Rhys Ifans Interview

I meet Rhys at the theatre and he is bang on time. Tall and almost athletic he is dressed in a long brown overcoat a battered trilby, black jeans with his characteristic silver watch chain around his neck.
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Where should we go and do this? Do you want to eat?
Oh no I can’t eat before I go on [it’s 4pm some 3 and a half hours before he is on stage]. All that burping while I’m delivering my lines. It’s no good mun. Let’s go to the pub.

Which one?

The nearest one

What are you having Rhys?

He wanders off to look at the selection of draft beer.

A pint of IPA will do nicely

When do you eat?

Well I always have a big fry up in the morning and maybe a small snack at lunch then I go hone after the show and have a big fuck off meal at about 2 am. Something really bed for me so when I go to sleep it turns to fat. But I burn it off on stage. Doing that everyday is better than going to the gym, just physically. I hurt in places where you’d never think of and when I first did it I thought I couldn’t do this but it’s great now I love it.

Well what about this whisky then?

The Penderyn? Well I like it a lot. I was doing some film in Cardiff and someone dropped a bottle of whisky off in this posh box and all that and I had a go and I loved it and the bottle went in an afternoon and I know you’re not supposed to drink it like that but it was great and really strong/And I know I shouldn’t be putting my own people down but I wasn’t expecting a great whisky but it was brilliant, really brilliant. I love it.

How are you enjoying the theatre again cos you said once you’d had enough.

I love it absolutely loving it. We’re five weeks into the run and I ‘m half on board, which is always the fear. And the language is beautifully written and it’s so well directed. And of course it’s only an hour and a half no intervals in and out full throttle because if it’s longer than a footie match I don’t want to know. But I enjoy doing it, physically. Never mind the applause and all that I love it for sweating the night before out. It’s great man .As I’m not a gym boy but this is the kind of exercise that reached the parts that gym don’t reach so you get the physical rush but get the felling that you’ve completed 40 very hard crosswords as well.

I love the vibrant attacks on religion and society.

Yes so do I and Marber has kept it as it was originally intended and it’s so accessible to a modern audience but it hasn’t lost any of Moliere’s structure, as when it was originally written in France in the 1700’s it was written as a bitter critique on the church and all it’s BLING and was therefore banned and even though it comes across as very modern thematically it is exactly the same and it’s great to do.

What about the rant when you say:’ You’re a cook just fucking cook and you are a gardener just garden.’

Oh yeah. He’s replaced the hypocrisy of the church with the hypocrisy of celebrity and they come out of nowhere and that is my favourite kind of comedy is when it’s dark and acerbic and when it not only sticks the knife in but also twists it.

How would you describe Don Juan?

He is a beautiful nihilist. He is not a libertine in the Pete Doherty sense .He is not an artist on any stretch. He is just a FUCKER. That’s all he hopes to do .He is primal in that sense. He is not on a mission to bring down society or expose it for it’s hypocrisy, although his very existence does that, he is not angry or railing against the world or society; he just wants to get out there and get laid on a regular basis.

Can you relate to him, I certainly could?

Well yeah! Not to the Olympian standards he sets but I certainly in my life gave it a go as in any young man’s life where you find yourself living Don Juan moments of sex drugs and drink and even seasons, months, years even.

How was it coming to the big city and hitting the big time and finding fame?

When I first came here I was really poor because I was a student. Initially I was frightened and excited at the same time and I think if you’re not from here and come from a small town or village it either breaks you in half or you embrace that fear and embrace it or channel that fear into cold excitement. London was thrilling but it was like this big beast I had to conquer or maybe it’s something in yourself that you have to master and what we bring here, as a race is stamina. People find it shocking that we can drink and do all the rest and go on for so long but I think the Welsh are built for excess. I don’t know what it is.  I think it’s a dedication to the form. If you are going to go out on a night finish the job. It’s like never leave food on your plate. All those things that Chapel drummed into us applies to all the bad, or hedonistic things in life as well .NO HALF MEASURES DO THE JOB PROPERLY.

In fact I never leave anything on anybody else’s [plate either].

No, no – YOU’RE NOT LEAVING THAT ARE YOU? (Jumping up and pointing at the other side of the table) I can make a soup with that.

Does Don Juan conform to such maxim because he’s not wasting a second?

I can relate to his complete embracement of life and the wonderful, potential joy that is out there and the complete commitment to that but there are other things about him which I do not like as he is cruel as well. That is not a facet I have .I have been reckless but never intentionally cruel.

Yes I thought that.

I gave the lothario bit a run but was hopeless. You spend all night getting to like this girl; and once you’ve shagged her you’re supposed to move on, avoid her and her calls – I just couldn’t do it. Too soft.

No that's not me either.

Too soft. I am too much of a poet to be Don Juan. (Pauses take a huge swig of his pint) But the fact is every 20-year-old loves shagging don’t they? And for whatever the cost like isn’t it? And we got to supply the government with a good army every 24 years haven’t we. It’s our duty like.

When did you start acting?

Well it was in the youth theatre and I was like 12 or 14 – not professionally – I didn’t get paid until my early twenties. But there was nothing much going on where I was from and then they built a theatre and it was the most modern building I had ever seen. It was like the Starship Enterprise on they top of the hill. Everyone was drawn to it. I used to hang around there for a couple a years even before I’d seen a play. I just liked the carpets and used to get static and skid around on the new carpets and touch old women on the steps and give em an electric shock off the banisters. Then I started the youth theatre and got a job casual labouring back stage moving wood from one place to another, being backstage and all that .I had never been in an environment like that with rope s and all that and for a modern building the mechanics to put on a play were really old fashioned and I loved it. It was like an old ship.

And what about the actors?

Well when I was young it was like this different exotic breed. A lot were like these Orange people of ex hippies or still hippies and they smelt of patchouli and they’d come to Mold with their long hair smoking their jazz cigarettes and after about 6 weeks they’d leave. And I wondered where they went. It was like the circus coming to town over and over again. But I was also drawn to the older actresses who always had this lovely exotic perfumed aroma about them and later I found out it was gin but the whole thing entranced me.

So you’re near Wrexham. That is where my mother is from.

Yes about 20 miles. That is the nearest big town. Wrexham is okay when it smells of hops [it’s a big brewery town] I used to love going shopping there with my mum and on some days you’d get this real hoppy whiff.

Didn’t you get fed up of the theatre cos when we first met – 12 years ago – that was all you were doing. Then you said you’d had enough.

Yes I did. Because when I came down here I went to drama school and I don’t think they got me and I didn’t get then either .I just didn’t fit in or behave in the way an actor behaves ‘cos there is a way they walk, and a speech pattern, a demeanor and a manner that actors have that tell an employer that I’m good at what I do without having seen fuck all. Well I had none of that. All I had was a ‘Sorry I’m late!’ So that was me as I wanted to save my acting for the stage and not have toy be this different person so I wasn’t fulfilled by the theatre. I was like: ‘who are these people like? I don’t know ‘em!’ I still rarely go to the theatre as I’m a terrible spectator and just like being clapped at not doing the clapping so I got to the point where I thought why I am in a medium that I don’t really love and I used to go to the cinema all the time and so I went into films and then I thought well I’ve done the films now and then ironically because of my film work I was offered bigger meatier roles in the theatre such as when I did the Accidental Death of an Anarchist and then I was able to pick and choose my roles . But films seemed to lend themselves me to my personality than theatre and were more open to accepting people like me but since I did Accidental and now this I absolutely love it to death. So all I just said don’t mean a thing really.

I suppose its getting good parts.  Is Don Juan based on anyone you know?

No not really. It’s such a performance piece that it’s all the bits of you that’s applies to the character turned up to the max. Don Juan is not a real person he is an idea .He is representative of something in us all. Something we are frightened of yet crave and that is why he is such an enduring character he represents our primal needs. You see Don Juan’s around all over the place with his dress and his manner.

What did all your mates back home think when you became an actor?

Well they didn’t think it was really poncey at all somehow. They were really pleased. You’d expect them to think it was a big joke but they thought it was really cool to be honest.um um … otherwise I don’t think I would have done it like. Yeah. They thought it was bizarre and strange but it weren’t Billy Elliot like. They thought it was cool because given that Welsh tradition of when we do knock   ’ em out they’re good boys like Burton and Tony Hopkins.

Another pint?

No I’m all right pal. No, no, no.

You were in the Super Furry Animals. Who came up with the name?

Well I did actually. In some shebeen in Cardiff .I was in them at their early embryonic form when I lived in a flat with Daffydd and Bumpf in Cardiff and Dav bought this Doctor Who mixer with the biggest nobs I’d ever seen it was like something you’d control arcane with and so we’d knock out these four tracks. But what happened was that we were getting a lot of interest and I knew that being in a band was a vocation and not a part time job and I knew I’d have to jettison one career to do another and it took me a year to decide I thought after spending all this time learning acting I thought being a front man for me because I wasn’t strictly a musician would be great fun but I wouldn’t be able to bring all I could to it .It was a lot easier than acting which for me was a hell of a draw as a man in his early twenties  just think of the fun but something in me said  I want to be a master craftsman and then along came Twin Towns . But as soon as I made that decision to be an actor again my career went where I wanted it to go …I needed to do it for myself but I was at one point I really was going to pack the acting in.

The Twin Towns part might have been written for you.

Yeah I know but it wasn’t at all. What happened was that they couldn’t find twin Welsh actors and then along came me and my brother .I had a scream doing that it was absolutely brilliant .It brought everything together and confirmed all I’d thought. It was pure fresh air. It brought the whole rock n’ roll ethos and acting together in one big lovely package.

But then came was Notting Hill.

Yes and I’d had a bath scene with my brother smoking the bong and a scene watching her in the bath in Notting Hill and as much as I love my brother. I’d much prefer to spend a night in the bath with her. But Notting Hill came shortly after Twin Towns and it was a fantastic break for me internationally like.

What about Miss Roberts? What was she like?

Well she was like a PROPER Hollywood star but she wasn’t snooty, she was great like and I just knew she had a game of darts in her. You know what I mean. You could just tell.   But she was fine and she had an entourage and all that. But I remember she had a juicer on the side of the set and I had never seen one and so I saw them working it sticking in the carrots and it would make this wwwwwrrrr noise so I was just idly playing with it one day and it was like HER personal juicer exclusively and I was just picking things up and sticking in carrots without looking and I picked something up and stuck it in then I heard this horrible noise. I’d stuck a pencil in her juicer and mangled it right down to the rubber. So there I was tearing this ting apart trying to get wood out of her juicer…But it was great mun .I do remember standing there next to her in the dirtiest kaks you could ever want to wear, you know what I mean thinking: ‘This is WRONG mun’ If you’re going to meet Julia Roberts you’d wear a suit and not stand there in these filthy Y fronts going, ‘Alright babes.’ She never saw me in my proper kaks, which weren’t great but were tidier than what Spike wore, she must have thought I was on community service or something. She’s got this scraggy gangly geezer hanging about.

You could see the look of bewilderment on her face.

I don’t think she’d met a Welsh bloke never mind one like Spike. I remember once one day when I pulled my kaks right up my arse and this was like the third day and I was standing on the stairs waiting to go up (he gets up and half bends over) and she was about four steps below me and we had to walk into the room one after the other and she was in kissing distance of my arse and she went,’Oh my Gad!’ (In a great American accent)  And I was like ‘sorry babes.’ That was one incident.

And how was Hugh Grant?

Well he was great and very supportive as before Four Weddings he was unknown and knew how I was feeling form day one and he was great. Quite often he is made a figure of hate, a lot of people don’t like him but I thought he was great .He was a dirty minded rogue so we really got on which was so important for the role and for the comedy. A lovely man.

But you have worked with a lot of heavyweight actors.

Oh yeah! Harvey Keitel played my old man in Little Nicky. That was magnificent and he was great. It’s probably boring for an interview as I have never found anybody to be a handful in fact many of the great names I have met I have seen that not only are they great names for their acting but are great people – real company team players.

How was shooting Kevin and Perry in Ibiza for that summer because I saw you before and after and it looked like you’d had a great time.

Well aye .I was playing a hedonistic pilled out DJ and all I can say is Research, Research, Research. But you cannot go to Ibiza and not join in can you? Working with Cathy Burke was great I’ve worked with her about 3 times and she is a great mate .I’d love to have her on every film I do. It’s just great to have her around .She is hilarious. But she hated Ibiza as she just loves London, a nice cup of tea and a fag and she was in Ibiza with her tits strapped down with all these gurning extras who we could not control .You could not get extras there that were not e ‘d up to the hilt. You’d put them somewhere to stand and as soon an s you turned your back they’d be getting off with another group .It was utter mayhem. And we were shooting in Amnesia as the night went on, as we couldn’t afford to shut it down for even a night and so we slipped in between DJ’s and did a bit of filming. But it was total WAR - absolute madness - and I loved every minute of it.

What about Human Nature I loved that.

Yes so did I that am one of my favourite films and it didn’t even get a theatrical release here. I was working with two of my favourite actors Tim Robbins and Patricia Arquette and Charlie Kaufman, directed by Michel Gondry, wrote it and Spike Jones was involved – it was the dream package .I loved that film.

And you were naked throughout.

Aye aye. When in doubt drop them. I worked for me every time that one.

What did your mum say?

Well she was just worried that I might get a chill innit “You could have worn a vest’
The funny thing was that it was filmed on Griffith Park, so I was naked in a park built by a Welshman but one day. I had to look after the little chimp in a nappy for an afternoon and it wrecked my trailer, because you can’t tell them off as they understand neither Welsh or English, so he’s climbing up the walls firing me CD’s all round the trailer so I eventually got rid of him and they gave this little micro scooter and as I was naked for so much of the film I got used to it and so off I went around into what I thought were the perimeters of the shoot and came to this hill but couldn’t stop the bloody scooter because I was barefoot and I looked down and there was a   big group of school kids on a  nature trail and I was heading for them and their teachers were like “Come on kids get out of the way !Oh my God !” And I was coming at them completely naked and covered in dirt appearing out of the woods like Tarzan on a scooter. And I was going ‘Help! I can’t stop,” And they were scarpering and the security from the movie were running around shouting,’Rhys get back, now we’re all gonna get arrested!’ But the Charlie Kaufman script was a delight and so well written I loved it because he is so out there .I suppose Box Office wise it wasn’t a hit but aesthetically for me it was one of my favourite films without a doubt and one of the richest experiences I ‘d had.

How was the Shipping News? I’ve always been interested in Newfoundland.

Well so had I but didn’t know a great deal about it. I had read Annie Proust‘s novel and in the novel the landscape is such a character and it is SO vast and very sparsely populated.
It’s like a bit has fallen off the West of Ireland and the accent is a bit Irish, a bit Scottish, a bit Canadian and they are real stubborn soulful people. It is how you’d imagine the Welsh once were hundreds of years ago in terms of character. But there was a lot of real heavy drinking which was a perk and what was funny that they were also filming a big submarine movie with Harrison Ford in the same town and so you’d see him and Kevin Spacey getting their bits in a tiny town the size of Merthyr Tydfil or Aylesbury. But there were all these Brit actors playing bit parts in both films and so we’d be shacked up drinking in these bars in the snow. One day I bumped into Marc Evans, [a Welsh film director and old friend] just walking down the fucking street, I couldn’t believe it – he was making a film there as well. It was like a dream. You’d go to a pub with all these hairy old fishermen and in the corner is a famous Hollywood actor getting pissed.

How did the locals react?

Well they loved it as it brought them a bit of money, extra employment and you can’t bring any Hollywood nonsense it freezes it .You cannot take a town over as it was the Wild West and you have to live like them .I have never been anywhere more destitute or dangerous. I had this hotel near the harbour and one day I woke up and looked out and an iceberg the sized of Cathedrals had moved in. It was like you go to bed overlooking a footie pitch and wake up the next day to find someone has built a cathedral on it. Not even the Chinese couldn’t manage that. I mean how can anything so big move in so fast.

And what about Hannibal; I am at a loss as I have yet to see it or read the book.

Well neither have I. The Thomas Harris novel is just coming out now and it’s a prequel to Hannibal later life and you will see where the damage has been done and a lot is explained and if you are a hardened Hannibal fan it is a joy as there are a lot of references to the other novel .The only thing I was sorry about was that Uncle Tony isn’t in it as he did the part so well and even though the French actor Gaspard Ulliel did a great job and had a big pair of boots to fill I kept thinking of seeing Tony Hopkins in lederhosen . I play Brutus a Lithuanian defector and the film is set as the Russian infantry are advancing through Europe and the Germans are in retreat and the Lechter are a Lithuanian Aristocratic family who go into hiding and our merry band of men defect the Russians join the SS let them down and the Lechters are on the run and we’re on the run and we’re stuck in the same log cabin snowed in for the winter and without giving away too much we get very hungry and it is about how Hannibal throughout his teens exacts his revenge on this band of men. I had a great time shooting in Prague. It’s a beautiful town.

How was the director Peter Weber?

Well that was what drew me to the project as he did, The Girl With The Pearl Earring and it was down to him that I got the role and he was great .It was the first film he’d done with tanks and stuff and it was a huge departure for me as well as we had machine guns and there was the cannibalism but it was great.

Do you like all that running around with guns and tanks?

We all do don’t we. Anyone would get a semi ... semi automatic I mean.

Isn’t it odd not seeing it?

Well it’s common courtesy to show the film to the bloke who is in it. For all I know I might not be in the fucker.

Did you see that the Queen has joined the Burberry campaign and has sent a letter voicing her displeasure over the closure?

Bloody hell man. Does she wear it? She probably gets a few knock offs from the factory.
But fair play to her.

Why does it mean so much to you?

Well it’s in a little town in the Rhondda where the loss of three hundred jobs will kill the community. That whole area was the backbone of the industrial revolution and has been systematically damaged and stripped away to nothing by a series of reckless governments Tory or otherwise leaving a community where no one can work. The valleys have produced some great talented people and are now decimated by neglect and it is horrible to think that these clothes will be made by underpaid children in China, just as the coal we used to produce is, it is criminal. That is the reason .To lose such a factory does spell the death of a community, which is something to fight against. I have several Burberry pieces waiting for the bonfire if the unthinkable happens.

Is that one of the great things about being in your position that you can make a difference.

Well I don’t often get on the bandwagon but there’s no one else but having said all that now that Lizzy is on the barricades I might have a rest.

How do you feel about the Royal Family?

I have nothing against them but I just think it’s a terrible waste of money. It creates a glass ceiling that we can do without. I think we should grow up as a democracy.

What about Enduring Love?

Well I got to snog James Bond before any other bird got her hands on him .He still says it was the hardest stunt he’s ever had to do. I am so pleased for him, I really am, and he has had so much flack and he has pulled it off and tied the knot on it. He is great actor and is a real grafter and Dan really brings that ex Special Forces aspect to the role that was needed. I am so, pleased. He is brilliant.

Was that a tough role?

Well it was so dark that we had a scream. For me it was a love story and I spent all day winding Daniel Craig up. Waiting outside his door asking leaving little notes, ringing him up and asking if he is lonely. We had a scream. I was doing the count down to the snog scene. But that was the only way to deal with it, as it was so dark. And Roger Michell [the director] was great as I have worked with him so often and he lets me do my thing but not all over the place.

What about Peter Cook?

Ah yes now that was a major landmark in my career. I have always been wary of doing something on such a great man as Peter Cook who has so much great footage of himself I wondered why make a drama? But the more I read it I realise that it was not a cruel autopsy of man but it was homage.

Wasn’t his wife very supportive?

Well she was fantastic. I didn’t meet anyone who knew him as they all had their own view of him but I wanted to find my Peter Cook through his work. So they showed his widow the film and I received this wonderfully moving letter and we’ve been friends ever since. It was the greatest accolade I have ever received and the BAFTA I received paled into significance compared to her letter.

What about the Oasis video?

Well that was great – one of my favourite bands and they asked me to be in their vid. So I jumped at it. Then when I saw the script I was like well I ‘ve go t a lot to do in this and had to dance and stuff. And they came in and were too cool for school and I was camping it up doing high kicks and stuff. But I’ve known them for ages and they are great fun. They are both hilarious.

Do you smoke cigars?

Sometimes.. yes. I love a Cuban cigar. I started smoking them when I was working with Adam Sandler when we did Little Nicky and when we did night shoots Adam would come on and give everyone a Cohiba and I’d be like a 12 year old with his first joint coughing with this huge log in my mouth. But that was a real Hollywood moment sitting on a chair with my name on it smoking this huge cigar with Adam Sandler and Ozzie Osbourne on the other. It was like, ‘Hello mam here I am.’

Has speaking Welsh helped you’re acting?

Absolutely as every character has a duality and   that gives it an extra dimension so it gives you another linguistic experience and an innate sense of metaphor, as often there isn’t an English word that means the same as the Welsh word so you have to resort to metaphor and vice versa. But on a muscular level for stage word the more languages you speak the more muscles you have in your moth so you have a culinary reaction to words. But when I’m on stage the amount of spit that comes out of my mouth I could put a holiday fire out.

How many fags do you smoke a day?

Well it depends. Let’s say too much. 40  - 50.But I want to stop. It’ll stop me biting my nails and smoking is the least fun thing to give up.

Why are you so proud to be Welsh?

Well there’s been a few great Welshmen- Howard Marks, Henry Morgan, Jessie James grandfather – creative businessmen.

What about your style of dress?

Well as I’ve become older I like to wear a suit. I can wear one now and not look like I’m going to court as when you’re younger it can look like as if you’re in trouble. But my girlfriend is a fashion designer so if I do look like rubbish I get a clout. I do have the odd bad day you know: ‘I’m late so let’s wear the track suit and them brogues.’ But it varies and more often than not it’s okay but when I don’t it looks like I’m pushing the boundaries.

I read that you like to get naked often?

Yes every night. I don’t sleep with me clothes on and when I have a bath. I have got naked in public and most of the world has seen it unfortunately.

Do you cry when you leave Wales?

Yes occasionally and sometimes when I’m on my way there. I often have a cry when I’m on a plane. I don’t know why but probably because I’m shit scared.

Are you a red?

That is the silliest question ever. Of course. I am left wing through even though it’s not cool now. In Wales there are no Conservative MP’s cos we mush them up and use them as cavity wall insulation.

Do you think speaking Welsh is an almost liker adopting a political stance?

Well yes because speaking it is an act of defiance so by your very nature your leanings will be leftist.

Do you believe that the class divide is getting further?

I never thought I would see the change that I’ve seen but I am seeing the development of a real divide these days.

Does the celebrity attention and the paparazzi bother you?

Well I’m lucky so I don’t get it really. If you go to a showbiz party you expect it but I do know people whose lives have been made hell by the press and it is horrible. I have never put myself up for it and I’ve got nothing to hide so it’s a non-entity for me.

What s the difference between LA and London?

Well there’s no nightlife in LA. You can’t get drunk there - it frightens them. I’ve had people watching me drink like I’m a fire eater or something – ‘Oh my God. Another Martini’ (in a great LA accent)

Have you calmed down of late?

Yes, and when I do the play you cannot go out every night and drink loads .I could but I would not enjoy my work and it’s a simple case of not looking like a dick in front of 230 people each night and not making them laugh like the way you can when you’re on top of it. It is quite simply, without sounding like a lardy dah actor, a discipline and I do not want to abuse my privilege. People are paying good money to see me and I want to give them my best.

Are you settled now?

No fuck no...In the past I’ve had a great time but not always happy. It was either really good or really bad .I think you have to reran your stripes and I feel I have missed out on nothing but now I feel I could be a really great dad as I’ve put the time in and can give great advice.

Do you want kids?


Is there one thing you’ve learned throughout your life?

I live by one thing – Treat people as you like to be treated yourself.