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Is Rose Byrne of ‘Neighbors’ Comedy’s New Secret Weapon?

Is Rose Byrne of 'Neighbors' Comedy's New Secret Weapon?

Who says beautiful women can’t be funny? Just watch as
porcelain-pretty Rose Byrne does the near-impossible by upstaging the bawdy
boys in “Neighbors,” a raunchy R-rated 
suburban warfare comedy and now box-office hit that pits abdominally endowed frat leader Zac
Efron against pot-bellied cubicle drone Seth Rogen. As Rogen’s housebound wife and mother of an
infant daughter, Byrne is the one who elicits audience applause by
fiendishly using her powers of seduction
to convince Efron’s best buddy to put  “a
ho before a bro” and cause a rift between the pals. Amy Nicholson in her “L.A.
Weekly” review goes so far as to declare the actress as the film’s MVP:
“Tequilla shot for tequila shot, Byrne is at the center, driving the

Signature line: “Keep it DOWN!” — Byrne as Kelly Radner, trying to be cool and
failing miserably while warning the
Delta Psi guys next door to go easy on the noise in “Neighbors.”

Career peaks: As
Byrne, 34, herself once noted: “I often do very serious roles, but really I am
a big clown.” It has taken a while for
moviemakers to catch on to the humor potential of this Aussie native, who made
her film debut at 13 in “Dallas Doll,” a Sydney-set curiosity starring Sandra

After doing TV, stage and movies in her homeland, she made
her Hollywood debut as a handmaiden to Natalie Portman’s Sen. Padme Amidala in
2002’s “Star Wars: Episode II — Attack of the Clones.” (The Force is powerful
even with small parts — Byrne has revealed that 99% of her fan mail is “Star
Wars”-related). By 2004, she was doing
love scenes with Brad Pitt in the epic “Troy” and appearing with Josh Hartnett
in the thriller “Wicker Park.” Top-line indie filmmakers such as Sofia Coppola
(2006’s “Marie Antoinette”) and Danny Boyle (“Sunshine” and “28 Weeks Later,”
both 2007) began to seek out her services.

Byrne found the perfect TV platform for her dramatic side
for five seasons starting in 2007 as a novice attorney going head to head with
Glenn Close at her most intimidating on
the legal series “Damages”. She finally went over to the funny side big time as
Jackie Q, a Christina Aguilera-esque provocative British pop diva who breaks
rocker Russell Brand’s heart in 2010’s “Get Him to the Greek.” After taking a
horror detour with 2011’s “Insidious,” she managed to take on Kristin Wiig’s
hapless maid of honor as Helen, the surface-sweet wealthy friend of the bride
who gives a master class in passive-aggressive girly one-upmanship (i.e. handing
out puppies as bridal shower favors) in

Biggest assets: Byrne has perfected the art of using her
flawless appearance and poised persona to upend audience expectations,
especially when she breaks out the bawdy and acts as irresponsibly as her male
comedy co-stars. Many critics have proclaimed a moment in “Neighbors” as a
giant leap for female funny kind:  When
Rogen berates his spouse’s juvenile behavior when she gets jiggy with the frat
crowd, stating,  “We both can’t be Kevin
James.” But Byrne’s Kelly makes it clear she has no interest in being a boring
voice-of-reason sitcom wife. She is free to misbehave with the best — and worst — of them.

Awards attention: Nominated for two Emmys and two Golden
Globes for her supporting role on “Damages.”

Latest misfire: “The Internship,” the highly touted and
long-in-coming 2013 reunion of those “Wedding Crashers” rascals Vince Vaughn
and Owen Wilson, turned out to be a much more tepid affair. Byrne ended up adrift as an uptight Google
exec mired in a romantic subplot with Wilson. The expected summer hit grossed
just $45 million, less than a quarter of what “Wedding Crashers” took in back
in 2005.

Biggest problem: Not always choosing wisely and lacking
confidence. Byrne’s interviews have been littered with self-effacing quotes
about her status in the industry. Take this gem:  “I’m probably in that next group of actors
they call if Scarlett (Johansson) or Keira (Knightley) turns down a part. But I
feel really lucky. To be a working actor is pretty incredible, because 99 per
cent of actors are out of work. I know a lot of talented people who are better
actors than me but haven’t had a break. It’s all down to timing and luck.”
Humility is fine, but the actress is at the point where she should consider
more lead roles. And she should learn to pass on parts that don’t offer much
more than a paycheck, such as her CIA agent in 2011’s “X-Men: First
Class.”  No mere human, no matter how
lovely, is going to stand out in a sea of mutant superheroes.

Gossip fodder: Byrne
has been in  relationship with two fellow
Aussies, writer-director Gregor Jordan
(she was in his “Two Hands” from 1999) and a six-year romance with writer,
director and actor Brendan Cowell that ended in 2010. Since 2012, she has been
with actor Bobby Cannavale, a liaison
that had a very public unveiling at the 2013 Emmy Awards ceremony. In his
acceptance speech for winning a supporting trophy for his role on HBO’s
“Boardwalk Empire,” Cannavale said, “And I want to thank the love of my life,

Next step: Either by chance or design, Byrne and Cannavale
have formed a professional connection as well, at least in her next three
projects. In the remake of the musical
“Annie,” opening in Dec. 19, she plays an assistant to Jamie Foxx’s Benjamin
Stacks (a revised take on Daddy Warbucks) while he is his political adviser.
They are also part of a comedy ensemble as a married couple in “Brother’s
Keeper.”  And both show up in next
summer’s “Spy,” Melissa McCarthy’s female spin on James Bond directed by Paul
Feig (“Bridesmaids”).

Career advice: Stop making insecurity-oriented statements like the one above to the press. While Byrne doesn’t necessarily need to pose half-naked on magazine
covers, she would do well to own her talent and pull a Helen Reddy while
proclaiming, “I am a funny woman, hear the audience roar!”

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