She starred in ''Insidious,'' ''Bridesmaids,'' ''X-Men: First Class,'' and she's back on ''Damages'' in July

June 17, 2011 at 04:00 AM EDT

The summer is typically the season for people to take vacations and work on their tans. But beach time is not on the agenda for Rose Byrne, who’s in the midst of the busiest period of her career. Already this year, the 31-year-old actress has costarred in three hit movies: the spring horror pic Insidious, the blockbuster comedy Bridesmaids, and the superhero reboot X-Men: First Class. And beginning July 13, she’ll be returning to her Emmy-nominated role as Ellen Parsons on the fourth season of the twisty Glenn Close-led legal drama Damages, which jumps to DirecTV after three seasons on FX. ”It’s pretty cool that they’re all diverse,” says Byrne of her back-to-back movie parts. ”The only thing that’s been odd is that they all came out at the same time. I sorta wish they had been staggered a bit.”

The youngest of four children, Byrne grew up in a bohemian neighborhood in Sydney, Australia, and started taking acting classes at age 8. Her big break came at 18 when she was cast opposite a young Heath Ledger in the 1999 indie thriller Two Hands, which played at the Sundance Film Festival. ”Heath was always very helpful,” says Byrne. ”He’d always pitch me. Whatever movie he was doing, he’d do a hard sell on me [to costar]. He was very generous like that.” Even without Ledger’s help, she landed roles in 2004’s Troy and 2010’s Get Him to the Greek. Thanks in part to the latter film, she was cast as ice queen Helen in Bridesmaids, another heavily ad-libbed Judd Apatow production. ”I’m really glad I had done Get Him to the Greek,” says Byrne, who’s currently single. ”I knew improv and the process that Judd works with.” Not that the actress found it easy to keep a straight face playing opposite comedy pros like Kristen Wiig and Maya Rudolph. ”During the [engagement party] speech contest, she would come up with really funny stuff, and in the middle of it she’d start laughing,” recalls Bridesmaids director Paul Feig. ”Then she would pretend that she was crying to cover up the laugh.”

On X-Men: First Class, covering up was never an option: In her first big scene as mutant-friendly CIA agent Moira MacTaggert, Byrne has to snoop around in nothing but her underwear. ”Because that’s what the CIA does,” she laughs. ”It was tongue-in-cheek and it was ’60s underwear, so there’s something grandmotherly about it. But listen, I totally understand it’s absurd.” Even as she prepares to shoot Damages‘ fifth season in August, Byrne hopes her eclectic big-screen roles help shake the notion that she can only play a buttoned-up TV lawyer. ”People probably think I’m very earnest, and I’m not,” says Byrne. ”I’m definitely not earnest. I’d love to continue to dispel that myth!”

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