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[Interview] Rose Byrne + Hugh Dancy

Written by on July 29, 2009 

About a week or two ago I had the opportunity to participate in a roundtable interview with actors Rose Byrne and Hugh Dancy for their upcoming film Adam. If you’re a fan of these two actors, which you should be, then you’ll most likely find this a fun read. Adam is an actual good love story that doesn’t feel completely contrived like most films of its kind. It’s definitely another success for Fox Searchlight.  Adam will start out with a limited release on July 31st.

Hugh, your character Adam has a hard time dealing with social situations and grasping the emotions of people. Did you find that difficult when you were doing scenes with Rose to sort of not react to those emotions?

Hugh Dancy: I did find it difficult and that’s a pretty good description of the challenge. I suppose, because well first of all that’s so out of my ordinary experience in life and secondly as an actor normally what you rely on is responding to people, listening to them, empathizing, and communicating with them. That’s what we do for a living so having all that taken away was a very unusual experience.

My question is kind of unrelated, but you worked with Frankie Fasion and I loved him from The Wire.

Hugh Dancy: Yeah, me too. I love The Wire.

In that he played the most corrupt and awful police commissioner.

Hugh Dancy: Well, he’s not the worst police commissioner. He’s alright there, he was a pawn.

So what was it like working with him and seeing how warm he could be?

Hugh Dancy: Yeah, it was great. Frankie is warm and empathetic, but he’s not a softy. Don’t get that impression, there’s a lot of bluster to Frankie and he’s kind of tough love. Just a little bit of him in the movie kind of colors the entire experience and I think he adds something that changes the dynamic. It’s the same with his presence on set and he was only there for a few days, but he was like a breath of fresh air. For some reason though I never got up the nerve to tell him I love The Wire and to ask him to tell me stories about that. I just blew it.

Did you guys know about Asperger’s Syndrome before reading the script?

Rose Byrne: I have a family friend who as Asperger’s Syndrome so I did. Yeah, I knew a little bit about it.

Hugh Dancy: I didn’t. To be honest, when I read the script nobody told me that the character had Aspergers. If someone had, I would have bothered to find out what that was. I got to the point in the script where he says, “Aspergers,” and I was like what? So I had to start from scratch.

Rose did you sort of help Hugh telling him about experiences with your friend?

Rose Byrne: I didn’t actually no! (laughs) I never brought that up and I never offered any help at all! No, I didn’t.

Hugh Dancy: It was misdirection.

Rose Byrne: (laughs) No, I didn’t on the contrary. He was pretty much immersed in the character and we had like only a one day rehearsal. It was shot in like twenty-five days.

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Hugh Dancy: By the time we did meet I had several weeks to get up to speed. There was a lot to do, but at that point I like to think I had moved pass Rose in mind.

Obviously whenever you play someone with a disorder that sets them apart from society. There’s this impulse to just light them up with neuroses and scenery chew. How did you fight that to keep him grounded?

Hugh Dancy: Well I don’t think I had to fight it, because I was just attempting to do justice to the script. The script already had that balance of somebody who has enormous difficulties, but there’s nothing externally to differentiate him for everyone else. Part of the problem for him is that nobody is going to give him credit for needing since they cant see that. It was inherent in the writing and that’s not what I really get my kicks from. I think the mark of success in performances is that you cant see someone acting. That’s what I attempted to do.

Hugh you mostly do romance films like Jane Austin Book Club, Evening, and now Adam. What is it that you like about doing these type of films?

Hugh Dancy: To be honest with you I’m more aware with the distinctions between those films than the similarities. I mean you’re right that I haven’t managed to fit in a cyborg movie, but I guess I’m just drawn to different type of characters. The characters in those films, I think everyone would agree, are quite distinct. That is where I get my kicks and I think its maybe also fair to say… I don’t know, I think to an extent darker films are harder to get made especially if they’re interesting dark films. I think people just wont give you the money to do that and you could imagine that there was pressure on this movie to end it in even more upbeat way. So if you try to make a grown up movie that is dark with truly dark characters that is just really difficult to get off the ground. I have done a couple, but they are few and far between. I think the grimmer movies with guys running around with guns… Well it’s fair to say that those films have slightly less characters.

Rose, in the beginning why do you think Beth was so intrigued or attracted to Adam despite his odd behavior?

Editor’s Note: Hugh sat up from the couch immediately and pointed to his face in a joking manor.

Rose Byrne: (laughs) Well in a superficial sense she was probably attracted to him and thought he was cute. I think she’s a curious person and a natural kind of person with an inquisitive nature about her. She’s very welcoming and warm. She’s also coming from a very vulnerable place with having a crappy relationship and being burned by guys. I think she’s intrigued and the way this film unfolds. It doesn’t happen over night and at one point you think it may not happen. So I think the structure of it feels organic as if it’s really happening.

New York City was treated as if its a character in the movie just like the old Woody Allen movies and as foreigners I presume by you’re amazing accents, what did that bring to the perspective of the story?

Hugh Dancy: (laughs) Well Max [Mayer] had a good answer for this and I don’t know if he talked about this to you. While the two of us don’t know New York as well as he does… I wasn’t conscience about this at the time, but I think we both knew to some extent that New York is both credibly busy and even hostile at times. Certainly for someone to have a problem with human contact its the worst place in the world to be. On the other hand, it’s home to so many people and it’s recognizable to people who haven’t even been there. So it’s kind of iconic to see that skyline just like from those Woody Allen films.

As actors would you say you grow with every new project? Especially you Rose since you’ve worked with directors like Danny Boyle and Alex Proyas.

Rose Byrne: I think so if you’re paying attention (laughs). If you’re lucky enough to work with…

Hugh Dancy: I think you do, but it’s not the same thing as actually being able to tell you exactly what you’ve learned. I don’t think it’s possible to work in an in-depth way and not take anything from it. I couldn’t sit down and tell you I’ve learned on this and also this.

Rose Byrne: Yeah it’s a little harder to pin down, but every experience is a new adventure.

How much did you prepare for your roles? Rose with having your friend with Aspergers and Hugh how much of the things you found out did you apply to Adam?

Rose Byrne: I also read a great book named The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time many years before this. It really reminded of the empathy you feel for that character in the novel is similar to how you feel towards Adam. Which I think is such a success.

Yeah both movies have that tone where they try to reexamine humane society through a different lens.

Rose Byrne: Yeah, exactly.

Hugh Dancy: I think that’s the heart of Aspergers is to try to decode society and figure out the conventions.

Rose Byrne: Beth doesn’t know anything about it when she first hears about it so I tried to make that feel organic. I didn’t go into that with a lot of information. Hugh, you went to some meetings though right?

Hugh Dancy: Yeah, I think it would have been odd if we both went into the movie with the same angle. So I obviously, like I said, knew nothing about Aspergers so I had mountain to climb in that aspect before I even started to think about the character. I guess there was a combination of massive information, the internet, books, and a part of the job is to figure out which of that information is useful and not useful. There are a lot of arguments on what exactly Aspergers is neurologically which wasn’t of much value to me for the character. Also, as the more I learned the more I learned about the script. Then finally getting to the point where I felt equipped to sit to talk to people who worked with people with Aspergers or lived with them. So I’d watch them and listen to what they shared with me.

I was talking to Max and he said he went to a group called Adaptation, did you attend any of those meetings?

Hugh Dancy: Yeah.

Were there any influences you had for your roles? The first thing that popped up in my mind was Dustin Hoffman from Rain Man and I was wondering what other cultural influences your brought to this?

Hugh Dancy: I brought no cultural influences to this knowingly and not Rain Man. Of course Dustin Hoffman’s performance is fantastic in that movie and I guess he’s on the autistic spectrum too, but what his character had is very different. Going back to what I said before, unlike Dustin Hoffman’s character, Adam is somebody who can pass broadly speaking during his normal days as someone who is exactly the same as any of us. After re-watching it recently I’ve found the closest performance to this is Peter Sellers in Being There. I don’t know if any of you haven’t seen that…

It’s amazing.

Hugh Dancy: Yeah, it’s a fantastic film and it’s different in the way how this film takes Aspergers to tell this story of romance. In Being There, no one says he has Aspergers since its presented in a way as a satire. I watched it the other day on a plane and the beats of comedy come from his literalness, nativity, and simplicity. That’s the best analogy I think.


What was it originally that attracted you to your roles?

Rose Byrne: I’ve never been offered anything like this before and it was sort of a departure for me. I guess I have done more genre pictures with science fiction and action. Which is fun and great, I’ve enjoyed them. This was more of a performance piece though I suppose, it was really just the story of this relationship. It was a pleasure as an actor, it was somewhat daunting, but the material was so rich and had potential.

Hugh Dancy: Yeah, I would say the same thing. It went through a few stages and my initial feeling was that I couldn’t tell what was going on, but the dialogue was so well written and there was a lot going on. In terms of the character I was very drawn that Max didn’t label him until a third in and not letting the audience know. Therefore, I would be able to present him as an individual and then seal the deal by talking with Max by making the character deeper. I trusted him pretty much immediately.

You were asked to reconcile to completely different things by acting like your alienated from society while also trying to make a connection with someone you’ve just met. When you did those love scenes how did you reconcile that fact and make Adam still feel conjured?

Adam Hugh: By rooting it in truth, you’re right that there is an alienation for Adam and people like him. That in term makes for some more difficulties they must overcome. People can overcome those difficulties and that extends to people having relationships and getting married. So there was never a point where I felt like were pampering over something that wouldn’t work. We tried to represent the difficulties they faced and the hurtles, but yeah we had to earn those moments where they get close.

Has this year been any different for you guys career wise? You’ve both have had two very successful movies with you having Confessions of a Shopaholic and you Rose with Knowing which was also an awesome movie.

Rose Byrne: (laughs) Ah, thanks you!

Yeah I loved that film’s ending too. So with this garnishing critical acclaim and it will most likely do well…

Hugh Dancy: It’s hard to say, I think for either of us that wasn’t our motivation.

Rose Byrne: Yeah, when you do something like this you think no one will ever see it (laughs). You really do.

Hugh Dancy: It obviously wasn’t guaranteed distribution and as Rose said you do it because its something different for you. If it’s well received which it has been then people at least in the industry might see it and recognize us and say, “Oh, there doing something different.” Then the other thing of course if the movie is a success then more people pay attention. At this stage all those chips are up in the air.

Editor’s Note: At this point the publicist gave the three of us the last questions warning. Since I was the only one left with some questions I thought I should get Rose to talk about Damages, Get Him to the Greek, and her great genre work.

Rose, have you started shooting Get Him to the Greek yet? If so, how much fun are you having on that? Could you also talk about when you’re going to be shooting Damages?

Rose Byrne: Yes, I’ve done a couple of weeks on Get Him to The Greek in LA. I’m going to London to do a bit more, but yeah it’s been really fun! It’s a really small role, but you know it’s with Russell Brand who is a character. He’s great, the hardest thing is trying not to laugh. He’s very quick with a lot of improvising and it’s great though seeing how all those comedy guys work. It’s daunting, but fun. For Damages we start season three in September. So I’ll go back to doing that which I am excited for and I’m glad we have another season.

I’m also a big fan of your genre work with Sunshine, 28 Weeks Later, and Knowing. So what is it that drew you to those projects?

Rose Byrne: For Sunshine I just auditioned in London for Danny Boyle and then I think the actress who got the role dropped out, so thank you to her! Thank you, I am going to send you some champagne! (laughs) I wont name names!

You made sure an “accident” happened to her right?

Rose Byrne: (laughs) I know, that’s right I took care of her. That was great though you know with Danny Boyle who was such a thrill to work with. Plus that was a cool movie as well.

Yeah it is and it’s starting to gain a big cult following too.

Rose Byrne: Yeah! Its always on one of those cable stations.

It’s always on Cinemax.

Rose Byrne: Yeah, 28 Weeks Later was also right after that and again another actress dropped out (laughs). So I’m a big zombie film fan and I love a good zombie film.

That scene in theaters terrified me when you’re down in the metro station.

Rose Byrne: Oh, yeah. That was scary filming that, because we were actually in a station during the middle of the night which was really freaky. That was a bit of childhood fantasy to do that and it was really fun.

Hugh Dancy: That’s a fucked up childhood dream.

Rose Byrne: (laughs) What? What did mutter under your breath there Dancy? I heard you… So, thank you I’m glad you’ve seen those movies and they’re cool.

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