By ANGELA DAWSON
Front Row Features
HOLLYWOOD—Aussie actress Rose Byrne began her career 20 years ago in her native land in the romantic comedy “Dallas Doll,” playing a UFO-obsessed teenager. The brunette beauty went on to gain worldwide exposure playing the double of Natalie Portman’s Senator Padme Amidala in “Star Wars: Episode II—Attack of the Clones.” TV viewers may know her best from her role as Ellen Parsons on the cable series “Damages,” in which she co-starred opposite Glenn Close for five seasons.
The 34-year-old actress has shown off her comedy chops in the hit female-centric “Bridesmaids,” and has been the central character in the “Insidious” horror franchise.
She now stars in the gross-out comedy “Neighbors,” in which she and Seth Rogen play a young married couple with a baby whose world is turned upside down when a fraternity moves in next door. In the Nicholas Stoller-directed comedy, Kelly and Mac initially try the friendly approach, sharing pot with the frat ringleaders (played by Zac Efron and Dave Franco), and even joining them at their first raucous party, to prove they’re hip. But when the noise continues, the couple calls the cops and the animosity between the neighbors escalates. They enlist a friend (Ike Berinholtz) to help them carry out a plot to take down the frat and force them to move out.
Byrne, who is dating “Boardwalk Empire’s” Bobby Cannavale, spoke by phone from her adoptive home in New York about her new comedy, how she stays hip and what’s ahead, including her dancing and singing debut in the upcoming remake of “Annie.”
Q: Whether you’re doing comedy or drama, you exhibit fearlessness in your performances. Where does that come from?
Byrne: Wow, that’s a big compliment! I don’t know. I think when it’s a certain style of movie, you’ve to commit. In this case, the character was so wild, extreme and daft in many ways. When there’s a creative license to be fearless that’s always a pretty good one.
Q: How would you deal with a bad neighbor?
Byrne: I think I’d be very stressed. I’m generally a people-pleaser so I get high anxiety from any sort of confrontation. I’d attempt to do what my character does in the movie, initially.
Q: I’d imagine that neighborly disputes are inevitable living in the close confines of New York, right?
Byrne: I’ve been lucky in New York but the close proximity thing is really stressful.
Q: It was fun seeing you and Seth in that dynamic. Did you ever start laughing during a take? Who was the worst offender of cracking up during a scene?
Byrne: Seth laughs a bit. He’s a great audience. Making a film is an incredibly technical undertaking but there was a lot of laughing and him making me laugh because it’s very much improvised, a lot of it. So the spontaneity of that—I can really lose it. I have to rein myself in sometimes.
Q: One scene that sticks out is where you insist on him pumping your breast milk because the machine is broken. Who was more embarrassed doing that scene?
Byrne: For me, the Abercrombie & Fitch scene (where Rogen and Efron pose as shirtless models in front of hipster store) is far more crazy. I’ve always laughed at those guys in front of Abercrombie & Fitch. I just thought it was so ridiculous—the exploitation of these young guys. I was very satisfied to see that parodied on screen a little bit. But as far as the breast milk scene goes, it was part of the whole deal.
Q: Who made you laugh on set between takes? Who kept the energy going?
Byrne: They all did. Everyone is kind of aware of the energy. Comedy has to have momentum in order for it to keep moving along. That’s sort of part of the atmosphere on a set like that. Ike Berinholtz is very funny and very upbeat, and constantly making us crack up. He was constantly entertaining.
Q: What was the most complicated scene for you?
Byrne: I have a speech where I’m describing the politics of the frat before we decide how to infiltrate it bring apart the personal relationships so the frat will implode. That speech was incredibly hard. I had to say it really fast and really loud and that was stressful knowing I had to do it.
Q: You play mom to baby Stella in this. How was it working with a baby on set?
Byrne: We had these twins, Zoe and Elise playing Stella. They’re interesting to watch because they’re not self-conscious most of the time. We were very lucky that they had a lovely temperament and were really incredibly well behaved and charming. They just broke everybody’s heart. They just charmed the whole set. Everyone would kind of melt when they came on. It was hard not to be enamored. They were very lovely girls. We were so lucky because we were on a tight schedule and a tight budget and if that had been difficult, it would not have been a fun shoot.
Q: How do you stay hip once you reach 30?
Byrne: Even on set, I did feel very much the older generation. The answer is I don’t think you can. As you get older, you just lose that confidence and narcissism you have in your twenties. You realize you have less time on the planet, and you become cynical and less confident.
Q: Have you ever had a moment where you are standing amongst 16-year-old girls and you go, “Oh my God, I’m so far away from this?”
Byrne: Oh yeah, totally. It’s great when you see the fashion, though. Like, now I see some of the clothes from the ‘90s is back in fashion. That really freaks me out because that’s when I grew up. Backpacks and floral skirts and Doc Martens were hip then and now that’s what all the little hipsters are wearing in the East Village, and that’s what makes me feel very weird.
Q: You’ve wrapped “Annie” at this point, right?
Q: What was that experience like for you?
Byrne: It was honestly quite fun. I’d never had a job in a musical, singing and dancing. There’s something very joyous about it and the songs are, obviously, so joyous. Working with Quvenzhane Wallis (who plays the title character and starred in “Beasts of the Southern Wild”) was like a whole different experience. She has that energy of a child. I really loved it. I found it liberating. There’s nothing cool about musicals. They’re unabashed, and so you have to sell the song. There’s something about throwing all that self-consciousness to the wind, which I really appreciated.
Q: Had you done musicals before?
Byrne: No, I hadn’t. This was my first foray.
Q: You’re going to be working with your “Bridesmaids” co-star Melissa McCarthy in “Spy.”
Byrne: We’re halfway through. I go back Monday to Budapest and we’re there for another six weeks. Working again with Melissa is incredible and so is working with (director) Paul Feig. There’s a great cast of plenty so it’s been fun. I haven’t done this sort of film for a while. It’s a big action spy film and it’s really a fun role.
Q: Is there a lot of physicality—handling weapons, running, and jumping off ledges?
Byrne: Uh-huh. There’s a bit of that stuff and my costumes are rather elaborate. That’s been very fun as well, creating the looks for my character.
Q: As a “Star Wars” alum, how excited are you about the new film going into production?
Byrne: I haven’t seen a lot of the “Star Wars” films, so I’m not educated on it. I’ve been privileged to be a part of it, though. But it’s really intriguing. The actors all sound incredible.
Q: What are you doing after “Spy?”
Byrne: I’ve got a role in a film called “This is Where I Leave You,” which comes out later in the year. That’s a great ensemble cast with Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, Jane Fonda and Kathryn Hahn. It’s based on a novel by Jonathan Tropper (who also wrote the screenplay). It’s really sweet.
Q: It was 20 years ago that you made your film debut in “Dallas Doll.”
Byrne: Wow. Thank you for bringing that up. It’s so wild. Really, the passage of time. It’s a whole other conversation, isn’t it? (She laughs.) How do you quantify it? I don’t know. The years go faster as you get older. That’s such a cliché, but it’s true. I feel very grateful to still be working, to be honest. It’s a business of highs and lows, so it’s important to have a good perspective on it.