A short while ago I did a piece on Anthony Hopkins and mentioned some of the talent that had been born in the area of South Wales around Swansea. If you head Westish for about sixty miles you’ll be near the birthplace of this chap…Rhys Ifans. If you’re wondering, it’s pronounced Reece Ivans. That’s a Welsh pronunciation, by the way.
Rhys and his family moved to Ruthin in North Wales which is a strong Welsh language area. He got his primary education at Ysgol Pentrecelyn and was raised speaking Welsh as his first language. He then attended Ysgol Maes Garmon, a Welsh-medium secondary school in Mold. Incidentally, Welsh-medium means the language used rather than the size.
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Showing an interest in performing from an early age, Rhys Owain Evans took acting lessons at the Theatr Clwyd while studying for his ‘O’ and ‘A’ levels. After leaving school he joined the Welsh language TV channel S4C (Sianel Pedwar Cymru) and presented programmes such as Slac yn Dynn and Rhag Pob Brad…no, me neither.
Then, in 1997, he graduated from the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London and joined alumni such as Orlando Bloom, Daniel Craig, Peter Cushing, Joseph Fiennes, Conleth Hill, Jodie Whittaker, Ewan McGregor, and Marina Sirtis amongst others.
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His early stage work included Hamlet at Theatr Clwyd, A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Regent’s Park, and, that play which always appeals to my Welsh roots, Under Milk Wood at the National Theatre. He still does stage work; he was supposed to play Atticus Finch in Aaron Sorkin’s version of To Kill A Mockingbird but Covid lead to postponements, postponements led to scheduling conflicts, and scheduling conflicts led to the part going to Rafe Spall…son of Timothy.
His first film role after graduation was in Twin Town alongside his brother Llyr Ifans. There followed a bit of TV work but then came his big break; Spike in Notting Hill. This was quite an opportunity for a relative newcomer. A Richard Curtis film starring Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts was quite an exclusive opportunity.
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And it wasn’t an opportunity that he missed. Spike was a delightful slob. Equally happy in his grey underpants in front of the world’s press as he was walking in on Anna Scott (Julia Roberts) lying in the bath. He was funny, scruffy, and as thin as a lath. Those “well chosen briefs” (apparently “chicks dig grey”…) and “nice firm buttocks” did him no harm at all and he’s not exactly been struggling to find work since.
Somehow, I just got the feeling that he was a well established comedy actor and had been around for years. The next time I saw him was as the Ibiza DJ ‘Eye Ball’ Paul in Kevin & Perry Go Large with Harry Enfield and Kathy Burke and later the same year in Little Nicky alongside Adam Sandler. Obviously, working with big names isn’t a problem for him.
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Talking of big names, the next time I saw him was in The 51st State. I’ll admit that Rhys wasn’t the main reason for watching that film; it was Robert Carlyle, Samuel L Jackson, and the local filming that caught my eye. Still, Iki was an interesting and entertaining part that he carried off with aplomb and vigour.
Following that Mr Ifans was a very busy chap. He was in a run of films including The Shipping News, Once Upon A Time In The Midlands, Vanity Fair, Garfield 2, and he played Peter Cook in Not Only But Also. He also had a part in an Oasis video for The Importance Of Being Idle. Mind you, he was the original lead singer with the Super Furry Animals.
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2007 saw him in Hannibal Rising, the Silence Of The Lambs prequel. In lots of ways this was the least good of the Lecter films; let’s be honest, there hasn’t been another one since, but that didn’t stop Rhys grabbing the part of the gruesome, evil Grutas with both hands and wringing every drop of nasty out of it. This is, honestly, meant as a compliment but you can imagine that he decided which child to kill and eat!
The next time I caught an Ifans appearance was in one of my favourite comfort films. Over here it was known as The Boat That Rocked but, in the USA, it was released as Pirate Radio. Either way it is, to me, simply wonderful. It is one of those films which, while watching it, makes you think “I don’t remember Richard Curtis watching my life.”
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Rhys plays Gavin Kavanagh, a fantastically popular DJ brought out of retirement to help save the station when the government starts to tighten the screws. His job is mainly to boost listeners but he also causes a bit of friction with the current top DJ, The Count (Philip Seymour Hoffman). Ifans becomes the epitome of sixties cool…suave arrogance clad in purple velvet and topped off with octagonal sunglasses and a black fedora with a two foot long feather in the brim. Perfect!
The following year saw Rhys in one of my wife’s favourite films, Nannie McPhee And The Big Bang…actually, though, most people were concentrating on another film that he was in during 2010. That film was Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows: Part 1 and he played Xenophillius Lovegood, Luna’s father.
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For years we’d seen Evanna Lynch perfectly portray the other worldly Luna Lovegood and knew that her father would have to be, at least, equally away with the fairies. After all, he is the editor of The Quibbler! There was no need to worry though, he was just as spaced out as you’d expect until he had to be…well, spoilers stop me saying!
It wasn’t long before he leapt from one massive franchise to another. Spider-Man has bounced around all over the place…that wasn’t meant as a pun but, if it made you smile, maybe it was. In my opinion the actors playing Spider-Man started well and got better. Rhys was the big baddy for the first relaunch; The Amazing Spider-Man with Andrew Garfield as the eponymous web slinger.
As Xenophillius Lovegood he had to be an airy fairy, other worldly wizard. As Dr Curt Connors, soon to be The Lizard, he had to play a man of science. A man who’s only dreams were of chemical formulæ and helping humanity. Until it all went tragically wrong and he went a bit off the rails. Regardless, in just those two roles he displays an ability to portray the who emotional spectrum.
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Elsewhere I talked about Benedict Cumberbatch and the modern day reimagining of the Sherlock Holmes stories. I also mentioned, very briefly, that both sides of the Atlantic had a bite of that particular cherry; Mr Cumberbatch was on the UK side in Sherlock and Johnny Lee Miller was across the pond as Holmes in Elementary. Guess who played Sherlock’s brother, Mycroft in the US series…yes, Rhys Ifans!
The next couple of times I had the pleasure of seeing Mr Ifans was in two real life stories; 2019’s Official Secrets and 2020’s Misbehaviour. Both of which were interesting and entertaining but in different ways. Both had a chameleonic Ifans showing up as totally different people. But, let’s face it, things are only heading upwards for Rhys Ifans. He has reprised his role as Dr Curt Connors with the latest Spider-Man (Tom Holland) in Spider-Man: No Way Home. He played another magnificent bad guy, Grigori Rasputin, in the Kingsman prequel The King’s Man.
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While we’re on the subject of prequels, he will also be in one of the most eagerly awaited TV prequels since Better Call Saul, Gotham, or Hannibal. I, of course, mean the Game Of Thrones prequel House Of The Dragon. Of all the planned, current and cancelled Game Of Thrones related projects this one seems to be the first that will actually make it to our screens.
By now you’ll have guessed that I’m going to say that Rhys Ifans is in House Of The Dragon; quite appropriate for a Welshman. Well, I don’t know what George RR Martin has written, if anything, about the early days of House Targaryen but I do know that Rhys is playing a character called Otto Hightower and he appears in all ten of the ten episodes that make up the first season.
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In short, I think we’re going to be seeing a lot more of Mr Ifans in the future…and I can’t wait!
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Former teacher, lecturer, homelessness administrator, pharmacy dispenser now happily retired, happily married, and a very happy granddad. I live next to the Mersey but on the side Daniel Craig and Taron Egerton come from rather than the side the Beatles came from!