By David Canfield
November 16, 2018 at 02:27 PM EST
Hopper Stone/Paramount Pictures
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Rose Byrne manages a hilariously human performance in her latest movie, Instant Family, even as it navigates some pretty tricky territory. Sean Anders’ semi-autobiographical film of a married couple considering foster care, only to adopt three siblings at once, delves deeply and seriously into a sensitive, oft-stigmatized topic, while not shying away from the humor of their situation at the same time. “It’s a surprisingly winning movie, packed with just the right combination of laughs and sniffles,” EW’s Chris Nashawaty writes in his review.

Starring opposite Mark Wahlberg, Byrne stands out as Ellie, who wearily adjusts to an intensive mothering role. It’s but the latest instance of the actress shining in a studio comedy, having already turned out scene-stealing performances in BridesmaidsNeighbors, and more. But Byrne says this experience was a different one. EW caught up with the actress on walking Instant Family‘s “very fine line,” how she prepared for the movie, and much more. Read on below. Instant Family is now playing in theaters everywhere.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Why did you want to get involved in this movie?
ROSE BYRNE: I’d just had a baby, so I was super emotional. [Laughs] I read the script and was just sobbing. It was so moving and heartbreaking. I’d never seen anything or read anything like it. I jumped right in.

What did you learn about foster care? What surprised you?
I don’t know where to begin in terms of what I learned. I learned everything. I was really naive about the foster care system. I have a couple very close friends of mine who are adopted, so I knew a bit about that. But I met incredible families and social workers and kids who’d been in the system. I don’t even know where to begin. To have seen the inspirational side of this, in terms of what can be achieved and what can be done, and to be part of the movie — it’s about trying to bring joy to these kids and lose the stigma of being a foster kid.

Any specific anecdote you can share?
I had a fantastic dinner with an incredible group of mothers who’d fostered children. Some had foster kids in transition, some had a mix of biological and adopted — from all walks of life. I’ll never forget it.

The movie has a balance, where it’s funny but not overly so. How did you strike that balance?
Trusting Sean completely. I was absolutely nervous. I was worried about the tone: how far to push it, how to ground it in reality. It was hard. This was Sean’s story, so I trusted him. I knew how passionate he was. We’d push the comedy and then pull back. It was very collaborative, finding that line. Because it is a fine line. It’s a very fine line.

You have that great scene where you’re in the bedroom, talking about how you’re at your limit.
Yes! I remember agonizing about that. It took such a long time to figure that one out. I was asking, “What am I really saying? Why is it funny? How should I play it?”

There’s also the adoption picnic, which from this viewer’s perspective was almost surreal. I’d never seen an event like that.
It was heartbreaking. I couldn’t believe it. I was like, “This is real?” Sean said, “Yes, this is what we did!” It was one of my first questions when we talked on the phone. Just so strange that this happens.

You’re a mother now, as you mentioned. Did that inform how you approached this material at all?
The kids in the movie are older [than mine], so there are different challenges. But there’s a universal thing, once you’re a parent, that you get. In terms of the relationship between me and [Isabela Moner], it just reminded me of my mother and me when I was that age. I was completely obnoxious and precocious — all the things that you’re supposed to be when you’re a teenager. [Laughs] That reminded me a lot of when I was a teenager.

This is being released in time for the holidays — why is it a great movie for the season?
It’s about families and what they look like. There’s no one way a family should look. They’re of all sizes, all creeds. So it’s genuinely meant for everybody. At a time when families are being torn about, this is about a family trying to come together.

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