Following her breakout turn in “Bridesmaids” as the uptight, conniving Helen, Australian beauty Rose Byrne has not slowed down, ending her run on “Damages” opposite Glenn Close, and working steadily on the big screen. This year alone, Byrne appears in a whopping four films, including “The Place Beyond the Pines,” the summer comedy “The Internship,” the upcoming sequel to “Insidious” from “The Conjuring” director James Wan, and the indie British romantic comedy “I Give It a Year,” opening today in select theaters.
The latter film marks Byrne’s first stab at a romantic comedy following “Bridesmaids,” a genre the actress rarely dabbled in prior. In the comedy, Byrne plays one half of a newlywed couple (the other half is played by “Prometheus” star Rafe Spall) who at the outset of Dan Mazer’s film seem happy and very much in love. It doesn’t take long for their relationship to turn sour when their differences become gradually more apparent. Not helping matters are the attractive alternatives (played by Simon Baker and Anna Faris) who come into the mix, forcing the couple to question whether they really are in fact meant for each other.
I sat down with Byrne in New York to discuss the film, her run on “Damages,” and what drew her back to “Insidious.”
Before “Bridesmaids” you were known pretty much for doing everything but comedy. Did the success of that film make you want to do more.
It did. I think it’s, for me, incredibly challenging and really hard. So yeah, after “Bridesmaids” being so well received it was great to have some more opportunities to do it and was really the first one, so I jumped on it. For me it’s still very challenging and really new. I’m still learning and learning a lot.
Your character isn’t that easy to root for much of the film. She nags and cheats on her husband, who comes across as a more fun-loving type. How did you breathe life into her?
She reads very cold on the page and she’s very hard to empathize with. But that’s why it was scary and why I wanted to do it. I was like, this is challenging and not going to be easy. For me personally it’s a little exciting to do something a bit scary and she was in that sense. She’s very different from who I am, so I figured out reference points and things like that. But you can’t just reduce it to that either.
She really comes into her own as her marriage crumbles.
I know and it’s great to see her sort of come unhinged as well, which is always a pleasure for the audience to watch, sort of an uptight character slowly become really on the edge.
Kind of reminds me of the character you played in “Bridesmaids.”
Yes, yes obviously that sort of controlling quality about them absolutely.
Now you’re Australian, but it’s interesting to note that the British have such a knack for romantic comedy. What do you think accounts for that having worked in Britain?
Being Australian, we have instant cultural touchstones with the British, so, whether it be political or like with sports or culturally, it’s very familiar, whereas in America, Americans aren’t usually exposed to much of Australian culture outside of a few things. But because we were a British colony, we have this easy dialogue in a sort of way. So I grew up watching a lot of English comedy like “Fawlty Towers,” “Monty Python,” and all that sort of stuff. And Working Title is sort of quintessentially British in their storytelling in their sort of fairy tale aspect of London. And that was really exciting to be part of that. Because they really created a whole genre of films. And that was really fun to step into that world.
Had you ever lived in the UK before?
Yeah I did. I lived in East London in Hackney for two, three years when I was in my mid-twenties.
During your time there you worked with Danny Boyle on “Sunshine” and Sofia Coppola on “Marie Antoinette.” For a young talent, you’ve already worked under some true greats. Do you keep a checklist of filmmakers you want to work with?
Oh gosh yeah, I’m a huge fan of many filmmakers and increasingly, the actors that I admire they just work with the best directors. It’s a very coveted position to get to and I’m still not there. I still am an auditioning actress most of the time. I’m still driven in that sense to try and do that — to be one of those actors.
Is your “Damages” co-star Glenn Close a huge inspiration?
Glenn, yeah she’s awesome. Not just as an actress but as a woman. She runs charities and she’s a mother and a wife and an incredible leader of our show — writer, producer — and she’s really inspiring. A dear friend. I miss seeing her regularly. She’s dynamite.
During the five-year run of the show you remained remarkably busy on the film front. How did you manage that?
You know at one point we were cancelled from FX and went to DirectTV and we had this sort of extended hiatus, and that’s when I did “X-Men First Class” and “Bridesmaids” and “Insidious,” so we had a longer period of taking off but I was really lucky. But I loved doing the show, it’s such a golden age for TV. It’s so exciting and so relevant and part of the cultural dialogue. I’m a big consumer of television so I’d love to do another show one day if it worked out.
The best female roles nowadays are on the small screen. Hollywood’s not catching up to what TV’s doing for women.
It’s really very true. It’s really brilliant and a really exciting thing to see.
Was there ever a point while shooting “Damages” where you felt like you wanted to branch out and do more things?
A great turning point was “Get Him to the Greek.” I had a little role in that as a pop star with Russell Brand. That was so fun because “Damages” was quite buttoned up and she was sort of tense and tightly wound very ambitious lawyer. And the character in “Greek” was this flamboyant, narcissist, really hedonistic kind of gal. She was so fun to play and so liberating. It was the opposite of anything I’d done before. That was really a huge turning point for me.
You’re hilarious in that film. How would you describe your own sense of comedy?
I think being Australian is a really intrinsic part of it. What’s great about that is that we can assimilate to both the American comedy and the English growing up with both references. We’re very heavily influences by American culture and the English so it’s a great thing as an actor you kind of have a little understanding of both. I think in Australia we always find a healthy sense of the absurd and a healthy sense of irony, not taking things too seriously, that’s a very cultural quality that we have.
Moving on to “Insidious,” which scared the crap out of me.
Me too. I was in it, and I still got scared.
Kristen Wiig went on record saying that she didn’t want to make a sequel to “Bridesmaids.” What made you sign on the dotted line for a sequel to “Insidious”?
I was hesitant initially and had a great dialogue with Leigh Wannell and James Wan. We made that movie for nothing and in no time and they were like, well we just want to make a better film and look at what people liked in the first and what people responded to and what really worked and make a better one, and really improve on it. And that really excited me. I was like, there is another story in there! There is something serialized about the first one. Doing the first one was actually really fun and working with James is great, and we had the entirely same crew, which is totally a testament to him. He’s a lovely guy and great director and really good with performers.
I really want to see “The Conjuring” but I can’t find a date. No one will come with me! You think it’s a joke, but I might have to go by myself.
I saw it last week with a group and trust me when I say: you need hands to hold on to.
I know my girlfriend said she’s still recovering. But yeah he’s excellent.