With Three New Films This Year, Rose Byrne Is on Fire

Rose Byrne is standing in a darkened photo studio in Manhattan’s East Village. Her lips have been painted a dramatic shade of red, and her brown locks curl out at the ends in comely wisps. A fog machine sits next to an idling 1968 Firebird convertible, which the 31-year-old Australian actor leans against seductively. Paired with the exhaust coming out of the car’s tailpipe, the fog, while essential to the Lynchian vibe on set, makes it hard to breathe. A trooper, Byrne coughs into her cupped hands and returns to the art of being sexy. It’s only when Rihanna’s “Only Girl (In the World)” starts playing that she loses her grip. “Seriously, guys?” she snaps. “Can we please change the music?”

A few hours later, we’ve relocated to a bench in Tompkins Square Park for some fresh air. It’s the first warm afternoon in April, and we’re assessing her little outburst. “I didn’t know that was a Rihanna song,” she says, laughing. “I just couldn’t cope with it.” Perhaps that’s because Byrne, the star of TV’s Machiavellian law drama Damages (the fourth season of which premieres in July on DirecTV), leads a life that’s anathema to photo shoots—and fast cars, for that matter. “I wish I could tell you some thrilling stories about my adventures hobnobbing and hot air ballooning, but I’m usually very mundane,” she says. “I ride my bike. I go to yoga. I try to cook once a week, although I’m a terrible chef.” Recent dishes include roasted chicken and spaghetti Bolognese—“nothing fancy.” Byrne, a onetime student of literature who dropped out of the University of Sydney in her “second or third” year, enjoys escaping into a novel when she can, even posting mini-reviews on Goodreads, a “nerdy website that’s sort of like Facebook, but about actual books.” She’s currently part-way through an intense spring-cleaning marathon, which she’s quick to blame on her recently packed working schedule. “My apartment is overgrown with clutter,” she says, her Aussie accent muddled by the American and British inflections she’s adopted over time for various roles. “I tend to throw myself full bore into my job, and when I finally stop to breathe I sort of collapse for a while.” image

If ever she’s earned the right to vegetate, it’s now. The two-time Golden Globe Award nominee, who’s appeared in such films as Troy, Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones, and Marie Antoinette, recently co-starred with Patrick Wilson in Insidious, her first horror film. “I did a zombie movie, 28 Weeks Later, a few years ago, but I’d never done anything quite like this,” she says. “I used to make my mom rent Poltergeist and A Nightmare on Elm Street. I love a good horror flick, so it was a welcome challenge.” Byrne’s next challenge is the ensemble comedy Bridesmaids, a bawdy, estrogen-addled answer to The Hangover. In that film, out this month, she plays Helen, the most Type A of Lillian’s (Maya Rudolph) six bridesmaids. While she tackled broad comedy last year as Jackie Q, the pop-tart girlfriend to Russell Brand’s live-wire rock star in Get Him to the Greek, this was her first opportunity to play a funny female lead. “I’m so unbelievably proud of that film,” she says of Bridesmaids. “No matter how it does at the box office, I just think there’s never been anything like it.”

Additionally, Byrne will star this summer as Moira MacTaggert, a CIA operative who liaises between the American government and her mutant friends in X-Men: First Class. Although director Matthew Vaughn reinterpreted Marvel’s beloved comic book character for his film (the original MacTaggert was a geneticist and mutation expert), Byrne isn’t losing any sleep over the possible wrath of purists. “I’m sure there are people out there who will be fundamentally disappointed by my interpretation, but hopefully some people will like it, too,” she says. “There’s really nothing I can do about it either way.” This isn’t to say that Byrne took lightly the responsibility of bringing her character to life. “I met with an X-Men expert on set a few times. He came prepared with a folder this thick,” she says, stretching out her slim arms as if reenacting the most fruitful fishing trip of her life. “He wasn’t sent from Marvel, but he was a wonderfully learned fanboy nonetheless.”

X-Men: First Class is likely to break box-office records, but Byrne is trying her best to avoid the hype. “You always want a winner,” she says, “But I’m not necessarily after the fame that kind of success often breeds. Obviously I want people to see the films I make, otherwise I’d be doing a play right now on the side of the road, but I’m not chasing fame in the way that someone like Paris Hilton chases fame.” Or the way Charlie Sheen, perhaps a more topical example, chases fame. “That looks more like a case of mental illness, but you never know,” she says of Sheen. “Maybe he’s the architect of it all—and if he is, fantastic, but if he’s not, then the whole thing seems terribly exploitative. I’m so thankful for my absolute anonymity outside of the acting world.” Late to meet a friend for dinner, Byrne says goodbye and disappears into the crowds of drifters trafficking St. Mark’s Place. True to her word, no one seems to notice.

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Photography by David Field. Styling by Christopher Campbell.

First photo: Dress and Earrings by Chanel. Second photo: Sweater by Louis Vuitton. Necklace by Salvatore Ferragamo. Third photo: Dress by Proenza Schouler. Shoes By Gucci. Hair by Thomas Dunkin @ The Wall Group using Sebastian Professional. Makeup by Hung Vanngo @ The Wall Group. Manicurist: Julie Kandalec @ Artists by Timothy Priano. Photo Assistants: Ryan Burke and Sasha Maslov. Stylist’s Assistant: Gina Zuniga-Baldwin. Digital Tech: Blake Ribbey. 1968 Firebird 400 convertible provided by Classic Car Club Manhattan. Location Bathhouse Studios, New York City.

The Kills Cover BlackBook’s May Music Issue!

What luck! In a week that turned out to be all about the kill, we’re introducing our brand new Music Issue on newsstands now, featuring cover stars The Kills. Coincidence? We think so! Anyway, read all about the everlasting musical union between Mr. Hince and Ms. Mosshart — and the new album they made — here. Also in our May issue:

Before Mark Ruffalo hulks and smashes in next summer’s Avengers, he pauses for his directorial debut, Sympathy for Delicious; read a revealing interview with the actor about the rock drama and the darkness that inspired it. UK music sensation Anna Calvi has opened for Interpol, but she never met lead singer Paul Banks — until now. The Arctic Monkeys, rockstars before they turned twenty, evolve on their new album, Suck It and See. New York’s Gang Gang Dance explain where their trippy, tribal, genre-defying sound comes from. Our sometime fashion guru Gavin McInnes puts SXSW on blast. Avant-garde musical artist Planningtorock takes us on an impromptu tour of Berlin.

Plus Rose Byrne, Taylor Momsen, Chloe Sevigny, Death Cab for Cutie, Dolly Parton, Richard Ashcroft, Tinie Tempah, and more!

Links: Vanessa Hudgens Nude Again, Gerard Butler Has Standards

● Despite the Gosselins renewing their vows on television last November, Jon Gosselin says his marriage fell apart last October, so his partying and man-whoring is totally justified. [MSNBC] ● This new round of Vanessa Hudgens nude cellphone pics are actually older than the original scandalous photos, as the former High School Musical actress learned her lesson about nude photos the first time around. [E!] ● Did Michael Jackson steal his gender- and race-bending transformation from this 3,000-year-old female Egyptian bust? [NBC]

● Now that hot mess Paula Abdul is gone from Idol, who can fill her wino shoes? Victoria Beckham perhaps? Posh is rumored to come on as guest judge this upcoming season. [Mirror] ● Turns out lothario Gerard Butler won’t go for just anyone, as he declined the advances of Kelly Bensimon for that of the much classier Rose Byrne. [NYDailyNews] ● Christina Aguilera will make her acting debut in the film Burlesque, wherein Aguilera will play a small town girl who becomes a famous burlesque dancer at a Hollywood club … oh, and Cher is her mentor. [DigitalSpy]

Actress Rose Byrne on ‘Knowing’ Religion & the End of the World

This was Rose Byrne’s introduction to American audiences. Not only did she get to make out with a nude Brad Pitt in an ancient greek fantasy land, but she got to do it after he spent months in the gym preparing for his role as Achilles in the swords-and-sandals epic Troy. I know–yowzas, right? You’d think one’s career would tumble downhill from there, but not so for the Australian beauty. Since then, she starred as French aristocrat opposite Kirsten Dunst in Marie Antoinette, an astronaut trying to reignite the sun in Sunshine, and an army medical officer in the zombie horror film 28 Weeks Later. And while cultivating her film career, Byrne has been putting in a Golden Globe-nominated performance alongside Glenn Close in the hit FX legal drama Damages.

Her latest project is Knowing, a supernatural thriller costarring Nicholas Cage. The film was directed by fellow Australian Alex Proyas (The Crow, Dark City) and is at times terrifying, at times baffling, while asking some profound questions about determinism, fate, and the apocalypse. So when I met Byrne at the Ritz-Carlton last week, our conversation helplessly veered towards religion, the cosmos, and the end of the world, even though all I really wanted to know was what Brad Pitt’s biceps actually felt like.

What excites you most about the film? I think Alex Proyas is a real visionary. So if you’re a fan of his work, then it’s a real exciting thing to add to his body of work. I think it’s really, really smart. And he creates a tone in the movie which I think is just so foreboding and eerie, and then progresses to be quite surprising and revelatory.

Did watching the disaster set-pieces scare you as much as they scared me? Oh yeah. Did you get on the subway since then? The action is so real. Often action is a confusing device and it doesn’t make sense, or it’s just absurd. But it’s not like that at all.

You had to audition for this film. Is that strange, considering you’re a Golden-Globe-nominated actress, and the filmmakers already know who you are? Well I’d known Alex before, so I was happy to come in because I’d always wanted to work with him. In a way you get to see if you fit the role and what you can do with it. It’s never a pleasant experience, auditioning. It’s a bit traumatic. I’d never wish it on anyone. But I’ve been doing it forever so I’m used to it.

Did you audition opposite Nicholas? No, I actually auditioned with the little girl who plays my daughter.

You’ve said rejection breaks your heart every time you don’t get a role. Is that still the case? Oh, sure! Absolutely. I mean, if you’re desperately dying to do it, then of course. But there are other parts that you go “Oh, I wasn’t meant to get that.”

In the film the Earth is threatened by a scientific force I was never aware of before. Do you know if that’s even possible? I’m not particularly scientific so I don’t have an incredible knowledge in terms of those things. What do you think?

I’ve never heard of it before. And if it’s possible, I think it’s very scary that it could happen at any moment. What about the Mayan theory that it’s all over in 2012?

Um no, but the trailer for the movie is quite cool. Wait, there’s a movie?

Yeah, it’s called 2012 and the teaser is really creepy. Wow really?! Oh my God, so it’s about the Mayans?

Yeah, in the trailer, it looks like a huge tidal wave does us in. Well the calendar just stops. It starts before Christ, and then it just stops. There’s no indication as to why it stops or how. It just ends there. Thom Yorke thinks it’s going to be the end of the world. That’s why he named his kid Noah.

Nicholas Cage’s character wrestles with the reason we’re on Earth—whether it’s all just a cosmic coincidence, or whether there’s a greater purpose. Do you ever think about those things? I did a film called Sunshine with Danny Boyle and we actually spent a lot of time talking to scientists about all of these sorts of things. And it got me thinking that just the fact that we are here is a miracle.

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That’s two “sun” movies you’ve done. Yeah, I was thinking about that. Maybe it’s because I’m a Leo and I have this relationship with the sun. But yeah, we had a whole education on the sun. And how the amount of gravity we have here is the perfect amount with part oxygen so everyone can breathe.

But do you think life is a result of random chemical reaction? Strange, because the fact that we are here is such a miracle. So is it purely chance? And that’s it, that’s the miracle? I do believe it’s a series of chemical accidents. That’s the type of way I choose to believe. Maybe because I’m not religious. Were brought up on religion?

No, I wasn’t. I wouldn’t call myself an atheist, but more agnostic. Yeah, I’d say I am agnostic. My parents are atheists. Well, my mum is. I’d say my dad was agnostic. But I think that I’m probably agnostic, yeah. I think the fact that there are so many different religions in the world immediately makes me suspicious. How can you know which one is right? Do you know what I mean? Is the Jewish religion right? Or is the Christian religion right? Or is the Hindu religion right?

And it’s those kinds of questions that leads to violence on a massive scale. Yeah, that’s a huge discussion. I actually have a friend who thinks it’s not religion’s fault, but that it’s our fault as a race for not using religion as a tool to guide us through life.

There are a lot of things left unexplained in Knowing. Was that on purpose? Definitely, to create conversation and foster these sorts of discussions about spirituality, and about your beliefs and the future of things, environmental things. I think it’s definitely tapered in that direction.

The ending of this film will leave a lot of people scratching their heads. What did you think about it? Well it’s strange because obviously it’s such a turn. But I think it’s definitely a testament to Al that he set, for me, the tone early that there was something rotten here. So it wasn’t so radical at the end. You knew the whole time there was something stranger going on.

What do you think is the scariest movie that you’ve done between Knowing, Sunshine, and 28 Weeks Later? Sunshine I don’t think was too scary, but the third act was pretty eerie. 28 Weeks is pretty scary, but it’s more of a jump shock. And Knowing is an eerie, foreboding film. You slowly start to get really scared. It depends on what scares you too. Because Knowing is more of a psychological thriller, and Weeks is more traditional horror shock.

Rose Byrne Tries to Remember Her Favorite NYC Bar

Damages star Rose Byrne claims to be more of a foodie than a bar-hopper, but when I asked her what her favorite New York restaurant is, she names Barrio Chino, the Lower East Side tequila bar. Why? “Fantastic margaritas … and guacamole and chips,” said the Australian native, in town to promote her upcoming role alongside Nicolas Cage in the apocalyptic thriller Knowing. “Also Freemans, but it’s really hard to get a table.”

Byrne currently lives in Los Angeles, but spent two years in New York, doing most of her time downtown. As for her aversion to New York’s notorious nightlife scene, the actress realized she’s denying her own heritage. “I know, it’s pretty boring and very un-Australian of me. You need to ask my man. He’s the one who gets home at six in the morning. I’ve got to work.” But there was one watering hole Byrne is particularly fond of, if only she could remember its name. “It’s called … fuck! It’s like the only remaining dive bar in the Village. It’s low-key, and you don’t have to line up. You can just walk into the bar and have a beer. It’s like 1322 Hudson, maybe Hudson and 10th? It’s right near Employees Only, like north of there.” Could she be talking about Automatic Slim’s? Suggestions welcome.