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Rose Byrne Interview

Australian-born actress Rose Byrne’s first big film came in the form of Star Wars: Episode II, where she played a handmaiden to Natalie Portman’s Queen Amidala. Since then she’s also had roles in Troy, Marie Antoinette, Sunshine and 28 Weeks Later and she’s currently starring in the American TV programme Damages alongside Glenn Close. Rose Byrne was recently in London along with co-star Nicolas Cage, talking about the end of the world, her favourite TV shows and her latest film, Knowing.

Actors in general can be quite superstitious. Are you?
Rose Byrne (RB): I've gotten better, I think. I probably used to be much more superstitious when I was younger. But I think I've grown out of it a little bit.

Is Knowing a film of its time, where people are now doubting things we once trusted?
RB: Yeah, I mean I believe film is sort of a collective consciousness in a way. It's really just what the audience wants to see. Films like this have always been popular in this genre. But I also think it's unusual for the genre because it's actually a very intimate story about extraordinary events.

Was it the sort of script you got straight away, or the more you got into it the more ideas kind of bubbled to the surface?
RB: I was intrigued by the script and thought it unfolded in a very foreboding way. But seeing the film, I was so impressed with the tone that Alex set very early on with the supernatural element and feeling that there was really something quite rotten going on. I loved all that stuff, and the dream sequence with Caleb out the window.

After Sunshine you just had to be involved in this?
RB: Yeah, I'm the girl you come to for panic! [Laughs]

How did you establish your rapport with your child co-star?
RB: Lara [Robinson] is a very bright young girl. I agree with Nicolas, they were good kids. They were very well behaved and they bring a candidness to the set and a vitality which is much appreciated, especially when the film was pretty heavy and dark. They bring a lightness to it that helped us. She looks exactly like me, that little girl, which was pretty weird - especially when she's the crazy one!

Did both child co-stars understand the story as well?
RB: I think they're pretty perceptive. There were little comments here and there that Lara would say to me. She had her own little take on everything. She'd say: "I learn things from you, and you learn things from me..." That was very endearing.

How much do you believe in pre-determination? Do you buy into the overall concept? Have you ever been to see a psychic?
RB: I used to see a lot of psychics in my early 20s and then I just malfunctioned and thought I'd had enough. I didn't want to know anymore... and they rarely got anything right anyway. It was just like a bad form of therapy really - you sit there and talk about yourself. So ever since then, I just try and strive to live in the moment and seize the day more than anything else.

As actors, is it a help or a hindrance working against green screen and things that aren't there?
RB: I didn't have any. I had a little bit of stunt driving and stuff. I quite enjoy that because it sort of liberates you from your head and you can do something physical. But I've never really done any green screen.

Did you look after Nicolas Cage when he was filming in Melbourne?
RB: Well, Nicolas was actually very kind and he took us and the children out to an animal sanctuary one day, which was really great.

There's a lot of fears in the movie - fear of plane crashes, fear of train crashes, fear of losing a child. Did it make it quite a harrowing experience to film?
RB: Well, I'm not a parent so I don't have a child but that was a bit of a departure for me to play a mother. And she's a 10-year-old girl, so she's not a child. But it was pretty traumatic even for someone who doesn't have kids to play those scenes out where you lose your child. Confronting some of that stuff was hard, but as an actor it's also somehow fulfilling to try and do something that scares you.

Can you tell us a little bit about pitching the tone of your performance, because you have to believe in everything that's happening? How do you keep your energy levels up for the performance?
RB: Well, it's very personal I think for each actor how they choose to sustain themselves and how they choose to inhabit the theme, whether it's method or whatever you want to do. Nicolas is a very committed actor and is very serious about his work, and so every scene was dealt with really well. We had a great period of discussing the script for a few weeks around a table, which was really helpful. And Alex Proyas likes actors, so I think he enjoys collaborating with you on what you want to bring.

What would you do with your last day if you knew the date the world ended?
RB: I'd try to get back to Australia where my family and friends are.

Damages is so intense to watch, like Knowing, so do you ever fancy a break from that level of intensity? And how do the two projects compare?
RB: Doing Knowing was just a luxury because you have so much time on a film, whereas a TV show is just a race against the clock. You have seven days per episode, whereas something like Big Love gets 12 days per episode. So, we're shooting up to 17 hour days. I'm into the director driven medium in film, so I really enjoyed that collaboration with the director. But I enjoy being part of a series because I myself am a big series watcher. I'm into Mad Men and Flight of the Conchords. So, I'm proud to be part of that. And you have an intimacy with your character in a TV show that I've never really had before. You spend so much time in their skin and in that world.

But yes, I have tended to have these darker roles in films and I think it's a case of having to educate people that I do have a lighter side. But it's a bit of a difficult process in Hollywood. You have to kind of knock people over the head to prove it. But I'm determined to do something lighter eventually.

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Content updated: 21/11/2018 11:31

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