ROSE Byrne is sitting at home in her new Manhattan apartment, which she describes as her "tree house".
From her window, she can see leafy branches, her fire escape and the buildings opposite.
Byrne has always dreamed of living and working in New York, and she is enjoying a break before filming begins on 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 recent years with roles in films that include British zombie flick 28 Weeks Later, Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette and, famously, Troy, in which Brad Pitt’s lips met their match.
Not bad for a girl whose childhood ambition was to star in Neighbours alongside Kylie Minogue.
She’s on the phone to promote a very different Australian drama, which she filmed with Hugo Weaving in Melbourne last year.
And if Byrne is glamorous in Damages, you should see her dressed up as a 1920s femme fatale.
The Tender Hook is set in Sydney’s boxing underworld where glamour and frivolity meet rough punches, match-fixing and racism.
It’s an intelligent, beautifully filmed movie, written and directed by Jonathan Ogilvie and featuring familiar Australian faces, one of whom is an old friend of Byrne’s, Pia Miranda, of Looking for Alibrandi fame.
“Pia’s a doll,” Byrne says. “We had a ball. We would hang out and have dinner and drinks. She makes a mean pasta.”
And Weaving is “passionate”.
“He’s really all about the work,” she says. “He loves to figure it out. He brings such gravitas to what he does. They were so lucky to get him.”
Iris, Byrne’s character, is a quiet force, appearing to be an indifferent spectator, though emotionally she’s right in the centre of the fight, caught in a love triangle between handsome young boxer Art (Matthew Le Nevez) and his nasty boss (Weaving).
Of course, Iris never smudges her lipstick.
“It was a departure in a lot of ways,” Byrne says. “I often play the younger girl, 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 The Iliad or researching post-traumatic stress. Whatever it is, it transports you into these different worlds.”
Byrne grew up in Sydney’s now salubrious harbourside suburb of Balmain – the trendy neighbourhood is a lot different from the one of her childhood, she says. 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.
“I’ve always admired all the girls from Australia who have gone off and done so well – Nicole Kidman, Cate Blanchett, Rachel Griffiths, Toni Collette, Miranda Otto, Frances O’Connor . . . there are so many.”
Has her own life turned out how she expected?
“I still feel like I’m figuring it all out,” she says, with a laugh. “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.”
As her career takes off in Los Angeles, London and New York, she maintains a relationship with Sydney actor and writer Brendan Cowell, who is with her in New York as we speak.
“It’s been fine,” she says. “I was in Australia for six months and he’s here now. We don’t have to do it (stay apart) that much any more. 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. Damages swallows up half the year, so now we’ve got six months to figure out what I can do.”
Manhattan, though, seems to suit Byrne’s stride and she enjoys walking about town, where every street feels like a film set.
“I love Manhattan because it’s so fresh,” she says. “It’s just intense and the street life is incomparable. There’s 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.”
Despite having worked for years with some great directors and actors, she’s still a wide-eyed girl in a big city and will occasionally get starstruck by the people she meets.
“I’m a pretty timid person,” she says. “I’m not that confident. When I did the audition in New York with Glenn (Close), I remember being quite nervous about meeting her. She’s such a formidable actress. She has been in the industry forever. It’s like, ‘Who am I?’ ”
But there have been times, after missing out on roles, when Byrne has thought about quitting the acting game. It’s a business that requires you to be both sensitive and tough.
“It’s a weird dynamic,” she says. “It’s like you’re expected to be extremely vulnerable and in touch with all your feelings, 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 an actor.”
How does she handle it?
“I’m pretty ill-equipped, I have to admit. I usually ring up my mum, crying,” she says.
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 Weaving or Pitt or Close. And once she clocks off, she gets to go home to her cute New York tree-house apartment.
“It’s 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 dreamed of doing.”
The Tender Hook will screen from Sept 18.