Interview with the vampire: Jonathan Rhys Meyers in Dracula

Jonathan Rhys Meyers has 'something of the night about him' – so he's well cast as Dracula. Sarah Hughes meets him

The first time I meet Jonathan Rhys Meyers he has been filming all day in 40-degree heat with ice packs strapped underneath his three-piece suit to stay cool. Playing the lead in a new version of Dracula, an ambitious co-production between the US network NBC and the UK's Sky Living, has meant nearly seven months' solid work, and he is understandably not overwhelmed about filling in his time before flying to London for a short break with interviews.

That's not to say he isn't polite and informative – he is. But there's an unavoidable sense that he'd rather be anywhere but here, no matter how detailed his answers.

Flash forward three months, and the 36-year-old Irishman seems as rejuvenated as Count Dracula after a long drink of blood. “It was very gruelling, but that's the job,” he says before acknowledging that he might not have been the easiest of company during filming. “I didn't break character for seven months. So I would work in the day and then I'd go home and read a little, meditate and go to sleep and then wake up the next day and do the same thing all over again.”

It didn't help that this version of Dracula requires Rhys Meyers to play not just the vampire but also Vlad Tepes, the man Dracula once was, and Alexander Grayson, the charming US industrialist he is now pretending to be. “It was quite isolating, because of the nature of the character,” he admits. “But then good things are never easy, and I like this, it's a good thing.”

Whether you agree with this assessment will depend on how high your tolerance is for sumptuous dramas featuring evil aristocrats, naïve young gels and tormented monsters seeking vengeance. Mine is pretty high and I thoroughly enjoyed Dracula's opening episode, which pays homage both to Bram Stoker's gothic source material and to the adaptor Cole Haddon's comic book roots, with a bold colour-filled vision. Its world is one in which barbs are traded with a smile, and female huntresses practise their sword skills in front of caged vampires, and it probably owes more to the Hughes brothers' unfairly maligned 2001 Jack the Ripper drama From Hell than Francis Ford Coppola's sedate, stylised 1992 film Bram Stoker's Dracula.

“I didn't want it to be staid,” says Rhys Meyers. “I wanted to play someone vicious and vengeful and sometimes kind … because the tiny bit of him that's human – that's the story, not the monster.”

There is something raw and a bit vulnerable about Rhys Meyers, a sense that he feels everything strongly. Asked whether he worries about the comparisons to Draculas past, who include Christopher Lee, Gary Oldman and Willem Dafoe, he admits that he had doubts: “I did think: 'Am I'm really going to be able to do this?' Because I'm only going to get compared to every actor before me…”

He believes that the key to his Dracula is that “he'd like to die … we all fear death because it's the unknown. But if you had to live for that length of time, you really would wish for death; for peace. I think that the length of human life is what makes it so exciting, that fact that it's going to end.”

Similarly, Dracula/Vlad/Grayson's appeal is that “He's the hero, but the hero must die otherwise he's not the hero. Heroes don't get to go home and have the prom queen. Heroes die on the beach.”

That might seem a somewhat fatalistic outlook, but death is very much on Rhys Meyers' mind: both his best friend and grandfather died while he was filming in Budapest. “I went back and put them to rest, and then I took all that pain and emotion and shot it out into the cameras as much as possible. The thing is, sometimes life just is that conflicted and that painful. And that's OK because I've had lots of joy and lots of luck in my life. Yes, I've had a little bit of pain, but I've also had lovely people around me, good friends and family.”

Certainly, Rhys Meyers is aware more than most of fame's vagaries. For there was a time when he was the next big thing; the boy most likely. An eye-catching turn in Todd Haynes's Velvet Goldmine in 1998 bought him to Hollywood's attention, and roles in Ang Lee's Ride With the Devil and Julie Taymor's Titus followed. Yet A-list recognition never quite arrived, and his highest-profile role remains the unlikely but hugely charismatic Henry VIII in the US cable television show The Tudors.

There's no doubting his talent – he was heart-breaking as the troubled brother of Clive Owen's gangster in I'll Sleep When I'm Dead, compelling as a social climber in Woody Allen's uneven Match Point, and perfectly cast as the hip-shaking king of rock 'n' roll in the 2005 television movie Elvis – yet his unearthly looks can be a curse as well as a blessing. Certainly, it's easier to believe in him as an otherworldly emissary than as the boy next door. As Dracula's producer, Christopher Hall, joking remarked: “Jonny has something of the night about him.”

Rhys Meyers doesn't appear too affronted. “Yes, I'm cast as a vampire because I look like one…” He laughs and then adds: “No, I can convey conflict because I'm a guy who lives in conflict a lot of the time. It's not something I have to search for. That sense of looking for some sort of peace, some sort of balance, is evident regardless of what I do.”

At this point it's hard not to be reminded of Rhys Meyers' own demons. His problems with drink have been well documented, his most recent stint in rehab came in 2011, and when he says of Dracula, “I see him as somebody affected with a terrible illness that has no cure … I absolutely believe it's a metaphor for addiction”, it is with a sense of self-knowledge hard won.

He recently finished work on the thriller, Panda Eyes (also known as Another Me), and plans to take the rest of the year off: “I just want to go out in the world, because you can't go from film to film to film without going out and living your life. So I'm going to paint and write music and just …”

“Relax?” I suggest with a hint of disbelief. He smiles. “Correct. I'm just going to relax for a little while.”

'Dracula' starts on 31 October at 9pm on Sky Living

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Chocolat author Joanne Harris has spoken about the financial struggles most authors face

books
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from How To Train Your Dragon 2

Review: Imaginative storytelling returns with vigour

film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Josh Hutcherson, Donald Sutherland and Jena Malone in Mockinjay: Part 1

film
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Characters in the new series are based on real people, say its creators, unlike Arya and Clegane the Dog in ‘Game of Thrones’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
A waxwork of Jane Austen has been unveiled at The Jane Austen Centre in Bath

books
Arts and Entertainment
Britney Spears has been caught singing without Auto-Tune

music
Arts and Entertainment
Unless films such as Guardians of the Galaxy, pictured, can buck the trend, this summer could be the first in 13 years that not a single Hollywood blockbuster takes $300m

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has her magic LSD brain stolen in this crazy video produced with The Flaming Lips

music
Arts and Entertainment
Gay icons: Sesame Street's Bert (right) and Ernie

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Singer Robin Thicke and actress Paula Patton

music
Arts and Entertainment
The new film will be shot in the same studios as the Harry Potter films

books
Arts and Entertainment
Duncan Bannatyne left school at 15 and was still penniless at 29

Bannatyne leaves Dragon's Den

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The French economist Thomas Piketty wrote that global inequality has worsened

books
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant and Benedict Cumberbatch

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck plays a despondent Nick Dunne in David Fincher's 'Gone Girl'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty (L) and Carl Barât look at the scene as people begin to be crushed

music
Arts and Entertainment

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Caral Barat of The Libertines performs on stage at British Summer Time Festival at Hyde Park

music
Arts and Entertainment
Ariana Grande and Iggy Azalea perform on stage at the Billboard Music Awards 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Zina Saro-Wiwa

art
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
    Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

    A writer spends a night on the streets

    Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
    Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
    Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

    Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

    Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
    Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

    Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

    This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
    Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

    Why did we stop eating whelks?

    Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
    10 best women's sunglasses

    In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

    From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
    Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    The German people demand an end to the fighting
    New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

    New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

    For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
    Can scientists save the world's sea life from

    Can scientists save our sea life?

    By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
    Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

    Richard III review

    Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice