How Rose Byrne Stealthily Became One Of The Funniest Women In Hollywood

Photo: Matt Baron/BEImages.
Remember Get Him to the Greek? Probably not: In trying to make Forgetting Sarah Marshall's funny sidekick character Aldous Snow (Russell Brand) into a main event opposite Jonah Hill, the movie proved that too much of a good thing can quickly turn to overkill. But the film's silver lining was in introducing a minor character of its own, Jackie Q, who — just like Aldous Snow did with Forgetting Sarah Marshall — ran away with the whole damn movie.
Rose Byrne played Jackie Q, and up to that point, audiences knew the actress mostly for her extremely serious turn as a lawyer on Damages. Since breaking out as a secret comedy star in Get Him to the Greek, Byrne has been showing off her diverse range with a wide variety of hilarious characters. She played the uptight Helen in Bridesmaids, a new mom in Neighbors, and now she's starring opposite Melissa McCarthy as an illegal arms dealer named Rayna Boyanov in Spy. I talked to Byrne about making an espionage flick funny (a lot of it has to do with ridiculous hair), her love for her co-stars and director, and something that's definitely not funny: Hollywood's female director problem, which Byrne is working to combat. Also, the whole spy thing may have gone to her head, because try as I might, Byrne just would not tell me the entire plot of the new X-Men movie. Who knew she was so method? With Bridesmaids, Neighbors, and now Spy, you’re kind of Hollywood’s stealth comedy weapon. How does that feel?
"I definitely had been marked up by things like Damages, so it was interesting to try to start auditioning for more comedic things. I think comedy is so hard, and people like Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, and Seth Rogen, they just make it look effortless, but I think it’s actually very hard."

How did your role in Spy come about?
"[Director] Paul [Feig, who I'd also worked with on Bridesmaids] approached me, which was great, and we just sort of started to collaborate again. He told me his ideas, and I told him I would love, love, love to do this. He’s a huge action geek... He says this in press interviews, that 'They weren’t going to let me direct James Bond, so this is my love letter to Bond.' And it really is. It’s played very straight; it’s great action. It’s got a very traditional sort of spy plot, something right out of a James Bond film — yet it’s funny. I don’t think they’ve really seen anything like this before. The Naked Gun is much more like a spoof, but [Spy] is much more sophisticated."

What was it like working with Paul and Melissa again?
"What was great about Bridesmaids was that there were all these women on set. You just don’t usually have that. It’s usually the guy or the guys, and there’s the one female role. So it was very unusual to be in that situation. And again, with Paul Feig, it was me, Melissa, and [actress] Miranda [Hart] quite a lot. So, that’s always a pleasure, when you get to actually have a scene with a woman and you’re not talking about a guy... Paul really has done so much for women in film. And in big, mainstream movies that want to be seen and are funny... Melissa just continues to dazzle me when I work with her. I love it. I love her."
Photo: Courtesy of 20th Century Fox.
How much of getting into character as Rayna was the hair?
"That was a really fun process... And it provided a lot of jokes, so I think it was worth it in the end, worth all those hours in the chair... It was a lot of my hair, and then [Sarah Love, my hair designer] would stuff it to puff it out, and then [put] a big extension down the back. It was very Marie Antoinette."

You seem to like playing the villain; how come?
"Like anything, it’s always director, director, director. It’s always the initial attraction of who you’re working with. I’ve never really done anything like Rayna. She’s really like royalty, which is like playing someone aristocratic, and that adds an interesting spice, too. I’ve not had that thing of treating everyone like a servant, literally like a servant. Which is a very bizarre feeling, I suppose, but it’s so fun. What I love also is that Melissa and I have a really funny chemistry on screen, and I hope it translates. That’s something we had in Bridesmaids, too, so it was great to revisit that."

Will we see you as a villain in Ghostbusters? Will we see you in Ghostbusters at all?
"Oh gosh, I can’t wait for that. I’m sure, I would love to collaborate again on whatever it is, I’d love to."
Can you talk a little bit about the Dollhouse Collective?
"Some friends and colleagues in Australia, we had all been working together in various incarnations over the years, and the conversation sort of came about that we’re stronger as a group than as individuals. Let’s band together, let’s come up with this collective; let’s come up with this think tank and start branding our ideas and developing things together. It’s in its early stages, and we’re still finding our feet, but it’s very exciting with the encouragement we’ve received. These women are so talented, and I can’t wait to start putting our work out there. We’ve got a few things that we’re working on, and I can’t wait to have some more. But we’re very excited and encouraged by everyone's enthusiasm." It feels like such an important time to start an initiative focused on producing projects by and for women.
"Absolutely. The statistics are still really horrifying — in terms of speaking roles and all these statistical percentages of women on screen — and it’s very disheartening, so this is a proactive and positive thing that we’re trying to do. And we have lots of people who see it that way, too. The ACLU are actually doing an investigation into it; that it’s a criminal offense, that it’s legitimate discrimination — not just good old-fashioned misogyny, on which we’ve all cruised for the last however many years. "This is being taken very seriously, and I was thrilled to read that and thought, It’s about time that it’s dealt with [like a criminal offense], because it is. I’m sure people are too fearful to talk about it, because they don’t want to get a reputation of being difficult. It really is kind of phenomenal, the discrimination that has been quietly tolerated forever in the business, so it’s brilliant that it’s actually being treated as seriously as it should be." Do you think the ACLU investigation will help?
"I think it should set a precedent that they can’t behave in a certain way anymore, because it’s unacceptable. Like any behavior that’s really systemic and ingrained, it takes time [to change], obviously. The ACLU are [really making a statement]; I absolutely hope it makes a difference." So, can you tell us anything about X-Men: Apocalypse, besides the fact that it’s set in the '80s?
"I wish I could, but I can’t really say anything. [My character] Moira’s back, which is exciting. I love doing these movies with such a great group of people. It’s really such a fun set to be working on. It’s such an incredible universe to be part of, the X-Men world... And the '80s. So, it’s really funny, all the things I get to wear. It’s a lot of fun, and it’s a fun job. I’m very grateful to be back." How about your other upcoming project, The Meddler?
"It was written and directed by a really talented woman, Lorene Scafaria, and Susan Sarandon and I play mother and daughter. I’ve grown up watching Susan Sarandon and have always been captivated by her on screen, so it was pretty surreal to be playing mother-daughter. And she’s the best. There’s no one like her, she’s a total card." Spy is in theaters June 5. You will laugh — a LOT. Go see it!

Like this post? There's more. Get tons of celeb goodness, insider intel, movie and TV news, and more on the Refinery29 Entertainment Facebook page!

More from Movies

R29 Original Series