Jonathan Rhys Meyers: ‘Imagine what it takes to suck the entire blood system out of somebody’
The Cork actor prepared for the role of Dracula in full-blooded fashion: by staring at strangers in Budapest ‘until they wanted to call the police, thinking I was a lunatic’
Jonathan Rhys Meyers: ‘[The name Dracula] comes from the Carpathian Mountains where people are very superstitious. Irish people are very superstitious, so I was able to engage in that’
Max Schreck in Nosferatu
Bela Lugosi in Universal’s Dracula films
Christopher Lee in Hammer’s vision
I am sitting in a crypt with Jonathan Rhys Meyers, star of The Tudors, Mission Impossible 3 and the most recent incarnation of Dracula. In an adjoining chamber there is a cabinet containing a mummified cat and mouse discovered in an organ pipe in the 19th century (isn’t there a film called Dracula Meets the Mummy?). Nearby hover the Sky PR team who are, in their way, just as spooky.
Earlier there were round-table discussions with other cast members (“It’s like a fecking seance,” muttered one journalist) and now Rhys Meyers is offering me coffee. He’s friendly, fashionably dressed in a low-cut T-shirt and suit jacket, but looks tired. “You’re caffeinated to the hilt, are you?” he says. He stares intensely at me as he speaks. He makes dramatic hand gestures and his accent shifts geographically over the course of the conversation.
There’s a pattern to this. The more passionate he gets, the more he sounds like he’s from Cork, where he actually grew up. And he is very passionate about Dracula. “Suffering is what drives him – the pain,” he says. “It takes eight minutes to strangle somebody. Imagine what it takes to suck the entire blood system out of somebody. How you have to stick with it. How you have to focus. It’s an extraordinary thing and it’s terrible and wonderful all at the same time.”
Was he method acting? “I didn’t lock myself in a casket or anything, but I chose an apartment [in Budapest where they were shooting] that was very, very Gothic and sometimes I would go out and walk the streets, and look at people and just try to unnerve them. I’d be in Budapest in a cafe and just stare at someone until they wanted to call the police, thinking I was a lunatic.”
He had completed his long stint as Henry VIII in The Tudors, finished a film called Belle de Seigneur and had taken a year off to paint and play music when he was approached to play the role by NBC’s Bob Greenblatt.
“I said, ‘It’s been done’. He said, ‘But not by you’,” says Rhys Meyers. “I’d grown. I’d had pain and loss and joy. I bring that experience. Then I lost my grandfather and I lost my best friend to cancer. I went back for funerals. And seeing all my family and the pain [they] were in, and my own personal pain with my best friend dying of a terrible, terrible illness, I was able to go back and shoot it into the camera as much as possible, to expel it out in a very aggressive way and a very focused way.”