“Does having an iPhone count?” laughs Rose Byrne when asked if she became tech-savvy while portraying a workaholic Google executive in her new comedy, The Internship. We're chatting at the Northern California tech company that's become a mecca to college grads over the past decade, receiving two million applications annually.
“I'm really not that techie. I'm pretty hopeless actually. I've got Instagram and I finally replaced my BlackBerry with an iPhone about a month ago. I'm like a turtle. I'm still a bit slow with it,” she says somewhat apologetically.
“I've never been on Facebook or Twitter. My teenage cousins are all on Facebook and its been a part of their consciousness from such a young age. For me, I'm just on the other end of that because Facebook came in when I was in my mid-20s. I feel lucky it wasn't around while I was at high school because I probably would have found that an extra pressure of trying to fit in,” says Byrne, a shy child whose confidence blossomed after taking acting classes when she was eight years old, paying off with roles in Insidious and X-Men: First Class.
“I think a lot of actors are shy or socially awkward but acting gives you licence to step out of yourself and to be a different character, and it's a different dimension so you're allowed to do other things or get the attention that you're craving or whatever it is – the inner actor that we have in us,” she suggests.
Her presence at Google's HQ poses an interesting dichotomy for any actor for whom the ubiquitous search engine is both blessing and curse: “I try not to google myself. I make a concerted effort not to but, of course, I have in my life.”
“Mostly its other people googling stuff and then telling me about it. Everything's kind of embarrassing that's on the internet about you. I'm very shy so anything that's on I'm always like, 'oh my gosh!' even if its good. It doesn't matter, its always a bit rattling. It's also a bit dangerous because you can mindlessly waste time looking up things.”
Admittedly, its been a while since she fought an uncontrollable urge to google her own name: “I just step away from the computer if I feel that urge coming on!”
If she were to google herself today she would likely find that after six months of dating Bobby Cannavale, 43, under the radar, they were officially anointed as a couple after holding hands on the The Internship red carpet in the US a few weeks ago. Prior to meeting the Nurse Jackie actor, she dated fellow Australian Brendan Cowell for six years, surprising their friends when they broke off a relationship which had been expected to end in a walk down the aisle.
Unlike many career-driven actresses, she believes its important to pay equal attention to both private life and career: “I think you have to make sure you're having a rich personal life because otherwise your work's not going to benefit if you're just going from job to job to job and not enjoying things,” says Byrne, who turns 34 next month.
“But I don't have a family of my own so I feel like I don't really have to juggle too much. Having a family would be a huge shifting point for any working woman. Its a competitive industry and there's not that many good roles for women so you have to have that drive and inner fire,” says the actress who has successfully snagged some of the best gigs for women, most notably her five-year stint as lawyer Ellen Parsons on TV's award-winning drama, Damages.
“Getting Damages was a huge turning point for me, and the critical acclaim the show received and working with Glenn Close for all that time [was great]. She's the best actor I've ever worked with,” says the actress.
She had hoped her role in Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones might have catapulted her currency 11 years ago but, instead, was cast in the virtually mute role of Natalie Portman's devoted handmaiden, Dormé.
“I was in it for a minute! But, still, its Star Wars – come on. It's the fabric of our culture. That will be with me forever, which is great. I was so honoured to have been part of that trilogy,” she says diplomatically.
The youngest of four children born to Jane, a primary school administrator, and Robin, a former statistician and market researcher, she was raised in the Sydney suburb of Balmain.
Just 13 years old when she was cast in her first film, Dallas Doll, she quickly established herself as a skilled actress on big and small screen, featuring with Heath Ledger in Two Hands in 1999 and earning major roles in Troy, Knowing and Marie Antoinette.
“My parents always encouraged me with education and using your mind and the privilege of being able to go to university,” says the actress who studied at Sydney's Nida (National Institute of Dramatic Art), which has an ethos similar to Rada.
“My parents are very low key. They're not from the industry so they're baffled a bit probably sometimes by some of the films I'm in, I think. And Damages? My dad wasn't very good with the plot but they're always very supportive. And that's not always the case with actors. It's a tough life, you're not always working and you're often broke, but my parents were very encouraging from a young age because they could see that I really enjoyed it,” says Byrne, whose early career launched her on a globe-trotting odyssey, setting up homes in Los Angeles and then the UK, where she lived for several years with her sister in East London.
Her years in the UK added further diversity to her resume, featuring in Tim Fywell's I Capture the Castle, Danny Boyle's Sunshine and Juan Carlos Fresnadillo's 28 Weeks Later, filmed on locations around London. More recently she has even broken the “glass ceiling” of women in comedy, most memorably with Get Him to the Greek and Bridesmaids, recently completing Townies, a comedy in which she plays a young mum married to Seth Rogen, battling with Zac Efron's fraternity next door.
“After doing things like Damages and Troy, which were very heavy and dramatic, it was hard for people to reimagine me in comedy. I still consider myself a novice and I'm always cast as the straight man in any comedy,” argues Byrne who uses her native accent in The Internship.
“I think Australians have a healthy sense of comedy. We're always looking for the absurd in things and we don't take ourselves too seriously, which I think is key. The minutiae of life makes me laugh more than anything else.
“And people are pretty strange; they can be funny and innately entertaining. My brother is probably the funniest person I know.” Relocating to New York six years ago to work on Damages, today her conversation is peppered with English-isms like “brilliant!” spoken in a soft slightly American lilt.
“New York as a city really excites me, just the adrenaline of the place. I love to walk and all my friends there are from diverse walks of life – they don't all just work in film or are actors,” says the actress who is always delighted to return home to work, spending time in Perth last year filming Tim Winton's The Turning with fellow Aussies Hugo Weaving and Cate Blanchett.
Surrounded by brainy baseball-capped, T-shirt-and-sneaker-wearing geeks at Google's busy Palo Alto campus, the ethereal actress stands out as she later takes a spin on a brightly painted bicycle. Declining to dispense with her five-inch heels, she gracefully pedals dressed in a Rebecca Taylor sleeveless black blouse and wearing patterned ALC silk pants.
“Style over comfort,” she laughs as she pedals away.
There's a ripple of chatter as she cycles by, the 20-somethings trying to figure out where they know her from: “Bridesmaids!”
'The Internship' opens on 3 July
*This article appears in tomorrow's print edition of Radar Magazine