Interview: Rose Byrne is glad her ‘Neighbors’ character isn’t a stock wife

Rose Byrne has added comedy to her repertoire, including the film "Neighbors." Credit: Getty Images
Rose Byrne has added comedy to her repertoire, including the film “Neighbors.”
Credit: Getty Images

Frats aren’t much of a thing in Australia, where the actress Rose Byrne hails from. But that wasn’t the hard part about doing “Neighbors,” in which she and Seth Rogen play suburban parents whose lives are upended when a frat moves in next door. For Byrne it continues her move into comedy, after a long stint doing mainly drama, like TV’s “Damages,” as well as the occasional horror film (“28 Weeks Later,” “Insidious”). In fact, she’s been doing films like “Get Him to the Greek” and “Bridesmaids” for so long, she might have forgotten how to be serious.

It’s nice that you get to do your natural Australian accent for a change.

Initially, I thought it would be too jarring. Then I thought it could work for the character, because Australians tend to have a wild streak. It’s a big drinking culture. There’s Irish and Scottish and English descent. And [her character] is so irresponsible. She’s not willing to grow up and thinks she can get away with the things she’s doing.

She’s also not the usual stereotype of the killjoy wife with a manchild husband.

We really wanted to not make her the stock nagging wife. “Don’t go out to the party!” They even have a scene where they reference that, and he says, “You’ve got to be responsible, you’re the woman” and that misogyny. I think it made for a funnier film, making them a comedy duo rather than have them against each other.

This is a pretty guy-heavy film, too.

I was the only woman on the set other than Lisa [Kudrow], our designer and our script supervisor. It was a lot of male energy. Listen, there’s usually only one female role anyway. So it’s not that weird.

This is a comedy, but like a lot of these Apatow universe comedies, it’s about a real anxiety, and it doesn’t pick sides between the couple and the frat.

I have friends, homeowners, who’ve seen it who find it really anxiety-inducing. Then again, kids who are 18 or 19 would probably find our characters really annoying. It represents both points of view. But I really see Teddy [the frat leader, played by Zac Efron] as quite villainous, because he’s so manipulative and vain. And stupid as well. He’s defining himself so greatly around this ridiculous role in this fraternity. Our characters are more bumbling.

Rose Byrne parties down at a frat party in "Neighbors." Credit: Glen Wilson
Rose Byrne parties down at a frat in “Neighbors.”
Credit: Glen Wilson

Before “Get Him to the Greek,” you were primarily known for doing serious work — and also horror films or thrillers. What has that shift been like, especially since the comedy you do is this improv-heavy style?

I’m still learning. I’m lucky to have been paired with Seth Rogen and Melissa McCarthy and Kristen Wiig and Maya Rudolph and Russell Brand — people who are brilliant and effortless at that. Comedy is a lot of watching someone doing something ridiculous. But it’s pretty technical. They have writers who are pitching you all the time — “say this, say this, say this.” So it sounds haphazard, but it’s structured within the method of it.

The cliche is that comedy is harder than drama.

I think so. It’s very hard. It’s just as difficult to tap into that side of your brain than it is to tap into a dramatic side.

You’ve been doing a lot of comedies lately, too.

It would be good to do something dramatic. I haven’t done something dramatic for awhile. I don’t know if I even can anymore. [Laughs.]

Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge


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