Rose Byrne is Ellie in this week’s big release, Instant Family. In the film, Byrne stars opposite Mark Wahlberg as a couple who find themselves in over their heads when they foster three children. Here, Byrne talks about her role in the movie, which hits on the 14th February.
People are saying Instant Family is basically a perfect example of a classic studio picture. Which movies did you guys talk about as a reference?
I agree! Jerry Maguire, Terms Of Endearment, Parenthood, too. Steel Magnolias, James L. Brooks films, John Hughes films. I know John Hughes is Sean’s [Anders’] hero. Tonally, that’s what we discussed because we were never sure how far to push the comedy, or when to pull it back. Sean would say, ‘I’m going to find this in the edit bay,’ and I trusted him implicitly with this story – I knew how passionate he was about what he was doing. So it was easy in that sense. I knew he was going to take care of us.
Your track record on picking great scripts, in comedy in particular, is pretty faultless. Did you know straight away that you were on to another good thing with this?
I was hoping so, and obviously everyone was intending that, but you just never know! What I did know was that it was a special story, that it was inspired by Sean’s life, and that of many families he’d met, but you never know. I’ve been so lucky [to this point]. Honestly, from Get Him To The Greek on… You’re only ever as good as your script and your cast-mates. And, obviously, the director. And I’ve been thrown in with these incredible heavyweights like Jonah Hill and Nick Stoller and Judd Apatow and [Paul] Feig, and [Kristen] Wiig and [Melissa] McCarthy and Seth Rogen and everyone. And now it’s Sean and Mark [Wahlberg]. You follow your intuition as much as you can, but it’s also what comes your way and what doesn’t. I can only say that it’s always about the company you keep and the story you’re telling. It’s such a mystery, really. You just try to make decisions based on your instinct and hope for the best.
How special a script was it, when you first saw it?
I’ll put it this way: I’d just had my second child and I was deep in the fog of newborn-land. No sleep and breastfeeding. And recovering, all those things. I was like, ‘I don’t want to go back to work!’ And then I read this script, at the encouragement of my agent and everybody else and I was like, ‘Oh dear, I’m gonna have to go back to work. Oh shit.’ Bobby [Cannavale, Byrne’s partner] read the script, too, and he was in floods of tears at the end. So, I was like, ‘Well, that’s that. I have to get myself back to work.’
If a script can get Bobby in tears that’s saying something, right?
Oh, he’s a soft one! He’s just a big old softie. Big heart.
Clearly it’s hard to be away from your loved ones while shooting a film. Did you take your family on location with you?
Yes, everyone came. We all bunkered down in Atlanta, for three months. We just made our home there and it was great. They were really accommodating, obviously, with me having two small children, so I was well taken care of. You know what it’s like. It’s hectic, such chaos!
Given how personal this material is to Sean, was he quite protective of it, or did he welcome you guys playing with it?
Always open to it. I was always annoying him! ‘Is this too far? Is this not far enough? Is it funny?’ I must have driven him nuts. Particularly the scene where me and Mark [at the end of a tough day, talking at night in their bedroom] are like, ‘Let’s give the kids back!’ I was saying, ‘How do I play this? I don’t know how to do this.’ That took a while to figure out. And I think we got there. But I don’t think I could have done it unless he’d gone through all this himself. Obviously it’s fictionalised, and a mash-up of a lot of families that Sean’s met, as well as his own family. But knowing that he and Beth [Sean’s wife] have been through it, I trusted we were going to make it work. This material isn’t what you naturally think of when it comes to comedy. You know, ‘Hey, we’ll foster three kids! Let’s make a comedy!’
You’re playing a fictionalised version of Sean’s wife. Was there a pressure in doing her justice?
There was such a sense of responsibility, although this is obviously inspired by Sean and other families. And Beth was cool. We met really early on. She brought a load of photos and stuff. But Beth’s also really shy, she’s a very private person and really measured, but lovely and warm and super-sweet. And she was so patient with all my nosey questions. I was like, ‘What did you wear, when you were picking the kids up?’ She put up with all of that! And, in fact, slowly I realised from the more I spoke to Beth and Sean that Ellie [Byrne’s character] is actually more similar to Sean, I think. Sean is far more hot-headed and passionate on the surface, like Ellie in a way, so in a weird way she’s more like Sean. Sean might tell you, ‘No way!’ But that’s what I think.
Did you talk with Mark [Wahlberg] about that? How did you guys figure out your dynamic?
Mark is so impressive, the most disciplined actor I’ve ever worked with. I mean, he does a million other things, but when he’s with you he’s 100 percent present. And that’s why his comedy works so well, because that earnest quality is just so funny. We rehearsed, which was great, but you never know what your decisions are going to be until you’re in front of the camera, with the other actor in front of you. You can make as many decisions as you want, but nothing counts until you’re there. Everything changes, because acting is reacting. So I’m just waiting to see what his choices are going to be. And Mark’s always very relaxed. And he’s very funny. Really funny. And technically brilliant, and very prepared. And I appreciate all of those things, especially being a working parent. You know, you’re always, even more so now, ‘Let’s do this! Let’s do it great! And let’s do it now!’ And he has a similar ethic. He’s also very quiet, too. He’s not in your face about anything. And he knows what every single person in the room does. It’s like he works for the Feds. He knows all the corners and all the shades – everything!
Your and Mark’s bond with the kids in the movie feels really natural. How did you build that?
We were lucky. Isabela [Moner] was great with those kids [Gustavo Quiroz and Julianna Gamiz]. She immediately had authority with them and they looked up to her so much. They’d already started to hang out and work on scenes and bits and bobs. So when I finally met them they were a really tight unit. I was like, ‘Oh goodness me, how am I going to get to know them, to get these kids to trust me?’ It was a similar dynamic to the movie, really, which worked great. And we all got there quickly. They were really relaxed with one another, and with Mark, so they felt they could be themselves. You know, kids are tough. They can be too, you know, ‘puppety’ in a movie, and we really wanted them to be relaxed and natural, and their own charming selves, which kids always are. They were brilliant.
This particularly feels like a ‘moment’ for Isabela, doesn’t it?
She really shines. She’s a natural – so talented and relaxed about acting – and that’s a great approach. She’s cool. She’s also a teenager, you know, and that’s not much fun. That’s a tough age, so she could easily not be a fun person to work with, but she’s the opposite. She’s from Ohio. I think that says a lot. She’s from the Midwest. Her mother is brilliant – she’s from Peru and has had a very interesting life, so Isabela is a really interesting person. She comes from a very tight family and didn’t grow up in the business, or in LA, or fancy places in New York. She’s a lovely, very down-to-earth Midwestern girl.
Some of the scenes in this movie are massively emotional. Were there any tough days on set?
There were definitely days where you were like, ‘Oh God, how are we going to get through this.’ But there were also moments that would sneak up on me, like, ‘My goodness – why am I so upset?’ It’s one of those sneaky kind of scripts, where you’re like, ‘Oh God, hold on, I can feel it coming… This wasn’t what I was planning!’ Where you get caught unawares by an emotion sneaking up on you, which I think is always exciting. Also, I just didn’t want to screw this great story up!
Instant Family is a movie about togetherness, and people coming together. Is that what the world needs right now?
Absolutely. At this time, when families are literally being torn apart at the borders in this country [the US], to have a film about people trying to stay together? It’s like, ‘Can we see more of that please? Can we see more of people trying to stay together?’ Instead of the policies of the government, let’s see the policies of people. I could get so fired up about that. I was at the airport the other day and a kid had lost his parents, this toddler, when we were going through the security line. He was hysterical. It took everything in my body to not pick this child up. And I was like, ‘Wow, this is happening on a scale millions of times worse than this, just south of here a little bit. I can’t, you know, I can’t even think about this.’ It totally rattled me. So it makes this film even more important. It’s like, ‘Please, can we come together a little bit, instead of being so divided?’
Instant Family arrives in UK cinemas on February 14th.