Dark Star; at 22, Jonathan Rhys Meyers Has Overcome His Poor Childhood to Become Big in Hollywood, So Why Is He Tortured by His Success?

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Byline: MARIANNE MACDONALD

Jonathan Rhys Meyers is being touted as Hollywood's next big star and, even having met him, I can believe it. Apart from anything else, he is just so beautiful. 'The curves of your lips rewrite history,' Ewan McGregor tells him in Velvet Goldmine - he is not exaggerating. The day we met, Rhys Meyers had been named the 34th sexiest man in the world by Cosmopolitan readers, well above Christian Slater, Prince William and Pierce Brosnan; teenage girls are nuts about him, and our office secretary still quivers at the memory of meeting him at a party last summer.

At 22, Rhys Meyers has a hell of a CV. He started out making forgettable movies with the likes of Minnie Driver, Calista Flockhart and Anna Friel.

Then he landed the lead in Velvet Goldmine last year. He played a bisexual Seventies rock star, a part that was supposed to make him mega and probably would have had the script been any good. But after being wildly hyped at the Cannes Film Festival it went the other way and got totally panned.

Now, Rhys Meyers' career is smouldering again, with a heavyweight batch of films lined up for release. First up is The Loss of Sexual Innocence, a Mike Figgis movie co-starring Saffron Burrows and Kelly Macdonald, in which Rhys Meyers plays a shy teenager intent on getting Macdonald into bed. He has also put in a wonderful performance in Ride With the Devil, Ang Lee's first film after The Ice Storm. Set in the American Civil War, Rhys Meyers co-stars with Tobey Maguire as a psychotic Southerner.

Also still to be released in Britain are B. Monkey with Rupert Everett, and the Shakespearean bloodbath Titus, with Anthony Hopkins and Jessica Lange.

Rhys Meyers has also recently finished playing the evil kitchen boy, Steerpike, in a BBC adaptation of the fantasy classic Gormenghast, due out in January. The cast includes Stephen Fry, Christopher Lee and Zoe Wanamaker - it is one of the BBC's most expensive dramas ever.

With this kind of momentum, Rhys Meyers is clearly destined for the kind of stardom which brings adulation, lackeys and bodyguards, and is a far cry from his poverty-stricken childhood in a council flat in Cork.

According to the director Mike Figgis: 'He is an actor who clearly is going to make his mark sooner rather than later.' The camera adores him, although his films feature so little speech and so many close-ups of his voluptuous lips and brooding eyes that I began to wonder if he would have anything to say. In fact - hollow laughter - he had a very great deal.

How to put this? Rhys Meyers is in a bit of a state. He is presently living on a farm in Cork, has spent all his money and is bored out of his mind. Far from the icy sex symbol I was expecting, he rushed into the Clarence Hotel in Dublin looking like a student and apologising for being late. His first observation was that he didn't feel much like a film star (he didn't look much like one either, with his hippy scarf and satchel). Then he remarked grimly that there were 'a lot of bad things' in Hollywood, and from there he plummeted like a kamikaze pilot - it turned out he was convinced, for no apparent reason, that he was a failure.

The reality behind his triumphant image was so unexpected, it took me a while to appreciate, but I could see at once that the young man in front of me was not in a good way. He had a large and painful-looking stye on his left eyelid, chain-smoked cigarettes and refused lunch on the grounds that he had no appetite. He wound his hairband round his finger until it bulged rebelliously with blood, then tried to burn it in half, in between times rubbing jerkily at his muscled bicep and banging his knee up and down.

He was happy to discuss the reason for his stress - in fact, it was impossible to get him off the subject. Recently, he has done a number of auditions and has not got the parts; the most recent rejection was four days earlier. …