Listen: Rose Byrne Talks About Becoming Gloria Steinem for ‘Mrs. America’

Marc Malkin

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Rose Byrne is quarantining in New York City with her husband Bobby Cannavale and their two kids. “Listen, I feel lucky,” Byrne says on Friday’s episode of the Variety and iHeart podcast “The Big Ticket.” “We’re safe and we’re okay, but it’s scary. We have two little kids. We’ve just been inside, but I have friends who are working in the healthcare system.”

But then in true Byrne comedic fashion, she doesn’t miss a beat when asked how she’s staying sane at home. “Just alcohol, drugs [and] porn,” she cracked.

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Byrne is currently starring as Gloria Steinem opposite Cate Blanchett as conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly in “Mrs. America,” Dahvi Waller’s FX on Hulu series about the fight to pass the Equal Rights Amendment in the 1970s and 1980s. “I was like, ‘I cannot screw this up,’” Byrne said. “I just worked as hard as I could, and I don’t know what I did, or how it looked, but I just tried to capture her essence as hard as I could.”

My husband and I binged “Mrs. America” in about three days. It’s so right for right now.
I think for something that’s historical, it couldn’t be more relevant. It’s kind of extraordinary. And we thought that whilst we were filming it, too. There would be certain scenes that we were like, why are we still having these same conversations 45 years later?

We all know who Gloria Steinem is. Everyone has, at least, a basic knowledge of Gloria. How much did you know?
I knew the broad strokes. I didn’t know the intricacies or the details of her life, her childhood and so on. I just threw myself in. I called Dahvi once I was on board, and I was like, “I’m intimidated already and now I really don’t know where to begin because there’s so much stuff.” Dahvi sent me a kind of startup package, and that was really where I began research. You’re spoiled really when you play somebody as famous and iconic because there is so much stuff.

Tell me about the first time you’re in Gloria Steinem makeup and wardrobe. The aviators, the wig. What did you think when you first saw yourself in full Gloria Steinem?
Man, she has great style. Let’s just give it up for her aesthetic. She’s one of those silhouettes that you immediately identify and that’s savvy. There’s a savviness to that. She also has an innate sensuality about her. She’s innate in the way she communicates and her power is subtle, and quiet, and driven, but very in control. There’s an unflappability about her. And I was obsessed with the silhouette and with her hair, and really trying to get the wardrobe because if you don’t get the silhouette right, no one’s going to believe it.

Did you reach out to Gloria?
I did not. I just relied on the script, and on Dahvi, and my own personal research. I had these two books that I just carried around with me: “My Life on the Road,” one of [Steinem’s] more recent books about her life, and Carolyn Heilbrun’s “The Education of a Woman: The Life of Gloria Steinem.” Those two I would just have with me as my bibles.

Phyllis Schlafly has passed, but if you could sit down with her, what would you ask her?
I feel like you wouldn’t have to ask her much, and she would just take the reins and start to talk, and talk, and talk, and talk. She had some uncanny ability to talk and not draw breath … six kids, a law degree, a marriage, an activist to the anti-fems. She was a first-rate feminist. Absolutely. Talk about an independent woman.

And she ended up having a gay son.
I know. What a great twist, right?

It’s Shakespearean.
It just took my breath away. That’s the ultimate test for somebody like her. How do you manage that? How can you keep that under your control? You can’t. It’s huge. It is Shakespearian. Exactly. It’s that dramatic scale. You couldn’t write it.

You’re also tackling politics with Steve Carrell in Jon Stewart’s upcoming political satire “Irresistible.” You’re playing a Kellyanne Conway-like consultant.
I was like, “Finally I get to work with Steve Carrell.” He’s been one of my acting crushes for so long. I think he’s so funny, and real, and weird, and I just really loved his career, how it’s gone. He’s really inspiring. I just love how he does so many different things and he’s, he’s still mysterious. I went down to Atlanta, and I had a fun few weeks going with those guys, and trying not to laugh, and trying to learn exactly all of these, watching endless videos of Kellyanne Conway trying to capture that sort of alternative-fact spirit that she has. She’s truly incredible. You do have to take your hat off to how she can answer any question without not answering anything at all. It’s quite extraordinary. So we tried to capture that spirit a little bit.

This interview has been edited and condensed. You can hear it in its entirety below. “The Big Ticket” can also be found at iHeartRadio or wherever you listen to your favorite podcasts.

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