Jonathan Rhys Meyers and Natalie Dormer, <EM>The Tudors</EM> Jonathan Rhys Meyers and Natalie Dormer, The Tudors

In The Tudors' (Sundays at 9 pm/ET, Showtime) steamy second season, Henry VIII becomes a royal pain for Anne Boleyn — and the pope.

King Henry VIII is all grown up and has politics — and sex — on his mind. In the second season of Showtime's bodice ripper The Tudors, Jonathan Rhys Meyers relates to the monarch's new maturity. "I like growing older," he muses, sitting in his trailer at Dublin's Ard­more Studios, puffing on a Marlboro Light. "I just turned 30, and it does inform the way I play Henry, who is much more mature and less erratic. I've changed over the past year."

Ask him how, and the angry young man reemerges: "It's none of your business." True, Rhys Meyers had a rough 12 months, including a drunken brush with authorities at the Dublin airport, days before the death of his mother. And The Tudors shot 10 episodes over 102 grueling 12-hour days during a summer of torrential rain. It's enough to try the patience of a king.

Henry faces his own set of new challenges. "In the last season, Henry was a young boy who falls in love for the first time and dabbles in poli­tics. We left things on the edge of the abyss," creator Michael Hirst explains. "Season 2 jumps into it with the Reformation — the most impor­tant single decade in English history."

Spanning 1530 to 1536, Season 2 focuses on Henry's battle of wills with Pope Paul III (Peter O'Toole). "The pope established the fortunes of his Farnese family by stealing golden objects from St. Peter's and smelting them down," Hirst says. "He also thought it might be a good idea to 'remove' Anne Boleyn if she caused trouble."

Hirst describes Henry and Pope Paul III as "rivals, enemies and power brokers." Yet they never met. "It's war… but at a distance." Across town from the studio, O'Toole sits serenely on a bar stool in a church, having just delivered a scene entirely in Latin (for which he received a standing ovation from the cast and crew). "I have to be honest; I hadn't heard of The Tudors when I was sent the script," O'Toole says. "But I was amused by it, and so here I am. I'm very much enjoying playing the pope. Not least, I'm enjoying the fact that people bow, and kiss my ring."

If Henry finds the pope strong-willed, that's nothing compared to his new wife, Anne Boleyn (Natalie Dormer). The connection between Rhys Meyers and Dormer still sizzles. "When you shoot such a lengthy series, relationships become established, and there's genuine respect and tenderness between actors that is not dis­similar to a married couple," Dormer says. "There is a natural chemistry between Jonathan and me, and Jonathan is a true gentleman."

The same can't be said for King Henry, who starts to stray (with Anne's lady-in-waiting, Jane Seymour, for one, played by Anita Briem) almost as soon as he marries Anne. Dormer says Anne's troubles may earn viewers' sympathy: "She be­comes a wife and a mother. And she goes from having been the other woman to finding herself at the other point of the triangle."

The season will follow Anne's story to its conclusion, which makes it darker than the first. "It's more about conspiracy and, ultimately, mur­der," Hirst says, adding that the day before, they filmed a man being boiled in hot oil. "There are not a whole lot of belly laughs in this series."

Even so, Rhys Meyers is in it for the long haul, provided the series continues. "I can't really evolve from The Tudors," he says. "It's very hard to better it." Long live the king!

Watch clips of The Tudors in our Online Video Guide.

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