Jonathan Rhys Meyers
Scarlett Johansson and Jonathan Rhys Meyers in Match Point
had no idea what he was getting into — literally — when Woody Allen
cast him in the romantic thriller Match Point
, now in select theaters. "I had never read the script when Woody offered the role to me," the actor tells TVGuide.com. "And I just accepted. For any young actor to be in a Woody Allen film, you're just going to do it regardless of what it is."
Once Rhys Meyers did peruse the script, he was hit with another surprise. "I was like, 'If I get four or five good scenes, I'll be gold.' And then it dawned on me how much work I had to do in this!"
And how. Match Point features Rhys Meyers as Chris, a former tennis champ who latches on to new Brit bud Tom (Matthew Goode) and is subsequently wooed by (and wed to) Tom's sweet sis, Chloe (Emily Mortimer). The couple's bid for bliss is waylaid, however, by the palpable sultriness of Scarlett Johansson's Nola, a frustrated American actress. In other words, Rhys Meyers blindly agreed to, in essence, be Allen's new film. "Was there a sense of foreboding or pressure? Yeah, but not too much," he admits, "because even though I respect Woody Allen as one of the greatest directors, I didn't really 'idolize' him the way other actors do. When I've told peers I've played the lead in a Woody Allen film, the reaction is a mixture of shock and jealousy. But I couldn't put Woody on that pedestal. To have been awestruck wouldn't have worked."
Once the Dublin-born Rhys Meyers was onboard as tortured Chris, Allen made what he thought was a minor tweak. "He said to me, 'Hey, do you want to make him Irish?'" and I said, 'Why not!' — which was kind of funny to me, because there are no Irish tennis players," the actor says with a laugh. Making Chris an Irishman amidst his regal British in-laws, though, added depth to the chronicle of his aspirations. "Being Irish in London, you are a minority," Rhys Meyers explains. "Without even realizing it, Woody made a very valid point in making my character Irish. There's this whole underdog feeling."
For an underdog, Chris has an "aggressive play," as Johansson's sexpot notes during their introduction. "Have you ever seen a pretty girl or a handsome man on a train and never spoken to them, and afterwards asked yourself, 'What if I had actually said hello? Could my life be so different?' Well, Chris is that person who says hello," says his portrayer. "A smile from an attractive woman at a bar very rarely ends up in any sort of sexual encounter, but a man is foolish not to push the suggestion as far as it will go. Chris is that man."
But how far will Chris and Nola go to keep on with their torrid affair, one that zigs and zags as the jaw-dropping third act draws near? Rhys Meyers makes no judgments about his alter ego's insatiable lust. "The one thing that I like about myself as an actor — and there aren't many things that I do, I'm very self-deprecating — is the fact that in the confines of a script, I am moralistically void. I've been raped and I have raped; I've murdered people and I've been murdered. I have to switch off my own morals [about] what I think is right and wrong."
Besides, we're talking here about the on-screen temptation that is Scarlett Johansson. Recounting their Match Point romps, Rhys Meyers says, "Myself and Scarlett, in our own personal lives, have had sexual encounters, so it's not like we don't know what goes on, what feels good and what doesn't. So from that point of view, they're not hard scenes to act. Is it difficult kissing Scarlett Johansson? No. It's difficult kissing Ewan McGregor [as he did in Velvet Goldmine]!"
Continuing his thought, Rhys Meyers says, "People always ask, 'Is it enjoyable to do love scenes?' Now, I can be coy and say 'It's part of the job,' which, of course, it is. But is it an enjoyable part of the job? Yes, it is. You get to play out things without having the moralistic confines of what people will think of you. I can roll around in a bed with Scarlett and not have to talk after, or bring her coffee and dinner. You can just walk away and say, 'So, that's what it's like.'"
While Rhys Meyers obviously has much to share about the Match Point filmmaking experience, he in stark contrast clams up when probed about his current project, J.J. Abrams' Mission: Impossible 3, now lensing here, there and everywhere. "What can I tell you about Mission: Impossible? Not a great deal, except that what J.J. Abrams has done, because he's a deeply intelligent man, is taken all of the good elements of Brian De Palma's [original film], along with the very glitzy stunt elements of John Woo's [first sequel], and married them into a very, very intelligent script," he shares. "It's a much more deeply intelligent film because of J.J. Abrams' own personal intellect being put into it.
"Also," he notes, "it is an incredible cast, with people like Philip Seymour Hoffman, Billy Crudup, Laurence Fishburne and Ving Rhames, who was basically born into the role of Luther." As for franchise front man Tom Cruise, he says, "I don't know anybody else who could play Ethan Hunt because he is Ethan Hunt."
OK, but who is Rhys Meyers playing? Good guy, or bad? "I can't tell you," he insists, sworn to secrecy. "I would have to take your firstborn."
Click here to read Match Point minx Scarlett Johansson's side of things!