Rhys Meyers is born to Geraldine (née Meyers) and folk musician John O’Keeffe. The family moves to County Cork when he is almost a year old. At the age of three, his father leaves the family, leaving his mother alone to care for him and his three younger brothers.
Rhys Meyers grows up with a tumultuous childhood and attends North Monastery Christian Brothers school, from which he is permanently expelled at age sixteen. Happy to be out of school, he begins spending time in a local pool hall where he is discovered by Hubbard Casting. The casting agents are talent-spotting for the David Puttnam production of War of the Buttons (1994), and ask him to appear for an audition. After three days of auditions, however, he does not get the role and he gives up on his acting aspirations. Soon after the failed audition, he receives a call to audition for a national ad campaign for Knorr soup, and though embarrassed by the attention from the ad, he soon finds himself considered for a major film.
Rhys Meyers movie acting debut is a very small role in the film A Man of No Importance (1994), where his simple cast credit is as “First Young Man.” His first lead role is in the film The Disappearance of Finbar (1996). During a 6-month postponement in production, he returns home to Cork and there receives a call about the film Michael Collins (1996). He travels to Dublin to meet with director Neil Jordan and successfully wins the role of Collins’s assassin. Jordan writes about his meeting with the actor, “I have found someone to play Collins’s killer. Jonathan Rhys Meyers, from County Cork, apparently, who looks like a young Tom Cruise. He comes into the casting session with alarming certainty. Obviously gifted.”
In addition to his role in Michael Collins, Rhys Meyers is also known for his roles in the films Velvet Goldmine (1998), Bend It Like Beckham (2002), Alexander (2004), Match Point (2005), Mission: Impossible III (2006) and his television roles as Elvis Presley in the biographical miniseries Elvis (2005), for which he wins a Golden Globe Award and earns a Primetime Emmy Award nomination, as King Henry VIII in the historical drama The Tudors (2007–10), which earns him two Golden Globe Award nominations, and in the NBC drama series Dracula (2013–14) as the title character. He also stars as Bishop Heahmund in the History Channel television series Vikings.
Rhys Meyers continues to star in other films, such as Albert Nobbs in 2011. In 2013, he appears as the villain Valentine Morgenstern in The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones, based on Cassandra Clare‘s novel, The City of Bones. He appears in the 2015 film Stonewall, directed by Roland Emmerich, in 2017, stars in The 12th Man, and in 2018 wins the Best Actor award at the Manchester Film Festival for his starring role in Damascus Cover.
Rhys Meyers has been the face of several Hugo Boss advertising campaigns. He has also been involved in several charitable causes, including the Hope Foundation, and the children’s charity, Barretstown. He is married to Mara Lane and they have one son together. He still resides in County Cork.
In 2020, Rhys Meyers is listed as number 44 on The Irish Times list of Ireland’s greatest film actors.