Rose Byrne in Knowing

Rose Byrne blossoms in big-screen thriller

And to think, it all started with a time capsule.

Stunning Aussie actress Rose Byrne stars alongside Nicolas Cage in Knowing, a sci-fi leaning thriller directed by fellow Australian Alex Proyas (I, Robot, The Crow) about a recently unearthed 50-year-old document that predicts certain tragedy for the human race with eerie precision. The latest film to tackle a familiar existential question – is there a pattern at play or is life a series of random acts – takes a more personal approach to the oft-tread apocalyptic theme.

“The script, I thought , was intriguing,” reveals Byrne while talking to about what drew her to the film. “It was so intimate about such big events and I thought that was such an unusual take on a recurring theme in film and TV, you know – the idea of the end of the world and what would you do.”

Byrne, perhaps best known for her recent work on HBO’s Golden Globe winning show “Damages” as well as supporting roles in Troy, Marie Antoinette and Sunshine, plays a woman whose life is unexpectedly intertwined with that of John (Cage), a professor and avowed skeptic who’s forced to confront his doubts when the time capsule text – a sheet of paper full of scrawled numbers – reveals a code that points to dates and times of worldwide tragedies.

The film establishes two opposing ideologies early on, with John, a recent widower who enjoys the comforting numbness of scotch, embodying the doubter and his son Caleb (Chandler Canterbury) standing for the unapologetic optimist and believer. Byrne, however, reveals she doesn’t see herself as definitively fitting into either mindset.

“I feel like I’m a bit of both. I feel like there are things that are meant to be or are more than coincidence…events in life, you realize, you go, ‘If that hadn’t happened, then that wouldn’t have happened’ or ‘I’m so lucky I got to do that.’ But I can be fairly skeptical about other things, so I feel like part of me…[I have] one foot on each planet.”

Byrne’s character Diana is considerably more conflicted, having grown up with a mother who was thought to be mentally ill but whose seemingly demented predictions, including her daughter’s own death, move one step closer to being prophetic with every plane crash and fiery explosion. Though Byrne points out that her character didn’t have pages of dialogue – she appears about halfway through the film – it didn’t stop her and Proyas from creating a three-dimensional, fully fleshed out character.

“Alex and I discussed this extensively – the damage it would do if your mother told you [the date of your death]. We wanted to make her strong; we didn’t want to make her the victim. We wanted to make her steely and a survivor and determined. I had huge empathy for the character of Diana. She had such a traumatic past and yet has survived this.... I think her daughter is her heartbeat and keeps her going and she’s determined not to abandon her child like her mother abandoned her.”

Rose Byrne in Knowing

Playing a single mother to Cage’s single father – who is a single parent to real-life son Weston – Byrne felt an extreme sense of responsibility in accurately portraying that experience, given that she doesn’t have any children of her own, and sought help from someone who would know the role intimately.

“I met with a single parent in Melbourne, a really great woman down there who has a daughter, and spent some time with her and she educated me on her world and what it was like,” said Byrne. “I hung out with Lara [Robinson], the little girl [who plays my daughter] in the film and we sort of bonded and spent time together off-set and hung out. I tried to combine the two…I was obsessed with trying to make it look authentic.”

Filming Knowing not only allowed Byrne to tackle a new role but also let her stretch her acting muscles, especially when it came to her co-star’s last-minute acting impulses. Luckily, Byrne was game for whatever came her way and found Cage’s spontaneity, and passion, inspiring.

“He’s really intense, he’s very dedicated to his work and extremely serious about purely the acting and performance and getting the scenes right. He’s also incredibly spontaneous so we’ll be rehearsing a scene a certain way and you discuss it a certain way and then on the actual day, he does something completely off-the-cuff and quite different, which is exciting and nerve-wracking but great – sort of like life. I grew to really love the way he worked and I’d love to do it again.”

The slender thesp also enthusiastically approached her first opportunity to work with Proyas, whom she’d previously auditioned for and considers a friend, and likened the experience to working with other bold-name directors.

“It was wonderful. I felt in such safe hands. It’s like how I felt when I worked with Danny Boyle or Sofia Coppola or Wolfgang Petersen, you just feel in the hands of someone who knows what they’re doing, you know? You trust them and they have a vision and they’re so clear and enthusiastic and passionate and just visionaries. I love, love, working with people like that. They’re truly inspirational.”

Working on a film that engages with end-of-the-world scenarios can certainly take its toll on one’s psyche and has the potential to rattle non-believers into the protective, fair-weather comfort of religion. Amidst the grandiose explosions and elaborate chase scenes, the film asks some difficult questions – ones, Byrne admits, that forced her to face her own feelings on the matter.

“I found it incredibly confronting. I’m not a particularly religious person…and it really stirs up that idea of spirituality. I mean, I’d say if anything I’m Agnostic, but it really definitely throws up these theological arguments and that was interesting to engage with. But it’s full-on, it’s very unsettling. It’s Alex Proyas – it’s what he does best.”

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