“You have to remain vulnerable & be tough & resilient all at once”
– Rose Byrne
Camel wrap sweater by A Dètacher
Over the course of 40 feature films, five seasons on the hit series Damages opposite Glen Close, and scores of other television roles, Rose Byrne has built a career as the best kind of movie star— a versatile actor who can brilliantly deliver no matter what the role demands. And no matter what the project and its audience might be— whether stylized arthouse fare, blockbuster Sci-Fi, or broad comedy. Beginning with her nuanced portrayal of a blind girl on a road trip across the Australian outback with a Japanese computer hacker—which won her the 2000 Venice Film Festival’s Volpi prize for Best Actress—her performances consistently stand out. As often as not for the courage of her decision in taking them. As Byrne prepared for her starring role in the Sydney Theatre Company’s production of David Mamet’s Hollywood satire Speed-the-Plow, and to work with Oprah Winfrey on HBO’s adaptation of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, she spoke with MONROWE.
Camel wrap sweater, maroon leather skirt & black leather belt by A Dètacher
RK: Can you talk a little about the difference between stage and film?
RB: The obvious point is that film is just so technical. You find your light, you hit a mark and it’s very stop and start. Theater is much more organic; it goes on and on. As an actor, experientially, that’s the most glaringly obvious point of it. The experience of the two are completely opposite. During a play, the viewer gets what is essentially a two-hour wide shot! But film, for a viewer, offers something much more intimate. You can go close to someones face or breast or hand or really see from their point of view. Film is a director’s medium and theater is an actor’s medium. In that way, you have more control as an actor when you’re doing a play, which can be scary! It is a good kind of scary though, because you get to discover something again and again and again. It is challenging in the best possible way and it’s so important to be challenged. If not, nothing changes…especially for women because the good roles, the really great roles, are few and far between.
RK: How have you chosen roles?
RB: I have a tendency to do projects that I think will be interesting; whether it’s working with a director I’m dying to work with or a character I’m drawn to…there has to be some creative pull for me now. Whereas when I was younger, I was hungry for everything and anything. As I’ve gotten older, I try to find more of that inner intuition with choosing roles. Intuition: that’s the biggest thing that I’ve always tried to follow. No one can take that away from you, it’s indefinable, it’s ephemeral and it’s mine.
Stirrup pants & satin bodysuit by Nina Ricci, camel wrap sweater by A Dètacher
RK: Have you ever considered getting behind the camera yourself?
RB: I gravitate more towards producing. I started a little company with four friends back in Australia called Dollhouse Pictures and we’ve been trying to get a couple of things off the ground; we did a short film that went to a few festivals in Australia recently. Hopefully we’re going to have a feature out by the end of the year. As for directing…maybe one day. But now, I really am still discovering acting. With acting, you learn a lot on the job. You really do. It’s like having a baby: no matter how many things you read or people you talk to, until you’re actually dealing with bringing the kid up and learning everything, nothing can really prepare you.
RK: In 2000, you were awarded with the Volpi Cup for Best Actress at the Venice Film Festival. What was that like as a twenty-one year old? What are your thoughts on awards?
RB: Venice was so surreal. I was so young and was so taken-aback that I had won. I really didn’t think it was gonna happen. I probably didn’t capitalize on it as much as I should have [laughs]. That was a great honor and as I’ve gotten older, I treasure it more and more. But awards…they are such arbitrary things. How can you judge one performance against another? When you think about it, performances are so different. And comedy is always so shut-out of those things, even though good comedy is so difficult to create. But look, don’t get me wrong, I love to put on a frock! It’s always fun to dress up for award shows and I always try to keep a good sense of humor about it. A healthy dose of a grain of salt attitude…I’m very Australian in that sense.
RK: I recently just re-watched Wicker Park.
RB: Oh man!
RK: It was a great role that you played. The linguistics in it are just brilliant. Can you talk a little about linguistics and coaching? What are the mechanics of it?
RB: I’ve had very great vocal coaches throughout my career. But Australians have a huge advantage because we have a lot of American content on our screens growing up. I grew up watching Full House and Family Ties and Degrassi Junior High, so the accent is a very familiar sound, it’s not foreign at all. So we have an edge there and I’ve always loved doing accents. It’s one of the great joys of creating a character is finding their voice, literally.
Nude silk slip dress and nude coat by The Row
RK: What do you love best about New York?
RB: I love the street scene. From one street to the next it’s so different, the people watching is great. I love the light in New York. It has always felt familiar to me. And as I’ve lived here longer we will go upstate or to the beach and that is so lovely. You forget how close you are to landscapes. There’s something about New York…I truly still feel like it’s a melting pot and I’ve still got a long-standing romance with this city. We haven’t broken up yet. I find the city inspiring and I can’t believe I live here. I’m from a place that is very, very far away. So I still walk out onto the streets sometimes and think, “What? Where am I?” It’s a novelty. And I hope it always feels like that.
RK: In balancing being a parent and working, do you think that has shifted your goals?
RB: Absolutely. There are only so many hours in a day and I want to be with my family but I want to work, so it has to be something great to warrant not being around my family. You have to totally reevaluate things as a parent, ask yourself what is really worth it. The next project I’m working on is just something I literally could not say no to.
RK: Can you talk about it a little bit?
RB: Yes! It’s an HBO movie based on a book, a true story, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. It’s a really extraordinary story about a young woman named Henrietta Lacks who died from cervical cancer in the 1950s. Her cells were taken from her body without her knowledge and the cells were the first to grow outside the human body in test tubes and they became known as HeLa cells. Henrietta was a black woman, a tobacco farmer, who was only thirty-one years old when she died. Neither she nor her family ever gave consent to Johns Hopkins hospital to take the cells. A journalist named Rebecca Skloot devoted 10 years of her life writing a book about Henrietta’s family and what her cells have done for science and I’m playing Rebeca Skloot. Oprah Winfrey is playing Deborah Lacks who was Henrietta’s daughter. It’s a very interesting scientific and ethical story.
RK: One more question. What would you say to an actor hoping to be the next Rose Byrne?
RB: Oh my goodness! I would be very flattered that they would want that and I think that…this is a tough business because you have to remain vulnerable and be tough and resilient all at once. That’s one of the biggest challenges about being an actor is that you have to have a thick skin to overcome rejection but you have to remain vulnerable so you can tell stories and have empathy.
High neck pullover, skirt & short fur tabard by Hérmes
Green leather coat, blush turtleneck, green velvet pants & maroon heeled boots by Céline
Rose Byrne | Team Credits
Photography: Stefani Pappas
Stylist: Haidee Findlay-Levin
Hair: Gianpaolo Ceciliato
Makeup: Blake Erick Burkholder
Executive Producer: Steven Hong @peir59korea
Casting Director Ros Okusanya & Photo Assistant Kasheem Daniels
Many thanks @jack studios