Match Point

SOUND BITES

Up next: “Penelope,” with Christina Ricci, and David Mirkin’s “Sports Widow”

It’s rare in today’s Hollywood for a performer to summon the spirit of Montgomery Clift — the Stanislavsky-trained actor who was the bridge between Method icons John Garfield and Marlon Brando.

And yet Jonathan Rhys Meyers (the Rhys is pronounced “Reese”) brings all of Clift’s inner turmoil to bear as the social-climbing tennis instructor who marries into wealth while getting caught up in an illicit affair in Woody Allen’s “Match Point.” Seemingly inspired by equal parts Dostoyevsky and Theodore Dreiser, the film requires Rhys Meyers to commit a crime of passion, not unlike Clift’s character in “A Place in the Sun,” and the torture in his face is palpable, with his piercing blue eyes providing a remarkably open window to his deeply troubled soul.

Rhys Meyers admits he was nervous playing the lead in an Allen film, and expressed his reservation to the director during the shoot’s first day.

“And (Allen’s) like, ‘Well, Jonny, you’re 80% the character when you wake up in the morning. You just come to work and, you know, bring 20% to fill in the dots,’ ” recalls Rhys Meyers.

Since he’s not formally trained, Rhys Meyers isn’t sure how the transformation into character occurs, but it’s worked well enough for him to play dangerously sinister (“Ride With the Devil,” “Titus”) as well as benignly romantic (“Bend It Like Beckham”). In “Match Point,” he’s somewhere in the middle.

“I’m working on ‘Mission: Impossible III’ at the moment, and (director) J.J. Abrams was looking at the rushes and said to me, ‘It’s really easy for you, isn’t it? Do you ever feel like you don’t work hard enough?’ And it shows the difficulty of having a process that you can’t really put your finger on.

“I’ve always thought being a film actor is not something you can learn — you either are or you’re not. My evolution doesn’t come from Jonny being so brilliant, it comes from other people being brilliant and learning from them and embracing their talent and being able to, I suppose, mooch a little bit from their personalities as I’ve moved on.”

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