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Sunshine - Rose Byrne interview

Rose Byrne in Sunshine

Compiled by Jack Foley

IN THE weeks before the cameras started rolling on the science fiction thriller Sunshine, Rose Byrne and her fellow cast members immersed themselves in a pre-production programme designed to break down barriers and give them a little taste of what life would be like in the cramped confines of a spaceship.

Boyle also organised seminars for the actors so that they could be briefed on the science behind Alex Garland’s screenplay which is set in the future when our Sun is dying. And he wanted the actors to experience weightlessness first hand and each in turn took zero gravity flights from a small airfield in the UK. Byrne also tried scuba diving and – a big thrill – flying a 747 in a simulator at Heathrow Airport.

Here she discusses some of those experiences in an interview in LA in March…

Q: This is a very different role for you…
A: Yes, it was. Really different. It was good – she’s more emotional than the other characters in the film but she’s assertive and confident.

Q: Was that part of the attraction, to play something different?
A: Yes absolutely. Just before that I had done Marie Antoinette and you couldn’t have more of a contrast. To be in such a different genre to anything I’d done before and to work with Danny (Boyle) and Alex (Garland, writer) was really great. I was just dying to be involved. So when I got the part I was over the moon.

Q: Is it true that all the actors had to live together in student digs before shooting started?
A: We did but it was only 12 days and it was these tiny little quarters and there were eight of us. But I’m from a big family so for me it was fine because I’m used to chaos and lots of people around at close quarters and all that sort of stuff, and it was good because we bonded. What it did was make everyone at ease with each other. It broke the ice. And that is hard to do.

We got drunk together and made dinner and that for me was what I got out of it the most. That was the best part, breaking the ice and getting familiar with each other. We would talk about anything and everything – work, whatever; any subject was up for grabs. We just chilled out and relaxed with each other so that was the best part.

Q: Are you a science freak or a science geek?
A: I wasn’t a science person at all. I was terrible at science, I failed it my whole life. I was quite scared of it and I never really understood it. And this was really good. In a sense it was quite educational because I was really forced to think about it. We had scientists around all the time and physicists and things like that and I was always the arty weirdo who was reading Jane Eyre or whatever (laughs), I wasn’t into science at all.

Q: There’s a lot of information in the film…
A: Yeah, and I probably retained one per cent of it! A physicist who worked on the film, Brian Cox, is like the smartest guy in the room, he’s just like unbelievably smart. And the level that these guys are communicating on you can’t really understand at all, you know, it’s like a completely different planet. It’s mind boggling, I’d say.

Q: What are the themes of the films for you?
A: I guess it’s mankind versus nature, essentially. Because we’re trying to save mankind and nature is saying ‘it’s over.’ The sun is dying because of what we’ve been doing on the planet. And we are trying to re-ignite it to save human kind so it’s like: “Does the sun know best?” Should we just let it die because that’s the organic thing that is happening or should mankind be pursuing this and be optimistic and try and fight back?’ That, for me, is essentially what it’s about.

Q: Do you let destiny guide you or do you try and shape the future?
A: I’d say I’m a bit of a fatalist but not as much as I was. I used to be like “whatever happens happens” and have that innate fatalistic outlook. But I think it’s more about what you are thinking in your own mind that is the most powerful aspect of controlling your own life.

Q: You and Michelle Yeoh were the only women in the cast. How did that work out?
A: I got along really well with Michelle. She’s an absolute joy. She’s like a diplomat and she has this incredible lifestyle that takes her all over the world. She’s an international film star, huge in Asia, and I love her work. I adore her – she’s so graceful and poised.

Q: I hear that the cast got to experience zero gravity. What was that like?
A: It was pretty surreal and quite scary. And it was a tiny little plane which makes me nervous anyway because of the cramped conditions. You always hear about those tiny planes crashing! And it was a surreal experience because you can’t move your hands off your legs and your whole face goes like this [taut face] and you’re kind of being pushed back at the same time so it’s such pressure on your body. It’s bizarre.

I didn’t get sick. I thought I would because I’m not the best flyer, I get pretty nervous in planes so I managed to hold my breakfast down. We also did some scuba diving which was interesting, too. And we went out to Heathrow to the flight school where the BA and Virgin pilots are trained and I got to fly a 747 in a simulator cockpit which was incredible.

Q: Did you crash?
A: Nearly on the landing but the pilot saved me [laughs]. We couldn’t crash, if you crash it takes three hours to engineer the whole system back up again – and it’s like $100,000 an hour or something to hire it or something absurd, it was so expensive.

We basically had a guy next to us who flew it the whole time. But it was amazing. And they get these pilots in there and they throw everything at them – losing engines, storms, the lot, in these little simulated cockpits. And they have to get themselves out of it. It was good because like I say I’m a nervous flyer and at least I know what they’re doing up there now.

Q: Was it good fun to do all these things in preparation for the film?
A: It was like an adventure camp where we had lectures and films and scuba diving. I’ve never done that much preparation before. Especially with the production providing it, like I always do my own but this was a real adventure package.

Q: What do you want from your career?
A: That’s a big question! [laughs]. I just want to continue being able to get roles that scare me and make me better and I think I can only grow as an artist if I do things that are scaring me and making me uncomfortable because that’s the only place you’ll learn anything.

Q: You have been talked about as an up and coming star. Do you think about the whole fame thing and how it would impact on your life?
A: I guess it’s sort of a by-product of the work, in a sense. And that’s not really what I’m after. I just want to keep working and that’s not my style. I see myself more as a character actress than a celebrity. It’s not how I’ve ever viewed my career.

Q: You’re returning home for a film now (The Tender Hook). How long since you worked in Australia?
A: Four years. So that will be great and I’m working with Hugo Weaving and I’m a big fan of his. And it will be great to see my family and friends.

Q: How old were you when you first started acting?
A: I was 13 when I got my first job. But I started taking classes when I was eight-years-old so I’ve been doing it for nearly 20 years now.

Read our review of Sunshine