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24 September 2014
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The Tudors 
Jonathan Rhys Meyers as King Henry VIII © 2008 CPT Holdings, Inc

The Tudors – series two

Jonathan Rhys Meyers

Ask any schoolchild, "who is the most famous King of England?", and the answer will come back without hesitation: Henry VIII.


More than 500 years after he occupied the throne, this monarch is still so celebrated because his reign was simply bursting with incident.


His life story possesses an inherent drama and reads exactly like a movie script.


And that is why he is the perfect central character for The Tudors, BBC Two's compelling historical drama now on screen for a second series.


Jonathan Rhys Meyers is ideal casting in the role: it is impossible to tear your eyes away from him when he is on screen. Oh yes, and the camera loves him, too.


Jonathan is the star of the show, just as Henry VIII was in his court. He has also starred in movies such as Mission: Impossible III, Match Point, I'll Sleep When I'm Dead, Vanity Fair and Bend It Like Beckham.


He considers his character's stellar qualities: "Everything revolved around the King. Was Henry like a rock star? Of course Henry was like a rock star.


"We put rock stars and movie stars up there and treat them like gods, and that's the way Henry was treated. Wherever they are, that's where the party is."


The Irish-born actor outlines the formidable qualities that made Henry such a fearsome monarch. Henry was a ferocious man, who could make even the most courageous quake.


"You don't cross the king, because even if he doesn't want to punish you, he has to because you made him look a fool and a King cannot look a fool," says Jonathan.


"Henry realised that even if you really loved somebody, including your own sister, and they try to hurt you, well, you have to cut their heads off. They have to be gone, they have to be banished, even if it breaks your heart to do it.


"Even when he executes More, even when he executes Anne Boleyn or Katherine, he knows he is obliged to do it.

Sometimes you have to kill the thing you love, for your own survival."


Jonathan, who is 31, says royals are still viewed as somehow special: "Look at Prince William and Harry. I'm always reading about Prince Harry, he's getting drunk, he's kissing girls, he's falling out of nightclubs at five o'clock in the morning. Well, so?


"He's doing the same thing as every 22 or 23-year-old out there is doing. But he can't, because he's not a normal human being, he's a demi-god because he's a royal.


"That's these days, so you can imagine what it was like 500 years ago. If you were king and told peasants in the field that you walked on water, they'd believe you.


"That's a lot of power to have, but it does restrict you. It's like putting all this energy in a little ball, and sometimes that little ball is going to bounce very hard against something. And Henry does, he bounces very hard against Anne Boleyn."


Henry VIII is clearly a wonderful part for any actor to tackle. All the same, Jonathan admits that he was initially daunted by the prospect of taking on such an iconic role.


"When I first got asked to do Henry, my immediate reaction was, 'well, I don't look like Henry VIII, so is that a problem?'," recalls the actor, who was the lead in the BBC's memorable adaptation of Gormenghast.


"The critics are going to say, 'he doesn't look anything like Henry'. People saw him as this big robust giant, this leg-of-lamb-eating, beer-swigging guy.


"I think if they wanted to accurately cast it, they could have cast a six-foot guy with long blonde hair and he would have looked more like Henry.


"But I'm pleased to say that the producers wanted to work with me in particular. They saw something in me that they liked for their Henry.


"They wanted a fresh, youthful impetuousness to this Henry that makes him do the things he does. They thought I could create something quite different to anything that'd been seen before.


"My Henry is not Keith Michell's or Richard Burton's or Ray Winstone's. It's mine."


Jonathan proceeds to run through the challenges of carrying such a huge production.


"It's difficult playing Henry – I won't say it isn't. It can be tiring sometimes. Any moment can end up on screen, so you always have to approach it as though it's the first scene you've ever done.


"It's about re-creating that freshness, even when it's eight o'clock in the evening and everyone just wants a sandwich and to go home.


"I like to give as much energy as I can to every production that I do. So that's where the fight comes into it, to make it seem fresh, even when it's late in the evening and there's one more take and we really need to pull it out."


The actor has found it a constant delight working with Natalie Dormer, who plays Anne Boleyn.


"Natalie is extraordinary," Jonathan enthuses. "She's very, very naturally gifted, and comes so alive on camera, it's just unbelievable.


"Also, she is so jarringly beautiful. Her Anne Boleyn is remarkable. It's more serious and sensitive than Genevieve Bujold's, which was very playful and then very harsh."


Finally, Jonathan reflects on perhaps Henry's most distinctive trait: his sheer menace. He conveys the feeling that this is a monarch that you really don't want to annoy.


In Henry's court, says Jonathan, "it's always daggers at dawn. There's never a boring day in the kingdom. Because it's like everyone's frightened of their position. It's one wrong move... You say the wrong thing to Henry, and your whole family is wiped out.


"That's an awfully tense place to be. No wonder people didn't live very long, or took to the drink!"







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