Australian actress Rose Byrne is no stranger to any type of genre. After being in the uber-serious FX drama Damages, she’s done horror pictures like 28 Weeks Later, action movies like X-Men: First Class, and, more recently, comedies like Bridesmaids. She’s back getting the pants scared off of her opposite Patrick Wilson in Insidious: Chapter 2, out this Friday, September 13th, which picks up immediately after the first harrowing chapter ended. We spoke to Byrne about being in horror movies, about transitioning to comedy, and about her (inter)stellar work with director Danny Boyle.
NERDIST: How easy or difficult was it for you to get back into the character of Renai Lambert, especially given that this second movie starts at the exact moment the first film left off?
ROSE BYRNE: [laughs] You know, once I put on that long, brown cardigan and put those mom jeans back on, I was halfway there. It took a few days to settle in. I think doing TV helped, because you’re sort of doing a sequel every season, so there was an element of that with the movie. But, it was strange, because it’s literally five minutes after this incredibly traumatic story just happened, and hopefully it works.
N: Did you think you’d get a chance to play her again after the first film wrapped?
RB: The first film did so well that it was sort of encouraging to try to do another one, but at the time, you never really know if it’ll even get a release, which is sort of the sad reality of films.
N: A lot of the scary things in this movie, and in the first movie, happen to your character; is it easy for you to play terrified day after day on a movie like this?
RB: James [Wan] is great like that because it’s all pretty authentic. I’d always have the person onscreen, whether it’s the ghost or whether it’s Patrick or the children, or even things moving or the kids’ toys or the baby monitor and all that stuff, it’s all there. It’s pretty authentic in that sense. There’s really no CGI as far as I can recall, so your reactions are all pretty natural, which is really lucky. And it is strange because, obviously, it is heightened and you are doing a lot of re-acting, but, you know, it’s not brain surgery [laughs], it’s a horror film. Things are scary.
N: This was a fairly quick shoot as well, from what I understand; was that helpful also for keeping the intensity up?
RB: It does. I like that. It’s good for me to keep going and keep the energy up and keep moving, and having a schedule from television, you get used to that pace. It’s different because this part’s very physical and draining, and there’s screaming and all these things, so by the end of the day you’re definitely pretty beat, but I do like that about these types of movies.
N: In the first film, Renai and Josh are very much a team, and in this film Josh is very unreliable. I assume you didn’t shoot in sequence, so was it difficult to kind of find the level of mistrust from scene to scene, and did it create a different atmosphere on the set?
RB: We actually did pretty much shoot in sequence, if I recall. We were quite lucky like that. And James was great, we discussed it a lot in terms of her suspicion and really her denial, which is the more powerful thing and the more interesting thing that was going on. So that was a great starting point. And Patrick was terrific because he was so scary and weird, so it was a great place to start with Renai as far as where her perspective of things was. But then, once Patrick started doing his thing, it created a very weird atmosphere.
N: And was it weird when he started to be more overtly evil?
RB: Oh, yeah, because Patrick is so sort of effortlessly charming as an actor, you know. He really has that quality onscreen so effortlessly that for him to then turn, it makes it even creepier and scarier, I think, as an audience member.
N: People often say that horror movie sets are more lighthearted than perhaps is usual because everything on screen is so serious and intense and heightened. Was that the case for you on this film?
RB: This role was very physical, my memory of it, so it was very much like a boxing match or something. We’d go in and shoot our scenes and then kind of retreat to our corners a little bit to just sort of recharge. But I enjoyed that, getting out of your head. You know, as an actor you can be too heady and not use your intuition and there’s something very freeing about doing the physical stuff, which I enjoyed.
N: You’ve done some heavy dramas in your career; Damages, obviously, stands out. But, you’ve been doing a lot more comedy recently as well. Do you prefer one to the other? Do you like being able to switch back and forth?
RB: Diversity’s been great. Comedy and drama, they sort of both come from the same wellspring in a strange way. The funniest things are so dramatic, I think, and dramatic things can be incredibly funny, so it’s very exciting to find that point, for me, doing comedy, I suppose. Because I don’t come from a comedic background, I’ve been approaching it, weirdly, in finding the drama in it. And, you know, the stakes being so high and all of that stuff. But, I think it’s so hard and there are people who make it look effortless like Kristen Wiig or Melissa McCarthy or Maya Rudolph. The space between it being hard and them making it look easy is so difficult to find, so anyone who can do it is a real talent.
N: Since you don’t come from a comedy background, was doing comedy something that you actively sought out or was it just one part leading to another?
RB: I did seek it out. I’m Australian, and I think culturally we have quite a good sense of humor and kind of don’t take ourselves too seriously as a people. So, I think that is where it came from. But it’s also strange, because just because you’re a funny person doesn’t make you a funny actor. It doesn’t necessarily translate like that, but as an actor and as an artist I absolutely was really, really wanting to try it, yeah.
N: The next thing you’ve got coming out is a comedy, right? Called Neighbors?
RB: Yes, yeah, with Seth Rogen and Zac Efron, which comes out in the new year.
N: Nicholas Stoller directed that, and he’s a terrific comedy director, so how was he to work with?
RB: Yeah, he actually gave me my start in comedy in Get Him to the Greek so being reunited with him was really wonderful, because you already have a shorthand with the director and know how they work and stuff, and it was exciting to work with Seth, obviously, and it was different for the comedy because it was about a couple and that was all very new and different. And it was hard! It was really challenging and a different kind of role for me, which was daunting, but that’s why I wanted to have it.
N: One of my favorite things you’ve done is the Danny Boyle movie Sunshine.
RB: Oh, cool! Wow, thank you so much! It’s a little known film, but I’m very proud of it.
N: It should absolutely be on everybody’s radar! I’m sort of fascinated by Danny Boyle and his process, which I understand is a bit different to the way other directors direct. What were your experiences with him?
RB: Danny’s a chameleon, you know; talk about an artist who can do anything. He’s really hard to predict and that’s so exciting. You don’t know what he’ll do next. As a director he’s just relentlessly enthusiastic. His energy level is twice that of everybody else’s on the set and it’s great and so inspiring. He’s very passionate. He’s so passionate about all the characters and he gives you little stories about your characters and he tells you these little ideas. He’s so on board with you. He doesn’t let you off the hook, either. He goes in through the side door to get the performance out of you. He catches you unawares. As an actor, the worst thing is to become set in your ways and you think you have it figured out, so it’s really exciting when you have a director who totally rattles you like that.
You can catch Rose Byrne, who’s a bit of a chameleon herself, in Insidious: Chapter 2, in theaters on Friday the 13th.