In real life, King Henry VIII was a fat, gross English king whose subjects were too terrified of his explosive temper to tell him just how fat and gross he really was. But Irish actor Jonathan Rhys Meyers, the man who plays him on Showtime's hit drama The Tudors, is cut from a handsomer, friendlier cloth. In addition to his obvious screen appeal, the 31-year-old can sing (he performed two songs in Velvet Goldmine), has extremely chiseled cheekbones (he's the face of Versace and Hugo Boss fragrance) and might be seen at your local Wal-Mart.
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Time Out New York: You're the prettiest guy to ever grace this back page. Have you always been this freaking pretty?
Jonathan Rhys Meyers: The prettiest? Wow, thank you. No, I was a fairly regular kid. I was scrawny.
Is that code for "I got beaten up a lot"?
That only happens in Hardy Boys books. No one picked on me for my lunch money. Probably because it was the 1980s and no one had lunch money.
These days, is your life like an Axe commercial, in which women just undress and throw themselves at you?
Nothing like that happens. When you're a young actor and you're not yet successful, you'd imagine things like that would happen. Like you're getting into this incredible bubble where everything is fabulous and the world is just rosy. But actually, nothing changes.
Growing up, were you interested in 16th-century history?
It was one of my only good subjects in school. But the show's been modernized for a 21st-century audience. I learned what was necessary to play the role. The difficult part is that I'm playing a man who I look nothing like.
Yeah, Henry VIII wasn't nearly as pretty as you. He also wasn't exactly the best person.
God, of course he's not the best person. So many things he did were ridiculous. Some of them were very terrible. And he made some silly political mistakes: He should have never divorced Catherine of Aragon. He could've saved himself from a lot of problems.
How do you think the king and Barack Obama would have gotten along in present time?
I'm not quite sure Obama would like Henry that much, though I'm not quite sure Henry would like Obama either. They're very different leaders in a very different political age, but if they bumped into each other in, say, Moe's Diner and neither were political leaders, they probably wouldn't like each other in that case, either.
Watching the show, it's easy to get wrapped up in the way they dressed, talked and behaved in those times.
It's all a fantasy. If we did everything Henry did, it couldn't be on TV because it'd be way too boring. Henry went through three or four hours of ceremonies every morning just eating breakfast and going to the bathroom. And remember, Henry VIII was the first king to put a bath in his castle. They were not the cleanest of people. It may look fabulous in super high-def on a 68-inch screen, but in reality, it was a very dirty, stinky, syphilitic age.
Very dirty. You said on Ellen DeGeneres that filming The Tudors' many sex scenes is like doing it in Wal-Mart. Personal experience?
If you were going to, which department would you do it in?
It depends on which department the girl works in. It'd have to be with somebody who works in Wal-Mart. Why would I have sex in a Wal-Mart otherwise?
I have this visual of people in corsets and funny pants pulling up to Wal-Mart to pick up groceries.
It would make a funny picture. I made a film years ago with Ang Lee [Ride with the Devil]; we were in the Midwest and went to Wal-Mart. There were a lot of Amish dressed in their typical clothes, and it was so extraordinary to see them because they looked so out of place, it was ridiculous. But I was really more fascinated that you could buy a gun and Cheerios at the same time.
Can you not do that in Ireland?
Absolutely not. In any circumstance you cannot possess a handgun in Ireland. It's too dangerous—you'll just be shooting everyone. I know they say, "Guns don't kill people, people kill people," and there's a lot of truth in that, but people still use bats and knives and stuff. Shooting a gun just means that you don't have to get up too close.
The Tudors returns to Showtime Sun 5.