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Rose Byrne: Bradley Cooper's New Leading Lady

From playing an uptight BFF in Bridesmaids to Bradley Cooper’s onscreen wife in the new film The Place Beyond the Pines, Australian actress Rose Byrne is on a roll—and there’s no telling what’s next. Photographed by Mike Piscitelli. Styled by Penny Lovell. Makeup by Mai Quynh. Hair by Giannandrea. Nails by Karen Gutierrez. Shot in The Standard Downtown L.A.

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For as busy as Rose Byrne has been over the past 10, years, it’s a wonder that this Australian actor has managed to stay under the radar. But with six feature-length films coming out in 2013, including forthcoming The Place Beyond the Pines (March 29) where she plays the wife of Bradley Cooper opposite Ryan Gosling, and The Internship with Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson, we’re bound to be seeing more of our favorite Aussie—whether she likes it or not.

“I really do live a very anonymous life,” she says in her delicate accent over the phone from L.A. “The publicity and all those things, it just comes with the job.” It’s a very Rose Byrne statement, indicative of both her down to earth attitude and the hint of shyness that comes with it. She can come across like the kind of celebrity who you meet once and imagine spending a Sunday together in pajamas, watching one of her favorite television series—Mad Men, Breaking Bad, Girls, or Australia’s The Slap.

But it’s also her penchant for privacy that keeps her always a bit out of reach, making it difficult to predict her next move. As one actress who’s been able to stay nimble across genres—playing a doctor, duchesse, spy, pop star, lawyer, queen, Princess Leia’s handmaiden, and bridesmaid, in everything from sci-fi to horror, drama to comedy—that’s just how she likes it.

Byrne grew up the youngest in a family of six in a suburb of Sydney. Propelled by her two encouraging older sisters she began taking acting classes at eight years old, and joined the prestigious Australian Theatre for Young People. “It was really fun as a kid,” she says. “It’s an imaginative place. I would recommend it for any child to do.”

At 13, she landed her first film role in Dallas Doll, launching her career in Australia. “It felt like an adventure most of all,” she recalls of her first time on camera. “When you’re at that age, just before you become very self-conscious, before you descend into 14, 15, 16 [years old]… I was quite free in my acting.”

After beginning a degree at the University of Sydney, Byrne moved to New York to train at the Atlantic Theater Company, created by William H. Macy and David Mamet—a choice her parents supported even as they encouraged education and acknowledge the difficulty of the industry, she says.

Putting her career before her studies, however, proved a smart move as the projects continued to roll in, including her part as Natalie Portman’s handmaiden in Star Wars: Episode II Attack of the Clones. While the role helped to put her on the Hollywood map, Bryne’s big break came in 2004 when she played Brad Pitt’s love interest, Briseis, in Troy. Since then, she’s become a recognizable face, with roles in big budget films like Marie Antoinette, Get Him To The Greek, Insidious, X-Men, and of course, Bridesmaids, where she plays the uptight friend to the bride-to-be.

“Working with Kristen [Wiig] and Maya [Rudolph] and Wendi [McLendon-Covey] and Melissa [McCarthy] and Ellie [Kemper] was really a dream come true,” Byrne says. “You never get to work with that many women on anything. A movie like that does not come along very often…I think that’s only because I’ve been acting for so long, I have a perspective on it that is probably more realistic than if I had started later or if I had huge success at a very young age…I’ve just been slow and steady, and that’s probably a big part of it.”

But Bridesmaids wasn’t the only time Byrne found work among women she respects. From 2007 until the series finale in 2012, she played the high-powered lawyer Ellen Parsons opposite Glenn Close in the critically acclaimed series, Damages. And while the two share a deep friendship in real life, the show has been praised for the tense relationship played out between these ruthless adversaries.

“I loved doing Damages,” she says. “It’s really like you’re in a novel. It’s very intimate how much you spend time with your character [on a TV show]—you end up knowing her better than anybody.” With Close by her side, the role earned her two Golden Globe and two Emmy nominations, and plenty of recognition.

Yet despite her lengthy filmography, Byrne maintains a humble, self-deprecating attitude toward her career. For her, every role is won with a grain of salt, and requires the right combination of “serendipity and possibility.”

“What’s really in your control is what you say ‘no’ to—and then how good you are at doing auditions,” she says, laughing. “And if someone else is potentially unavailable, so you get the part.”

If this is her strategy to escape being typecast, then it’s certainly working. “There’re very few people who get to really play diverse characters, particularly women and especially in film,” she says. “It can be scary and risky but that’s what interests me as an artist—it’s to do things that push the boundary a little bit and that push me out of my comfort zone.”

With so many projects on the horizon, we’re excited to see what’s next. —Sasha Levine (@sashalevine)

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