I never met Matthew Rhys, don’t know him in any other way than as a great actor, who captured my attention in “Heart of America”. This bio is based on loads and loads of interviews I read on Matthew, given either by him to journalists or articles written about him/his movies/his plays/his other projects.
So, Mr Rhys, if there is anything in here that is incorrect, try to remember what you said that particular year and sue a journalist. J
Or let ME know. (But I will not hold my breath on that last option.) J
Compiled with love, not for money.
Best quote about Matthew Rhys that I’ve read so far: “ There is nothing that Matthew Rhys is afraid of, no wordplay gives him pause; he is capable of anything.” – Jon Robin Baitz.
Who am I to disagree? J
Born 8 November 1974, as Matthew Rhys Evans, in the historic city of Cardiff, South Glamorgan, South Wales. He had to change his name to Matthew Rhys as there was already a Matthew Evans.
Father Glyn Evans (headmaster), mother Helen Evans (teaches special needs children) and an older sister Rachel Evans, who is a BBC broadcast journalist. His parents were strict when necessary, but also gave him free rein to live his life. He would not call himself a bad child, but did the ‘typical setting fire to my mum’s carpet’. He looks back at his childhood affectionately 'through the old rose-tinted spectacles'.
He was educated in the Welsh language at Ysgol Gynradd Gymraeg Melin Gruffydd, Whitchurch, Cardiff where he met Ioan Gruffudd.
Matthew: “We didn't get off to the best of starts. It was a snowball fight. He ended up running away and I ended up going after him and hacking him to the floor. I tripped him and he started to cry and I panicked because I'd made someone cry.”
Ioan: “I was so embarrassed about this, because he was a year younger than me.”
In spite of this incident, Matthew and Ioan remained friends outside school and attended chapel and Sunday School together.
First movie Matthew recalled seeing was Flash Gordon(1980). He believed that his first single ever bought was Adam and the Ants “Stand and deliver” (1981) because the video was so cool! Though later he would claim it was “Prince Charming” "It was the first single I bought. Although I never dressed up or wore make-up like he did, I did try to replicate his 'chandelier swing' from my settee."
He had his first famous person crush on Daisy Duke from ‘the Dukes of Hazzard’. And he didn’t consider himself a remarkable student.
“I wasn’t one of the cool kids by any stretch. I just bumbled along really.”
Considering that his father's family were farmers, his mother's people lived near the sea, it is only natural that he wanted to be a farmer. "Don't ask me why. I thought maybe I'd be a farmer. That was another silly notion. I think I'd last about five minutes, being a farmer."
But when he was 10 or 11 years old, he saw the movie that inspired him: ‘Look back in anger’ with Richard Burton. His father told him Richard Burton was Welsh “…and I realized it was possible to be Welsh and make it in the film-world.”
He than transferred to a Welsh-speaking co-ed comprehensive Ysgol Gyfun Gymraeg Glantaf where Ioan also went to.
His first job was a paper round, but it was short-lived, because his bike got stolen.
His walls were covered with Army posters. "Oh God, this is stupid, but I thought I'd be in the armed forces," he says, but fortunately he changed his mind.
He liked sport. Rugby off course, but when he decided he was not good enough, he went for ice hockey, but that turned out too expensive, so he moved to street hockey instead.
About his academic success: “I did just about enough to get by, enough to keep the parents happy, you know? But I was never much of student really.”
When asked (in 2013) what he’d tell the 17-year-old versions of himself when he got his results:
"I'd tell myself not to worry. It's a simple message but it's true. That said, on my A-level results day I was a nervous wreck. Even though I already had a place at RADA and didn't need A-level results, I suppose everyone wants to do well. I actually shocked myself and did better than I thought!"
Had his first kiss at age 16, first sex at age 17. First falling in love at age 18.
At seventeen, he played the lead role of Elvis Presley in a school musical, “"I was always the lead in the school play, mainly because I was the only boy who did drama. I loved it. I had to sing some songs. It was intoxicating and I thought I'd like to apply for drama school. I still love Elvis.”
When he left school he applied to the prestigious Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London (RADA). and was accepted after an audition that won him the first annual free grant, the Patricia Rothermere Scholarship in 1993. “It was presented to me by Diana Rigg.”
He moved in with Ioan, who had been accepted at RADA the year before. At RADA he had to unlearn before he could learn a thing. “I was told, in week two, to stop rubbing my nose when speaking. I had no idea I was doing it. It was not really student life as you expect. I didn’t get to know anywhere in London, apart from the Tube journey - Kilburn to college – for three years.
Well, I went to RADA and on arrival, I was ready for, you know, some sex, drugs and rock’n’roll, but when I got there I was in tights, pretending to be a tree or a beaver. It’s sort of brilliant at RADA, the training is second-to-none, but it’s very intense; it’s hard. It’s not the three-year party my mates were having during university.
When we had to pretend to be amoebas, I thought ‘shit, what am I doing here?’ – but that did not happen very often. It was a shock. I was expecting a university lifestyle. It was three years of six days a week in college. Six long days. Doing voice, singing, fencing and acrobatics. At times, it was slightly psychoanalytical. They're big into the Method. On my supposed day off Sunday I would have to learn scripts."
During his time at RADA, 1996, Rhys made his film debut with Sian Phillips and Steven Mackintosh in House of America. He got that job also because Ioan was auditioning for it, and Ioan told the casting-director that Matthew would be perfect for the role. So Matthew auditioned for the film and landed the part of Boyo, the son of a dysfunctional family living in the South Wales Valleys, who watches his sister Gwenny (Lisa Palfrey) and brother Sid (Steven Mackintosh) lose themselves in a drug and alcohol induced fantasy world, while his unstable mother (Sian Phillips) sinks into madness and he discovers the secret of his father’s disappearance. Sian Philips was nominated for a BAFTA for best actress in 1996, for her part of the mother. "It was a dark piece, but a great learning curve," Matthew said.
He also appeared in Back-Up, the BBC police series about the operational support unit Hooli Vans, as PC Steve Higson. This was a series of 13 episodes about the lives and action packed adventures of the nine men and women aboard a police Operational Support Unit (OSU) van, that is responsible for going anywhere and doing anything in support of operations carried out by other branches of the West Midlands Police. After three months filming in Birmingham, in and out of police vans, Matthew was pleased to have the chance to return to Cardiff.
Upon his return in Cardiff he played in his own language in the Welsh film Bydd yn Wrol (Be Brave) together with Daniel Evans, Menna Trussler and Islwyn Morris. For this movie he won Best Actor award at the Welsh BAFTA's in 1997.
This movie was made in 1997 and is a comic, moving portrait of a community that learns to work together and the individuals, who learn about themselves in the process, when a group of old-age pensioners must fight to save their municipal hall from developers and corrupt councilors. They are joined by their teenage neighbors.
February 1997: Along comes Cardiff East. His first theater play. He had just graduated from RADA. Cardiff East raised essential questions: What is family value? What does it feel like to be an immigrant in your own country? Uncompromising and desperately real, with an undercurrent of ironic humour, Cardiff East builds towards an inexorable climax, which combines hope and tragedy in equal parts.
Matthew won critical acclaim for his role as the young Tommy, who is enjoying a gay liaison with Neil. The play shocked audiences with its gay nude scenes. “However many times you strip you clothes off on the stage, it doesn't get any easier. The worst was when we took the show to my hometown of Cardiff. All my family and friends came to see me - and they saw everything. It was very embarrassing.”
That play got followed by a second play: Grace Note in July 1997 co-starring Geraldine McEwan (Grace), Holly Aird (Ellie), Jonathan Cullen (Daniel), Emma Amos (Jennifer) and Neil Stuke (Jack). It is a play about a woman with Alzheimer, Grace, and her daughter-in-law, Ellie, who seems to understand Grace's need to dwell on the past and her passion for the soprano Joan Sutherland. The family gathers round to protect its inheritance, but the senility is cunning: Grace has plans of her own.
Her affections fall on the resident outsiders with whom she claims to have some empathy: Her son Daniel's Australian wife, Ellie (Holly Aird), whom he married in order to grant her a work permit and his young Welsh boyfriend, Nick (Matthew Rhys), whose musical skills extend to playing "Stairway to Heaven" on the guitar.
He continued on the stage and played Pierre in One More Wasted Year, about two young men, in their late twenties they already seem too old for a youth-obsessed world; who inhabit a world of cafes and rented bed-sits.
Followed by the part of Yanne in Stranger's House, with also Paul Bettany. A play about a group of immigrants from the former Yugoslavia who fled at various times to Germany, it is a play about values. Yanne, a young Macedonian fleeing military service, turns up seeking sanctuary at the tobacconist's shop, run by his father's bosom friend Hristo, in an un-named, godforsaken German town. Hristo is revered as a hero back home, having supposedly escaped from Yugoslavia when the high ideals of the Tito revolution turned sour. If Yanne hopes for a warm welcome and sympathy over his own desertion, he's soon disillusioned. Hristo is a bitter, chain-smoking man, his crushed wife Terese is a small-time prostitute; his daughter, Agnes, is married to the uncaring mechanic Jorg, who crippled her in a car crash. Secrets burn beneath the surface of every relationship, and Yanne's decision to flee the coming war in his homeland is treated with the deepest suspicion.
He had a small part in Elizabeth, with Cate Blanchett, Joseph Fiennes and Christopher Eccleston, but that part ended on the editing floor. Although the rumour goes that he is still somewhere to be seen in the movie.
And he was just as unlucky with the following film as well. Heart, a movie starring Saskia Reeves, Kate Hardie, Christopher Eccleston and Rhys Ifans. He got paid, but he was hardly seen on the screen. Although he is credited as playing Sean McCardle, he appears only in a few small scenes (on a motorcycle, in a scene on a videotape and in a scene in the hospital. Less than 5 minutes of screen-time.)
In January 1998, Rhys went to New Zealand to star in Green Stone, a colonial costume drama for television, about a love story played out on a grand scale against impossible odds. The sweeping saga of a woman caught in a love during New Zealand's turbulent birth as a nation in the mid-1800s. Greenstone enables two worlds to meet - the English and the Maori.
As soon as Matthew read the script for Greenstone he says he loved the ideas - especially the meeting of two different cultures. Rhys starred as Sam Markham - a young, bold, optimistic gunsmith, who is the product of the Victorian industrial hinterland. He falls under the spell of Marama (Simone Kessell), the daughter of one of the most powerful and feared Maori warrior chiefs, and his love for her places him at the centre of a brutal blood clash between Maori and pakeha. "It's a very rich story with so many things in it. It's a love story, it's got wars and it’s historical. I loved the thought of riding and the shooting. It's a real adventure story as well,"
According to Matthew his character is basically an angry young man, but there are parts of him that he relates to well. "He's tired of the aristocratic oppressive rulers of England, he wants to get out and make a new world for himself. He's very interested in change and progress - he hates the suffocating feeling that heritage and ritual imposes on him," he says. "He's also very idealistic and very determined in what he wants. He's a believer and he'll follow through to the end. I can be like that."
Acting with children was a new experience for Matthew who at times says he nearly lost his patience. "It's been very trying - you definitely have to have a lot of patience,"
He found acting with animals was more fun. "There's been a lot on the horses - I loved it. The wagon driving and so on was fantastic. I've done a little but not much so it was a real baptism of fire."
He also took the part of Ray Smith in Whatever happened to Harold Smith? A small film situated in the ‘70’s in which he played the brother of a boy who discovers that his (their) father has a special gift. It starred amongst others Tom Courtenay, Stephen Fry and Lulu. “I’ve been very lucky. It’s been frighteningly easy, the way everyone’s just gotten gelled together. It’s a bit strange at first, looking at Lulu and sort of thinking ‘Right, you play my mother’. So it was bizarre, but it was great.”
In 1999 he was in Italy for eight weeks filming with Anthony Hopkins and Jessica Lange in a new movie called Titus, in which he and Irish actor Jonathan Rhys-Meyers played the sadistic sons of Tamora, Queen of the Goths, who was played by Jessica Lange.
Working on Titus was the most physically demanding role of Matthew's career until then - he was suspended naked upside down before his character met a gory demise.
"Titus was a great experience, purely because of being able to watch the 'master' - Anthony Hopkins - at work. That was a hell of a frightening experience because it was my first big film with Hopkins and Jessica Lange, a Shakespeare as well and a very extreme character I had to play. Demetrius was a rapist psychopath with blond hair and tattoos. So it was a bit intimidating but a hell of an experience. It's quite a diverse film - it's not your average cinema film.
You spend years with your mates watching Hopkins’ films, analyzing every minute of what he does, then you find yourself acting with him. It was really weird. What I was most excited about was finding out how he does it, but you don't. He's doing his Tommy Cooper impressions right up until "action", then he's in floods of tears until "cut", and straight back into Tommy Cooper..
He is an amazing mimic who can do lots of different voices - he did his Tommy Cooper and Marlon Brando impressions. So working with him scared the hell out of me.
In the film, he ends up slitting my throat as I hang naked from the ceiling. Not much acting went on there. I was terrified!"
Titus received mixed reviews. But in all, Matthew looked back on it with a positive attitude: “One minute I was in Cardiff, the next I was at the Cannes Film Festival in front of 250 journalists sitting next to Jessica Lange talking about Titus Andronicus. From Cardiff to Cannes, I'd never have believed it!”
Trivia: His most embarrassing scene in this movie would be: “I had to film the orgy scene with an Italian gymnast who couldn’t speak a word of English. We had to simulate love making while floating in a small boat, but we couldn’t stay on it and we had the director shouting at us across the swimming pool. It was just awful.”
Trivia: There is ONE thing about Anthony Hopkins that Matthew did not understand: "I got on well with him - but why he has taken American citizenship I will never understand. I could never do that - my roots are too deep."
Trivia: He would love to make a film with Robert De Niro. “because I always believed what he does, I just love him, he's great.” Favorite director would be Martin Scorsese.
Trivia: On being Ioan’s flatmate: “One drunken night I decided to teach him how to abseil from a first floor bay window. I was hanging out of the window, explaining what you do, when I just fell out.
END OF PART 1
Links to all 6 posts for this bio can be found here