Rose Byrne on Her Most Memorable Roles, From 'Star Wars' to 'Neighbors 2'
Rose Byrne Role Call
If Rose Byrne were any other actor, this would be an unusually busy time. She's in three new movies. In indie dramedy The Meddler, she plays Susan Sarandon's meddled-with daughter. In X-Men: Apocalypse, she reprises the role of CIA Agent Moira MacTaggert. And in Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising, she returns as Kelly Radner, oft-pregnant scourge of the Greek system. But shuttling between genres is nothing new for the 36-year-old Byrne, the rare actor to star in a hit comedy, a hit horror film, and a big-budget superhero movie in one calendar year.
Pitched as a bro-heavy farce, the first Neighbors was a stealth-missile showcase for Byrne. "It's frustrating that there's this sort of unfortunate tradition, in broader comedies, where women can often be buzzkills," says Byrne. "We just wanted to do the opposite of that." In Neighbors 2, Kelly and husband Mac (Seth Rogen) are older, and marginally wiser. "She's expecting her second child," says Byrne. "They're becoming more conservative in a way." But the Neighbors franchise still gives Byrne the unique opportunity to use her native Australian accent, unlike every other film we talked to her about.
Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones — Dormé (2002)
Byrne had a small role as a handmaiden to Natalie Portman's Queen-turned-Senator Amidala in George Lucas' second prequel.
ROSE BYRNE: I got to work with Natalie. I'm such a fan of her and her work. She's my age, and she was so lovely to me. I only had one line. "I'm worried about you, my lady, go back to the Capitol," or something like that. I worked heavily, months and months of work, with various acting coaches. It was a lot of work, but me and George, we got there in the end. [laughs]
Troy — Briseis (2004)
Byrne played Trojan priestess Briseis, captive and lover of Brad Pitt's Achilles. Byrne got to know oft-nominated screen icon Peter O'Toole, later her costar in the BBC's Casanova.
BYRNE: Peter O'Toole used to tell me how much he loved my character: "I want to play Briseis, she's the best character in the script!" I have an Irish heritage, and he was Irish, and he was obsessed with my name. We had to walk up these incredible stairs to this one set that was perched very high up on Malta, overlooking these old ruins. He smoked, even at age 70. He was breathing very heavily going up these stairs. One of the PAs said to him, "Peter, maybe you should give up the smokes!" And he said, "Maybe I should give up stairs."
Marie Antoinette – Duchesse de Polignac (2006)
Sofia Coppola's New Wave-soundtracked costume drama gave Byrne an early chance to work on her comedy chops.
BYRNE: It was actually the first time I got to do improv. Sofia really encourages that with her scripts. She wants it to be natural and organic. Duchesse de Polignac was a socialite of her day, and a corruptor of Marie Antoinette. She was sort of a Kate Moss of her day, a real partier. It was a comic role. I remember Sofia telling me, "She's like a bottle of champagne, she just pops." The costumes were stunning. I wore costumes from Barry Lyndon that Marisa Berenson wore.
Damages – Ellen Parson (2007-2012)
Byrne moved to the small screen for her breakout turn as a young lawyer working with/against Glenn Close's magisterial Patty Hewes. The fast pace of TV-drama production was a new challenge.
BYRNE: Ellen starts out very naïve: This fresh-off-the-boat law student, who's just so eager. It was a tough first season, because the audience was always one step ahead of the character. It was challenging for me. The workload is incredibly challenging on those shows. And working with Glenn, that was obviously very intimidating at first, but was quite good, in the sense that in that first season Ellen's quite intimdated by Patty. It paralleled a bit what I was experiencing.
Insidious – Renai Lambert (2011)
In James Wan's horror flick, Byrne is the freaked-out mom of a family haunted by untold horrors. The budget for Insidious would've paid for a minute and a half of Troy.
BYRNE: We shot that in 22 days for nothing. It was so small, really fast, and dirty – and fun, in a way! I embraced that aspect of it. When you're in that kind of atmosphere, there's a camaraderie, which is not always the case on a bigger film. And I'm Australian! I come from making dirty little independent movies for three weeks! And I enjoy horror films a lot. When I was little, I would make my mum rent Nightmare on Elm Street, and Silent Night, Deadly Night, and Fright Night.
Bridesmaids — Helen (2011)
For Kristen Wiig's beleaguered and broke Annie, wealthy Helen is the passive aggressive-foil. The female-fronted comedy continues to dominate the zeitgeist half a decade later.
BYRNE: Helen's so insecure, really, and controlling. It all comes from a place of insecurity. It was a fun character to unravel. Working with so many women was so wonderful. I'd never had that opportunity to do a project with a great cast of women. I didn't necessarily think it was going to become such a beloved thing, and start this whole "women being funny" thing. I always thought women were funny.
Spy — Rayna Boyanov (2015)
Reunited with Bridemaids costar Melissa McCarthy and director Paul Feig, Byrne played the villainous Rayna Boyanov, another opportunity to show off her comedy chops.
BYRNE: Traditionally, she'd probably be a guy, that character. I was looking to the classic Bond villains. I really wanted to make her incredibly mysterious. We really worked on the physical comedy. The sequence in the car park, where I'm about to get the nuclear weapon, took a week to shoot, and was a lot of physical stuff. That was challenging, just because of what I'm wearing, in these tiny little dresses, and huge 12-inch stiletto heels, huge hair, my equilibrium is always slightly off.