A Completely Fake Profile Of An Actor, Coming Soon To A Men’s Interest Magazine Near You
“First things first, let’s get the pronunciation out of the way.” I’d barely sat down at the table he’d reserved for us in the back of a Hermosa Beach martini bar’s patio section when it felt like Rhys Ifans (“Reese, like the candy, but you drop the apostrophe-S. Not ‘Rice’ or ‘Rise.’ ‘Reese.’”) was profiling me for a men’s interest magazine with one of the higher circulations in the business. He took a sip from his drink before announcing, self-deprecatingly: “A sheep’s fleece is what you have to think of when you want to say Rhys.”
“That’s a little thing I made up when I was doing the rounds for Nottin’ ‘ill,” he said with a smirk only the great cads can pull off.
Thank God I’d already started my tape recorder.
In skinny jeans and a yellow t-shirt with Japanese characters and a graphic of Bigfoot playing the drums (“Fuck if I know what it means, just thought it looked spot-on” — Lord, he’s right), with aviator sunglasses hanging from the loosened neck only a favorite t-shirt can attain, Ifans percolated cool. His iPhone vibrated next to his half-empty drink, but he flipped it over and put it on the chair next to him, its padding now absorbing all the device’s sounds and shakes. He finished his drink and chomped down on an olive.
Chances are, your girlfriend or wife dragged you to see a certain Hugh Grant-Julia Roberts rom-com, and chances are you came away stunned by Ifans’s Spike, Grant’s boorish roommate who stole the show. It was his American film debut. The world may have wanted to bring Grant’s face-sized smile home to meet the parents, but it wanted to party with Rhys. Maybe you saw him in the forgettable Keanu Reeves football flick, The Replacements, where Ifans played a UK futbol’r-turned-placekicker for the fictional Washington Sentinels. If you saw him in that yawner, you saw him steal the show there, too.
An extremely attractive waitress approached our table and asked if we were ready for another round. “Two more o’ these, love,” Ifans purred while simultaneously adopting a Cockney brogue. “And whatever my friend here would like,” he said with a wink. The waitress giggled softly, and smiled at him before heading back to wherever it is that beautiful waitresses at expensive martini bars in this part of Los Angeles hang out while waiting to fulfill drink orders. “Goddamnit, man. To be twenty-three again,” Ifans mused. Where does Rhys stop and Spike begin?
Where does Rhys stop and Spike begin?
The way he says it, though, you know he doesn’t mean it. Twenty-three-year-old Rhys Ifans would trade places with forty-nine-year-old Rhys Ifans, a hundred percent of the time. “Twenty-five years ago, I was in a band,” he said, referring to Welsh rockers Super Furry Animals, an integral part of the Welsh cultural renaissance of the nineteen-nineties, and who this writer saw once at a pier, though I chose not to mention it.
“I was the singer. I thought I was going to be the next Mick Jagger.” He laughed at the idea, but anyone can see how the je ne sais quoi that makes his film performances so indelible could have easily carried over to rocking Wembley or The O2 Arena when not strutting and preening across the stage at arenas and stadiums and music festival fairgrounds the world over. “Guess the Universe had different plans for me.”
Ifans’s “different plans” have included landing a primo part in the penultimate Harry Potter film as the tragic-clown Xenophilius Lovegood, as well as parts in Shakespeare adaptations, Shakespeare-conspiracy-thrillers (2011’s gleefully overblown Anonymous), costume-dramas, a stint as Ben Stiller’s best friend (a middle-aged musician, naturally) in Noah Baumbach’s heralded Greenberg, Philip Seymour Hoffman’s professional rival in a 1960s-set rock picture The Boat That Rocked, and Jason Segel’s romantic rival, and a “suave horndog,” according to GQ, in The Five-Year Engagement. Your parents probably love him on Elementary. This fall, he’s set to menace Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s titular whistleblower in Oliver Stone’s Snowden.
Your parents probably love him on ‘Elementary.’
“Joe’s a talent. It’s outright maddening,” Ifans gushed about his co-star. “Have you seen him dance? It’s, to quote someone of a younger age: ‘I can’t even.’” He shook his head before taking a pull from a freshened martini that arrived without my notice — Hermosa Beach cocktail waitresses are Hermosa Beach cocktail waitresses for a reason.
“I’ve been very lucky. I’ve worked with some really fantastic actors and directors. This one, with Ollie Stone — and, fuck me, I’ll wring your neck if you call him anything but ‘Oliver’ — is just the latest topper. If this all goes away tomorrow, if a Man in a suit, carrying a briefcase comes up to me in fifteen minutes and tells me that some clerical error’s been made in the cosmos, I’m saying right back, ‘You know, what, Jack? Fine by me. Where do I report tomorrow?”
He chuckled, revealing the grin that makes him twenty-first century cinema’s finest scamp, timing it perfectly with the gorgeous waitress’s return, a fresh round of drinks expertly balanced on her silver tray. Had we really finished another round already? After clandestinely checking my watch, I discovered it hadn’t been more than twenty-five minutes since I sat down. How was that possible?
He chuckled, revealing the grin that makes him twenty-first century cinema’s finest scamp
Ifans bantered playfully with the waitress as I pretended to check my notes and played catch-up with a few sips from my martini (“Hermosa Beach-dry,” as they say). I made a doodle in the margin of my legal pad while, out of the corner of my eye, the waitress — who was just glowing, honestly — laughed and placed her left hand on Ifans’ shoulder and held it for several beats. How did the Welsh son of schoolteachers play California cool so effortlessly?
How had this man not found more work? Could it be that certain public events of his life made it seem that, beneath the facade of the coolest guy in the bar, underneath the over-the-top personality, might be a turbulent mess of anger? Is a tumultuous private life to blame?
Witness his very public courtship with Sienna Miller. The two were the toast of the British tabloids a few years ago. Miller was fresh off another heartbreak, and it seemed that Rhys was the man to finally tame her when the two became engaged. But, a year later, the two split, and he told the British rags that he was looking forward to the single life and wasn’t “settling down with anyone.” I asked him if that’s how he still feels.
“Honestly? Sienna is lovely, just a wonderful girl. But we realized we were in different places. Professionally, personally. Every sort of -ally-suffixed thing you can think of? We were that. And honestly, it’s one of the best things that ever happened to me. Truly. Really.”
I asked if he’s seeing anyone romantically, or any sort of -ally-suffixed relationship, at the present. He grinned and leaned back in his chair. “There was a stretch where I became Spike,” he stated, matter-of-factly, referring to his Notting Hill character. “Was it a longer stretch than I’m proud of? Definitely.” I repeated the question, preceding it with a “c’mon” and dropping the jab about suffixes. “Yes,” he says.
“There was a stretch where I became Spike,” he stated, matter-of-factly, referring to his ‘Notting Hill’ character.
Anyone this writer might know?
“Yes. But that’s a between-me-and-her-thing right now. That’s it until it becomes a between-me-and-her-and-we-invite-you-to-Belize-for-the-ceremony, mate.”
I told him that I totally got that.
“So long as you don’t fuck me here,” he said, referring to this profile.
I laughed nervously and took another sip from my cocktail before stammering something indecipherable (on my tape recorder, at least).
“Relax, Dave (note: I prefer to be called ‘David’), you’re chain’s just been yanked [is] all.”
I shook my head and try to give us some space through silence before I say “Comic-Con,” trying to get a glimpse at whatever it is that lurks below Ifans’ surface.
It was your everyday run-in with security, though he apparently “reeked like booze,” according to the New York Daily News, at San Diego Comic-Con in 2011 while pimping an already discarded comic book franchise. He cussed at and pushed a security guard who wasn’t granting his friend access to an area of the convention. “Some actors will trash a hotel room or have to go on vacation to treat their ‘exhaustion,’ right? My bloke gets hassled while I’m having one of the biggest moments of my life and, of course, I’m going to pop off. It was a misunderstanding, water under the bridge. That guard came to the premiere (of The Amazing Spider-Man). I got her a ticket. She wrote me a thank-you note.”
I told him I thought that should about cover it, and that I’d call him if I had any follow-up questions. He looked flummoxed. I grinned and said, “Chain” while miming a pulling motion.
“Oh, you cheeky bastard. That’s cruel. I’m not even done with this,” he said referring to his bone-dry glass.
I played ball and asked him about his role as the shadowy character he’s playing in Snowden, out September 16, but he suddenly became coy. “Is it gauche [note: before you die, try and hear Rhys Ifans pronounce that word] to say, ‘I am in love with this film?’ I know I’m supposed to say that, but: I’ve been in some shit films before. This is just not one of them. And, it’s just so fucking fun to be the bad guy. If everyone hates me after watching this movie, it’s going to be shit for my career, but I’ll know I did the job, you know?”
The conversation drifted off as I noticed I had become quite tipsy. One of the last moments I can recall with true accuracy is Ifans chiding me for being a supporter of the Real Madrid football club because of Julio Iglesias. “As far as bullshit excuses for sport fandom go, that’s not the worst I’ve heard,” he said.
After the bill was settled, Ifans waited with me while killing time before the valet to brought around his car (European, fast, expensive; the perks of joining the studio system). As he got into his ride, Ifans turned back to me, nodded toward the automobile, and says, “Might need to outrun ‘Jack’ someday.” Last I remember, he got into the car and sped off as I opened up the Uber app on my iPhone 6s. My thoughts wandered to the cosmos, and whether a great reckoning was in Ifans’ future.
But neither the hypothetical ‘Jack’ nor any other cosmic clerk will be coming. Tomorrow or anytime soon. No, sir. Rhys Ifans is exactly where he’s supposed to be.
David Matthews writes and tweets in Brooklyn. Go figure.