Rose Byrne was born in Balmain, a suburb of Sydney, Australia, and is of Irish and Scottish descent. She is the daughter of Jane, a primary school administrator, and Robin Byrne, a semi-retired statistician and market researcher. She is the youngest of their four children; she has an older brother, George, and two older sisters, Alice and Lucy. In a 2009 interview, Byrne stated that her mother is an atheist, while both she and her father are agnostic.
Byrne attended Balmain Public School and Hunters Hill High School before attending Bradfield College in Crows Nest. She began taking acting classes at age eight, joining the Australian Theatre for Young People and later attended the University of Sydney. In 1999, Byrne studied acting at the Atlantic Theatre Company, which was developed by David Mamet and William H. Macy.
Byrne was cast in her first film role, Dallas Doll, when she was 13 years old. She has appeared in several Australian television shows, such as Heartbreak High and Echo Point, and the film Two Hands with Heath Ledger. She appeared in The Date, My Mother Frank, and Clara Law’s The Goddess of 1967, the latter of which gained her the Volpi Cup for “Best Actress” at the 2000 Venice Film Festival. Byrne revealed in a post-award interview that, prior to winning the Venice Film Festival award, she was surprised by her own performance and found it confronting watching the film because her acting was “too depressing”. Byrne admitted that “watching myself is confronting because I’m convinced I can’t act and I want to get out, that’s how insecure I am.”
Byrne appeared as a guest in an episode of the police drama series Murder Call. On stage, she played a lead role in La Dispute and in a production of Anton Chekhov’s classic Three Sisters at the Sydney Theatre Company. In 2002, Byrne made her first appearance in a Hollywood film with a small role as Dormé, the handmaiden to Natalie Portman’s Senator Padmé Amidala, in Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones. She appeared the same year in City of Ghosts with Matt Dillon.
The year previously she had flown to the UK to shoot I Capture the Castle, Tim Fywell’s adaptation of the 1948 novel of the same title by Dodie Smith. In the 2003 release, she portrayed Rose Mortmain, the elder sister of Romola Garai’s Cassandra. In 2003, she starred in three Australian films: The Night We Called It a Day with Melanie Griffith and Dennis Hopper; The Rage in Placid Lake for which she was named Best Actress at the Australian Film Institute; and Take Away, another comedy. In 2004, Byrne starred as Briseis in Wolfgang Petersen’s epic Troy. She then reunited with Peter O’Toole in the BBC TV drama Casanova. Byrne appeared with Snoop Dogg in Danny Green’s film The Tenants, based on Bernard Malamud’s novel, and starred as Alex with Josh Hartnett and Diane Kruger in the romantic psychological thriller Wicker Park.
In 2006, Byrne portrayed Gabrielle de Polastron, duchesse de Polignac, a French aristocrat and friend of Marie Antoinette, in Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette, with Kirsten Dunst, and appeared in The Dead Girl, directed by Karen Moncrieff. In 2007, she played Cassie, the pilot in Danny Boyle’s science fiction suspense film Sunshine; followed by Scarlett Ross, an army medical officer in Juan Carlos Fresnadillo’s science fiction horror 28 Weeks Later, the sequel to Boyle’s 28 Days Later; then appeared in the independent film Just Buried, a Canadian dark comedy written and directed by Chaz Thorne. From 2007, Byrne starred as Ellen Parsons in the FX drama production Damages, which ran for five seasons. Shee appeared in the Australian film noir The Tender Hook with Hugo Weaving.
In 2009, Byrne co-starred with Nicolas Cage in the science fiction thriller Knowing. Later that year, she appeared in the indie film Adam, with Hugh Dancy. She appeared in the 2010 comedy film Get Him to the Greek, starring Russell Brand and Jonah Hill, and she was joint lead in the James Wan horror film Insidious, which premiered in September 2010 at the Toronto International Film Festival and went on general release on 1 April 2011. Byrne also starred in the Kristen Wiig comedy Bridesmaids, released on 13 May 2011. She played Moira MacTaggert in the X-Men spin-off X-Men: First Class, directed by Matthew Vaughn. The movie opened 3 June 2011.
In 2013, Byrne appeared in the crime drama The Place Beyond the Pines, with Ryan Gosling and Bradley Cooper, and appeared in the comedy, The Internship, in which Byrne stars opposite Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson; and The Turning, a short film instalment in a Tim Winton omnibus feature. Byrne also played the newlywed wife in I Give It a Year, a comedy about the trials and tribulations of a couple during their first year of marriage.
Byrne worked again with fellow Australians James Wan and Leigh Whannell for the sequel to Insidious (the original film grossed US$97 million after a production budget of US$1.5 million was invested by Wan and Whannell). Insidious: Chapter 2 was released on Friday, 13 September 2013, and also featured actors Patrick Wilson and Lin Shaye. The film received mixed reviews from critics and became the biggest opening day in US box office history for the month of September following its release. Insidious: Chapter 2 was a financial success grossing over US$160 million against a budget of US$5 million.