Actress Rose Byrne

The Emmy-nominated actress discusses the theme for the new season of TV’s legal thriller Damages.

Rose Byrne earned international recognition for her Emmy- and Golden Globe-nominated performance in TV's Damages. But, in her native Australia, she was already well known. Byrne landed her first film role at age 15 and studied drama at the David Mamet Acting School in NY. After appearing in a variety of Australian TV shows, her role in the epic film Troy provided her first major exposure to U.S. audiences. The former Max Factor model has appeared in music videos and is an ambassador for the National Institute of Dramatic Art Young Actors Studio.


Tavis: Rose Byrne is an Emmy-nominated actress who stars on one of TV’s most acclaimed series, “Damages.” She’s had a very busy year in film, with roles in “X-Men” and “Bridesmaids.” “Damages” has just kicked off its fourth season thanks to a new lease on life from DirecTV – from FX now to DirecTV. Here now, a scene from “Damages.”


Tavis: Speaking of “Damages,” you have done some damage this year. (Laughter) I never use this, but I bring out the handy blue card tonight only because I want to just share with you what – I don’t know if your accountant tells you this stuff.

Rose Byrne: (Unintelligible)

Tavis: Or if your business manager tells you this.

Byrne: (Unintelligible)

Tavis: In case they don’t, let me just tell you.

Byrne: Thank – oh.

Tavis: So this is what you’ve done this year. So “Insidious” is now being regarded as the biggest profit-making film of the year, because “Insidious” was made for $1.5 million, it made $89 million to date. One and a half to make it, which means – and I assume you didn’t get all that 1.5, okay? (Laughter) It made 89 so far.

“Bridesmaids” has made so far $220 million this year. “X-Men: First Class” has raked in $348 million this year. You were in all three. So just in case your accountant isn’t telling you how you’re doing –

Byrne: Thank you so much.

Tavis: – you’re having a great year. (Laughter)

Byrne: I might call him after this, actually.

Tavis: Yeah.

Byrne: I think he’s owed a phone call.

Tavis: You are having a great year. What do you make of the fact that all of that stuff – obviously you don’t shoot this stuff at the same time, but all that’s out in the same year.

Byrne: It’s really odd. That’s what’s odd about it, because you often do jobs that never come out, let alone do well. So I’ve been really lucky, so lucky, just one of those very random things. Yeah, I almost wish they were staggered a little more so I could – but no, it’s been, yeah, I was working back-to-back last year. I was very lucky.

Tavis: When you have that kind of success, which is almost unprecedented in this business, in a half a year, when you have that kind of success, is the new season, like, a let-down, are you still excited about this? (Laughter) What’s “Damages” at this point when you’ve done all of that?

Byrne: Oh, my gosh, no, no, I love television. I’m a big fan of television. I probably watch more series than I do films, really, so for me the show has always been home and I take such pleasure in it, and the cast, and working with Glenn Close and the creators of our show.

So for me, yeah, it was – I was a little exhausted, to be honest, because I had worked solidly, but in a way it was nice. It was like coming home again.

Tavis: One of the things that fans love about “Damages” is it’s a rare example of television, television drama, where the entire season is built around a storyline. It’s built around a theme. This year’s theme is what?

Byrne: It’s loosely based on Blackwater, which is the private military contractor, and Patty Hughes and I, we get embroiled in a wrongful death suit against High Star, who’s being run by a sort of very compromising character, Howard T. Erickson, played by John Goodman.

So it’s very topical. Again, a lot of the story is set in Afghanistan; it deals with extraordinary rendition and torture, so we did a lot of research before we began. The guys are very smart. Casey (unintelligible) the show and on DirecTV they could push the content even further.

So if you thought “Damages” was dark before – but it serves the story, in a way. But I think it just makes it more realistic, I suppose.

Tavis: Since you love television, what’s the difference, if there is one, for an actor when you’re doing a series, episodic television, where every episode is different, versus a series like “Damages” where it’s this entire storyline all the way through the season? Is there a difference at all for the actor, for you, in process, in style and preparation?

Byrne: Preparation? I’ve not – this is really the most experience I’ve had in television, is on “Damages,” other than guest roles here and there in Australia. So the way the guys write is a little intriguing because they have a certain arc of idea of what they’re going to do over a season, but it really does evolve and change as actors come in and different storylines are working or more successful than other ones.

So they’re very sort of fluid with their writing, so you are a little – it is a little bit like the unknown every episode. You’re not quite sure what is going to change.

Tavis: Is that fun? Is that exciting? Is that a tightrope, does it scare you?

Byrne: (Laughs) It is scary. I’d probably prefer more control, and they know this, but I’ve learned to embrace the process. They’re very brilliant with the editing, so they always save you and make you look like you know what you’re doing, but sometimes I’m like, “I really wish I knew that guy was going to kill the cat, because I would have acted a lot differently.” (Laughter)

Tavis: What do you make – there’s a lot being written about this – what do you make of it, does it mean anything to you that you’re now going from FX to DirecTV? You mentioned earlier it can be darker, but for you as a – yeah.

Byrne: Yeah, the content. Ultimately, it was the same atmosphere on set, really. I suppose going to work it was the same sort of thing. If anything, it’s been a new experience. It’s sort of re-launching a show on a different network. Obviously in the same style, but obviously being able to push the content.

But (unintelligible) on a personal level it hasn’t been that different. If anything, it’s been more promotional work and they’re really behind the show in a way that I suppose it always is when you’re going to a new place.

Tavis: I started our conversation by talking about the banner year that you’re having, and before we came on camera you asked me whether or not Glenn Close had been here, and she has been here as a guest on this program.

Byrne: Yes, yes.

Tavis: I think she’s one of the great actresses of our time. What’s it like for you being able to work with one of her stature on a regular basis?

Byrne: Well, it’s an honor, firstly, and she’s not only a brilliant actress, but she’s a great leader of our show. So she is graceful and passionate and she wants it to be as good as it can be. Everyone rises to the occasion, so it doesn’t feel like a television show, in a lot of ways. It feels like you’re making a film that’s broken up into 10 hour-long episodes sort of thing.

When someone’s that good it just makes you better, so she just raises the bar so everybody really steps up, and I love that. She’s a team player. The hours on these shows are notorious, so you work up to 17, 18 hours a day sometimes, and Glenn’s right there in the front line with the crew. So she never complains, she’s brilliant.

Tavis: How do you process that? I’ve had a thousand actors over the years talking about their –

Byrne: (Laughs) You poor thing.

Tavis: No, no, no.

Byrne: Going on about themselves.

Tavis: No, no, no. No, no, no. Tons of folk have talked about the long hours in television, and I get that, living here in L.A., of course. But to the average American, the average American does not want to work 17 or 18-hour days. That happens a lot in this business. How do you process when you’re on any project, working at that level of intensity.

Byrne: Just hard drugs. (Laughter) Just some hard drugs. (Unintelligible)

Tavis: All right, that answers that question. (Laughter) That makes for a long day. That’s a lot of drugs, 17, 18 hours a day.

Byrne: (Unintelligible) the accountant. See, that’s why I’m not seeing any of this money. (Laughter) No.

Tavis: And I was calculating 18-hour days on – that’s like four or five five-hour energies, if you’re working those kind of hours.

Byrne: Yeah, right, breaking it down. No, I think it’s like a marathon. You just sort of start and you see the end – and in a way you just get used to it and you adjust and you just have a different lifestyle. You don’t really go out as much and you just take care of yourself, and I think yeah, I can probably be a little grumpy, probably, during the season, sort of like a submarine. You kind of go down the start of the week and then you surface again on Saturday.

The crew are really the ones that do the heavy lifting, because I have days off here and there and such. But they are there from dusk till dawn.

Tavis: Before you send me mail – I can hear people typing already – I know, if you could make the kind of money Glenn Close makes, you’d work 17, 18-hour days too. (Laughter) I know, so you ain’t got to write me. I get it. I heard that already.

Byrne: You’re already answering the questions, yes, yes.

Tavis: Yeah, I get it already. Finally, you hide it well on “Damages.” It’s clear from that accent that you are an Aussie.

Byrne: I am.

Tavis: How did you get from Australia to here doing the acting thing? How’d that happen for you?

Byrne: By boat, I got –

Tavis: By boat, okay.

Byrne: Yes. No, I’m kidding. (Laughter)

Tavis: You’re full of one-liners today, I see.

Byrne: I know, I am. It’s my – I’m sorry.

Tavis: No, no, no, it’s –

Byrne: You’re so polite.

Tavis: Well, go ahead. (Laughter)

Byrne: Gosh, no, slowly but surely. I think that when I – I came over a while ago. I did a film called “Troy” when I was about 25, and that was a huge break for me. Then I went on to work a lot in England, and then got “Damages.” In Australia we have a lot of American television, though, so we grow up with the culture, and in terms of the accent and things like that, that has obviously helped me. But “Damages” has been a huge part in ingraining that in me as well.

Tavis: Well, if the fourth season of “Damages” is anything like the success she has already had this year, then it’s going to be a great season for the entire cast of “Damages,” now on DirecTV, no longer on FX, starring one Rose Byrne. Rose, good to have you here.

Byrne: Thank you so much, Tavis.

Tavis: You can take your boat out of here now. (Laughter) Take your butt out of here on your boat.

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Last modified: July 21, 2011 at 1:34 pm