The Reason Rose Byrne Almost Turned Down the Role of Gloria Steinem in 'Mrs. America'

"I was like … 'This is a bad idea.'"

Rose Byrne
Photo: Rose Byrne

You could say Rose Byrne, known for her roles in Bridesmaids, Neighbors, and Like A Boss, is a funny girl. But she didn't always see herself that way. In fact, her big break came from the highly-rated TV drama series Damages, in which she played young and scrappy attorney Ellen Parsons.

It wasn't until one of her agents advised her to take herself less seriously that she decided to give comedy a try and utilize her sense of humor.

"I was a very young, earnest actress," she tells InStyle editor-in-chief Laura Brown during this week's episode of Ladies First with Laura Brown. "One of my agents in Australia said to me, 'We need to get you in something funny, because you're funny.' And the thing about comedy is that people who are funny in real life aren't necessarily funny actors, and funny actors aren't necessarily funny people."

Luckily it turns out that Byrne is hilarious both on and off screen. She went on to star in some of the most influential comedies over the last two decades (more on that later). But back before her big break, the Australian actress was living in L.A. and auditioning for about 10 years before landing Damages.

"Damages was a great turning point," she says. "And then I think that gave me a lot of confidence that I needed perhaps, and particularly working with someone like Glenn Close — she's just such a power, you know, she's Glenn Close, dude. So, everyday going to work with this formidable legend was like a fast-track. And that I think was a huge turning point in getting confidence. And also the show was really well-received."

Rose Byrne on Humor: Episode 14: March 2, 2021

InStyle Ladies First with Laura Brown

And that bout of confidence gave her the courage to give comedy a try — starting with none other than Get Him To the Greek with Russell Brand and Jonah Hill. But this wasn't the only '00s comedy she went for.

"I remember I'd been really trying to get an audition for Knocked Up," she tells Brown. "And then right at the last minute, it was cast. So they weren't seeing anybody, but it was [helmed by] Nick Stoller, the director, and Judd Apatow, who was producing [and] who brought me into Get Him to the Greek. And I credit them for so much because they are willing to see all sorts of people, you know? Damages doesn't scream, 'Oh my God, that girl's funny.'"

Get Him To the Greek was only the beginning of her comedy career. Enter Bridesmaids: the movie that would take Byrne's fame to new heights as she played Helen, bride Lillian's pretentious friend who steps on the toes of Lillian's childhood friend-turned-maid-of-honor Annie. And while Byrne oozes ease and assuredness as Helen, she recalls being intimidated during her audition.

"At the time I was such a huge fan of Kristin Wiig, like a huge fan of her work on SNL," she says. "And so I remember auditioning with her and just being quite flawed, and trying to keep up with her, hoping I did a good job. And then when it came out, it was such a success."

Byrne says she thrived in that environment made up mostly of women. "I just had so much fun, and there was an energy and an anticipation and a delight to the scenes coming up, big group scenes ... when we had those great long kind of comedic set pieces that, you know, were just hysterical."

Her latest female-led venture? Her stint as Gloria Steinem in FX's Mrs. America. But when Cate Blanchett reached out about the gig, Byrne nearly turned down the opportunity.

"How do I not screw this up?" She recalls thinking. "Because there's just so many potential pitfalls to playing this iconic woman."

She continued, "So initially I was incredibly nervous. I did that thing of like, 'Of course, oh my goodness, this is an incredible project. Yes, yes, yes.' And then about two weeks later, I was like, 'I dunno if I can do this. I need to talk to them. I don't know if I can pull this off. This is a bad idea.' ... It was about the project as a whole. In a way, Gloria was sort of the last point of entry, ultimately, because it was such a bigger story than just one person."

Listen to the full episode and subscribe on Apple, Spotify, Stitcher, or wherever you find your favorite podcasts. And tune in weekly to Ladies First with Laura Brown hosted by InStyle's editor in chief Laura Brown, who speaks to guests like Michelle Pfeiffer, Emily Ratajkowski, Cynthia Erivo, Naomi Watts, La La Anthony, Ellen Pompeo, Rep. Katie Porter, and more to discuss current events, politics, some fashion, and, most importantly, the major firsts in their lives.

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