How Knowing's Rose Byrne turned a small role into a big deal

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Dec 14, 2012, 3:54 PM EST

Rose Byrne told reporters that her challenge in the upcoming sci-fi/action film Knowing was to make a big impression with a small role.

"It's a complicated thing," Byrne said. "It's kind of a short period of time on screen. So to try and bring the weight of that was a challenge."

Knowing examines what occurs when documents in a 50-year-old time capsule are revealed to contain predictions of every major disaster since it was buried—as well as prophecies of disasters yet to come. Nicolas Cage plays John Koestler, a professor who attempts to stop the prophesied disasters from becoming reality. Koestler is joined by Diana Whelan (Byrne), daughter of the person who wrote the prophetic messages.

Byrne (28 Days Later, Sunshine) spoke to journalists this past weekend in New York, and the following are edited excerpts from the interview. Knowing opens March 20. (Warning: MAJOR spoilers ahead!)

What kind of research did you do for this role?

Byrne: I met with a single mother in Melbourne [Australia]. I don't have any children, and that was completely foreign to me. So I met with her, and she was wonderful. She has a daughter, and I spent some time with her, and then I just really collaborated with [director] Alex Proyas on what he wanted Diana to be and her role in the story and what our ideas were about her. It was good. It was a really good process.

I think that Alex really likes actors, and we had wanted to work together before, and so we had a nice kind of repartee, and he and Nic [Cage] definitely, I think, got along well. So it was a pretty harmonious set even for all the darkness of the subject of the movie. It was quite harmonious. I think the children [Chandler Canterbury and Lara Robinson, who respectively play the children of Cage's and Byrne's characters] really made the set buoyant. They were so candid, and they have such vitality that it was good to be around that and didn't allow things to get too dark.

You didn't have to read anything on aliens?

Byrne: Well, no. Diana is just running from that, so if anything she didn't want to know, and she obviously sabotages herself because of this. So for me it wasn't so much about that.

Do you know anyone who's said that they could see into the future and believe they know what's going to happen?

Byrne: A little bit, yeah. Don't we all have people like that in our lives? Yeah, definitely. I think some people have naturally good instincts for things like that. But I'm born of two skeptics.

What did you think of some of the ideas about religion in the film actually being ideas from the aliens?

Byrne: Well, I think it's just a testament to Al that he's set the tone of the film, that it's so foreboding. Then, obviously, the ending is quite revelatory and has twists and turns and becomes something else quite spiritual instead of scientific. I think that's such a testament to him as a director, that he could pull that off.

Do you have to know the endpoint to play the character all the way through?

Byrne: I personally like that. It's funny. On a TV show you know nothing. It's like life in that you don't really know what's going to happen next from episode to episode. But then in a movie you have it all laid out in front of you. As an actor, I think the more information you can have the more in control you are, so you feel more confident and you can map it out in your own head, but in TV you have none of that, which drives me mental. But it's like life. ...

Did you have any input into your character?

Byrne: Absolutely. We discussed a lot of stuff about her relationship with her daughter. I think her overall objective is that she's terrified that she's going to abandon her like she was abandoned. So she's doing everything in her power to not do that and ultimately sabotages herself in the process. Also, it's about how she would relate to Nicolas and how much she's kind of made of steel. In a way, if your parent tells you the day that you're going to die, the damage that would do to someone is quite large.

Especially if all her predictions are coming true.

Byrne: It's a complicated thing. It's kind of a short period of time on screen as well. So to try and bring the weight of that was a challenge.