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."


Middle Eastern art exhibition celebrates life and work of Kahlil Gibran

Updated 16 August 2018
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Middle Eastern art exhibition celebrates life and work of Kahlil Gibran

LONDON: What is it about the work of the famed Lebanese poet, writer and artist Kahlil Gibran that touches the hearts of so many people across the world today, decades on from his death in 1931? An exhibition of art inspired by his writings held this month at Sotheby’s in London provided an opportunity to consider that question
“Kahlil Gibran: A Guide for our Times” was organized by the peace building movement, Caravan, and co-curated by Janet Rady and Marion Fromlet Baecker. It featured work by 38 artists from across the Middle East. The vision for the exhibition grew out of a recent book on Gibran titled “In Search of a Prophet: A Spiritual Journey with Kahlil Gibran” by the Rev. Canon Paul-Gordon Chandler, Caravan’s founding president.
Chandler is committed to breaking down cultural, racial and religious barriers. Through the Caravan initiative he has hosted numerous exhibitions using art to build bridges between the Middle East and the West. He sees the message contained in Gibran’s 1923 book “The Prophet” as profoundly relevant today.
Speaking to Arab News at the packed-out event, he said: “All the artists in this exhibition are trying to express how they have been inspired, challenged and encouraged by Gibran’s themes of peace, love and harmony for all of humanity. The thread running through all the work is the unique role that Gibran plays in reminding us that we are one family.
“The idea of the Caravan movement is that we are all journeying together, regardless of background, tradition or religion,” he continued. “The arts have a unique role in peace-building between the Middle East and the West.”
Lebanese-Syrian artist Rana Chalabi, who was raised in Lebanon, said she first read “The Prophet” at school, but made a point of re-reading it several times before starting work on her contribution to the piece, “On Giving.”
Her painting shows a throng of people gazing upwards at a transcendent figure — the Prophet — who seems to shimmer above the multitude in hues of gold.
“To me, Gibran’s Prophet represents an enlightened mystic,” she explained. “He was so ahead of his time and such a spiritual person.”
For Chalabi, Gibran’s work continues to resonate. “The wisdom of Gibran is very much needed today,” she said. “He could explain his ideas in a simple way to people. In his day he was misunderstood and branded a heretic by those who missed the essence of what he was saying and took his teachings at a very superficial level.”
Chalabi was clearly pleased to have been invited to submit work to Caravan’s exhibition.
“I believe in what Rev. Chandler is trying to do,” she said. “We have to bridge the differences in the world and try to understand each other’s religions, cultures and perspectives.”
Bahraini artist Lulwa Al-Khalifa showed a striking painting of a woman, titled
“Blind Faith.” The starkly expressive figure looks perplexed and stares out from the painting with an abstract and tense expression.
Al-Khalifa said: “There are a lot of emotions I wanted to convey through this work. I was exploring the concept of faith and how sometimes people have to abandon some of the ideas that give them their own sense of identity and take a leap of faith. I consider the question ‘How much of you are you prepared to surrender for your faith?’ Faith is surrender with cause but without proof. Sometimes people have to face ambivalence, fear and anxiety on this journey.”
Al-Khalifa also stressed how relevant Gibran outlook remains today.
“I love how Gibran explored many aspects of many themes. His thought process is very fresh and modern — even today,” she said. “It is not rigid, but very hopeful and expresses love and acceptance.
“I really believe that all people are united as human beings. But we try so hard to separate from each other, even though in reality we all have the same concerns and loves and hates. We should come together,” she continued.
Lebanese artist Christine Saleh Jamil echoed Al-Khalifa’s sentiments. “Gibran means so much to me. Reading his book ‘The Prophet’ taught me a lot about life, how to live peacefully and accept things in a harmonious way,” she said. “His message is very important today.”
Jamil created “The Wanderer,” a captivating image of Gibran as a child, for the exhibition. Her work, she said, was based on a photograph and inspired by Chandler’s book, which, she said, “took me back to my childhood in Beirut.”
“That’s why I chose to represent Gibran as a child and in this image you see his face set among birch trees, as he loved nature,” she explained.
Lebanon’s ambassador to the UK, Rami Mortada — a special guest at the event — spoke to Arab News about Gibran’s legacy.
“The interest shown here tonight and the big turnout is an indication of how the message he stands for is relevant, badly needed and timely in our world today,” Mortada said. “It is a message of harmony and peace, of removing barriers between nations and cultures, and of interfaith dialogue. This is what Gibran encapsulated. If I had to sum up his work up in one word, I would say (it is) inspirational.”
Another ambassador, Dr. Alisher Shaykhov from Uzbekistan, stressed that Gibran’s work is of truly global significance.
“Gibran’s fame extends far beyond the Middle East. He is a person who has succeeded in transferring the spirit of the Islamic people in a harmonious way,” he observed. “One of his most important messages is that of the unifying elements, rather than the differences, between religions. He has a gift of being able to express the feelings of the people. The artists here, imbued with his spirit, have transferred his message through their artworks in their own personal way.”
Art enthusiast Mira Takla said she had attended a number of ‘Caravan’ art events and always found their message very persuasive.
“As far as I am concerned these events do more for interracial understanding and comprehension and tolerance of different cultures than many other such initiatives,” she said.
Another guest. Anthony Wynn, gave a good example of Gibran’s cross-cultural appeal, pointing out that he had often heard Gibran quoted at weddings in the UK — particularly a verse from “On Marriage” from “The Prophet”:
“Love one another, but make not a bond of love/Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls/Fill each other’s cup but drink not from one cup/Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf/Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone/Even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music.”