I never met Matthew Rhys, never spoke to him, 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 and/or Ioan Gruffudd to journalists and articles written about him.
So, Mr Rhys, if there is anything in here that is incorrect, try to remember what you said that particular year, sue a journalist or have a good talk with Ioan. 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 I read: “ 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
In 2000 Matthew’s name suddenly became more famous. He would to be on stage opposite Kathleen Turner in a new adaptation of “The Graduate”. Rhys starred as Benjamin Braddock, the role made famous in the film by Dustin Hoffmann. In the play Benjamin has a torrid affair with Turner's character Mrs. Robinson, the wife of his father's employer.
"Benjamin is such a great character to play; this disillusioned guy who's worked really hard for four years to get a degree, mainly to please his parents, and then thinks, 'What about me?' He just wants to feel alive. His is a rite of passage story that fulfills a lot of young men's fantasies.
The story is set in California in 1964, which was not in the throes of the Swinging Sixties as we think of them now. The values and morals of the Fifties were still prevalent then, which made such an affair much more shocking. It's harder to generate that kind of response today but I still think the play can have enormous shock value."
Matthew admitted that he never saw the movie with Anne Bancroft and Dustin Hoffman. And he would not see it until after the play is finished, because of the pressure that it could have brought. He would rather find his own performance: “I might be drawn into doing it in a certain way just to be different.”
Kathleen Turner had a say in the casting. There were several auditions before he was chosen for the part. After quite a few auditions, she flew over in November and they lined up four boys for her to see, she read with Matthew and a few other actors, but Matthew got it because of the chemistry she felt with him. So he must have done OK.
At the audition, he felt 'blind panic', daunted at the thought of the naked scenes between himself and the Hollywood star. "We did the seduction scene and I didn't have to do much acting really, so I just blushed and stuttered my way through it, and felt very embarrassed . . . so it worked well. She was lovely - I felt quite intimidated but excited at the same time. For the first 40 minutes I was a dribbling mess. She was brilliant: she had been there, done that. She's a real taskmaster and a complete perfectionist. She works very hard and really cares about the project she's doing, working on it over again until she's entirely happy with it. I liked that about her."
Rehearsals for The Graduate started in February and it opened in March 2000. It would run for 12 weeks. Almost every night it was sold out.
He was intimidated by Turner at first, but three weeks into rehearsal, that had subsided. "It's like having a game of tennis with a legendary player - it raises your game. I'm relishing the challenge, which sounds like a cliché, but it is true."
Kathleen was also impressed with Matthew: "He can really act. You know if an actor is good or not and he is good. I call it dancing, when an actor really starts to move with you and respond to you, it is kind of a dance, where one leads and the other follows, and then they change over and Matthew started dancing."
The chemistry was evident straight away. Matthew Rhys and Kathleen Turner were promoting their new stage production of The Graduate. As they posed for cameras they looked every inch the generation-gap lovers they are due to play. "There is chemistry between us. You just have to get on with it. She is very easy to get on with. The chemistry is very professional, strictly professional."
What mostly cought everyone’s attention: Kathleen Turner would appear nude on the stage. The media descended on them. It was impossible not to be conscious of the audience build-up to That Scene every night. "The scene comes very early in the play, thankfully, which is good because, after all the hype in the press, it causes so much expectation in the audience. It was good to get it out of the way early every night. And, you know, it's only seconds. Just the drop of a towel. It's incredible in the 21st century that a scene like that, and one so brief, can cause such a fuss. That was a real eye-opener. And not because my co-star got naked for a few seconds. What was interesting was seeing how the media works with such a scene, milking the titillation factor for all its worth. It made me realise just how the press works, and how it can exaggerate any situation to make a story. You realise that everything is really spin in this day and age, where the media has blurred the line between real news and entertainment."
Curiously enough, Rhys got to keep his pants on for the scene. "I don't think it would have generated as much interest, if it had been a man who was naked,"
The day after the premiere theatre critics were divided over the Turner's performance. But Rhys was praised for his American accent and the chemistry between the couple. There was even a comment that the few scenes, in which he did not appear, seemed to suffer from his absence.
Matthew’s mother told: "We went to see the play in its earliest preview last week. Matthew has grown in confidence immensely since then. They have changed a few things and the play ran incredibly smoothly. We were sat in front of Cilla Black in the stalls and we could hear her laughing all the way through. Kathleen has been very kind about Matthew and it was good he had somebody so experienced with him. She is a very charming lady and Matthew and her get on so well."
His sister, Rachel, said: "When Matthew gets nervous he fiddles with his hands. He also shouts and slams doors. "We ended up laughing in the moments when everyone else was quiet because we could see him doing it."
About some bitchy remarks about Kathleen’s fulsome, womanly shape Matthew gallantly said: "It's a case of the green-eyed monster. She has a beautiful figure and is great to go to bed with. Not that I'm really taking notice, of course. I was far too embarrassed to begin with. When she turned on the seductive charm, the acting went out the window. I was sweating for real. This woman, who you've seen in Body Heat and Romancing the Stone, and the next minute she's whispering in your ear. You're like: Oh my God! Oh shit! I can honestly say, in five months of doing it, I never properly looked at her when she was naked."
To the question of what he had to do to keep matters ‘professional’ once he slippeds between the sheets with Turner, he replied: “I just think of my old math teacher.”
Rhys admitted that when he starred opposite Kathleen Turner, he was forced to think on his feet. "My character, Benjamin, has an argument with Mrs Robinson's daughter and she's meant to stomp out through the door. But one night the door wouldn't open, so we had to start improvising. I said something like, 'I hope you've brought your overnight bag'. The people we saw after the show said that had been their favorite part. The audience love it when it goes wrong. They feel like they're being let in on a secret and they want to see how you will get out of it."
In a 2002 interview he would say : “As much as I loved it, I found it extremely nerve-racking, particularly the endless comparisons to Dustin Hoffman. Almost everyone over a certain age had seen the film, and came in with a strong view of what it meant to them. To bring a new life to a character that has been set in stone was very hard. But I did get to meet James Coburn. He came to see it and he hugged me. So I've been hugged by one of the Magnificent Seven.”
Trivia: Apart from Turner, Rhys said he would have loved to have starred opposite Audrey Hepburn. "She had it all - she was classy and sexy. She seemed to have this sense of unapologetic certainty about who she was and no matter how cute she was, she wasn't going to take any shit from anyone. Very appealing."
Trivia : Matthew donated a pair of boxer shorts, which he wore in the bedroom scene with Katherine Turner, to a Cardiff woman organizing a prize draw in aid of Guide Dogs for the Blind.
Trivia: "It's really important for me to keep my links with Wales strong. I love my country”, he hopes to make a film about Llewellyn, the 12th-century prince who fought the English. "It's a wonderful epic story that needs committing to film. It's horses and swords basically - I enjoy a good swashbuckle."
Trivia: Rhys seems to think, as many actors do, that one day he will be somehow found out and that all the fame will vanish.
Trivia: There are no roles that he won’t go near, because that would limit himself. He’d rather take a role that scares him.
Trivia: Asked if Ioan and he finally get their lives organised he replies: "We have a good time. We have our days of being messy but then we get a bit fed up. We are just normal lads when we are not working. I am sad to say we have got a Nintendo and we make a habit of supporting our local pubs!" Rhys, even admitted that they clean up their own mess rather than employ a cleaner.
During the year 2000 he was also one of the voices in the documentary-series “A history of Britain”, where can he be heard in 2 episodes: “Nations” and “King Death”.
Next was the ITV-series Metropolis, based on a group of twenty-somethings from Leeds living in London, Rhys played a law graduate who becomes a dope-smoking drop-out. “I had a few people teaching me how to roll a joint…” He is vile to his girlfriends but there is a kind of sexual provocation to his insults and he is rewarded for his lack of charm.
Rhys described his character “Matthew” as "the angry young man of our generation. I understand why he's like that. He went to university and was really bright. But since he left, he's not found his feet and has ended up watching daytime TV and smoking dope. He's angry which can manifest itself in malice. He's got a significant amount of growing up to do. When Charlotte says she's had enough of him, he has to realise that he has to get his life in order. I like a lot about him. He's bright, doesn't suffer fools gladly and is very perceptive about people and situations. It's why I liked the part.
All the characters are human. They're not beautiful twenty-somethings having a great time in London. They've got problems. It's quite gritty. To act with a group of actors my own age, like Louise Lombard, Kris Marshall, Emily Bruni, Jason Barry and James Purefoy was just fantastic. You very rarely get to do that as an actor. Normally you're one of the youngest people on the set, but to act in a group was great, and with some really interesting storylines."
He can seen stripping off in a scene. “I spend a lot of time watching daytime TV and occasionally having sex with my girlfriend. It's great. Well, in that particular scene it is her birthday . . . that and a cake, what more could a girl want?"
Not to forget that memorable scene where he made cooing noises like a pigeon while having sex with his girlfriend. But that is a scene Matthew does not want to be reminded about. “ I did not want to do that, but ultimately it’s up the director. You don’t want to compromise your own performance. I was just worried that people would laugh.”
Then came his first leading role in Sorted, a contemporary thriller set in the London club scene. Rhys plays northerner Carl who arrives in London after his brother, a successful lawyer, who lived in the city, is killed in an accident. He teams up with his brother's girlfriend Sunny and together they try to unravel the mystery surrounding his death. Raving with such conviction took “intense research” he jokes, but then he continues: “Actually I don’t really take drugs. And I feel like a pensioner when I go to clubs in Cardiff.” It also stars Sienna Guillory, Tim Curry and Jason Donovan and had some interesting scenes about rave parties.
He also played smaller roles like that of Jonathan Jones in the movie “The testimony of Talisien Jones” a film about a dysfunctional single-parent family, in which he played the elder son. Angry about his mother walking out on him, seeing his father bitter about the divorce and his younger brother’s discovery of God, all becomes a bit too much for Jonathan to handle.
And then, he was the leading man again, in a movie called Peaches.
"In Peaches I play a cocky, confident, almost arrogant man who believes he has a God given talent for women, but never quite pulls it off. I think Peaches gives a different take on the boys culture, it really is different - it doesn't rely on any conventional plot work or anything like that. That's what attracted me to the script initially. To fund a picture like that is very difficult because, you know, you try and pitch it and they say 'well, what happens?' and you're like 'well...nothing much.' The film itself relies on the dialogue, so to finance a film like this was difficult, so it was done for a very low budget, but that's why the actors did it, because it was a great script. It's a great challenge for a new actor, this sort of script."
In Peaches, Rhys managed to capture the character of Frank, a bit lazy, a bit ignorant at times and with the usual issues of fear of taking responsibility, settle down and get a job. It takes some time before it dawns on him that he is now a grown-up, and that he should start behaving like one.
Did he feel a certain affinity with that character? "Yes, definitely, and I certainly know a few Franks, or certain elements of Frank in a lot of people. Another reason I liked the script was its very strong grasp of boys at that age, and the certain insecurities that come with leaving college, or looking for jobs and women, and the bravado that comes with it.
There were bits to Frank I could relate to. I always try to empathise with the character. If you resent them, then you judge them, and you shouldn't do that as an actor. There were a lot of things about him that made sense. He is at a crossroads in his life, where he's deciding it's time to take a step into the real world and same with girls, he can't commit to a cup of coffee let alone a girlfriend. I think the observations about boys are quite accurate and it doesn't enter the vein of lad culture, and I like the fact that it's not loaded territory, not ironic. It's a look at a stage we can all empathise with.
In all honesty, I think Frank in Peaches was my most demanding role to date, because although I found much in him that I could identify with and I understood his character, I didn't really feel close to him and the kind of person he was. The accent I found was very distancing and doing a cockney was difficult. So it was hard maintaining Frank, being an exhibitionist at times but ultimately quite scared.
I think men do talk a lot about sex, there's an enormous insecurity about women that follows men. Well, men of a certain age anyway. You haven't quite ... you're not that comfortable in front of your friends and you're not that comfortable with yourself, so there's a lot of bravado. For men in their 20s, growing up is a huge deal. It’s made harder by the fact that women seem to have reached the age of maturity shortly after leaving primary school. I don’t think we ever catch up with the opposite sex.
I don't think Peaches is going to set the world's box-offices alight, but it's great that small films like this are being made. Having the opportunity to work outside the studio system is important. Whether you can beat Hollywood at their own game is another matter entirely.
As I said, Peaches isn't the sort of film that's going to turn into this year's Full Monty or whatever, but I think its heart is in the right place. Nick Grosso, who adapted it from his own hit play, has captured a certain kind of cultural clique wonderfully, and if even half of the charm he managed to put into those words makes it up there onto the screen, then you've got a film worth seeing."
But while he enjoyed it, the shoot took its toll. "I think everyone involved in it would use the word 'enjoy' loosely; it was an extremely difficult shoot. We gave ourselves 24 days, which is a ludicrously short time to do a feature film. We were proud to finish the first week, let alone the whole film. It was a difficult film to make and we set ourselves a difficult task because it's dialogue-driven, so you can’t rely on gimmicks or car chases. It really was a team effort...the crew worked for nothing.
That same year he could also be seen in Shooters. Star actors in this were Adrian Dunbar and Gerard Butler, as two criminals trying once more and then everything goes wrong. It was a rather violent, harsh movie. Matthew can only be seen in the first 5 minutes of the film and played the part of Eddie, a young gun-dealer. This movie would also have a small guest role for Ioan Gruffudd as Freddy Guns. They however don’t share the screen together. The movie would not be released until 2002
Trivia 2001: Talking about gruelling auditions: "Some people deal with rejection very well. It took me time to harden myself. At first you don't cope with rejection, it hurts. You're only out of drama college a few months and you want to give it up. But I found 'resting' a terrifying experience, too. The lull didn't last very long but at the time it was so scary. I'd never known an insecurity like that. All your life you've been told what to do, you've been in a structure where you know what's going to happen. Then, all of a sudden, you don't."
Give your best tip for overcoming depression. “Well, it only really works for me, but I get on a train and go back to Wales.”
The start of 2001 took Matthew to New Zealand to shoot the adventure-movie, The Lost World for the BBC. He starred alongside Bob Hoskins, James Fox, Tom Ward and Elaine Cassidy in an adventure recreating Conan Doyle’s tale of British explorers searching for an undiscovered plateau that avoided evolving and is inhabited by prehistoric beasts. The Lost World is Walking With Dinosaurs meets period drama.
As the hapless journalist/explorer Edward Malone, who joins the explorers only in an attempt to impress his girl-friend, Gladys, Rhys mostly fancied the part because it involved heroics and action.
"I'm a sucker for any Boy's Own adventure stuff," he says. "I'm an action tart."
It would take a lot of Matthew’s acting capacities and concentration, as he had to deal with imagining where the dinosaurs are, because they would only be put in the movie later by use of CGI. It was like being a child again.
“As far as acting goes, you’re basically reacting to something that isn’t there at all. It’s left to your imagination. You picture something that frightens you.”
Because he was the journalist who writes the story down, his voice can also be heard for the narration of the story.
The fact that the cast were shipped out to New Zealand to film was a bonus. "It's God's own country," he says before adding: "after Wales."
Staying on the topic of “The lost world”, he would also tell the original complete and unabridged version of the book for an Audio-book “The Lost World (Unabridged) by Arthur Conan Doyle”, comprising of 6 cassettes (later on 6 cds) with a total running time of over 8 hours, in which he gives voice to not only Malone, but also Challenger, Lord Roxton and Summerlee and every other character from Malone’s ‘not a girlfriend’ to the South-American helpers. Fascinating to listen to, because he makes you forget that there’s just one actor playing all the different characters.
He also starred in Tabloid, in which he played the host of a sleazy television show. A satire on celebrity television. Rhys starred as Darren Daniels, a charismatic but deeply insincere talk show host (Jerry Springer kind of guy) who seeks to out the darkest secrets of his celebrity guests. But then it’s payback time and suddenly Darren finds himself with some skeletons in his own closet. Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio plays the TV producer, ex-lover to Daniel, who drives him on to further excesses, and the cast also features John Hurt, David Soul and Stephen Tompkinson.
"It's a pretty funny but insightful film really. You only have to look at how violent and intrusive TV has now become to see that a film like this is somewhat timely too. Why these people allow themselves to be ripped apart on TV just baffles me. Maybe just for the fame. Kinda like the pot calling the kettle black, I guess.”
Contradiction in interviews: Asked if he, like Darren in Tabloid, had skeletons in his closet he replied: “Yes, but there is no way I’m telling you what they are.” But one of his other answers was also: “No, I always tell people everything, so no secrets.”
Finally, Ioan and Matthew got a chance to appear in a movie together. They were offered the parts of Hob and Nob in ‘Very Annie Mary’, a film by the Welsh Sara Sugarman. The film, which was shot in Wales, was an uplifting account of a young woman, Annie Mary (Rachel Griffiths) and her dream to break free of her domineering father played by Jonathan Price, the local baker, a powerful figure known as "The Voice of the Valleys", a man revered for his singing. Unfortunately she’s forced to become a full-time nurse for her father after he suffers a stroke. She initially appears as a loser, catering to her father, but she has a mind of her own. Gradually we discover that she was offered a place at the Milan School of Opera, but she denied it to stay with her father. She is unable to sing anymore and the film charts her progress in rediscovering herself.
Her best friends are Hob and Nob, a bitchy gay couple, who run the corner shop in the village of Ogw in the south Wales Valleys. Ioan and Matthew were offered the parts, although the director did not believe that they would actually take it, being both heart-throbs, and then playing a gay couple…
But Ioan had just returned from filming “Horatio Hornblower: Retribution” and he and Matthew both liked the idea of doing something light-hearted together.
“The first time I worked with Ioan, playing a gay couple together, it was mad and a lot of fun. A scream. We were given free range, so we took a bit of a risk and had fun with the characters. Which is also dangerous. Because we've got so much history maybe we were in danger of going over the top, I don't know. Maybe some people think we have. It was just like being at home messing about in the flat. We do have a few characters that we like to mess about with. These two established themselves on the tube ride, when we used go to college and back every day, and we went from there. It was a gift really.
I’m not at all worried about playing a gay couple with Ioan. In all honesty there have been the rumours, which we have heard, that we are gay in real life. What do you do? You laugh. Good luck. No, they are a light-hearted couple in the film. Even if we played a couple who the film centred around and it was a serious piece and they were lovers, if the work's good and we want to do it, we'll do it.”
Trivia: When Ioan was asked what Matthews most annoying habit is, he replied: “I don't know what I can say. There isn't anything.” Matthew himself thinks his most unappealing habit is: Burping.
Trivia: Ioan had this to say about Matthew: ”First and foremost he's my best friend in the whole world. He's always there, he always listens and we have good intuition. I'm very impressed by his patience and generosity with people and with strangers. I think his tolerance level is much higher than mine, say in a social environment when somebody is getting on your nerves, he's always the one to keep a lid on it, but I want to get away. He's probably my favourite actor.
I think he's probably one of the best actors of our generation. He inspires me, professionally. I do not really envy Matthew or his career. We are both up for the same parts so often. Very often if one of us hasn't landed the part the other has. This time we had a chance to work together.”
Q&A Oct 2001
What is your greatest fear?
Rats and failure.
What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
My constant self-criticism.
What is the trait you most deplore in others?
Arrogance and rudeness.
Do you believe in capital punishment?
For what cause would you die?
Have you ever said 'I love you' and not meant it?
What would your motto be?
Dyfal donc a dyr y garreg (keep hitting and the rock will break).
How would you like to die?
With a sword in my hand (as long as someone shouted 'Cut!').
Do you believe in life after death?
What's the most embarrassing thing you've ever done?
I was mugged by a pregnant woman on Kilburn High Road - she took GBP 20. Ioan has made it his story, which I don't think is really fair as it was actually me who was mugged. Not that I was aware, or anything - I was drunk at the time.
What was the last conversation you had with a London cabbie?
A Jewish cab driver was telling me about Jews who fled to Wales during the Second World War. He was very interesting, actually.
When was the last time you broke the law?
Seven months ago. I got off with a caution. I can't say why - but I did get all my clothes back.
What's your favourite meal to cook at home?
That's easy: pasta and tomato sauce. I've been cooking it for eight years.
What last made you cry?
I'm not a crier, so I can't remember. Sorry, that sounds heartless.
Where in London would you have your ashes scattered?
The beginning of the M4 so they would hopefully make it back to Wales.
If it all stopped tomorrow, what would you do?
I don't know what the hell else I could do
END OF PART 2
Links to all 6 posts for this bio can be found here