Arts Express: A Conversation With Rose Byrne for Adult Beginners

Rose Byrne may play an exasperated pregnant mother in Adult Beginners, navigating the rocky road of frantic family chaos to somewhat resolved maturity. But the Australian actress handles those emotional issues on screen, however crazed, with impressive confident style. Rose sat down to talk about the Ross Katz directed bittersweet dramady, while finishing off an alfalfa burger and diving into an accompanying plate of fries.

You sure seem to love munching on fries.

ROSE BYRNE: Ha, I was paid in fries! Yeah, it was scale.

Now your character is pregnant, but she isn’t all repressed about it.

Byrne at the Australian Premiere of I Give It A Year in 2013.

RB: Yeah! I know, it was refreshing! That was the part that I loved. It’s like pregnant women are supposed to be like, you’re saints. And you don’t have feelings.

And you’re not supposed to get frustrated, or bored. Or lonely, or scared. And it’s a far more realistic representation of what can go on in one’s mind, when they’re going through that.

So that was really refreshing, and challenging. Because I don’t think she was comfortable being pregnant, which was what that meant. And not liking the idea of being pregnant.

Like they may not in real life. Or they say nothing, because they’re afraid to seem like a bad person.

RB: Yep! It’s just another myth that the patriarchy has pushed on us! Maybe this is a feminist movie after all!

How about those toilet scenes in this movie, with the kid playing your baby?

RB: Eww, I’m eating!

Okay, how about the love/hate issues?

RB: Oh, that I love. Oh my god…

What first grabbed you about this movie?

RB: I think the complex relationships we all have. And these people are like people in life.

They’re not, you know it’s like the extraordinary and the ordinary. It’s about the sort of, the novel and the bland.

So that’s why it’s really relatable and moving, and funny. And I think these characters are funny, because they’re flawed.

And because they have a sense a humor. And, so yeah. It’s the type of film that I would love to see.

So how did you go about getting inside the head of this crabby pregnant mother. And is she anything like you – or are you anything like her?

RB: I’m the youngest of four. So honestly, weirdly yeah. I have two older sisters, and an older brother.

And I think the eldest always feels responsible. It’s a big deal, it’s a big pressure to be the eldest of four children, as my sister was.

And so my character did have elements of that. So I really looked to my siblings, to sort of understand the relationship you have with someone younger than you.

And you know, how you particularly relate to them. And the idea of raising children. Like my sisters have small kids.

And you know, they juggle a million things. Like a lot of working mothers. And fathers. So yeah, I really did identify with that.

Playing Americans, what are the challenges, and what’s different about that as a character you get into, culturally? And do you have to get into a completely different mindset to be an American?

RB: Ha! Um, well I’ve lived in America for nearly ten years. So I’ve…soaked it up! Yeah, soaked up the culture.

And I think that can reflect in the work. But I guess within the specificity of the stories, there’s a universality with it. Is that a word? Well, it is in Australia!

Um, but this character was so relatable and specific. So it wasn’t that much of a stretch.

Whereas when I did Neighbors, I didn’t understand college culture, really. At all.

Because I don’t have any kids in college, and I don’t have any friends in college. So I didn’t know what hazing was, all those things.

And I’m playing an Australian, so it didn’t really matter. But I still had to understand, like where it’s at.

And you know, what was happening in that life. But I didn’t know anything at all about that.

Because college culture is so specific to America. We don’t really have that in Australia. So it doesn’t translate to me at all.

You were supposed to be involved in the movie, Tumbledown. So what happened?

RB: Oh yeah, I was. Yeah, that was a shame. It became a scheduling conflict. Gosh, what was I finishing at the time. I’ve lost track!

But yeah, it was a real shame. And I can’t wait to see it. But that happens, unfortunately. Gosh, this business is littered with stories.

Like George Clooney was supposed to play my brother in this movie! And he was…good about it! But he was not ready for that, no! Not yet.

Speaking of playing a mother in this movie, Mothers Day is coming up. So is there a Mothers Day as well in Australia, and is it different than here?

RB: It’s not as big a deal as like Valentines Day. I think it’s all these sort of…big corporate holidays made by Hallmark!

They tend to be rather popular here. Which is just the reality. But in Australia, it’s not quite, it’s not nearly as big. But I’m pretty sure it’s the same day. I think. Yeah…

So what are you usually up to on Mothers Day?

RB: It’s soon, right? But saying that of course, I’ll you know, call my mom! And tell her that I love her. And send her flowers. But sometimes I’m late!

Uh oh…

RB: But she doesn’t really care! My parents are very low key. They’re not like, they don’t care. They’re not like, you know…

But many people take that holiday very seriously. And it’s a very important gesture.

Prairie Miller is a New York multimedia journalist online, in print and radio, who reviews movies and conducts in-depth interviews. She can also be heard on WBAI/Pacifica National Radio Network’s Arts Express.