Rose Byrne on the power of working with her female friends

Posted by
Megan Murray

Rose Byrne speaks to about filming her new movie, Peter Rabbit, why she started a production company with her female friends, and everything else in between. 

As a starring member of the cast that changed the face of female-led comedy, Rose Byrne knows a thing or two about forging the way for women on the big screen. But while she believes that “the walls are breaking down”, Byrne doesn’t think we’ve achieved gender equality in the film industry yet.

Byrne tells that she hopes we’ll get there with the continued success of films that tell the stories of minorities, believing it’s the release of more “bomb shell” movies like Black Panther and Wonder Women that will really make a difference.

A titan of genres, Byrne provided us with endlessly quotable material as the conceited Helen in Bridesmaids, left our skin prickling with goose bumps in Insidious and now, she’s taken on the charming character of Bea, in the new children’s film, Peter Rabbit.

The Australian actor also recently set up a production company with some female friends back in her homeland. The venture, which she describes as “challenging”, has allowed her to learn more about being on the other side of the camera, as well as the opportunity to “focus on more female narratives”, which is something we couldn’t be more excited about.

Read on to hear more about her upcoming film, her motivation for sharpening her skills behind the camera and what she thinks it will take for Hollywood to finally change. 

Your new film, Peter Rabbit, is a modern re-telling of Beatrix Potter’s classic tale. Are you a fan of Beatrix Potter yourself and if so, did that influence you taking part in the film?

Oh yes, totally. I am a huge fan of hers; I grew up reading her books, I had a ceramic rabbit collection, I even had pet rabbits.

I was a particularly imaginative child and I was totally captured by her incredible world. Her books are huge in Sydney, in Australia, and obviously worldwide. They were staples, absolute classics that we all read and all had.

It’s been suggested that the character you play in the film, Bea, is supposed to be Beatrix Potter. Is that what you imagined when you were playing her?

I kind of imagined her as Beatrix Potter’s niece, a hundred years later. Or someone in her family tree who’s a very distant relative to Beatrix Potter. I approached it as her being someone who has ties to this incredibly iconic blood line. 

Beatrix Potter is recognised as a significant figure in literature for women. Are there any other historic women that you would like to play?

There are so many. I just read a fantastic book about Clementine Churchill, which was fascinating: as an Australian, I’m not so familiar with Churchill. Historically it’s not something I know enough about, but the book was so interesting; she was a fascinating figure, flawed and complex and brilliant. I have a newborn so I haven’t been able to see anything and I’m a bit behind, so I can’t wait to see The Darkest Hour to see how she was portrayed in the film. But to read about her was incredible.

Rose Byrne as Bea in Peter Rabbit

In the film, Bea takes on a maternal role towards the rabbits. Was it difficult to act in a mothering way towards not only rabbits, but CGI characters that weren’t physically there?

[Director] Will Gluck’s reference point was always ‘she’s maternal’, so I always knew Bea was supposed to be maternal towards these rabbits. I always had dogs and rabbits growing up, so tapping into my childhood feelings of nurturing [my pets] is what Will encouraged me to do.

I’m not going to lie, it was challenging when there was nothing there! Sometimes it was a man in a blue suit, sometimes it was a green ball, sometimes it was nothing. It can get tedious but that’s why Will is a great director, because he’s incredibly high energy… he keeps the pace and the energy up.

You need that because there’s so many different departments on such a technical movie, with so many people doing such complicated jobs. There are so many parts to each shot, so I’m grateful that Will kept things moving along.

It can get stuck, when there are microscopic, technical things that have to be done. But to see the product at the end and the world that’s created around you, I was like ‘wow’. It’s a testament to Will that he kept everyone on their toes.

You recently started a production company with some female friends in Australia, what was your motivation for doing that?

A number of things. My friends back home all come from different sides of the business. We’re all actors and directors and we thought, why don’t we do something together? Let’s try this out.

It’s interesting to be on the other side [of the camera] and see how challenging it is. It’s been a learning curve for me, as well as being creative and [seeing] the business side and the numbers, and how things are funded in Australia.

It was an organic thing that happened with friends coming together and feeling like we were stronger together than apart.

Rose Byrne with her partner, Bobby Cannavale

Are you interested in showcasing more female talent?

That was a guiding force as well, to focus on female narratives in films and TV or novels. It was one of our motivations and dreams. I’m really inspired by what Reese [Witherspoon] has done, as well as other female producers that have been paving the way for years.

Do you think we’ve achieved gender equality in the film industry, and if not, what will it look like when we do?

There’s definitely a movement going on and you can see that it’s incredible how the walls are breaking down, but it’s whether that will parlay into physically seeing different stories being told on screen. I think it’s going that way.

Look at Black Panther; it’s hit the box office and it’s blown away all of these perceptions of white audiences and black audiences. I think we need some more bomb shells like that, that make us question, ‘what do we know about what people want?’.

It’s like Wonder Woman: again, [the film] had the odds stacked against it, but then it blew up and became something else.

The more those things happen and the success speaks for itself, the more things will change, which means a lot of people taking risks and its long overdue.

Images: Rex Features

Peter Rabbit is in UK cinemas from 16th March