Rhys Meyers followed up with a more significant role, the title character in little-seen “The Disappearance of Finbar” (1996), before landing the notable role as the assassin of Irish revolutionary “Michael Collins” in the 1996 Neil Jordan film. The young actor kept busy with the fantasy-comedy feature “The Killer Tongue”, a 1996 Spanish-English co-production, and made his US television debut that same year as a young Samson in TNT’s biblical epic “Samson and Delilah”. “The Maker”, with Rhys Meyers as a teenager whose long-lost older brother (Matthew Modine) turns him on to a life of crime, made its debut on HBO (in lieu of theatrical release) in 1997, and showcased the actor’s quickly learned and capably delivered American accent. Also that year, he was featured as a relentless bully torturing Brad Renfro in “Telling Lies in America”, Guy Ferland’s look at the 1960s radio payola scandal. The controversial British TV-movie “The Tribe” (1998) followed shortly before he undertook the notable role of a young man in a wealthy 19th Century English family who competes with his father for the affections of “The Governess”, a Sephardic Jewish woman posing as a gentile. While the film was somewhat formulaic, Rhys Meyers was riveting as the rebellious and misguided love-struck child of privilege.
Next up for the young actor was a featured turn in Todd Haynes’ highly stylized “Velvet Goldmine” (1998), an engagingly indulgent look at the early 1970s glam rock. Rhys Meyers starred as fictional pop icon Brian Slade, a fast-rising star whose descent was even quicker, following a botched publicity stunt wherein he faked his death. Perfectly suited for the role due to his appropriately lithe and lanky frame and sexually ambiguous beauty, the actor delivered an emotionally understated performance that was subtle enough to have escaped some moviegoers but served as an interesting contrast to the vibrant visuals and theatrical music. Rhys Meyers capably handled the character’s transitions from struggling visionary to up-and-coming hot property to crazed fallen star done in by a broken heart and an out-of-control ego. Playing opposite Ewan McGregor’s Iggy Pop-esque Curt Wild in one of the more unexpectedly sweet (and remarkably attractive) romantic screen pairings, Rhys Meyers did much of his own singing in “Velvet Goldmine”, and camped it up most impressively in the several music video scenes interspersed. That film, along with an off screen liaison with co-star Toni Collette, raised the young actor’s profile considerably, with the press coverage surrounding the fashionable film landing him in dozens of magazines.
Generating less buzz was his featured role in Mike Figgis’ “The Loss of Sexual Innocence” (1999) and his unsettling turn as the volatile young boyfriend and criminal partner of Rupert Everett’s Paul in Michael Radford’s “B. Monkey” (filmed in 1996; released in the USA in 1999). Higher profile projects followed in 1999, including a memorable supporting role as a sadistic and unstable Bushwacker in Ang Lee’s Civil War-era Western “Ride With the Devil”. Rhys Meyers delivered an admirable reproduction of the archetypal villainous Southern accent and gave an appropriately chilling performance in this well-made but long-winded feature. His career continued its upswing, with a co-starring turn alongside Anthony Hopkins and Jessica Lange in celebrated theater director Julie Taymor’s film directorial debut “Titus” (also 1999).
The actor would continue to work steadily on both sides of the pond, frequently appearing in high-profile films including Christina Ricci’s long-delayed adaptation of “Prozac Nation” (2001), as the central character George Amberson in Alfonso Arau’s telepic adapation of author Booth Tarkington’s–and director Orson Welles’–“The Magnificent Ambersons” (2002) and as Joe, the romantic Irish soccer coach, in the smash Brit import “Bend It Like Beckham” (2002). After distinguished turns in the TV movie adaptation of “The Lion in Winter” (2003) opposite Patrick Stewart and the Netherlands-produced fantasy-romance “The Emporer’s Wife” (2003), Rhys-Meyers had a banner year in 2004 with roles in director Mike Hodges’ noirish “I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead” opposite Clive Owen and as George Osbourne director Mira Nair’s adapatation of Thackeray’s “Vanity Fair” starring Reese Witherspoon.