A lot has happened since Rose Byrne landed the role of Ellen Parsons in 2007. Her film credits now include Knowing, Get Him to the Greek, X-Men: First Class, and Bridesmaids—one of the biggest comedy hits of 2011! So what does the future hold for this Australian beauty with an impeccable American accent? Josh Payne catches up with Rose to talk about Ellen, working with Glenn Close, and more.
JOSH PAYNE: How did you learn to speak with such a flawless American accent? Was that difficult for you or did it come naturally?
ROSE BYRNE: In Australia, we get a lot of American content from a young age. So the vernacular, the sound is really familiar to us. And then Damages has been incredible training, a sort of linguistic gymnastics that comes with the legalese speak. And I’ve had vocal coaches in the past, but not for a while. I think this has been the best training I could get.
JP: What have you learned working with Glenn Close?
RB: She’s really very collaborative, and she just raises the bar. Every scene is magnified for the better when she’s around. She just looks at everything deeply from both the character’s perspective and from the context of the story. he makes you feel like you’re not doing a TV show. She’s very detailed about things, and that I will always take away from her as I continue to work. Her quality of casting an eye over things is never casual.
JP: Were you nervous when you first worked opposite her?
RB: Oh yes, of course.
JP: I imagine the nervousness has gone away now?
RB: Yes, it’s been so long. I think in the first season it also helped because Ellen was so naïve, young, nervous and green. And so was I. Now I’m an old hand [laughs].
JP: From Ted Danson to Martin Short to John Goodman, you’ve worked with a wide array of costars on Damages. Who was your favorite (or favorites) to work with?
RB: I really enjoyed working with Timothy Olyphant in Season 2. And now he’s on Justified as the lead. We had a lot of fun. He played a bad guy but we had a great kind of chemistry, and that was a lot of fun.
JP: Ryan Phillippe is the latest guest star to join the Damages cast. What has it been like working with him?
RB: Ryan’s terrific. He’s so professional. Very calm, very quiet. Really studious and really cool. I’ve really enjoyed my time with Ryan.
JP: In Season 5, Ellen will be against Patty on opposite sides of the courtroom. What qualities does Ellen’s character possess that make her a worthy adversary for Patty?
RB: Well, she knows all her secrets. She knows how to play her game better than anyone else. She’s been a victim of it. She’s stood by her. She’s been a partaker in it. If anyone can beat Patty at her own game it’s Ellen.
JP: Which aspects of Ellen’s character have you liked most? Least?
RB: I’ve loved her relentlessness. I mean, she’s made of steel, when you think of the things she’s gone through and the way she’s dealt with them and gotten on with things. She doesn’t sweat the small stuff, which I admire because I do that. She’s not neurotic. She’s so focused and steely in that sense, which is something I admire in her. But then it would be good to see her a little more vulnerable. I think after Season 2 she just changed so much, so a little more vulnerability from her would also be interesting.
JP: What has been the biggest challenge in playing Ellen?
RB: Her steeliness. That’s not something that comes naturally to me. And her authority, which is not something that comes naturally to me. Ellen has both.
JP: To prepare for your role over the years you met with lawyers, FBI agents, trauma counselors and other experts who shed light on various story lines. How helpful is research for you?
RB: It’s all great. It arms you with the reality of situations so you can go into them as informed as possible.
JP: Do you have any favorite scenes?
RB: I’ve always enjoyed the scenes with Glenn at the dock. They’ve been the closing scenes of a few seasons. I’ve loved doing those.
JP: Which aspect of Damages do you find most interesting or do you think hasn’t been discussed much?
RB: I think the show is underrated in terms of how inventive it was within the format of a legal show. I think it was so inventive in that long format, unraveling one case over 13 episodes and not solving a case at the end of each episode. And also, I don’t see any other relationships on television like the one between Patty and Ellen, especially for women. It’s not about men. It’s not about your hairstyle. It’s about power and manipulation. It’s about threats and intelligence. That complex psychological relationship they have is really unique to our show, and it’s great to see it for female characters.
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