Rose Byrne & Hugh Dancy © Fox Searchlight Pictures

In Rose Byrne’s short career, the Australian actress has established herself as both a TV and movie star. Between seasons of Damages, she traveled to New York to star as Beth in Adam, a ‘dramedy’ about two misfit neighbors who meet and fall in love. Adam (Hugh Dancy), has Asperger’s Syndrome, a form of high-functioning autism, leaving him unable to read what other people are thinking, which comes across as irrational behavior.

What was it about this role that made you want to do it?

Rose Byrne & Hugh Dancy © Fox Searchlight Pictures
Rose Byrne & Hugh Dancy © Fox Searchlight Pictures

I was on vacation in India. I’d just finished Season 1 of Damages, so I was pretty exhausted. My boyfriend read the script and was like, “You’ve got to go home,” so I cut off my holiday by two weeks, and dived in.

I’ve never been offered anything like it. She had a lot of humor about her, she was very spontaneous, and she had a lot of qualities I haven’t been able to explore in the roles I’ve done here in the States, so I was really excited. It was very liberating, I suppose, compared to a lot of the stuff I had been doing, in particular Damages. That character is a bit under siege a lot of the time, and under stress from Glenn Close. There’s not much comedy, which is great, in its own right. But, it was good. It was the antithesis of that.

Were you familiar with Asperger’s before you took this role?

Rose Byrne & Hugh Dancy © Fox Searchlight Pictures
Rose Byrne & Hugh Dancy © Fox Searchlight Pictures

I have a family friend who has Asperger’s, so I knew about it through him. And I read a really great novel, called The Curious Incident of the Dog in the NightTime, by Mark Haddon, who is a British writer, told from the perspective of an 8-year-old boy who has Asperger’s, and it’s absolutely heartbreaking. So I had a little bit of experience, but Beth doesn’t really know much about it, so Max (Mayer, the director) didn’t want me to overdose myself with research.

What were the most endearing qualities about Adam that you think Beth falls for?
Sex and the City mold of a girl.

What about working with Hugh Dancy? Did the way he played his role change the way you played yours?

I think his reserve brought out her eccentricity a little bit more because she is perhaps overcompensating. And I ended up really using the humor in the script, a lot more than I realized, to try to get a reaction out of him. For Hugh, it was such a huge responsibility to play someone with this condition, and he did it so accurately, going against every instinct as an actor, like looking the other person in the eye. Acting is reacting, and he had to isolate himself. For me, there were definitely times where it felt slightly lonely, but that’s what Beth would have been feeling.

Since this is a low-budget, independent film, how quickly did you have to make it?

It was much like Damages, in the sense that we had 20 days and however many scenes were in the film, and you just move at such a clip. There was no downtime, and that’s like TV. You don’t rehearse in TV, and we had a day of rehearsal for this. The conditions were sometimes a little bit rough. It was a bit cold, at times. But, the material was obviously really fun and liberating for me because I hadn’t really done anything like it before, and Max is a wonderful guy, so he set the tone as a good place to come to work every day. But, especially for Hugh, it was a huge undertaking.

Is it tiring to go back to Damages for a third season, or are you still enjoying playing the character?

With Damages, it’s great. In Season 1, she was a child. In Season 2, she was an adolescent. In Season 3, she’s kind of a woman. I’m really excited to see what happens. I hope she gets to face off with Glenn in a courtroom. That’s my fantasy. I have no idea what’s in store, but I feel like that’s what it’s leading up to. We’ll see. But, I can’t complain about having any feeling of repetition with the show ’cause it’s nothing if not surprising.

Judy Sloane

Judy is Film Review Online's regular Los Angeles based reporter.