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."


Syrian seeds planted in dust of Domiz inspire stunning garden at Chelsea Flower Show

Updated 24 May 2018
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Syrian seeds planted in dust of Domiz inspire stunning garden at Chelsea Flower Show

  • About 26,000 refugees live in the Domiz refugee camp.
  • Judges awarded the Lemon Tree Trust garden a silver-gilt medal, the second highest award at the show.

LONDON: Main Avenue at the Chelsea Flower Show in London is ordinarily reserved for showpieces by Britain’s leading horticulturalists, but this year Syrian gardeners from Domiz refugee camp in Iraq are the inspiration behind one of the most prominent displays.
Crowds clustering around the Lemon Tree Trust Garden on Member Day at the celebrated event this week are told that the space is designed to raise awareness about the reality of life in the camps, where despite the squalor and suffering, people still take pride in their surroundings.
“It’s really powerful, the human spirit and the will to thrive even in really difficult situations,” said the garden’s designer Tom Massey.
Most of those living in Domiz, north of Mosul, are Syrians who have been arriving since 2012. Six years on, as temporary structures in Iraq’s largest refugee camp take on a more permanent form, hundreds of gardens have sprung up across the space. Some people have even sold their land in Syria and invested the money into their homes here.
“Gardening is a way to put down roots when people decide they are going to stay longer,” Massey explained.
He told Arab News that at first glance the sea of beige buildings crowded across a barren plain in the Kurdish region of northern Iraq resembled every other refugee camp in the region. But stepping out of the car at Domiz, near the Syrian and Turkish borders, he witnessed how plants were transforming the bleak surroundings.
“It’s incredibly hot and dusty, but as soon as you move into a garden space, you’re transported,” said Massey, who worked with gardeners in the camp to develop ideas for the showpiece.
The Lemon Tree Trust is a UK-based aid organization that has been working at refugee camps across northern Iraq for the last three years.
Massey, a former animator who retrained as a garden designer, was struck by the “resilience, determination, ingenuity and dedication” conveyed in each tiny green space he saw.
Pomegranate, rose and citrus trees flourish throughout the 710-square mile Domiz camp and in other camps nearby, bringing bursts of color to the backdrop of canvas and concrete. Even a six-foot space between a door and a garden gate made from an old UN tent will have been used to plant flowers and grow vegetables in ingenious ways.
“You read stories about the resilience and strength of the human spirit in the camps, but I didn’t expect the creativity that can flourish when people have so little,” said Alfonso Montiel, who also works with the Lemon Tree Trust.
In Aveen Ismael’s garden at Domiz, the back wall is adorned with old wellington boots painted and planted with flowers, while a closer inspection of her herbaceous border reveals old footballs refashioned as plant pots.
“Syria is green, but here it was like a desert until we started growing plants and trees,” she said. “Creating a garden was a way for us to heal and remind us of home.”
The 35-year-old, who was forced to flee Damascus in 2012, has become a local team leader for the Lemon Tree Trust, organizing gardening competitions and encouraging more residents to take part. Interest has grown from around 50 participants in 2016 to the almost 1,000 entrants across the five refugee camps who were involved this year.
In the gardens across Domiz there is a sense of community that is akin to the sociable atmosphere on a London allotment, said Massey, who plans to develop more spaces for the neighborly feeling to flourish by creating public outdoor gardens in the camp where people can come together and “share their passions.”
Montiel believes the draw of the gardens is down to the “need we all have to see beauty and be around nature.” At Domiz camp, he said “extreme beauty and extreme suffering exist side by side” in the generosity and hope that people demonstrate despite the destitution of their situation.
For many, tending their gardens is a way of passing the time and pushing back against the stillness of camp life. Everyone relates differently, whether it is a means of earning a living, easing the boredom or an attempt to capture a semblance of home.
One woman Montiel met there showed him pictures of the rose she tended in Syria, a cutting from which is now growing outside her house in Domiz. Other gardeners in the camp brought seeds with them from Syria when they fled, or asked friends and relatives to send a “piece of home.”
At the Chelsea Flower Show, horticulture enthusiasts described to Arab News the affinity they felt with the Syrian gardeners of Domiz.
“This kind of garden here tells a story about what this means to refugees and to people in London, and the experiences they have to go through to grow their own,” said giant vegetable specialist Kevin Fortey.
The refined lines and ornamental elegance of the London showpiece puts a polish on the make-shift gardens that inspired it, but the materials and arrangements displayed here reflect the creativity that thrives in the green spaces of Domiz.
Massey made use of concrete, timber and steel, materials frequently featured in the camps, which are “quite daring at the Chelsea Flower Show,” he said.
At the center of the display, a 50-year-old lemon tree showcases the origins of the project, while a wall-hung herb and vegetable garden represents the tin cans and halved plastic bottles used to grow food in the camp.
Surprisingly, the majority of plants in Domiz are grown for purely ornamental purposes rather than to supplement limited food supplies. “It’s interesting that in a situation of absolute desperation, having lost everything, people pay attention to feeding the soul, in some cases more than the stomach,” said Montiel.
It’s a detail he shared with Queen Elizabeth when she attended the Chelsea Flower Show on Monday, the first in a stream of dignitaries to tour the garden before it opened on Tuesday, including British Prime Minister Theresa May.
Unlike most guests, they were granted access to the sanctuary behind the barrier, where the clamour of the crowds gives way to the sound of water lapping over the sides of a star-shaped fountain as latticed wood screens shield the show from view.
There they were able to experience some of the solace and tranquility nature can offer people, even in times of war.