Rose Byrne would have woken up this morning in her temporary New York home with the news of an Emmy nomination for her portrayal of the lawyer trying to prove her manipulative, obsessive boss [Glenn Close] was responsible for her fiancée’s murder, in the gripping and unpredictable Damages.
The show has given the Aussie actress a new found level of success in Hollywood, but she insists that she still takes on a role that interests her, such as the next door neighbour who falls in love with Adam, a man suffering from Asperger’s, in the Sundance hit comedy/drama Adam. It’s a role and a movie that are the antithesis of the intense Damages which is about to head into its third season.
Byrne talked to Paul Fischer in this exclusive interview.
Question: So I’m just wondering whether or not you make a kind of a conscious decision, when you’re doing something as intense as a Damages, to take on another project that is as far removed from that as possible.
Byrne: It was really a huge attraction about the project, about the character. She was so different from Ellen. Yeah, I’m sure if I’d been approached and she was a completely different – you know, a more serious, or dramatic, or more sort of – character under siege like Ellen is, a little bit – I probably wouldn’t have been as inclined. Because I’d just finished Season One. But she’s so the antithesis of that, and she’s so refreshing. I actually found the whole experience quite liberating, in a way, because she was so different. So it was actually really – it was really wonderful.
Question: Did you draw on any of yourself, or your own experiences, in playing a girl like this?
Byrne: I’ve probably got a natural curiosity, like Beth does, I think – and perhaps a patience that I think she has. But she’s a lot more gutsy than I am, and she’s probably more confident in many ways, and a little bit – you know, she’s less scared of what people think of her. I think she just does things her own way, whereas I’m probably a bit more timid and self-conscious, and things like that. Whereas Beth just – things like that don’t seem to bother her, you know? And she’s got great – she’s not judgmental. No we definitely share some qualities, yeah. And she has a wonderful sense of humor, which is something I’ve been wanting to explore. Some more comedic stuff. And that really came out in the writing as we went along, you know? How much humor there was in there, you know? Beyond just what was on the page, but the potential between Hugh and I. So it really comes off quite funny, the whole film.
Question: In fact, it’s more of a comedy than you think it’s going to be, given the kind of relationship this is, and the nature of Hugh’s character. Are you surprised by how funny it was, when you saw the finished film?
Byrne: I was, yeah. It’s delightful. And it’s hard to do that, because it’s a tricky subject. Like, you don’t want to make fun of someone with Asperger’s, you know? It’s a serious and very difficult condition that people live with. But it’s also so powerful to deal with serious issues in comedy, you know? So it doesn’t become sanctimonious, and sort of earnest. And that’s really a testament to Max, that he’s kind of done both, you know? So, you can uproariously laugh while you’re in a really dramatic situation, like when I’m having the huge fight with my father, and they end up in the snow, wrestling. And then Adam confuses something she says, and it’s a really funny moment of her getting irritated with him, amongst this drama. You know, you sort of fall out. And it’s really a testament to Max, and the script that he’s written.
Question: Was it important or irrelevant for you to do research into Asperger’s?
Byrne: I have a family friend who has Asperger’s, so I already knew a little bit about it. And I’d read this great novel called The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time, which sort of deals with that, in this book. But beyond that, I didn’t do much else, because Beth is really ignorant to it. So I didn’t want to inundate myself with information about it. And neither did Max. He was like – like, I didn’t go to any of the sort of – I think there were different socialization – many things, I think, with Asperger’s people, and stuff. And I didn’t take part in much of that.
Question: It’s interesting that you talk about the fact that you have a lack of confidence. And in fact, the self-consciousness is something that has been prevalent in you since the very first time I met you, which was in Toronto, a long time ago, now. And I’m wondering whether acting is a way for you to get past that.
Byrne: I’m sure it probably is, in a way. You know, you can throw yourself into a different character, and you can forget about yourself for a while, in a way. So, I think there’s probably an element of that that I’m really drawn to. Sort of hiding behind a character, or something like that. But I’ve definitely got more confident as I’ve gotten older. You know, I think with age, just – it’s important to nourish yourself so you’re not just sort of obsessed with work, and all that stuff.
Question: Now, when I last saw you at Sundance, you obviously hadn’t finished Season Two of Damages. What do you hope to look forward to in the third season?
Byrne: Well, I’m sort of discussing it with the guys. And I think it’s like, Ellen was sort of a child in the first season, and so she was an adolescent in the second. And I feel like she’s a woman in the third, you know? And I’d love to see her and Patty face off over a court case or something. You know, over a case together. And I have no idea if that will happen. But this is just in my own fantasy. I’d love to see some kind of face off between the two women.
Question: Now, your next film, I understand, is an intense drama – the one about Get Him to the Greek [LAUGHTER] And your leading man in that is a tragic character actor Russell Brand. For some reason, I can’t see you in a comedy like that. How did that come to you?
Byrne: I auditioned. I think someone else originally had the role, and dropped out over scheduling things, I’m not sure. But yeah, I just went in and auditioned, and got a call back. And then I think I went in again, and – yeah, and then got the role. So it was – it’s a very small part. I’m only sort of in a bit at the beginning and a bit at the end. But it’s a real departure, yeah. It’s nothing I’ve ever done before. And it’s so much fun. You know, it’s really different. Just even the way they work, sort of improvising. And I just hope that I make it in there. Because they’re pretty funny guys, you know?
Question: Are you good at improvising? Is it something that you are comfortable with?
Byrne: Yeah – not bad. I kind of enjoy it. I don’t know how good I am at it. I certainly got better, I think, over the week that I was working on the film. But – you know, Russell – he’s so quick, and he’s very erudite, and he’s kind of remarkable at that stuff. So – I was trying not to laugh a lot of the time, because he’s so witty. So, it was really fun. And I just hope it all comes together, and – yeah. It was really very much a departure, so it’d be good for people to see my goofy side.
Question: I’ve never seen your goofy side. Do you have one?
Byrne: I do. [LAUGHTER] I do! Yeah, I know. Ask any of my friends or family. I’m – you know, the youngest of four. So you’ve sort of got that clown quality about you a little bit. But yeah. No, I don’t blame you. I’m sure I come across like a wallflower. [LAUGHTER]
Question: Do you still enjoy living in New York?
Byrne: I do. I was in LA since February, auditioning, and then ended up getting the Greek film, so I was working on that. And then I’m headed back to New York tonight, to set up again there. Well, we’re doing press for the next – it’s a bit of a gypsy life for the next sort of two weeks. But – and yeah, back to New York, pretty much. And I love it. Yeah, I do. I’ve missed the city. And I hope we have another season beyond the third. We do have a third, but we don’t know beyond that. But I really do. It’s a great city. I feel so grateful to work there.
Question: And no idea what you’ll be doing for your next hiatus? Are you just looking at things? Do you want to come back to Australia and work?
Byrne: At this stage, it’s so far ahead yet, it’s impossible to know. I mean, we haven’t even started this season yet, and it tends to sort of always go over. And it’s really hard to predict when I’ll be available next. But – yeah. Of course, I would always love to return home to Australia. And I’d love to do some more comedy, and I’m hoping that Adam can find an audience. Because that’s really another side to me, that I think I haven’t shown before. So hopefully it’ll lend itself to more comedic stuff.
Question: Are you surprised by the success of Damages now, and the way it’s kind of establishing you on a different level than your prior career?
Byrne: Yeah. I’m so proud of it. I myself watch series. I love Mad Men and True Blood and Rescue Me. So, I’m really proud to be part of such a renaissance of TV, you know? And I think that our show is really amongst this kind of new group of shows like that. So to me, it’s really – I feel really grateful for the job, and it’s obviously launched me in a whole new way, in terms of exposure over here, and working with the likes of Glenn and Ted and Tate Donovan. And – you know, we have a harmonious set. Which – you know, that’s the main thing, too, that makes it fun to go to work. Because often, not everyone gets along. And they’re such long hours. But I’m really looking forward to going back. We do have fun.
Question: So, you’re a True Blood fan as well?
Byrne: Uh-huh [AFFIRM]. I haven’t seen the second season, because I was back in Australia. But girlfriends of mine have been texting me, like, “It’s so good.”
I did this thing for Variety a few months back with some other girls from shows, like January Jones, and Anna Paquin. And it was so exciting to meet these girls, because I’m such fans of their shows. And we were at the lobby of The Hollywood Reporter—there was an article from The Hollywood Reporter about females in TV shows.
Question: You were in good company.
Byrne: It was totally – I’m such a fan. So I was like, “Wow, what’s your show like?” And comparing all the way the shows were run. And it was quite fascinating.
Question: It must be very gratifying for you as an actress, to know that there are these rich roles for young women that are on television, that had never been seen before.
Byrne: There really is. No, there absolutely is. If you look around, there’s so many great roles for women now, on TV. And I think it’s wonderful. It’s like, you’re seeing people like Holly Hunter and Sigourney Weaver, and Jada Pinkett Smith, and Edie Falco, Glenn Close, really finding a new home on TV, in some ways – which I love.