Playing King: Jonathan Rhys Meyers

Photo: Clark Samuels/Startraks Photo

On March 30, Showtime’s well-received period soap The Tudors returns for a second season of sex, papal intrigue, and beheadings, with steely-eyed brooder Jonathan Rhys Meyers as a thirtysomething Henry VIII. He spoke to Jada Yuan about acting like a tyrant.

You’re Irish. Did you have any trepidation about playing the king of England?
Of course I did. Not looking like the guy was the huge thing. But I had trepidation about taking on the role of Elvis, and I look a hell of a lot more like Elvis than I do Henry.

How has Henry changed this season?
Having made all the mistakes of his youth in season one, he’s a much harder, more volatile man. He had the weight of his entire country on his shoulders because of love. But really, what would happen to a love that had gone through all that? It’s got to put a strain on a relationship. Imagine if you wanted to go out with a guy, and you had to fight his parents for three years just to get into the marriage. You’d be like, “Is he really worth it?” And then you find out that he’s spending all his time with your friend Stephanie.

He did seem awfully fickle with his women.
It’s not just a case of him being fickle. You read magazines on supermarket stalls, and some movie star is dating this person and then that person and then that person, and people are like, “Why do they hop from one to another?” Because they can! It’s that simple.

Do you feel like the show is over the top with all the steamy sex?
Oh, come on. Sex is sex. These people didn’t have TVs, they didn’t have cars, they didn’t have iPods. They had sex. What else do you think they did?

Got drunk?
Well, what do you do today? Drink and have sex. You live in New York City. You go out Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday. But also remember that in that time, sex was very, very important. Sex changed nations.

Why do you think Henry had so many affairs, knowing the stakes?
[Sigh.] Because men are men.

That’s it?
Can you think of another reason?

Just another instance of wielding his power because he could.
You’re confusing wielding his power with wielding his dick.

Speaking of the intersection of sex and power and politics, I assume you’ve heard over there in London about our governor’s fall from grace?
Yeah, for having sex! Doesn’t that border a little on the puritanical? If I know the story right, he had sex with a $15,000-a-night hooker.

I think their last liaison cost him $4,300.
Oh, so he was having sex with a cheap hooker.

God, I hope that’s not what’s considered cheap.
I don’t know. I don’t patronize hookers. But what I’m saying is, come on, look. Did your president not almost lose his presidency over a blow job? That would never have happened in Henry’s time. Unless it was Henry’s wife, giving a blow job to somebody else.

Playing King: Jonathan Rhys Meyers