GLOWING WITH VERSATILITY
A hectic roster aside, Rose Byrne is still seeking more serious roles for women, writes Michael Bodey
Rose Byrne, judging by posters in cinema foyers, is the busiest actor in Hollywood. Or she was when she filmed the three movies now screening in Australia: Bad Neighbours 2, The Meddler and X-Men: Apocalypse. The New York-based Australian must be aching for a break?
“Oh no,” she replies quickly. “I had a long break for six months [so] I’ve been pretty chilled. It’s funny having them all come out at the same time, which is never planned that way, but all of a sudden they’re everywhere. But it’s very much out of my control.”
During the break Byrne also had her first child, Rocco, with American actor Bobby Cannavale and announced the formation of an Australian production house, the Dollhouse Collective, with some friends. So you can take the “pretty chilled” talk with a wink.
What the three films in quick succession have done is elevate Byrne even further up the Hollywood food chain. Her assured, witty performances on any number of American latenight talk shows in recent weeks show just how far she’s come from the quiet teen co-star who appeared opposite Heath Ledger in Two Hands.
The three films also showcase Byrne’s broad range and marketability.
In the mainstream adult comedy Bad Neighbours 2, Byrne was elevated to lead status with Seth Rogen after arguing her character should be as loud and as outrageous as any of the male characters.
In the romantic comedy The Meddler, Byrne holds her own opposite Susan Sarandon, who plays a widow clinging on to her daughter. And X-Men: Apocalypse is the big superhero blockbuster any actor requires on their resume if they consider themselves a contender.
The self-deprecating Byrne doesn’t have the reputation of a calculating careerist, though her outspokenness about the focus on Hollywood’s male roles at the narrative and commercial expense of women shows she’s not naive about the career either.
So she admits the wave of films coming out simultaneously is “a weird thing” that “can be frustrating”.
“But it’s a tough market, and with television as well, it’s so much more competitive,” she says. “It has come down to a science really about when is the best time for these things to be released to get their optimum audience.”
Byrne is right in the middle of the market, though, even if Hollywood is pigeonholing her as something she wasn’t known for in Australia.
Last year, The Hollywood Reporter described the 36-year-old as “the most in-demand supporting actress for comedies”, which, as far as specific descriptions go, is right up there. What seems to have been forgotten is her lead role in the hugely successful Insidious horror franchise, her lead role opposite Glenn Close in the tough TV crime drama Damages (for five seasons, no less) and starring roles in diverse dramas including 28 Weeks Later, Alex Proyas’s Knowing and Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette.
Then again, Byrne backed up her breakthrough performances as the pop star Jackie Q opposite Russell Brand in 2010’s Get Him to the Greek with terrific comic turns opposite Kristen Wiig in Bridesmaids, Rogen and Zac Efron in the first Bad Neighbours and Melissa McCarthy in the underrated Spy.
Consequently, profiles of the dramatic Aussie tend to marvel at how adept she is at comedy, at least beyond expectations. “Oh thanks, I think,” she stutters.
One can’t help but be disappointed at how recent profiles of Byrne reflect amazement not only about her comic chops but how outrageous a comedian she can be. It’s as though doing certain things on screen are still considered beyond women’s capacity, or at least inadvisable.
“That’s a good point,” Byrne agrees. “I sup- pose it’s a shame [but] a writer has to come up with something to say, right?
“I’ve worked with Melissa McCarthy twice and she couldn’t be a nicer person, so polite and endearing and lovely, and she’s the funniest actress. Everybody knows that. And the things Melissa comes up with, you just can’t believe it.
“Maybe people get shocked when you do something else, like breaking some sort of convention and, yeah, I’m happy to do that. That sounds like I’m full of myself but if you’re a woman and somehow being stereotyped, well, that’s dull.”
Byrne has made comedy her own after being acclaimed for award-winning dramatic roles in Australian films including The Goddess of 1967 (best actress at the 2000 Venice Film Festival) and The Turning (2014 AACTA Award for best lead actress).
Comedy is challenging, which is why she gravitates towards it, she says. Yet she deflects much of the credit.
“I think I’m lucky to work with people like Seth Rogen and Melissa McCarthy, people who really make it look effortless,” Byrne says, dismissing any notion a drama actor doing comedy is a big deal.
“But I’m always intrigued, though, when a traditionally comic actor gets cast in something dramatic. I always find that an interesting choice as a viewer and I love to see what they do. I love diversity, and most actors would probably think that.”
The Meddler is an interesting stop in that diversity, a romantic comedy for adults rather than an adult comedy. “It was incredible to work with Susan Sarandon on this beautiful little intimate story with great dialogue that means something and is relatable. I hadn’t done something like that for a while,” Byrne says.
Again, she deflects attention from her casting opposite Sarandon, noting she is not quite as much in demand as it seems.
“There’s still things that come my way and things that don’t come my way,” she says.
“But I’ve been really lucky to have some great relationships with people and studios, like Nick Stoller, the director of Bad Neighbours 1 and 2 and Get Him to the Greek. That relationship has been wonderful and I love to work with people again. It’s great because you have a shorthand and dialogue and you can explore things further, so I love doing that.”
And now Byrne has the big comic-book franchise on her curriculum vitae: X-Men.
In X-Men: Apocalypse she makes her second appearance, in what is now a six-film series (excluding spin-offs), as Dr Moira MacTaggert.
She’s delighted to be part of this wellresourced, heavily promoted Marvel Comics