Emmy Contender: Jonathan Rhys Meyers

'The Tudors'

To play the king: That was the challenge facing Dublin-born Jonathan Rhys Meyers, an actor best known for playing creeps and sociopaths, including most memorably recently the heartless social climber in Woody Allen’s “Match Point.”

For “The Tudors,” in which he stars as a young Henry VIII, the actor, who turns 30 next month, needed to blend menace with emerging gravitas. He also had to upend entrenched stereotypes of a man most viewers know as an ermine-garbed, overweight monarch with a turkey drumstick in one hand.

“I had to create this incredibly strong, powerful man without being 6’4″ and 300 pounds,” says Rhys Meyers, who is, in fact, 5’10” and trim. “I had to make his intellect bigger than anybody else’s, his ambition bigger than anybody else’s, his energy bigger than anybody else’s. And I had to make him the most dangerous man in court.”

One benefit of breaking a stereotype is the chance to individualize a characterization, a responsibility the actor takes seriously. “I had to make it my performance,” he says. “It’s my interpretation of what it would be like to be 29 years old, athletic and have absolute power to do whatever you want.”

But fostering charisma isn’t the same as engendering admiration, as Rhys Meyers knows from past roles. “I want people to love to hate Henry,” the actor says. “He’s a bastard, but he’s an interesting bastard. Nobody’s going to be interested in the good guy for 10 hours; it’s not fascinating. Everybody sort of likes these dangerous characters, so I think people are going to like him against their better judgment — or they’re going to hate him but still want to watch.”

The part was an offer he insists he couldn’t refuse. “These roles don’t come along very often in an actor’s life,” he says. “It came along in mine, and I decided to jump on it. I like playing good guys as well, but bad guys are certainly more fun.”

Favorite scene: “In episode 10, Sam Neill’s speech to God before he offs himself, and anything with Maria Doyle Kennedy.”

Where you’d like to see your character go next season: “I would like for him to be more comfortable in his role as absolute monarch and for his true nature to become more apparent.”

TV guilty pleasure: “All TV is a guilty pleasure — ‘Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.’ “

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