Glossy Covers: Rose Byrne melancholy for Madison

Glossy Covers: Rose Byrne for madison

The raccoon-eyed, sparrow-like Rose Byrne is a melancholy figure, to me representing the kind of girl I am on the days when I feel particularly downtrodden by the world, or lacking in vital nourishment (sleep, love, serotonin!), wanting to burrow deep beneath my doona until that feisty little Pollyanna within breaks free of the glum and gets up, gets dressed and sets about... doing the dishes. It's so cathartic, is it not, to control something so small, which makes you feel like you're on top of it all? Bless you, dishes, for not running away with the spoon, and for always being there for me in my time of need.*

I saw Byrne – full of life and fuller of figure – play opposite her then-boyfriend Brendan Cowell on stage in Sydney a few years ago. She was radiant. Mesmerising. In her element. In contrast, the madison cover story, penned by Tiffany Bakker, posits Byrne in a gloomy Dickensian setting: "It's been a long, cold day in New York City and Rose Byrne sure knows it. She's perched on the balcony of a warehouse in the vibrant Chelsea district, clad in little more than a sheer shirt and pants as a cruel wind whips across her shoulders. But the arctic blasts don't seem to bother the Australian-born, 31-year-old actress, who barely flinches as she strikes a pose."

One gets the impression Byrne has been exposed to a few metaphorical arctic blasts in her pursuit of work in the often cruel profession of acting. She was the handmaiden to Natalie Portman in Star Wars Attack of the Clones; the "slave girl who captures Brad Pitt's heart" in Troy; the hedonistic Duchess de Polignac in Marie Antoinette's court; the vulnerable, sweet-hearted daddy's girl in Adam; the ditzy pop-star/rocker's wife in Get Him to the Greek; the ambitious lawyer under the tyrannical Glen Close in Damages; and now a passive-aggressive "bridesmaid bridezilla" in Bridesmaids ("her status is important to her," says Byrne of her character, "and to her self-esteem").

As noted by a UK Telegraph reporter, "Byrne constantly talks up her co-stars while underplaying her own performances as 'small roles on big films’, instead of celebrating her successes" and "could do with a little more self-confidence". It is this self-deprecating Byrne – frail, shy, small, "a bit of a loner" – who appears in madison:

"I'm incredibly insecure about work and my career, still," she says. "As an actor, that never leaves you, just because it's such an arbitrary, random business. I always imagine doing something else, then I always come back to acting, because I love my job... You can count on one hand how many actresses are working over the age of 45. I'm incredibly aware of that. Even as I go into my 30s, things shift and change. There are so many people behind you always coming up – people bigger than you, getting the roles you want. Obviously you still suffer disappointment and hard knocks, but you have to find some philosophical way of looking at it, even on the dark days. But I have a great job. I'm incredibly lucky."

The juxtaposition of this issue's fashion theme, "tough-pretty", of pitting lace against leather, and studs pressed into blush-pink bags, is a fitting metaphor for the hard knocks girls – the fragile souls – face in life.

The image of Byrne, done with the photo shoot, retreating "to the warmth of the studio", slipping "back into her own stock-in-trade street clothes, what she calls "my New York utilitarian look" before walking home to her East Village apartment ("I haven't done any exercise in so long"), is one most women can relate to: of self-soothing with small comforts and guiltily partaking in soul-quenching activities when not in the harsh spotlight: "I'm a big reader. I belong to this daggy book club online called Goodreads. I'm not on Facebook or Twitter, but I'm on Goodreads, which is tragic!"

On the Careers section opener, we are told, "It's no secret the workplace can be a tough environment at times. Competitive coworkers, a boss that can't remember your name, tight deadlines, obscene amounts of unpaid overtime and managers that benefit from your hard work – we've all been there. So on page 80, we're sharing 10 things you should be doing at work (right now!) to make yourself an indispensable employee. You'll be sitting in that room with a view in no time." These tips, care of David Smiedt, include keeping a clutter-free desk, anticipating deadlines, putting a plant on your desk, singing your praises ("keep a log of important initiatives you've enacted or decisions you've made – and note how they impacted on the firm's bottom line") and don't take criticism personally:

"Withdrawing into your shell can actually do your career more harm than the slip-up itself. Lessen the potential harm by manning up and seeking feedback – even if it's going to be tough to hear."

But perhaps Byrne's quietly bookish media persona is just a by-product of her Australian pedigree, as well as a (potentially unhelpful) professional buffer? The nation girt by sea, you see, is far from "wild and free". In 'Is Australia the dumb blonde of the world?' news journalist Tracey Spicer notes, "We don't want to be seen as smart or as wankers. We also don't want to be seen to be trying to be better than anyone else. We're happy to be perceived as street smart but we want to avoid being seen as book smart." And Chas McSween, co-author of Things Bogans Like, observes, "I think we have a chronic national insecurity. When a celebrity gets off the plane here, we instantly ask, 'How do you like Australia?' We need constant validation."

But, says Sofia Loren, at the book's end, "It's better to explore life and make mistakes than to play it safe. Mistakes are part of the dues one pays for a full life."

*Of course, I jest; the dishes being a neat metaphor for old-school style repentance (the more my guilt builds up, the more the dish washing there is to do). When I am really under the weather, washing the dishes, I stop, pray, ask for forgiveness, thank the Lord for my blessings, seek out His word or the comfort of a Godly friend, and the dark storm clouds go away. I also run occasionally (when the spirit takes me over...which is not often in winter!) while listening to sermons on my iPod – endorphins + enlightenment = bammo! "These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace," said Jesus. "In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world." (John 16:33)  

Girl With a Satchel