Playing the lead in a Woody Allen thriller, tossing in layers of murderous ambition, blind lust, blinder panic and evil cunning? Easy enough, says Jonathan Rhys Meyers.

“But pretending you‚re in a helicopter, being chased by another helicopter through a field of giant windmills, when you‚re really in a warehouse in L.A., that takes acting,”he says with a laugh.

Rhys Meyers is past his big winter buzz from Allen's Match Point and its recent DVD release. Now, he's up for a little supporting-player duty, driving the getaway truck, car or chopper for Tom Cruise and company in Mission: Impossible III.

I didn't have to do as much physical stuff as Tom, but you've got to stay in shape, because you never know when J.J. (Abrams, the director) is going to turn around and say, Jonny, let‚s try it this way. Jump off this building and into the moving car.‚"

He laughs.

"You have to be prepared. Directors are like that. And you want to be ready for just about anything, just like the IMF team member you're playing. The maintenance is high."

Rhys Meyers has something of a high-maintenance pose. It doesn‚t matter that this 28-year-old native Dubliner got his first break playing a scruffy, has-been soccer player coaching girls in Bend It Like Beckham, and got his start playing the assassin in Michael Collins. The name (an affectation, built around his mother‚s maiden name), the look („Like a young Tom Cruise,‰ director Neil Jordan said when he cast him for the Michael Collins role) made him too, too right for Woody Allen‚s scheming social climber in Match Point.

Catch the references to this in the reviews of that film "I suspect Rhys Meyers would prefer gazing into a mirror to staring into the, uh, eyes of his co-star," James Verniere wrote in The Boston Herald.

But deep down, deep deep down, he‚s still Jonny O‚Keefe, a Dublin lad a little overwhelmed by how "grand, just grand, the set of a $150 million action film can be."

Then again, it's just an acting job. He approached his role of Declan, the Impossible Mission Force punk, the same way he approaches any role. But unlike, say, his Elvis on TV or his upcoming Showtime turn as "King Henry VIII," here he got to invent a back story for his character.

"Cheeky, cocky guy, he spent most of his teenage years stealing cars," Rhys Meyers says of his character. "Then someone gave him a choice, Go to jail, or to the Army. And after that, we have a place that could really do with a fellow like you. The IMF."

Cheeky? Cocky? Just the sort of guy who might find things to emulate in that star he was compared with back at the beginning of his career. Rhys Meyers marvels at Cruise's work ethic and his commitment to remaining a star,"to hanging on to his place of importance in Hollywood."

And if that remark reminds one of his covetous tennis player, Chris Wilton, in Match Point?

"Hey, now, that‚s all behind me!"

Still, you've got to be cocky if you‚re a skinny, dark and brooding Irishman about to play England's most infamous and famously portly monarch. But he's convinced that (A) „we really don‚t know what he looked like, and he was too active, having sex and hunting, to be that fat" and (B) that he can make the guy admirable. A little.

"Sure, Henry VIII did all these great things, founded the Church of England, gave the Royal Navy its start. But when you cut your wives‚ heads off, that‚s what people remember!"