Rose Byrne’s character in Jon Stewart’s political satire “Irresistible” is a mix of Mary Matalin and Kellyanne Conway, a potent blend of old school Republican strategist with a new age Trumpian media wrangler.
It’s on the opposite end of the spectrum from her other recent portrayal of Gloria Steinem in “Mrs. America,” but Byrne said of “Irresistible” that she had fun playing her character Faith Brewster, and she was encouraged by Stewart to always keep her performance “playful.”
“Someone like Faith is a true political animal. She lives with some blood on her hands, she loves the fight, she loves the game, so that’s her kind of drug I think, a true political beast,” Byrne told TheWrap. “Jon was always telling me to just make her playful in her position. She loves the element of the game of it.”
Stewart’s “Irresistible” is about a political strategist played by Steve Carell who comes into a small town in Wisconsin to run a campaign for a blue-collar war veteran (Chris Cooper) as a Democrat against a Republican mayor. Once Faith realizes her rival’s game, she brings the whole of the GOP’s resources to help keep this town of just over 5,000 people red.
What we come to realize however is that Faith and Carell’s character have a combative yet hot and heavy romance, not unlike Matalin and Democratic strategist James Carville. The two figure prominently in D.A. Pennebaker’s documentary “The War Room” about the 1992 Bill Clinton campaign, and Byrne said that film was an early inspiration for Stewart.
Byrne even has a hilarious scene with Carell where she makes a bet saying that whichever candidate wins the race, the losing campaign manager has to go down on the winner. And sure enough on the very first day of filming and meeting Carell, Byrne says she had to lick his face as part of a scene.
But she also immersed herself in watching clips of Conway, as well as Fox News, MSNBC and CNN. She nails one moment when she plays the media by saying on a live news broadcast that she was born in the small town of Deerlaken, Wisconsin, even if she doesn’t know how to pronounce it correctly. Carell responds succinctly in disbelief, “She said it and now it’s true.”
As an Australian though, she says she’s always amazed by how “glamorous” the American political machine is compared to politics in the rest of the world.
“I went to the Democratic Convention in 2014, and it was like going to the Academy Awards. I was like, this is crazy. It is so produced. It’s very sleek, George Clooney did the voice over, all these celebrities were speaking before Barack Obama. It was amazing, the music, the lights, it was so highly produced compared to the politics you see in Australia or the UK. It’s so culturally specific to this country,” Byrne said. “I did my due diligence, I took my deeper dive, and it was sobering for sure.”
She also naturally had help from Stewart, who she described as “disarmingly down to Earth,” a bit “shy” and “genuinely funny,” but also collaborative.
“If there’s a scene that’s overwritten, he’s the first person to be critical of his own work,” Byrne said of Stewart. “And so effortless, so much politico speak, and a lot of stuff I thought I knew. Like I know how the system works, and then I realized I don’t know anything.”
One of the strengths of “Irresistible” is that it focuses on the toxicity in our election cycle by drilling down on its effects on a small town. It begins just before the 2016 election and illustrates the feeling of knowing Donald Trump won the election by showing a shirtless man get hit in the gut with a cannonball. But much of the story is set in this rural community, which Byrne says can be destroyed when massive political parties come to town.
“They’re ingested with money, and everyone just leaves, and it’s left in its wake of this campaign,” Byrne said, adding that highlighting this issue was a priority for Stewart. “It means a lot to him, I think it’s a way to try and get people to vote, to consider dismantling the system that’s in place. It’s so fundamental, and if we can fix it, maybe a lot of other things can be fixed as well.”
“Irresistible” opens on premium video on demand for rental on Friday.