The troubling truth about Rhys

When he was caught swigging extra-strong cider in the street at 10am, it seemed Jonathan Rhys Meyers was just another self-indulgent star going off the rails. But that's not the whole story, says Victoria Moore

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Published: Sun 25 Nov 2007, 9:27 PM

Last updated: Sun 5 Apr 2015, 12:38 AM

rhysJONATHAN RHYS MEYERS used to be an appalling drinker - that's what he told me when I met him recently. 'I used to drink like a 14-year-old kid. Oh Jaysus, I did the most embarrassing things,' he said.

'But about a year and a half ago, I woke up and asked myself where I wanted to go. I decided I wanted to be a really successful movie actor. So, I just gave up partying completely. It's boring.' Instead of alcohol, the Irish actor said he was 'consumed by work', the fruits of which are on our TV and cinema screens.

Rhys Meyers has become a household name thanks to his portrayal of Henry VIII in The Tudors, the Emmy award-winning BBC2 mini-series.

His new film, August Rush, adds to his string of big screen credits that include playing Scarlett Johansson's lover in Woody Allen's Match Point, the love interest in Bend It Like Beckham and a chameleon secret agent alongside Tom Cruise in the blockbuster Mission: Impossible III.

This week Rhys Meyers, 30, was photographed on a London street drinking extra-strong cider at 10am. Wearing a black donkey jacket with the collar turned up as he wandered along swigging straight from the can, he looked more like a street-sweeper coming off a night shift than a glittering star with Hollywood at his feet.

But this was not the aftermath of a heavy night's partying. Just a few hours earlier, Rhys Meyer's beloved mother had died suddenly.

Geraldine O'Keeffe, 50, to whom he was exceptionally close, passed away at a hospital in Cork on Tuesday - her distraught son attended her burial at St Catherine's cemetery, Kilcully, yesterday.

On top of this, during the summer, the man Rhys Meyers considers to be his adoptive father was convicted for drugging and sexually abusing a 15-year-old.

But even before these troubling events are taken into account, everything about Rhys Meyers has always felt, to say the least, a little bit edgy.

His relationships always seem to be impassioned and stormy. Since his liaison with the model, Lisa Butcher, there have been several other affairs, but his current girfriend is Reena hammer.

When I first met him eight years ago, Rhys Meyers was 22 and doing the publicity rounds for the Ang Lee film, Ride With The Devil.

He came across as sensitive, voluble and engaging, and if he was a little over-earnest then he was very young. He talked about spirituality; about back-packing round Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Mexico; he was reading Jean-Paul Sartre; his favourite author was Dostoevsky; and his ambition was to play the virtuoso Russian dancer Nijinsky because he 'pushed the boundaries of his art and life'.

rhys1Back then, he was happy to chat about the difficult childhood about which he is now rather guarded - but which explains why he seems to oscillate between extremes of selfcontrol and vulnerability. Rhys Meyers was only three when his father left. Two of his brothers went to live with their paternal grandmother while Jonathan and the fourth brother, Alan, remained with their mother in a council flat in Cork.

Money was tight and there were few modern comforts. 'I didn't use a phone until I was 14,' he has said.

Alcohol was a big part of their lives, even then. His mother drank so much of the dole money that her son says he was forced to steal just to have enough to eat. It's a time he alternately romanticises - 'I was an exquisite thief' - and denies: 'My life has been sensationalised into a rags to riches story.'

Either way, at 14 he was expelled from the Christian Brothers school in Cork and soon after left home to fend for himself.

He got a job as a general dogsbody in a pool hall. And one day, while playing an arcade game in a leisure centre, he met a dairy farmer called Christopher Croft.

Croft took in the teenager and gave him a home alongside his three sons, as well as some much-needed stability. Indeed, he became a father figure to the wayward teenager. This element of stability began to unravel over the summer when Croft was convicted of abusing a homeless boy and sentenced to one year in prison. Coupled with his mother's death, this makes for a tough time for the young star.

'I think all actors have addictive personalities,' he told me 18 months ago.

'They're all addicted to something - it can be work, power, sex, fame, running.

'I'm a workaholic. I also go to the gym a lot - it's my new thing. Yes, I am a compulsive person.'

His friend Sean Borg, a Los Angeles-based TV producer, says that earlier this year this strategy seemed to be working. The question is whether Rhys Meyers can pull it together again - and for how long.

As he said himself in an interview just before his latest public drinking session: 'Growing up in Ireland, I saw many a handsome young man walk into the bar with great dreams. 'Then I saw the same man sitting there 15 years later, still nursing the pint.'

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