Years later, Jonathan Rhys Meyers still rues the cool reception to his 2008 "The Children of Huang Shi."
"Sometimes you can make a film that's so extraordinary, quite a beautiful film, and it doesn't work" at the box office, says the actor by phone from New York, "and sometimes you do a film and it's, 'Christ almighty, how the hell did that work?' You can't judge it. You can have 50 of the greatest actors in the world, the greatest director in the world, the greatest producers and an endless pot of money," and still wind up with a bad movie, he says.
"And sometimes you've got a group of people that nobody knows with a little bit of money and a great story and they make 'Juno.' Or 'Precious.' "
That's not to lump his newest effort, "From Paris With Love," which opens Friday, into any of those categories; it's to illustrate some of what the 32-year-old has learned over the course of an already-long career.
"One of the only places I'm truly comfortable and I really become in my own skin is on a film set," says the Irish actor with barely a trace of brogue. "For the last 16 years -- that's half of my life -- I've been on film sets. This is where I've existed. This is where I've found myself most at peace and happiest."
After a run of personal trials, including a few stints in rehab, Rhys Meyers is happy to be in a position now to turn down roles when he doesn't care for them or to be offered parts that go in quite the opposite direction of what he's recognized for. Apart from working with John Travolta and director Pierre Morel, he enjoyed the lead role of James Reese in "From Paris" as a change from his Henry VIII on Showtime's "The Tudors."
"Reese is an incredibly ethical, moral guy who believes in the greater good. But he doesn't realize that sometimes the greater good costs lives. Also, it allows me to play on my naïveté," he says, his phrasing finally betraying his Irishness.
"It's nice being the manipulated rather than the manipulator for once."
An aide to the U.S. ambassador in France -- and a wannabe spy -- Reese gets his fill of intrigue when kill-'em-all-and-let-God-sort-it-out operative Charlie Wax (Travolta) takes him on a wild ride to shoot out some bulbs in the City of Light. Morel directs with the same freight-train-on-greased-tracks efficiency as he did with last year's surprise hit "Taken." Rhys Meyers, appropriately enough, jumped on this express in motion.
"I left 'Tudors' on a Tuesday, did my costume fittings for this movie on a Wednesday and shot Thursday morning," he says. "John was already shooting for two weeks when I got there, doing action stuff. So we really needed to hustle. Pierre's a very compact director. He makes films that are no more than 100 minutes long. There's not a moment of drag in this movie, in 'Taken,' in 'District B13.' He doesn't like people sitting in the cinema for two hours when it's unnecessary.
"I said it to Pierre and [co-writer and producer] Luc Besson when I first met them: 'You're touching on huge subjects here -- cocaine addiction and terrorism and people dying. If you get too heavy into those subjects, you've got to give them their due.' But this isn't that type of movie. This is more like 'Lethal Weapon' with a little bit of 'Shaft.' "
The obvious film fan savors every moment of his job, whether it's prestige fare or a wild action movie.
"I remember sitting on top of the Eiffel Tower at 6 o'clock in the morning as the sun was rising, just myself and John. We just sat there with a cup of coffee, and he turns to me and says, 'Can you believe what we're doing here? Our work is 6:30 in the morning, the sun's rising and the two of us are sitting on the corner ledge of the Eiffel Tower, gazing out over Paris.'
"The work was hard," Rhys Meyers says, but adds, "it's my privilege to be a filmmaker, you know?"