Bobby Cannavale happily admits he’s smitten with Australia, but there’s one custom he struggles to get his head around.
The New Jersey-born, two-time Emmy-winning star has been in a relationship with Aussie actor Rose Byrne – with whom he has two sons – for nearly a decade. After regular visits Down Under, he’s grown to love the beach culture and the “laid-back vibe”, and, on his most recent trip last year, he even conquered his fear of driving on the left-hand side of the road. But, for better or worse, the locals’ love of a bevy still gets him every time.
“It’s just a real drinking culture, I have to say,” he says with a laugh over Zoom call from Los Angeles. “I find myself getting on the drink earlier in the day in Australia than I would anywhere else in the world. You walk past a pub at three o’clock and you go ‘really? Is the work day over at three o’clock in this country?’. Because the bars are packed at three o’clock and I don’t know how that’s possible.”
Cannavale and Byrne relocated to Byron Bay last year to film Nine Perfect Strangers, based on the book of the same name by Big Little Lies author Liane Moriarty. As if the prospect of working with Nicole Kidman, Melissa McCarthy, Luke Evans, Michael Shannon and Regina Hall wasn’t enough, chilling in the idyllic northern NSW beach town while the pandemic raged around the US sealed the deal.
“It was breezy, mate,” he says in a very passable Aussie accent. “Come on, what’s more laid-back than Byron Bay? I am going to be talking about that place for the rest of my life. What a lifestyle. You don’t even need to own shoes in Byron Bay – I don’t think I wore shoes for four months and I worked a job.”
BOBBY DON’T SURF
But as much as he embraced the fondness of a tipple and the relaxed dress code – not to mention the bushwalking and the beaches – the lure of the Hemsworth-endorsed Byron waves was a bridge too far.
“I wish I could say I could surf but I can’t,” he says. “Unfortunately, now I get hurt too easily. So, I didn’t really want to take my chances particularly because I was shooting. Everybody there surfs, so every day I would have a different driver pick me up and one guy would have a cut here, and another guy would have a slash there, and another with gauze on his neck and I’m like ‘I can’t do that’.”
Nine Perfect Strangers also proved to be a reunion of sorts between Cannavale and Byrne and McCarthy, who also relocated her family including husband Ben Falcone and their two daughters for the shoot. Byrne had first met McCarthy and Falcone on the trailblazing 2011 comedy Bridesmaids and various combinations of the two couples now have collaborated on a number of projects including the comedies Spy and Superintelligence. So, when Cannavale got the call from director Falcone to star opposite McCarthy in the new Netflix superhero comedy Thunder Force, it was an easy decision.
“I am crazy about those guys,” Cannavale says. “I just hit it off really easily with Melissa the first time we worked together. We are contemporaries, we both have the same cultural references, we like the same music, we both have the same sense of humour so it’s surprising really how in sync we are. In this business you are lucky if you get to work with your friends, much less more than once so it’s just a friend calling going ‘hey, what do you think about playing a bad guy in a superhero comedy’. That’s an easy pitch. And Melissa is one of the great actresses we have working today, so it’s just a no-brainer.”
IS DON, IS NOT GOOD
Cannavale says the relaxed, supportive atmosphere fostered by Falcone and McCarthy – not to mention their improvisational background – encouraged him to go big with his venal and villainous character of The King, a super-powered politician with a monstrous ego, a very thin skin and a penchant for knocking off his employees.
“Once I got past the idea that I was playing an overly sensitive, thin-skinned, powerful politician – and cutting a little too close to the bone here in this country – I really leaned into the joke of the fact he kept running out of henchmen and couldn’t really take a joke at all.”
So close to the bone was it, that Cannavale on occasion found himself emulating a certain recently departed President, much to the distaste of the director.
“I remember there was a scene where I am holding a press conference … and at one point I made a reference to the word ‘uuuuuge’ and they were like ‘hmmm, let’s not even do that’,” says Cannavale with a chuckle. “I remember Ben going ‘that gave me a stomach ache’. And I was like ‘yeah, you’re right – I know what you mean, let’s not go down that road at all’. But certainly, the person we are talking about is not the first egotistical, thin-skinned, powerful politician.”
STAGING A COMEBACK
For all of Cannavale’s big (Ant-Man, The Irishman, Jumanji: Welcome To the Jungle) and small (Boardwalk Empire, Will and Grace, Mr Robot, Vinyl) screen success, theatre holds a special place in his heart and he has rarely been far from a stint on stage.
“I miss it more than anything,” he says. “I go to the theatre the way other people go to the movies. I can go to the theatre three times a week and I really miss that interaction.”
In fact, his last project before COVID-19 hit was a New York production of Medea with Byrne and the pair were due to appear together in a Sydney Theatre Company production of Arthur Miller’s A View From The Bridge last year, which Cannavale hopes can be resurrected. “I am dying to work on stage in Sydney,” he says. “There is really some very good theatre in Australia so I am really looking forward to coming there and maybe getting to work at the STC or the Belvoir.” Regardless of which side of the Pacific is home, Cannavale says the Australian way of life has become deeply ingrained for him and sons Rocco and Rafa, thanks to his partner.
“Rose is just Aussie – her temperature is low and it’s easy going,” he says. “It’s hard for that not to rub off on us and I am really grateful for it to be honest. It can be a very fast pace living in New York so I am really glad that kind of energy entered my life and remains there and that I get to indulge it when we go home to Australia. I really do consider it a second home now and I could easily live there. If I were to get a good enough job I could go there for a year or two or three.”
Thunder Force streams on Netflix from Friday.