ROSE Byrne is sitting at home in her new apartment in Manhattan, which she describes as her "tree house".
From her window, she can see leafy branches, her fire escape and the buildings opposite.
It’s an experience she always dreamed of, living and working in New York, and right now she is enjoying a break as she waits to begin shooting the second season of her high-profile law drama Damages, in which she stars with Glenn Close and Ted Danson.
The 29-year-old has been busy in the past few years, with roles in productions including British zombie-vampire flick 28 Weeks Later, Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette and, famously, Troy, in which Brad Pitt’s lips meet their match.
Not bad for a girl whose childhood ambition was to star in Neighbours alongside Kylie Minogue.
Right now, though, she’s on the phone to promote a very different Australian drama, which she filmed with Hugo Weaving in Melbourne last year.
If you think Byrne is glamorous, you should see her dressed up as a 1920s femme fatale. The film is The Tender Hook, set in Sydney’s boxing underworld, where glamour and frivolity meet rough punches, match-fixing and racism.
It’s an intelligent and beautifully shot film, written and directed by Jonathan Ogilvie and featuring a bunch of familiar Australian faces. Among them is Pia Miranda of Looking for Alibrandi fame, who is a long-time friend of Byrne.
"Pia’s a doll! We had a ball. We would hang out and have dinner and drinks. She makes a mean pasta," Byrne says.
She describes Weaving as "passionate".
"He’s really all about the work. He loves to figure it out . . . He brings such weight and gravitas to what he does. They were so lucky to get him."
To research her character, Byrne delved into Sydney’s murky past and came across characters such as Tilly Devine, a notorious brothel owner.
Iris (Byrne) is much more of a quiet force, appearing to sit on the sidelines of the ring, although emotionally she’s right in the centre of it, caught in a love triangle between handsome young boxer Art (Matthew Le Nevez) and nasty boss McHeath (Weaving). Of course, capable Iris never smudges her lipstick.
"It was a departure in a lot of ways," Byrne says of the role. "I often play the younger girl or the ingenue, so it was good to play a woman coming into her own. I love the aspect of the femme fatale and I loved that she was this impeccable, poised woman who had such status. That was really cool.
"The great thing about acting is you do this research on life, or things people go through, or historical stuff that you would not know about before – whether it’s the 1920s or whether it’s The Iliad or researching post-traumatic stress. Whatever it is, it transports you into these different worlds of research. So I was really happy to read up on it."
Byrne grew up in Sydney’s rather more salubrious harbourside suburb of Balmain, although she says the trendy neighbourhood is a lot different to the one she grew up in.
She lived around the corner from singer Josh Pyke and was good friends with his younger sister.
Acting was always the path she wanted to take. "I started acting when I was eight," she says.
"I was mad about Neighbours when I was little. I really loved Kylie Minogue. I was her demographic. I went to all her concerts. I was nuts.
"And when I’ve gotten older I’ve really always admired all the girls from Australia who have done so well – Nicole Kidman, Cate Blanchett, Rachel Griffiths, Toni Collette, Miranda Otto, Frances O’Connor. There’s so many. I’ve always admired them."
Has her life turned out the way she expected?
"I still feel like I’m figuring it all out," she laughs. "I don’t feel like I’ve arrived anywhere in particular. I still feel like I’m figuring out life. I didn’t get the manual."
Her career has taken her to Los Angeles, London and New York, although she maintains a long-distance relationship with Sydney actor and writer Brendan Cowell, who is staying with her in New York as we speak.
"It’s been fine. I was in Australia for six months and he’s here now." The long-distance aspect of their relationship is on the wane, she says: "It was just those first few years when I was away all the time. But now we’re pretty regular. We did a few readings together last year, at the Sydney Theatre Company which was fun, but it’s been hard. Now with doing Damages it kind of swallows up half the year, so now we’ve got six months to figure out what I can do."
Manhattan, though, seems to suit her stride and Byrne enjoys leaving her apartment to walk around a city where every street feels like a film set.
"I love Manhattan because it’s so fresh. It’s just intense and the street life is incomparable. There are different scenes on every block you walk along – it’s such an entertaining place and the characters here are larger than life. New Yorkers are so proud of their city. I feel lucky."
Although she has been working for years with a number of great directors and actors, she’s still a wide-eyed girl in a big city and will occasionally get star-struck by the people she meets.
"I’m a pretty timid person," she says. "I’m kind of shy. I’m not that confident a person.
"When I met Glenn (Close) I was pretty nervous. That’s because she’s such a formidable actress – who she is and the roles she played. She’s a woman and she’s been in the industry forever. It’s like, ‘Who am I?’ "
Although Byrne is another Australian success story, there have been times when she thought about turning in her acting card after missing out on roles. It’s a strange business, one that requires you to be at once sensitive and tough.
"It’s a weird dynamic. It’s like, you’re expected to be extremely vulnerable and in touch with all your feelings, but yet you have to be made of this really thick skin because you can get broken after 100 rejections and one job, so it’s a very strange thing that it asks of you.
"And sometimes you succeed and sometimes people turn to other stuff, whether it’s religion or drugs or sex or reading . . you have to learn how to cope. Everyone turns to different things in their life as actors."
How does she handle it?
"I’m pretty ill-equipped, I have to admit. I usually ring up my mum crying."
But then there are the times she turns up on set, inspired and running on adrenalin, to greet her colleagues for the day – who just happen to be Hugo Weaving or Brad Pitt or Glenn Close. And once she clocks off, she gets to go home to her cute New York tree-house apartment.
"It’s just great to be busy, so as long as I’m busy I don’t care where I am," she says pragmatically.
"And New York is such an awesome place to work. It’s one of the reasons I really wanted to do the job. To be able to live and work in Manhattan is always something I dreamt of doing."
The Tender Hook opens in cinemas on September 18.