A Golden Globe and Emmy nominee for her hard work in Damages, Rose Byrne softens as motherly personal assistant Grace Farrell in Annie, Jay-Z and Will Smith’s big-screen update of the musical classic, in theaters December 19. Also currently starring in the Broadway revival of You Can’t Take It With You, the 35-year-old Aussie explains why, at least to gay fans, she’s always a bridesmaid.
By Brandon Voss
The Advocate: I probably don’t have to tell you that your boyfriend, Bobby Cannavale, has a big gay following.
Rose Byrne: Oh, I am well aware. When we’re out on Fire Island together, there are certain areas where he gets a little harassed. I love it. But I think he’s one step away from getting kidnapped by some guy who tries to turn him. And who could blame them?
Were you a fan of his before you began dating?
Yes, I was. He was marvelous in Will & Grace. Talent is a very attractive quality.
Do gay fans harass you?
I have this funny accent in real life, so I can go out and blend in. I’ve never been scrutinized by the paparazzi. Bobby’s pretty hard to miss, but I tend to go quite unnoticed.
You can’t hide from us at the Longacre Theatre stage door.
I am feeling that love on Broadway right now, which is magnificent. The gay community has incredibly good taste, so I’m very flattered to have their approval and support.
You grew up in Balmain, a suburb of Sydney. What was your introduction to the LGBT community?
I started going to Sydney’s gay Mardi Gras at a pretty young age. It was so much fun. I came from a very liberal, loving, and nonjudgmental household, so I was quite lucky. When I was 17 or 18, one of my dear friends at acting school was a gay guy. There are a lot of gay people in the arts, as you know, and shared interests are a good start to any friendship.
Did you also bond over a shared love of Kylie Minogue?
Totally! Now that’s a gay icon. I’ve actually met her and she’s such a nice lady.
Have you ever played a lesbian role?
As a teenager, I did a couple episodes of Fallen Angels, an Australian television show, playing a young girl who happened to be gay. There was nothing sexually explicit required, so it wasn’t confronting in that sense. I was an eager young actress, and it was an opportunity to explore a different and interesting character. Since then, I’ve not been approached to play a gay part.
I’m sure you brightened some Australian gay teen’s day.
I certainly hope so. It’s important for everyone to see themselves represented on TV and in the movies — every race, every minority, every sexual orientation. All women are underrepresented in this business, let alone gay women. It’s a huge problem.
Many viewers noted sexual tension between Ellen and her mentor, Patty, the attorneys that you and Glenn Close played in Damages.
Yeah, a lot of people in the gay community thought Ellen and Patty should get together, which was pretty funny. At least people were discussing the show, whatever they took away from it. Some people saw sexual tension. Others saw a mother-daughter story or an abusive relationship. Everyone interpreted it or related to it in a different way, and that’s the great thing about art.
How did you see it?
I suppose I saw it as a bad relationship that Ellen couldn’t get out of.
Helen, your prissy character in Bridesmaids, had quite a girl crush on the bride. To quote Kristen Wiig’s character, “What woman gives another woman a trip to Paris? Lesbian!”
That’s part of the joy of working with a wonderful improviser like Kristen Wiig. She came up with that line on the spot.
Your character in Neighbors memorably kissed a girl at a frat party and seemed to like it.
Well, I think she’d had some shots of tequila.
Was that your first same-sex kiss?
Oh! Yeah, I suppose so. It was really more of a peck than a kiss, but — can we talk about something else?
Fair enough. Do you have a history with the musical Annie?
I really loved the original film, which came out when I was at the perfect age, so I just devoured it. Those wonderful performances were ingrained in my memory as a young girl. Ann Reinking is such an icon and so incredibly talented, so it’s a bit surreal to end up playing her part. But our Annie is really a reimagining, so hanging on to memories of the original would’ve held us back. At a certain point we just had to take a risk and go all in.
Did the singing and dancing intimidate you?
I was daunted, but that seemed like a good reason to do it. This is 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.
Yes, like “Ring Round,” a dirty ditty about the joys of anal sex.
Well, Annie is much more of a family film. [Laughs] I hadn’t really done a sentimental family film before either, but I really enjoyed it.
Speaking of pop songs, you played gay Australian singer Darren Hayes’s love interest in his “I Miss You” video before he came out publicly. That poor girl had no clue, did she?
Gosh, that didn’t cross my mind at the time, but yeah. He was a lovely guy, though.
Tell me about your role in the upcoming film Spy, which reunites you with Bridesmaids director Paul Feig and costar Melissa McCarthy.
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.
Do you see more musicals in your future?
[Laughs] Sure, I’m already planning my one-woman show: From Balmain to Broadway! I can’t wait.
The Advocate, December 2014/January 2015 issue; extended online version.