rhys Meyers and his girlfriend, cosmetics heir Reena Hammer, broke up last spring after three years together. According to him, it’s more like “taking a serious break.” He lights another cigarette and pauses, reaching out to rest a hand on my shoulder. “It’s like, I’m 30. My life is a lot of hotel rooms, a lot of travel and being on the road, a lot of time alone. Someday I’ll have kids and all that. But right now I’m focused on [my] career.”

If Rhys Meyers could trade places with any of his peers, it would be Leonardo DiCaprio—not, he makes a point of noting, because of his acting chops, but because of his status as a force in the industry. “Power is very seductive,” he says. “He was successful very young, was a party boy, took two years off, and then became this major Hollywood player. Right now I can get a $5 million film green-lit, not a $100 million film.” Rhys Meyers lives in a modest home in Nichols Canyon, Los Angeles, and owns a house in County Cork and an apartment in Spain, near Valencia. “I don’t care about the money. I’m not a money person. I’m not a car person.” His Red Monkey watch, he points out, cost only $100. “I want to have enough to help my mom and my brothers, if they need it . . . But I do want to have the power to get movies made. I’m not going to sit here and say I want anonymity or that I don’t want to be famous. I do.”