Rose Byrne loves a good challenge. The Australian actress has tackled various genres, from comedy ("Bridesmaids," "Neighbors"), to action adventure ("X Men: First Class") to horror ("Insidious") to legal thriller (TV's "Damages," in which she sparred with Glenn Close, earning two Emmy and two Golden Globe nominations).
Now she's making her Broadway debut in the revival of "You Can't Take It With You" at the Longacre Theatre, starring alongside stage and screen legend James Earl Jones, plus a company of veterans, including Tony winner Elizabeth Ashley.
The Depression-era comedy, written by Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman, premiered on Broadway in 1936, winning a Pulitzer. The tale is vintage, heartfelt hokum, focusing on an eccentric family, from Grandpa Martin (Jones), who's playing cat and mouse with the Internal Revenue Service , to granddaughter Alice (Byrne), who's nabbed herself a wealthy suitor and is doing everything she can to keep him away from her wacky clan.
Byrne, 35, who lives in Manhattan, will also be seen this December in the big-screen remake of "Annie," starring Jamie Foxx and Academy Award nominee Quvenzhané Wallis. She chatted recently with Newsday contributor Joseph V. Amodio.
Did you have the TV show "The Munsters" growing up in Sydney? Your character reminds me a bit of Marilyn Munster.
Was she the one with all the hair?
That's Cousin Itt from "The Addams Family." Marilyn was the one sort of normal member in a family of eccentrics.
The one trying to keep it together.
It's interesting -- this is an old-fashioned comedy, but it doesn't really feel dated at all.
It has clever characters, structure, dialogue. It didn't win the Pulitzer for nothing, you know.
And it has three acts instead of two. Is that tiring?
It does require a lot of energy. And focus. Really, comedy in general does. What's beautiful is how we're such an ensemble. You get to pass the baton around.
What's it like passing the baton to James Earl Jones? I hear he's very down to earth.
Try to give him a compliment and he just runs miles away -- or makes a joke -- anything to avoid any sort of flattery. He's the most unassuming person. He's just about the work and the text and character. It's very interesting. And admirable.
You play this period quite well. Some actors, no matter how good, just don't seem convincing in a period piece. Did you do something specific to capture the right tone?
I've recently been doing comedic stuff that's heavily improvised ... like "Bridesmaids" and "Neighbors." Here the language is so different. It's beautiful ... but it's big. And old-fashioned. It's like "Gone With the Wind." You can't shy away from it. You have to step up. I'm obsessive about making it sound authentic.
How do you do that? Do you speak the lines differently than you would on film?
Film is so minimal. Understated. Particularly with "Damages," I was fairly blank-faced the whole time.
Well, I assume the goal there was to be mysterious, to leave us guessing what you were really thinking.
Exactly. But here it's about owning it, being big but not over-the-top. It definitely took a while for me to get it, that's for sure -- the voice, the movement. The first few weeks were tough. Luckily, Scott Ellis was lovely and patient and never doubted my ability to eventually get there.
Was prepping for "Annie" tough, too?
We had a little summer camp here last year, getting singing and dancing lessons for about four or five weeks before the shoot. I just loved it. I'd never done a family film before. I grew up watching the original and loved the actors in it, Carol Burnett and Ann Reinking.
Were you nervous about singing?
I played a pop star in "Get Him to the Greek," and recorded a couple of songs with Russell Brand. But that was pop music -- just a lot of breathy talking, actually, not much singing. In "Annie" I was nervous. Quvenzhané helped me a lot -- she's so unabashed and enthusiastic and fierce. So self-possessed. I really just took my cues from her. I thought, "OK, that's the kind of energy I need to have."