It all sounds a bit silly, really. I mean, have you ever wanted to see Brad Pitt in a dress? (Oh, you have, of course. Yes, swinging upside down on the jungle gym, right?) But whatever visions ye rusty olde Hollyweird sword and sorcery epics might conjure up in your fevered imagination, Troy is set to bring a prime slice of Greek mythology right into the 21st Century.
It all started with a chap called Homer (and we’re NOT talking Homer Simpson here, brainless ones, but the Greek poet) whose stories the Iliad and The Odyssey form the basis of Troy. A mere snip at a (reputed) $180 million budget blowout, Troy will go down in motion picture history even if it does prove a dog biscuit at the box office.
Why? Apart from its monumental budget and consequentially legendary set recreations, it will be known as one of those movies where an extra died in tragic circumstances. And, to readers of the tabloids, the movie that caused Brad Pitt to take a special flight to England to get his roots done… it seems he was worried about the intensity of the sun at the Maltese shoot location.
But there are less unusual reasons to justify the hype. Troy simply has a genuinely star-studded cast, including Orlando Bloom, Eric Bana, Brendan Gleeson, Diane Kruger, and of course Pitt as the heel with the name Achilles.
So it’s not expected to do the dog. When a film is this big, it has to make big money, and its producers are obviously hoping that its classic story and state-of-the-art design will make it the monster hit of 2004.
Directed by Wolfgang Petersen, whose claustrophobic submarine thriller Das Boot put him on the map, and whose In The Line Of Fire confirmed him a good puppetmaster for Clint Eastwood, it looks to be an almost inconceivably enormous production. That view is reinforced by Aussie actor Rose Byrne, who plays the second female lead… though she only has a few scenes.
Speaking at her home in Sydney, Byrne says that playing the part of Briseis – a royal princess deposed and turned into a slave girl – suited her down the line. But because of the way in which these epics are constructed, she got very little insight into how the film was evolving. In fact, she has still to see the completed film.
“Any film takes a while, and it’s only in the last few weeks that you get a sense of what’s going on,” says Byrne. ” I found with this, because it was very sporadic, you’ve got to be on for two weeks, and then you’d be off for three weeks, and then you’d be on for a day. So once you’d build up a rhythm you’d be removed from the whole thing again. Sometimes you’d feel quite disjointed from the whole thing. Hopefully it’ll make sense.”
Quite a celebrity in Australia with small string of tasty film roles behind her and a series of parts in doomed soaps to feel embarassed about (and a lot of media exposure due to her, uh, rather conventionally stunning looks), Byrne admits that acting in a monumental production like Troy is a rather disorientating activity…at first.
“It’s kind of like when you go to highschool,” she says. “And then you go to university… My first day at university was terrifying to me, because there was just this HUGE campus, millions of people, you don’t know anyone, you don’t know where you’re supposed to go, who you’re talking to, where you hand your fee into… It’s a good comparison for me. You come from a world that you kind of know your way around to this HUGE different version of the same thing, but it’s on such a different scale. So it was really daunting at first. But then you find your way around and you figure out how to have a good time. ”
Most of Byrne’s films to date have been small ones, except for a bit part in the last Star Wars, and now this role in Troy. I wondered: Do the stars get to socialise and get to know each other much on a big one like this, or is everything depersonalised?
” No you do, but it’s funny because most of my stuff was with Brad, but he worked a lot and he’s pretty private and I didn’t really (get to know him). It’s a different scenario because he was working all the time. I got to know a lot of the crew members quite well. I got to know this guy in special effects from Brighton in England. He was my kind of main ally by the end. And other actors who I didn’t have any scenes with became good friends. So it was definitely a different experience to other films. But just because you’re working with someone doesn’t mean you’re going to become friends with them, either.
Filming her scenes in Malta and Mexico, Byrne says that although she’s a relatively minor role in the movie, she’s actually one of only three female roles.
“It was a barrel of laughs. Mostly comedy based, my scenes,” says Byrne with a wry chuckle. ” No, it was good, very dramatic. The stakes and everything were very life and death… or just death! But she’s not a slave to begin with, she’s a Trojan priestess, from royalty. And then she gets captured once the war begins, so she’s like a prisoner of war. She’s got a lot of dignity, and she’s very opinionated, intelligent, you know. Educated royalty. She’s actually one of the few characters who aren’t doomed. But it’s a war torn time. But yeah, it’s great fun, big costumes, big sets, crazy outfits. It was very surreal.”
If anyone out there is going ‘lucky bitch, she’s got it made now she’s landed in the land of the Hollywood epic’, it might be relevant to check Rose Byrne’s own version of reality: she’s been unemployed since the shooting ended last September!
“I finished in September, then I went to LA for a bit, and I came home around October. I’ve been back to America a few times doing auditions, but I haven’t gotten anything else, so I’ve been unemployed for a while.
“People are always saying ‘you get called the next big thing’ and all that sort of stuff, and that just makes me feel sick. That’s so gross. It’s just such a ridiculous label to give someone. I’d rather not be. I’d rather be a just a person getting work, than any kind of label like that. That’s cool, that’s what the press do, whatever. But it feels pretty removed from my life, and at the end of the day I’m out of work and at home and not doing anything… you know what I mean? So you’ve got to keep it in perspective, which is easy to do. But I’m very suspicious about feeling too confident in a position.
Byrne is keen to dispel some of the myth surrounding acting and celebrity, and the 24 year old does it without flinching.
“I think acting is just telling a story, really. Telling a story is such fun. It’s something we’ve been doing since the beginning of time. That’s all you’re doing, and you want to tell it honestly, and tell the story well. I think that’s what’s so fun about it.
“I love the dressing up part and all the creativity of it, it’s really fun, and I’m lucky to be able to do it. But people say it’s talent that gets you places, and I know so many times people who don’t get enough work, so I’m really convinced it’s luck a lot of the time.
Whether Troy is blessed with that elusive luck will be decided when it – complete with its famous Trojan horse – hits our screens on May 13.
* This piece originally appeared in Real Groove in 2004.