The late Hollywood legend Peter O’Toole once described Rose Byrne as a "beautiful, uncomplicated, simple, pure actress and a very nice girl” and these are the very qualities that make her so special and underrated. At once gorgeous and accessible, talented and down-to-earth, Byrne has the skill, workhorse mentality, and natural charisma to make the best of any role that comes her way with seeming ease.
After transitioning to Hollywood with little more than a cameo in Star Wars Episode II: Attack of The Clones (2002), the Australian actress first made a splash in the US with a recurring role on the crime series, Damages, for which she earned multiple Emmy and Golden Globe nominations. Since then, Byrne’s star has been steadily on the rise with meatier roles in the X-Men and Insidious franchises, but her collaborations with Paul Feig have marked her as one of the finest comedic actresses of our time. Following are her ten best roles, ranked.
10 Insidious (2010)
Of the many things that the James Wan-verse is notable for - violence, desaturated visuals, ruining Tiny Tim’s discography - acting is not one of them. Even Academy Award nominees like Barbara Hershey and Vera Farmiga seem daunted by the task of bringing a sense of realism and gravitas to these tales of killer puppets and hook-nosed murder-nuns. Byrne, however, makes it look easy as Renai Lambert, a mother who finds her family threatened by a malevolent supernatural force in this first entry in the now-famous haunted house series. The fact that audiences actually care what happens to the Lamberts is a testament to Byrne's ability to anchor even the most thankless of roles in emotional truth, the skill of which is amplified by a characteristically beige performance by Patrick Wilson as her husband, Josh.
9 The Meddler (2015)
Though the synopsis might make The Meddler seem like a lighthearted movie about the many facets of a mother-daughter relationship, it's really a stirring examination of grief and how each person experiences it differently. Byrne plays something of a second fiddle to the always excellent Susan Sarandon, but she drives the ship in a more buttoned-down role that showcases how she can go toe-to-toe with a celebrated older actress and come out on top.
8 Get Him to the Greek (2010)
After her stint on Damages, Byrne was looking to take on some lighter far, and reportedly, Nicholas Stoller, director of this kinda-sorta sequel to Forgetting Sarah Marshall was baffled when the "serious" actress came in to audition for his film. But she easily landed the part as Russell Brand’s citizen-of-the-world/bullshit artist Aldous Snow’s vulgar female counterpart, Jackie Q. This London gutter rat tarted up like a pop star who sings ditties about her rectum was a big swing for the actress, but Byrne pulled it off without a hitch - forging a path to bigger comic roles in the years to come.
7 Wicker Park (2004)
Convoluted plot contrivances mar 2004’s Wicker Park, but the film set Byrne apart as someone to watch in one of her earliest projects stateside. Influenced by identity-melting suspense pictures like Sisters (1973) and Single White Female (1992), Wicker Park sees Byrne playing an obsessive young actress who reinvents herself as her “disappeared” next-door-neighbor (Diane Kruger) to win the love of said neighbor’s boyfriend (Josh Hartnett).
This toothless and complicated wannabe thriller doesn't work, but Byrne manages to dig deep into her character’s psyche and mines a deep vein of pain and longing that makes Alex so much more than a stereotypical femme fatale.
6 Juliet, Naked (2018)
This adaptation of Nick Hornby’s novel trades in familiar romantic comedy tropes while brushing up against deeper, darker truths about the human condition. As Annie, a woman who has grown tired of her immature husband, Duncan (Chris O’Dowd) and his unwavering dedication to Tucker Crowe (Ethan Hawke), a reclusive rock singer with whom she strikes up an unexpected relationship through E-mail, Byrne exhibits a world-weariness very unlike her usual effervescent screen persona. Though the plot is a tad too contrived to really take wing, Byrne’s chemistry with Hawk gives the material a lift, and she shows just how good she can be when gifted with a more pared-back, grounded character to play.
5 Bridesmaids (2011)
It’s not easy being perfect, and that’s why Bridesmaids’ Helen Harris III is nearly that - like every character in Paul Feig’s landmark ladies-can-raunch-it-up-themselves comedy, what’s surface is the least interesting part. Byrne and Kristen Wiig are a match made in heaven as two bull-headed bridesmaids vying for the attention of Maya Rudolph's bride-to-be. With the Barbie doll-like Byrne injecting Helen with equal parts sugar and spice and Wiig playing her opposite as a cynical ball of nerves, the two ran away with the film (well, almost... nobody steals Melissa McCarthy’s thunder) and put an end to the old saw about women not being funny once and for all.
4 Marie Antoinette (2006)
Stealing a scene is no mean feat, especially in Sofia Coppola’s colorful and woefully-overlooked pop-punk rendition of the life of Marie Antoinette, but as the giggly and incorrigible Duchesse de Polignac, Byrne makes it look like a cake walk.
As the 18th-century socialite whose wild ways bewitch the titular queen (Kirsten Dunst), Byrne makes the most of her limited screen time to deliver a performance that’s at once coquettish and subtly menacing. There’s nothing wrong with the oysters, that's just the dizzying effect of natural charisma!
3 Spy (2015)
Another masterclass in the art of scene-stealing, Byrne again worked with Paul Feig on this Melissa McCarthy espionage comedy as Rayna Boyanov, the foul-mouthed daughter of an international arms dealer. Elegantly sexy and cutting, Byrne turns the underhanded prom queen venom of her Bridesmaids character into weapons-grade bitchiness as a villain who could make James Bond blush - letting the air out of her co-star's tires with every cut glass jibe and expletive-spangled witticism.
2 The Goddess Of 1967 (2000)
This road movie by Macau-born Australian director Clara Law served as something of a coming-out party for the then 21-year-old Byrne. For her performance as BG, a death-obsessed blind woman who accompanies a computer hacker, JM (Rikiya Kurokawa) on a journey to score his dream car, Byrne nabbed a Best Actress award at that year’s Venice Film Festival. Full of obtuse flashbacks and intense Outback imagery, Law examines the fractured lives of these oddball characters in sordid detail with a chilly and evocative visual style. Byrne is pitch-perfect, and though it isn't an easy watch, she makes this raggedly emotional trip worth taking.
1 Neighbors (2014)
The schlubby husband and the put-upon wife who cleans up his messes are comic archetypes seen as far back as The Honeymooners and more recently in shows such as Kevin Can Wait and Family Guy. Seth Rogen, famous for playing variations on this husband character, finally meets his unlikely match playing opposite Byrne in this family-versus-fraternity comedy. The two play newly minted suburban parents who find their lives turned upside-down when an unruly pack of Delta Psi Betas moves in next door. Byrne gives as good as she gets as the better half of a once hard-partying duo who must reconnect with her slacker-stoner past to topple the obnoxious Fraternity house from the inside, and best of all seems to be having a great time doing it!