LOS ANGELES – He might have been just another young Hollywood actor on the rise, but Jonathan Rhys Meyers chose to become a king -- on TV. And doing so, the actor said, changed his life.
Four years ago, Rhys Meyers was coming off an Emmy nomination and a Golden Globe win for playing Elvis Presley, and he had wowed audiences in Woody Allen's "Match Point" and worked opposite Tom Cruise in "Mission: Impossible III."
He was among the hottest young actors in Hollywood, but the Irish-born Rhys Meyers traded his Tinseltown calling card to move to play King Henry VIII in Showtime drama "The Tudors." Initially, Rhys Meyers thought the role might last only a year. He was wrong.
The show debuts its fourth and final season on Sunday, as King Henry, by now in his late 40s, battles illness, takes his country to battle and, of course, marries and remarries.
The role has earned Rhys Meyers two Golden Globe nominations, and while he told Reuters it is now time to move on, he also said the part made him a wiser and better actor.
"I've changed. My concepts have changed. Everything I've done up until now has been an apprenticeship," he said. "Now, I think, at 32 years old, I've garnered enough experience to know what I don't want. Now, I know what I do want."
What Rhys Meyers wants, he said, is to work with directors who will challenge him, confront him when he's not getting a role right, and always push him to be a better actor.
He said directors with whom he has worked in the past, such as Allen, Ang Lee and Robert Altman, have done just that, and the role of King Henry has only strengthened his abilities because of the many facets of the character.
Henry VIII reigned from 1509, when he was a teenager, until his death in 1547, at age 55. He was the second ruler from the House of Tudor, and his time on the throne was marked by the separation of the Church of England from the Roman Catholic Church and by his six marriages.
"The Tudors" has covered it all, with Rhys Meyers portraying the English monarch from youth to middle age. The fourth season picks up with his marriage to a young Katherine Howard and sees him through his final years as he becomes obese, ill and an increasingly cruel ruler.
But Rhys Meyers reckons there was always a method to King Henry's madness, and learning how to tap into the monarch's manipulative nature has helped improve his own acting skills.
"I must psychologically put everybody on edge...that is an art, and I've had to learn that over time." he said. "And as he gets older, you see more of the internal struggle inside him."
As Rhys Meyers looks at his own career, he views the past 14 years as little more than an apprenticeship in acting, and believes the next 20 years will bring some of his best work.
He looks at painters and other artists in their middle ages as examples and says that with age comes experience and maturity that ideally leads to excellence.
The king is dead, long live Rhys Meyers.