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Jonathan Rhys Meyers: Creating a king for 'The Tudors'

BY NOW, it's hard not to think of Henry VIII as the smoldering monarch.

As played by Jonathan Rhys Meyers in Showtime's "The Tudors," young Henry may as well be a rock star. This king's got chiseled cheekbones, a protruding pout, piercing blue eyes and a vigorous sex life -- Henry and second wife Anne Boleyn claw lustfully at each other's backs in bed until blood is drawn.

The extra libido worked. Showtime recently renewed the series for a third season, and the 30-year-old Rhys Meyers, who does double-duty as a movie star -- most recently in the period drama "The Children of Huang Shi" -- spoke by phone from the garden of his London home about growing Henry, Hollywood's award season and all those tiresome bosoms.

You're probably sick of hearing about how you don't look like Henry VIII. How did series creator Michael Hirst and Showtime initially sell you on the role?

At first, of course, like anyone else, I laughed. I thought they wanted me to put on 200 pounds and grow a beard. And then I got the explanation about a sort of modern-day Henry. As an actor, I carry a certain amount of intensity, and they knew that when they cast me. They looked for it. They didn't want someone who was wishy-washy. They didn't want someone who was going to be charmingly lovable. At the end of last season, Michael said to me, "I think you've done it." And I said, "Done what?" "I think you've created a king that I would not want to [mess] with."

Does that intensity stay with you off-set?

It's difficult for it not to. You work 12 hours a day, and you know you've got to get right back in it the next. I'm sure if you asked any of the athletes in the NBA playoffs about their work ethic, they'd say the same thing: It's always game time. I play soccer twice a week to unwind a bit. I go home and turn on any mindless drivel that can take my mind off Henry, but I never want to separate from him too much because I don't want to have to go and rediscover where he was.

When I'm done shooting a season, that's different. Then I don't want to see another doublet [the men's snug buttoned jacket, then all the rage in Western Europe], or a knee-high boot or a horse for awhile. Not even a pair of breasts. [Laughs.] I know when you're watching it on TV it looks fabulous but when you're living in a world of ample bosoms for that long . . . .

"The Tudors" was initially announced as a two-season project. Were you game to do more television work?

Well, you can't really call "The Tudors" TV, can you? The medium's moved on to such an extent that I think "TV" for most people means a mix of reality TV and talent contests. Then you have "The Tudors" and "Dexter" and HBO, and they're really like films. So no, I wasn't concerned about doing more of this versus films.

Now that Anne is without her head, where is "The Tudors" headed? Can the third season be as compelling without Henry and Anne's obsessive romance at the center?

From here on, the story is all about Henry and his descent into a sort of isolation, paranoia as well as extreme pain as a result of the accident he suffered in the joust last season. Things start off great for him with his marriage to Jane Seymour. She was an amazing wife, a Stepford wife, but she doesn't last long after their son is born. After that, Henry becomes very closeted, and the next wives were all disasters. Katherine Howard was a nymphomaniac. There's plenty of good story to tell.

You won a Golden Globe for playing another king, Elvis Presley, in 2005. How do you handle award season?

I don't know. I really like being nominated for awards, I have to admit. I really, really enjoy it. Whether or not I win, I could not give a fudge. Being nominated I think is what's important.

Has winning changed your career?

I've been in the film industry for 15 years, and I've probably put out around 40 films and TV series. At this point, I'm pretty seasoned at what I do, at knowing how to work and exist within a film set. But I don't hang out with producers and agents. I don't share the corporate business vibe that they do, so winning I suspect helped as far as the roles I'm offered. At the end of the day, my job is to give the directors as many flavors as possible. I'm only a color within this huge tapestry. It's a learning process for me. I'm 30, and I'm still only learning.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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