Jonathan Rhys Myers is an actor, not a movie star. Within moments of meeting him on a balcony in a plush London hotel, HeyUGuys realises that the man we know best as Dracula, Henry VIII and Tom Cruise’s sidekick does not covet the tabloid attention he seems so capable of garnering. Far from it.
For today Rhys-Meyers is not in a great mood. It would seem his private life has once again preceded him. A previous interviewer ignored the request to talk about the movie he’s in town to promote – Syria-based spy thriller, Damascus Cover – choosing instead to refer to recent tabloid stories relating to alcohol and international travel.
We care little for tabloid tales. We arrived armed with questions about playing Ari Ben-Sion, a Mossad agent haunted by the death of his son, who is assigned the task of extracting a chemical weapon scientist from Syria, only for the job to go awry, and Ari to be forced to figure out his role in a much bigger, nefarious plan.
To his credit, Rhys-Meyers welcomes us with a firm handshake and the benefit of the doubt. He’s not only the star of Damascus Cover, he’s also producer. And producers know exactly how important the promotional process is, even if the actor inside him bristles at the idea.
Fortunately for him and us, we’re more interested in the filmmaking process than whatever it is the tabloid wash wanted to know.
“We wanted to make something that was more akin to Funeral in Berlin, or The Spy Who Came In From The Cold,” he explains, eyes sparkling at the realisation that it’s his film we’re interested in talking about. “It’s about what happens to these people on an individual basis, how they live in the shadows. There’s no real champagne moments for these people. Their successes are never known, and their failures become international crises.”
Rhys-Meyers could easily play James Bond in a reboot. His sharp features and intensity somewhat reminiscent of Timothy Dalton during his ill-fated stint as the super spy. But it’s hard to believe such a role would appeal. Not only because of the limelight he actively avoids, but because he seems more interested in what such agents don’t do, as much as what they do.
“I spoke to an intelligence officer from Mossad. Not very much, their silence is deadly. It’s in their silence that you learn more about who they are, and how they keep themselves to themselves.”
It’s striking how much he’s delved into the subject. How familiar he is with the world of espionage.
“They are trained soldiers. We do this all the time, whether it’s Russia, the US or China, or even England. They train young people to go out and be killers and then they send them to Afghanistan or Iraq and we expect them to just melt back into society.
“But of course they never will because it’s such a traumatic experience. It’s what they’ve seen, what they’ve experienced, is on a deeper darker, level than we could possibly imagine.”
It’s almost as if big budget filmmaking doesn’t appeal to Rhys-Meyers. It’s certainly hard to imagine him producing a movie for a stdio as meticulous in the planning as, say, Disney.
“I never really think about what the audience are gonna think, I just make the piece as the piece is made. Audiences will either appreciate it or won’t appreciate it, you can’t predict or make assumptions about what audiences like or don’t like.”
“We could have thrown in two or three car chases or a big gun battle in the middle of the street, to entertain for 10 or 15 minutes, but it didn’t make sense for our story, it’s more personal than that. What the characters go through are very, very individual things. we don’t fight wars based on battlefields any more, we fight wars based on shadows in the street.”
Rhys-Meyers might be the lead, but Damascus Cover is also notable for providing the very last performance from the legendary John Hurt.
“John Hurt has a legendary status and you can learn from that and be inspired,” Rhys-Meyers says of working with the late Alien star. “It can be awe inspiring sometimes, but you can also learn from the younger actors who have this drive and energy.
“We had several young actors on this and you can learn a lot from them because they come in with fresh eyes. a fresh perspective, ambition hunger, and that works in a way to feed off, as well as wisdom.”
As we wrap up, I ask Rhys-Meyers about his future projects. He talks about period drama The Aspern Papers with Vanessa Redgrave and Joely Richardson, and another drama called Holy Lands with the legendary James Caan. But it’s his final reveal that catches our attention.
“I am shooting another film next but I cannot tell you what it is. I am…” he makes a locked mouth motion and grins. We get the feeling it’s something big. Perhaps even something comic book-related. But he’s saying nothing. We part with another incredibly firm handshake, and a smile that tells us we asked the right questions.