Directed by Brian Goodman and adapted from the acclaimed French thriller Papillon Noir, the drama Black Butterfly tells the story of a chance meeting between a desperate writer named Paul (Antonio Banderas), who is trying to save his career by finishing a screenplay, and a mysterious hitchhiker named Jack (Jonathan Rhys Meyers). When Paul offers Jack his remote cabin to stay in, Jack becomes more and more demanding, and the two men enter into a dangerous game that can’t possibly end well for both of them.
During this 1-on-1 phone interview with Collider, actor Jonathan Rhys Meyers talked about how he got involved with Black Butterfly, why he chose not to watch the original film, what made this character interesting to play, why it’s best to keep a thriller like this tight on time, and how much he enjoyed working with Antonio Banderas. He also talked about how much fun he’s had on the History Channel TV series Vikings and the experience of working with someone like Michael Hirst, as well as why the director of a project is so important to him.
Collider: When this project came your way, was it a script that you read and responded to, or was it a meeting with the director?
JONATHAN RHYS MEYERS: Marc Frydman, who adapted the screenplay and was a producer on it, and I had worked together on Stonewall. It was his project and he asked if I could do it, so I read the script and I said I would.
Had you been familiar with the fact that it was based on a 2008 French thriller, or did that not matter?
MEYERS: It doesn’t matter so much, but I did know that it was from Papillon Noir, yeah.
Did you watch it before making this?
MEYERS: No, you don’t watch things like that. Funnily enough, if you’re making a remake of anything, it’s probably not a good idea to watch it. You’re going to have to breathe a new freshness and life to it, and discover the world for yourself.
What was it about the story and character that ultimately most appealed to you?
MEYERS: I suppose the fact that they’re not dissimilar characters. They’re on the opposite sides of ethics, but there’s a great similarity to them. It was also really interesting to play what he essentially is, by the end of the movie, but play it in a way that no one would guess it. That’s the reality. That’s how these things work. He’s not a standard guy. He’s something a bit different.
This story keeps turning in on itself, continually keeping the viewers guessing, and by the time the movie ended, I wasn’t entirely sure what was real and what wasn’t. As an actor, is that part of the fun of a story like this?
MEYERS: Yeah. What’s attractive about playing in a movie like that is that you really have to keep the audience entertained. When there’s practically only two people involved, it becomes complicated and you really have to work harder to come up with new ways to play the scenes. When it works, it works. It also has a lot to do with the director.
This also reminded me a bit of the Stephen King stories and the film adaptations for Misery and Secret Window, which both involve writers and things going very, very wrong. What do you think sets this one apart from the others? Is it the fact that we keep getting all of those twists and turns, and we really don’t know which end is up?
MEYERS: Possibly! That was the one part of the production that I was worried about. I was worried about how that would come across. The writer in a cabin, in a remote place, has already been done. The thing is trying to find a new way around that. It’s a lot of credit to Brian Goodman and Antonio Banderas. I thought it was a fast-moving script. It didn’t hold you anywhere for too long, and that makes a huge difference. When you’re trying to make a film like that, you have to make it tight. You can’t have an extra 25 minutes of flopping around. There’s no time for that. You really have to keep people interested, at all times, until the punch comes. You can do that with a film that lasts 90 to 100 minutes. That’s very difficult to do at 160 minutes. That becomes more complicated. I think this film is the right size for its subject.
What was it like to face off with someone like Antonio Banderas?
MEYERS: Antonio is the nicest guy. I’ve been working, as an actor, for a very long time, and you meet people, every so often, that really deserve all of their success. Antonio is one of those guys. He is incredibly nice, which meant that I had to do a little bit more work to make him sinister. There’s nothing sinister about Antonio. He’s so pleasurable and such a joy to work with. Actors always say that, but he is a joy, as a human being. Being on set is like a parallel reality. You can work well with people that you may not get on well with in life because it’s a parallel realism. It’s still real, but it’s make believe. It’s a psychological parallel. Sometimes you get to work with somebody who is just as nice on screen, as he is off screen, and Antonio is one of those guys. That makes life much easier. Sometimes you can get more attention when you don’t get on with each other. We just happened to get on with each other, so I liked him a lot.
Your character was teased at the end of the last season of Vikings. What made you want to sign on for that?
MEYERS: I’ve never seen an episode of Vikings, but I do know Michael Hirst because I did The Tudors with him, and I knew the crew. Vikings was interesting for me to do because I get to do it in three languages. I get to do it in English, Anglo-Saxon and Latin. Plus, I have an enormous amount of fighting. That was fun, in itself. But, I can’t really tell you too much more about what I’m doing on Vikings. I have to say that I love the part. I really had a great time working with Kathryn Winnick and Alexander Ludwig. They’re very, very good and very, very committed people.
How much were you told about your character’s arc and future seasons, before signing on, and how much is it just trusting the show because they’ve clearly proven themselves?
MEYERS: I knew exactly what I was doing, before I signed on. He’s got a particular reason for being there. It’s not a stunt. He’s not a gratuitous cast member, there just to keep you entertained. There’s a reason he’s there, and it’s a very particular reason. If he doesn’t perform the duties that he’s meant to perform, the story won’t move the way that it’s meant to move, and historically it won’t get to where it needs to go. Michael is an intellectual and an academic. His thesis at university was Henry James, who is a very particular writer. I’m actually doing a Henry James film that starts filming in July, and his work is really quite complicated. You have to approach Michael’s work knowing that he’s an academic and an intellectual, from the get-go. Of course, he’s going to have things planned. He’s not going to throw in gratuitous stunt characters to make things more interesting, but he has to twist and manipulate history a little bit because this is TV and you’ve gotta keep it moving. If you really wanted to do history, it would have to be 38 episodes with each episode lasting 10 hours. You have to speed things up and manipulate situations to fit into a TV series. It’s the world of entertainment, and it can be difficult for a writer of that quality to lay the academic hat down and think of how to best keep things moving so that it’s entertaining. But, he’s skilled. He’s got a good crew, a good cast, a good production, and he knows what he’s doing. That’s why he’s successful.
At this point in your career, what do you look for in a project? Is it about the story and character, or is it equally important to you to know where you’ll be shooting, who you’ll be shooting with, and even how long you’ll be shooting?
MEYERS: It all depends on who’s directing it. That has to be the center of everything. You can give the greatest performance possible, but if you don’t have a director who’s pointing the camera in the right direction and an editor who’s editing it properly, it doesn’t matter what you do. The director and the editor are the most important people. Not the actors. Sometimes the writer is important. But if you don’t have a good director, you can’t have a good production. That is the be all and end all of it. So, for me, I just try to work with the best directors possible.
Black Butterfly is currently in theaters and on VOD.