Australian actress Rose Byrne has appeared in Troy, Wicker Park, and opposite Peter O’Toole in TV’s Casanova. Recently seen in Sunshine, Byrne has the kind of captivating presence that demands your attention. When she’s onscreen, you can’t take your eyes of her. “My thing about Rose is that Rose tiptoes on to every scene, and then she just walks off with the scene,” says Danny Boyle who directed her in Sunshine. “She does it with everything she does. She literally backs into the scene, but when she turns around she takes the scene away with her. But as a person she’s not like that at all. She did it in Troy, there’s all these blokes in skirts and everything and she’s like Catherine McCormack in Braveheart, she walks on and steals everything. You get to the end of Troy and all you keep thinking is, Who is that girl?” Byrne stars in this week’s release 28 Weeks Later. I spoke to her during filming.
Tell me about your role in 28 Weeks Later.
RB: I play Scarlet, she’s a military doctor. She’s working for the American military over here. They’ve come in to rebuild Britain, they’ve quarantined the country and are slowly bringing back people into this area which is Canary Wharf and they’re calling it District One. She’s been stationed there for a few months and it’s about a family that’s been reunited basically and what happens if they get separated once again because the outbreak happens. And then Scarlet steps in and she becomes a bit of a surrogate mother to these children and the family kind of reforms in a very different kind of way. That’s what I read into it, the original concept behind her and whereas Doyle’s character is Special Forces, very violent, systematically killing, Scarlet’s a lot more anti-violence, anti-war, which is putting her in a compromising position which was the interesting part for me as a performer, to find that balance, that goes against everything they kind of stand for, to save the day.
Are you a horror fan? Had you seen 28 Days Later, for instance?
RB: Yes I had. I’ll never forgot it. I saw it while I shooting Troy and I was in Mexico, and we kind of got to the cinema not knowing what we were going to see, one of those situations where you know nothing about the film and it scared the Jesus out of me, I got the shock of my life, it was terrifying, it really shook up because of the way it was shot was very interesting and because of the way they made the genre film, the horror film, different because of what Danny [Boyle] did. And I love horror films. I used to beg my mum to go and rent out A Nightmare On Elm Street for me when I was like eleven because it was rated R so I could never get it from the video shop and my girlfriends and I really wanted to watch it and she’d have to go up and I loved it, I love Freddy Krueger and all that stuff, and Fright Night and Halloween, I get a total kick out it.
How have you found working with Robert Carlyle? He’s really scary when he’s infected.
RB: I agree, he’s so good at being scary and being a mad person that he’s almost too good — it’s terrifying. I saw some of his stuff the other day, when he’s infected, and it’s amazing. It’s so scary, he doesn’t need the blood, you know what I mean, he’s already got that darkness within him, seemingly, that he can access very easily. But working with him was awesome. It was my first day on set and I came in really last minute so I was pretty on the back foot but he was great, he’s very easy to work with, he’s very on the ball, smart, into it, very good with the kids, and it was very exciting for them, having seen a lot of his work.
How last minute?
RB: I came in about three days before shooting. They were sort of going another way with the role and then it fell through and I got this last minute call that was quite a surprise, and I was in Australia at the time on a holiday so I was very taken aback. I’d met on the film a month previous and hadn’t got the part and so moved on. Then they went another way with the role but then it didn’t work out and I got this last minute call. That’s what happened on Sunshine too. I got a last minute call a week before rehearsals and was on my way to Australia as well.
Talking of Sunshine, what was it like working with Danny Boyle?
RB: Danny was excellent. He’s the most enthusiastic director I’ve ever worked with, he’s endlessly enthusiastic and has endless amounts of energy and encouragement, and he’s so into films and filmmaking, but not in a way that’s alienating or in a way that’s super cerebral because I think a lot of directors talk about other films all the time and he doesn’t do that, really, he’s very into what you’re doing and the other person’s doing, and I don’t think I’ve worked with a director who’s enthusiastic before, it’s incredible. He’s like a big kid or something and for an actor that’s really inspiring and really great, when it’s four o’clock in the morning and it’s really cold and you’re in Three Mills and you just want to go home to bed and you don’t want to be in a spaceship any more and he’s still got that enthusiasm, so I think that’s really commendable and he’s also got a good sense of humour, very English [laughs], he’s great like that.
Let’s talk about the filming of 28 Weeks Later, and wandering around an empty London.
RB: It definitely helps for sure, the whole scenario of it, in terms of where the story is at that point. It’s really wild, to be honest, it’s beyond my wildest dreams, it’s so strange to be on Shaftsbury Avenue with five people walking down the street. The time frame that we had was like a blink of an eye, we had two minutes to stop traffic for us to limp down the street and around the corner in those two minutes and it was wild, it was amazing, it was so early in the morning and I was half asleep anyway, walking down this road, there was the pub at the end of Shaftsbury Avenue just out of shot and there were people who had been in a lock in, and they were just losing it, leering and having the time of their lives, making faces at us as we walked past. They were all off their faces and the most embarrassing thing is they were all Australians inside the pub.