At 35, Rose Byrne has an acting CV that has seen her play leading lady to everyone from Brad Pitt to Patrick Wilson, but it was her riotous turn as the uptight Helen in the female ensemble comedy Bridesmaids that really put her on the map. Four years on from that big break, she has still not got used to life in the spotlight. “I’m not happy talking about myself,” she says. “I’m happy talking about my work but I’m not really into revealing everything about me. There’s not much to know about me, anyway.”
Given that her acting credits include Troy, Star Wars, and the X-Men juggernaut, that’s not strictly true – in fact, it’s amazing that the Australian actress has slipped under the radar for so long. She credits her family for keeping her grounded despite her Hollywood credentials. Growing up in a distinctly un-showbiz Sydney household, performing for her family gave her that first taste of comedy.
“I had a great childhood,” she says. “We all hung out and it was very relaxed and easy-going. I’m the youngest of four, and I’ve always been the clown — making the jokes, wanting attention. My parents were so relaxed by the time I was growing up that I got away with a lot more.” She adds, “I was always really goofy as a kid and it was more that I was always drawn to the arts. My parents aren’t particularly artistic, but I felt very lucky to find a community in acting in Australia.”
From bud to bloom
However, it wasn’t until her 20s that Rose accepted that acting was what she wanted to do for the rest of her life. “I went to university and had a very normal childhood – I did finish school, I was not just going from set to set my whole life. But you definitely re-evaluate and reassess at a certain point and I came to the conclusion that I did love it and I was passionate about it. It’s such a very personal thing trying to describe why you love doing it. You almost don’t want to put it into words.”
These days, of course, she’s performing to a much bigger – but equally appreciative – crowd than her family or Australian youth theatre. Although she is modest about her ability to make others laugh. “I’m not a natural comedian but I try. Bridesmaids was like a breath of fresh air for me, as I’d longed to do comedy for a while. I think we all harbour secret ambitions and that was mine – I’d always been limited to being seen as a serious actor. Thankfully, it worked out.”
And work out it did: after successful turns in Bad Neighbours and The Internship, she is carving out a niche as the go-to girl for riotous comedies. Next up, she teamed up with her Bridesmaids co-star Melissa McCarthy in the soon-to-be-released Spy, an action comedy. “I find myself drawn to things that make me laugh… When I was young that’s what I imagined I would do, be in comedies and hopefully make people laugh. I really enjoyed being in something that was genuinely funny.” Speaking about her latest role she says, “It’s a really fun, action-packed adventure. Melissa, who’s such a wonderful ray of sunshine, plays a CIA operative out working on a case, and I play someone she meets along the way. You’re not quite sure if I’m a good guy or a bad guy, but I have an incredible hairstyle and some really interesting outfits. It’s very campy. I look a bit like a drag queen, actually.”
Although she brings the laughs on screen, she admits to having her more serious moments off screen. “I’m very determined. I do have fun, but a lot of my adult life has been about work. I know that needs to change… we’ll see what happens!” She adds, “I was a born worrier. I get very intense about things, especially work, but I’m trying not to. My mother tells me I must try to relax more!”
Helping her relax is her boyfriend of three years, Boardwalk Empire actor Bobby Cannavale. They have been dating privately since 2012, eventually going public at the 2013 Emmys when the actor thanked, “the love of my life, Rose” during his acceptance speech for Outstanding Supporting Actor.
Talking about her romantic life, however, does not sit comfortably with the down-to-earth Aussie. “To be honest, I’m not naturally that much of a romantic person — Australians don’t like making a fuss,” she says. “I have trouble with things that feel very manufactured, like Valentine’s Day. I’m trying to get better at romance.”
Interestingly, she admits that she was a fan of the actor before they got together. “He was marvellous in Will & Grace. Talent is a very attractive quality,” she adds.
And, now that she is officially one half of a celebrity couple, she’s finding it harder to fly under the radar – especially when her boyfriend is so recognisable. “I have this funny accent in real life, so I can go out and blend in. I’ve never been scrutinised by the paparazzi. Bobby’s pretty hard to miss, but I tend to go quite unnoticed.”
The couple live in New York where they try to live a low-key life. “New York is fantastic,” she says. “People don’t care who you are when you’re walking around the streets. I don’t go out and party—I just don’t have the stamina. My nickname is Nana Byrne. I’m not a good cook, but seeing someone enjoy what you’ve made is so satisfying,” she says.
But it’s not all cosy meals at home: the pair have made three movies together. After co-starring in the Annie remake last year, they play husband and wife in upcoming comedy drama Adult Beginners, while Bobby is her co-villain in Spy. Although they are well-versed in working together now, Rose admits that she was apprehensive about mixing business with pleasure in the beginning. “I was initially nervous,” she says. “Clearly, it could have not been a good idea, but it was very fun to have a really great friend on set. It was nice to share our day.”
Feet on the ground
As Rose’s acting stock soars, so does her fashion stock, and while she describes herself as a ‘fashion nerd’ she rarely puts a foot wrong on the red carpet. “Rose doesn’t take it too seriously,” says her stylist Penny Lovell. “Getting dressed up is something she can be playful with.”
Away from the red carpet, Rose’s style is typically understated. “My day-to-day style is pretty casual, and quite boyish. Lots of T-shirts and jeans, and then very girly – little floral dresses with sandals,” she says. As for her go-to labels? “There’s a great design team that go under the label ToMe. They’ve got some beautiful stuff, two really great Australian guys. I also like Vanessa Bruno and Isabel Marant. But I’m a high-street girl at heart. I like Topshop, H&M, Madewell, all of those stores.”
Unusually for an actress, let alone one with such an illustrious CV (she received both a Golden Globe and Emmy nominee for her role in TV show Damages), Rose is naturally quite shy – something that doesn’t always work in her favour in Hollywood. “I envy confident people. It’s in my nature to be a wallflower – I absolutely hate the idea of arrogance. But I’ve found sometimes having your feet too firmly on the ground can be to your detriment,” she says.
When she needs a confidence boost, Rose looks to fellow Aussie Kylie Minogue for inspiration. “I’ve spent much of my life wanting to be Kylie,” she says. “My dad took me to five of her concerts by the time I was 11, and a few years ago I did a sixth. I find it incredible how she went from being in Neighbours to this huge pop star, from being completely slated by the Australian press to becoming their darling. And she’s a breast cancer survivor, too. To have gone through that and had the courage to talk about it openly is commendable.” She adds, “I’ve actually met her and she’s such a nice lady.”
Rose herself tried her hand at singing and dancing in last year’s Annie – something she admits filled her with dread. “I was daunted, but that seemed like a good reason to do it. This was my very first musical, really, so I didn’t want to screw it up. The closest I’d gotten to doing a musical was when I played a pop star in a film called Get Him to the Greek. I recorded some songs as my character, Jackie Q.” Would she do more musicals in the future? “Sure,” she laughs, “I’m already planning my one-woman show: From Balmain to Broadway! I can’t wait.” Although she’s joking, we can’t help thinking that we’d love to see this triple-threat ad lib her way through her own one-woman show. Watch this space...
Rose keeps her gowns chic and classic, with the occasional playful element, in keeping with her down-to-earth nature: “She doesn’t take it too seriously,” says her stylist, Penny Lovell.
From Bridesmaids to X-men to 28 Weeks Later, Rose’s acting CV has seen her starring in huge blockbuster hits alongside some of the biggest names in the business.
Rose’s relationship with Bobby Cannavale was thrust into the spotlight when he thanked “the love of my life, Rose” during his acceptance speech for Outstanding Supporting Actor at the 2013 Emmys, and the pair have been in the public eye ever since.