Rose Byrne (Balmain, Australia, 41 years old) laughs every time the question turns a bit towards the personal, to want to know more about her and her opinions to get out of the questions about her characters and projects. He gives a nervous, friendly giggle across the Zoom (no camera) answering from Sydney. If in the almost three decades that he has been working in film and television, neither his name nor his face have enjoyed overwhelming popularity, it is because he has managed to remain out of focus, giving few interviews and attending the necessary and fair rugs and parties. Maintaining intimacy and mystery, while also being a partner of another actor, Bobby Cannavale (with whom he has two children, Rocco and Rafa), is a difficult achievement to unlock in Hollywood to achieve the versatility dreamed of by any interpreter. Byrne learned the hard way. “You have to be aggressive in this business,” she says. Her first works were intense dramas that pigeonholed her into even more intense dramas. After suffering the insufferable with his character in the series Damages, he told his representatives that he only wanted comedies. And there she went, “a very good actress, but very serious”, at the casting of All about my riot (2010). Not only did he get the role, but on the set he managed to kill the deranged Russell Brand with laughter. Your co-star in Damn neighbors (2014) and its sequel (2016), Seth Rogen, say that Byrne’s unexpected improvisational ability is the key to his sense of humor. A quality that could also be applied to his career, the turns that he has taken, without thinking, without strategies, he says. His latest project, the eighties Physical (which just premiered on Apple TV +), it seems tailor-made for that unexpected adaptability. Byrne plays Sheila, a frustrated housewife who finds her power and takes control of her life through aerobics and VHS. «A pioneer of influencers and today’s lifestyle gurus, ”he sums up.
Is or was she as much of an aerobics fan as Sheila?
I guess like many teenagers, when I was 13 or 14 years old, I used to wear the videos of Cindy Crawford, those leggings. But no, stop Physical I spent three months training via Zoom with a choreographer and I understood that this energy is addictive.
Go from drama to comedy in seconds.
It is a dark story that tells of a woman with a terrible disease, an addiction, be it to food or aerobics, trapped in a dysfunctional marriage, and as the show he is finding the pieces of his life. It is very dark, but very funny. I liked that, for me comedy is almost always born out of something tragic.
Makes sense with the turn he took to his career afterwards Damages, it is Physical The proof that she has passed that moment when she was pigeonholed as “an intense actress” or “the most in-demand supporting actress in comedies”?
This is a funny business, you are successful in one genre and they only offer you that. I keep trying to navigate those waters, but having a family changes everything, because your priorities are completely transformed. And I am still very proud of Damages.
When did you start to be able to control your career?
I really like a phrase: “Success or fame doesn’t change who you are, it reveals who you are.” I think it’s totally true. It seems to me that I have started to have control… well, maybe it’s just an illusion. It is chaotic. I would like to have it, at least at home, but with two small children [se ríe]… I’ve been in this industry for so long, I’ve seen all its sides, heard many stories, failures, successes… You have to keep working and working with your head down.
“Losers can’t choose” is one of Sheila’s many star phrases in Physical. She is a woman whose inner voice speaks clearer and louder than what ends up coming out of her mouth. This is not the case with Rose Byrne. Despite the few interviews, she is always very direct with her political, social and feminist positions. She enrolled in gender studies at university. And he has also reflected his commitment in roles – even to the most superficial he has contributed something “so that he could be as interesting as the male character” – and in the founding of a production company, The Dollhouse Collective, with a group of Australian friends from the sector, focused on female narrative. “It’s about finding a place at the table, making the calls yourself, not waiting for the phone to ring,” he explains. They just shot their first movie, Seriously Red, in which he meets his partner on the screen again.
From the black humor, Physical is a very political series and premieres after her Gloria Steinem in Mrs. America.
I think they go hand in hand. In fact, Mrs. America it ended in 79, and Physical It starts in 1981. It is a continuation of that conversation about the place of women. It is exciting to see stories of women and our inner struggles away from clichés. That self-destructive thing sometimes. It is important to talk about how women can feel personally. Sheila’s feeling that it is not always safe for a woman to say what she thinks still happens many times.
This year’s Oscars history has been made with Chloé Zhao and Emerald Fennell, how far has the industry come in the race for equality?
I see series like Mrs. America O Physical and I know, for a fact, they wouldn’t have been done 10 years ago or less. And it was about time. They are a reflection of what we are experiencing. All these movements, MeToo, Time’s Up, they drove the changes in this industry, they are changing the numbers. Now at least we ask ourselves: how many women are represented at the Oscars? How many black population? Before we didn’t even ask ourselves that. My life is diverse. And I want to see that on screen too. Physical It would not have been done 10 years ago and at the same time we are following in the footsteps of other pioneers. There is no Time’s Up without A room of my own, by Virginia Woolf, or sin The mystique of femininityby Betty Friedan, the book with which I got into feminism as a young man. We are building on your shoulders. They show us how far we have come and all the way we still have to go.
Did you base the character of Sheila on a pioneer of the fitness, like Jane Fonda? In Spain we had Eva Nasarre.
Yes? There are so many, I think each country has its own … It is a more personal series than it seems, Annie Weisman, its creator, based it on her mother and women like Suzanne Somers. Now you see entrepreneurs like Gwyneth Paltrow, who have become lifestyle brands in their own right. Physical shows the beginning of all that movement with the boom of the VHS. There it began, with the generation of women of self-discovery, well-being, health, taking care of yourself.
Do you follow any of these current lifestyle gurus?
Like anyone, sometimes I go online and end up trapped in an information black hole, influencers… But yeah, Tracy Anderson, for example… I went to one of those New York almost cult classes once and I remember thinking, “I’m going to die, this is too much for me.” I vary, but in general I think I am skeptical by nature. As the daughter of two incredibly skeptical parents, I think someone could take advantage of you in some kind of pyramid scheme. Although sometimes I fall …
They are paths of empowerment as well. Did you find yours through your work, through acting?
Interpretation has been a great resource, no doubt. As a child she was terribly shy, she was not an easy teenager and acting was like a refuge. I loved it, even though I didn’t know how to make a living out of it because I didn’t come from a family of actors or anything like that. I have been building my career step by step. It has not been overnight. I think I’ve been acting my whole life… “Hi, it’s me again.” Don’t get rid of me.
Step by step, and a plan b?
No, I never had it. I should have thought about it. I have had my moments of doubts, of fear. But this is my way of presenting myself in the world, of moving in it. Anyway, empowerment for me is something more silent, it is something that happens inside you, an internal work. It is a quiet space. Finding that space is the important thing.
Has it been easier to find that calm this year?
I have two small children [suelta una carcajada]So chaos always surrounds us. Maybe that’s why I long for silence more than ever. But this pandemic has been, among other things, a lesson in patience. My partner and I are actors, so we were always here and there and suddenly everything stops. It has been a lesson.
Reconciling creative and professional life with family life is not easy.
Like any working mother, I am always asking myself, “Am I spending enough time with my children?” “Do I spend a lot of time at home?” And this, while trying to keep working. Balance is not possible. There are better and worse moments, you are always trying, it is a conversation that I have all day with myself. And on the other hand, I see that this has not changed at all: as this year has also shown, it is still more difficult for women. And the blame comes from everywhere.
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Rose Byrne: “Fame and success do not reveal who you are, but who you are”