Why Jonathan Rhys Meyers cannot escape his demons
Dishevelled and bloated, a new picture shows how far the Irish actor has fallen since his global pin-up days
Published 19/05/2015 | 02:30
Jonathan Rhys Meyers cuts a pitiable figure in a new picture which appears to show the Irish actor stumbling around central London swigging vodka from a bottle.
Meyers has a history of alcohol misuse and several stints in rehab under his belt, and the photos of the one-time heartthrob looking bleary-eyed and dishevelled will be interpreted as evidence that he has fallen off the wagon and is once again wrestling with the demons that have so often threatened to capsize his career.
If so, it would be a sad decline for a star whose early roles promised a great deal but whose inability to curb his darker impulses have tripped him up again and again. Certainly, his public meltdowns have been spectacular: in 2007 he was arrested at Dublin Airport on charges of public drunkenness; in 2011 he received a suspended sentence and €1,000 fine for a similar meltdown at De Gaulle Airport, during which he threatened to kill three police officers.
Rhys Meyers has never pretended that alcohol was anything other than a negative influence, though he has insisted, too, that his drinking was never as out of control as publicly portrayed. Poignantly, he has also expressed the fear that he might one day be perceived as a wasted talent - someone who could have conquered Hollywood.
In 2010, he said: "I just don't want to be that f****** a******* sitting in the pub and someone turns around and says, 'See him there at the end of the bar, he could have made a f****** fortune, but he went over to Hollywood and he just f****** p****d it up against the wall'."
He made those comments at the height of his celebrity, when he was internationally famous for playing Henry VIII in The Tudors. Meyers was fantastic in a show best enjoyed as ribald romp.
Alas, since then, his stardom has waned. He was the best thing about Dracula, a short-lived retelling of the vampire legend and has eked out an existence as a character actor, with smaller parts on the big and small screen. Still, until last weekend, 2011 was surely his nadir. In addition to receiving a suspended sentenced in France, he is believed to have attempted suicide by overdosing on pills at his home in London. "As you get older you see the stupid things you have done," he said later. "It is not the consequences for yourself but your family get hurt, your friends get hurt.
"It is kind of insanity to do it to that level. I had a good chat with my really close friends and I came to the end of whatever, going out, getting p***ed, getting into trouble. It got really boring because I knew where I was going to go the whole time."
An amateur psychologist might be tempted to trace his self-destructiveness to a childhood filled with upheaval. Born in Dublin and raised in Cork, the actor was just three when his parents split. His mother, who passed away in 2007, was reported to have been a heavy drinker and poverty was a daily reality for the family. A disruptive teenager, aged 14, Meyers was expelled from the North Monastery school in Cork.
"Jonny has always been on the brink of going really off the rails," a friend told a London newspaper in 2007. "Earlier this year, he went to the US. He was supposed to be heading to New York for a publicity junket, but he left a party with Lindsay Lohan and no one could find him. He vanished for two days.
"That's Jonny for you. He had a difficult childhood and he's screwed up and wild. He's also enormously ambitious. The question is: which way is he going to go?"
Amid the turmoil, his personal life has been surprisingly calm. He proposed last Christmas to his girlfriend Mara Lane after just seven months with her. For all the world they seemed like a contented couple. It is hard to square that rosy picture with the recent image of Rhys Meyers glugging spirits and apparently on the fast track to oblivion.
As photos of Rhys Meyers looking like a trainee-tramp are beamed around the world it is instructive to remember that, as a young man, he dreamed of joining the priesthood. Not because he was especially devout - but because he craved peace and calm. "I felt I was quite isolated, and I think that's what attracted me," he once said. "The monastic lifestyle is very isolated. But actually I wasn't suited to priesthood at all. It would have driven me mad."
Meyers' best roles
When not causing controversy, Rhys Meyers have proved a talented actor. Here are some of his outstanding turns:
Rhys Meyers looked like an escapee from a boy-band as he played the young sniper who cut down Liam Neeson's titular title character.
As a fast-living Henry VIII, the Corkman delivered just the right note of hysterical camp.
Critics had little love for his 2005 Woody Allen movie but Rhys Meyers, starring alongside Scarlett Johansson and Emily Mortimer, is widely agreed to have made the best of an uneven script.
Bend It Like Beckham
Speaking in what sounded suspiciously like his natural Cork accent, he was effortlessly charming as the love interest in this coming-of-age tale.