Bearing the sort of sensual, androgynous looks that would have landed him in Calvin Klein ads if he hadn't gone into acting, Jonathan Rhys-Meyers has been making a name for himself in roles that call for a certain kind of alluringly deviant behavior. Since 1996, Rhys-Meyers has given trouble a good name in such films as Velvet Goldmine and The Governess.
Born July 27, 1977, in Dublin, Ireland, Rhys-Meyers led a tumultuous childhood after his father abandoned his family when the actor was only two and a half. His troubles accumulated as he grew older, culminating with his being kicked out of school at the age of 16. Rhys-Meyers took to hanging about in pool halls, where he was discovered by a casting agent. The agent encouraged him to audition for the film War of the Buttons; when Rhys-Meyers failed to get the part, he gave up on acting. However, he was soon asked to do some commercials, which in turn led to his film debut with a small role in A Man of No Importance (1994). A starring role as an errant runaway in The Disappearance of Finbar (1996) followed, as did a brief but memorable turn as the assassin of the titular hero in Michael Collins (1996).
After more film work, including a supporting role as Brad Renfro's nemesis in Telling Lies in America, Rhys-Meyers landed the lead in Todd Haynes' much-anticipated Velvet Goldmine (1998). Despite the hype surrounding the director's celebration of and requiem for the early-'70s glam rock scene, as well as the presence of actors Christian Bale, Toni Collette, and Ewan McGregor, the film was far from a critical or box office smash, despite developing a loyal cult following. However, Rhys-Meyers continued to stay busy, making The Governess with Minnie Driver the same year and Michael Radford's B. Monkey the next (the film would eventually be released the following year). In 1999, he starred in a number of high-profile projects: in addition to Mike Figgis' The Loss of Sexual Innocence, he appeared as part of a "hot young things" lineup in Ang Lee's Ride With the Devil, starring with such up-and-comers as Tobey Maguire and Skeet Ulrich, and then turned his talents to interpreting Shakespeare in Titus, Julie Taymor's adaptation of Titus Andronicus.
While continuing to appear in independent, left-of-center films such as Prozac Nation and Happy Now, Rhys-Meyers had a bit of a mainstream breakthrough when the indie comedy Bend It Like Beckham became a surprise hit in 2003. This might have made the actor's unique face more familiar to movie makers, as he was soon seen with Reese Witherspoon in the period movie Vanity Fair, and in the Oliver Stone epic Alexander. These main-stream successes were nothing, however, compared to the coveted role of Elvis Presley that he won in 2005. The high-profile CBS mini series Elvis exposed Rhys-Myers to American audiences like never before, and he picked up a Golden Globe Award for his performance.
That same year, the Irish lad starred with Scarlett Johansson in the Woody Allen drama Match Point. Widely regarded as the best movie from the legendary director in well over ten years, the role helped to cement Rhys-Myer's position in American cinema, as evidenced by the fact that he soon afterward joined the cast of action thriller Mission Impossible III.
~ Rebecca Flint Marx, Rovi