Rose Byrne's greatest technical challenge? 'Peter Rabbit'

Director of the movie Will Gluck (R) and cast members (L-R) Elizabeth Debicki, Margot Robbie, James Corden, Rose Byrne and Domhnall Gleeson pose during a photo call for “Peter Rabbit” in West Hollywood. (Reuters)
Updated 09 February 2018
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Rose Byrne's greatest technical challenge? 'Peter Rabbit'

LOS ANGELES: Rose Byrne has done nearly every type of film — physical comedy ("Bridesmaids," ''Neighbors"), horror ("Insidious"), sci-fi ("Sunshine"), period ("Marie Antoinette"), action ("Troy"), musical ("Annie") and superhero ("X-Men: First Class") — so it might come as a surprise that she met her technical match on "Peter Rabbit."
"I've never done anything this technical!" Byrne says of the film, now playing in theaters. "It's such a production with the CGI. It's just like a guy in a blue suit. It's kind of a surreal and strange. You have to dig deep in your imagination."
Byrne plays Bea in this modern day spin on author and illustrator Beatrix Potter's mischievous rabbit and Mr. McGregor's garden from writer-director Will Gluck ("Easy A," ''Annie"). In the film Bea is an artist who illustrates the rabbits (voiced by the likes of James Corden, Margot Robbie, Daisy Ridley and Elizabeth Debicki) in her backyard and often saves them from the cranky Mr. McGregor (Sam Neill). Things take a turn, however, when old Mr. McGregor dies and his nephew (Domnhall Gleeson) comes to town. Although he's none too happy about the destructive bunnies, he and Bea also start to fall for each other.
"Rose has a very hard part in this movie," Gluck said. "She has to be very funny, she has to be very emotional, she has to be very doting on the rabbits yet I was very conscious, as I am in all my movies, not to make her just a prop. She can't just be there in support of the rabbits or in support of Mr. McGregor. She had to have her own thing and Rose is just a force of nature. You believe everything she does whether it's funny, emotional, sad, goofy or pathetic. And she can't be perfect either."
While the process of capturing the rabbit and human interaction was slow and sometimes tedious in the filming, the result is a seamless blend of technology and reality, with physical comedy and cuteness for the kids and a pretty decent rom-com for the parents. Plus, Gluck shot the film in Australia, which meant work was only 10 minutes from Byrne's home and her parents, who could help watch her young son Rocco while she was on set.
Byrne, 38, and her partner actor Bobby Cannavale, 47, just recently welcomed another son, Rafa, in November — and as any working parent of two children under two would be, she's pretty tired and she's not slowing down her output. She recently stopped over at the Sundance Film Festival to debut her new indie "Juliet, Naked" a rom-com based on the Nick Hornby novel in which she stars in alongside Ethan Hawke and Chris O'Dowd and soon will be gearing up to start production on the adoption comedy "Instant Family" with Mark Wahlberg.
She's also started a production company with some of her female friends in Australia. They're currently working on a project about a Dolly Parton impersonator who fulfills her dream and then has an identity crisis and wants to be taken seriously.
"There is a whole kind of movement in general in the business with female empowerment and female bravery," Byrne said. "It feels like the walls are coming down finally. And I hope we see results in terms of actual films being made and people being removed from power who shouldn't be there. It's exciting and a watershed moment."
One of the casualties of the #MeToo moment involved a film that Byrne co-starred in — Louis C.K.'s "I Love You Daddy" which was pulled from release at the last minute after the comedian and director was accused of sexual misconduct last fall.
"I stand in total solidarity with the women who came forward. It's so brave to do that. I have no idea how hard that would be," she said. "And I'm disappointed and shocked that it all came to that. I haven't seen the film but I've spoken to Chloe Grace Moretz and I think we all felt really sad about it ... I'm huge fan of Louis and wanted to be part of it as an actress and then not knowing the stuff going on behind the scenes. It's a real shame."
Byrne does see hope for change, though, and points to the set of "Neighbors" and its sequel for a film that had a primarily male cast and crew, and was a raunchy comedy at that, as a good example of how to create a safe and inviting and even fun atmosphere for women on set. She credits Seth Rogen (who starred and produced) and director Nick Stoller for setting a "normal" tone.
"The answer is it comes from the top: Who's directing and who's producing, they are steering the ship. They set the tone at the workplace," she said. "They have to be held accountable."


Saudi Venice Biennale debut follows Cannes

Updated 23 min 1 sec ago
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Saudi Venice Biennale debut follows Cannes

  • The Saudi pavilion illustrated the evolution underway as the country embraces a new era of change, powered by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s Vision 2030 blueprint for the future
  • Communication is the overriding aim for the creators behind the Saudi pavilion

VENICE: In its debut appearance at Italy’s leading architecture fair on Thursday, Saudi Arabia unveiled a sweeping exhibition exploring the country’s progress over the past five decades. 

Holding its own among the 65 national pavilions at the 16th Venice Biennale’s International Architecture Exhibition, the Saudi pavilion illustrated the evolution underway as the country embraces a new era of change, powered by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s Vision 2030 blueprint for the future.

It is the first time the Kingdom has had a presence at the Venice event, which is considered one of the leading forums for international architecture and draws hundreds of thousands of visitors from across the globe to the city.

At the heart of the display in the Venetian Arsenal — the historic shipyards that house some of the most prominent pavilions at the fair — a set of screens on opposite walls flash clips of Saudi cities showing people wandering along the Jeddah Corniche or drinking coffee at a Bujairy Park cafe in Riyadh.

The reels illustrate the way urban sprawl has unfolded across the Kingdom, where rapid urbanization resulting in settlement-driven growth has skipped over spaces in Saudi cities, leaving vast lots vacant between buildings.

With more than 40 percent of urban land unused, communities are dispersed, creating a sense of fragmentation between neighborhoods connected only by cars.

“The vacant lot is a highly prevalent typology in Saudi cities: anyone passing through them will notice the empty tracts of land everywhere,” said architect Turki Gazzaz, who co-created the pavilion space – which is named “Spaces in Between” — with his brother Abdulrahman Gazzaz.

The duo, who founded Jeddah-based architectural studio Bricklab, beat 70 other entries to secure the commission to create the Kingdom’s first biennale pavilion, which shows the role design can play in restoring the social and structural fabric of Saudi cities.

While outlets for creative expression have previously been limited in the Kingdom, attitudes toward design-led solutions are becoming increasingly favorable. 

“People are becoming more conscious about these critical issues that exist within our urban fabric … this is beginning to spill out into our society and affect it in a positive way,” Abdulrahman said.

Recent reforms rolled out under Vision 2030 have created a channel for creativity to fuel the country’s growth as it looks beyond the oil sector — a turning point highlighted by the pavilion’s use of resin, which is a byproduct of the petrochemical industry.

This has been mixed with sand — a material that both symbolizes Saudi Arabia and links it to the rest of the world — for the giant curved screens that frame the exhibition.

Inside, projections show digital maps of the Kingdom’s main cities, beginning with aerial perspectives that convey their fragmented growth before moving down to street-level snapshots of everyday life in the city.

These pictures have been drawn from social media and most are taken from cars, the dual axis of urban life for city-dwelling Saudis.

Below, old mobile phones, a walkie-talkie and broken motherboards are showcased beneath a glass panel of fragmented electronics to “create a conversation about consumer culture” and comment on the “virtual public space” that people increasingly congregate in at the expense of public places, said Abdulrahman.

Speaking to Arab News at the launch of the Saudi pavilion in Venice on Thursday, Dhay Al-Dhawyan, project manager at the Ministry of Municipality and Rural Affairs, described the need to “humanize” Saudi cities, something Vision 2030, and the more immediate targets for 2020, are moving toward.

“We want to bring back city centers, walkability, accessibility, connectivity and rework the visual aspects of our cities to make them more lively and functional,” he said.

The overall theme at this year’s biennale is “Freespace,” selected by the Irish curators Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara to encourage architects to explore how “a generosity of spirit and a sense of humanity” can contribute to the urban environment.

Tapping into this ethos, the Saudi pavilion curators have compiled a display that blurs the boundaries between development and desert, city border and boundless expanse.

In demographic terms, Saudi cities have always been diverse, but in many cases they lack the infrastructure to encourage interaction, said Jawaher Al-Sudairy, one of the exhibition curators and director of Nahda Center for Research as well as senior program manager at Harvard Kennedy School.

“There are public spaces, but they are under-utilized, so that’s where the conversation should be.”

Communication is the overriding aim for the creators behind the Saudi pavilion, which invites visitors to explore the evolution taking place in Saudi Arabia’s skyline and engage with the social shift underway as the Kingdom steps on to the world stage.

“We’re tackling a global issue here; this is not unique to Saudi Arabia,” said Dr. Sumayah Al-Solaiman, the other half of the female curatorial team at the exhibition.

In keeping with the spirit of the biennale, literature distributed at the Saudi pavilion errs on the side of the aloof and arty, but the experience created by the exhibition is firmly grounded and accessible.

The teams want visitors to identify with the issues raised, which have a global resonance in an era defined by rapid urban growth. “We’re more similar with other nations than we are different … and this is a great way to have a conversation that is not necessarily bound by national boundaries,” said Al-Solaiman, dean of the College of Design at Imam Abdulrahman bin Faisal University.

“The Venice Biennale is an excellent platform to start a conversation around architecture and how were designing and building, and we want to have this discussion with other architects around the world.”

“Our participation in the International Architecture Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia is an unprecedented moment for Saudi Arabia’s creative community. It’s an opportunity to bring pioneering Saudi thought to an international platform through our creative vernacular,” said Ahmed Mater, executive director of the Misk Art Institute, which organized the Saudi pavilion.

“Coupled with the allocation of an incredible pavilion space, we are very excited about our presentation this year at the Biennale Architettura, but are also looking forward to future years and presentations and what they will draw on from our own community.”

For Al-Sudairy, one of the most interesting projects on the horizon is the Riyadh Metro, which she believes will change a lot more than mobility in the capital. “I can’t wait to see how it changes the way people move around … it’s going to transform the city physically and socially.”

The Metro is one of many large-scale projects underway in the Kingdom that aims to bring a sense of cohesion to the country’s urban environments and unite diverse communities.

The Saudi pavilion opens to the public on Saturday, May 26.