By FRAZIER MOORE, AP Television Writer Fri Oct 12, 8:27 AM ET
It gives her a nice break.
Most of Byrne's screen time as Manhattan lawyer Ellen Parsons has been out in the world, set weeks or months before her fiance was murdered and she was charged with the crime. Most of "Damages" is focused on a huge class-action lawsuit being waged by the firm Ellen works for, and on the legal machinations of her boss, Patty Hewes (played by Glenn Close), aimed at crushing billionaire defendant Arthur Frobisher (Ted Danson).
Mostly Byrne must appear well-spoken, polished, attractive.
In those scenes, "I have to be sharp as a razor and as bright as a button," says Byrne, "and wear those crazy business suits.
"In the prison scenes, it's like I get to wear pajamas!"
With just two episodes left in its 13-hour season, "Damages" (airing 10 p.m. EDT Tuesdays) is ripe to answer the many questions piling up since Ellen was hired by Patty on the series' premiere.
Since then, there have been deaths, betrayals, mindgames and an ever-rising threat level swirling around the Frobisher case. Days before her fiance was killed and she was arrested, Ellen even got fired from Hewes & Associates.
Viewers naturally wonder: What gives? And to make sure they keep guessing, "Damages" has whipsawed its storytelling between the present (with Ellen in jail) and a past that initially was labeled "6 Months Earlier," but, by the most recent episode, had narrowed the gap to just a couple of days earlier.
On next week's episode, the past catches up to the present, with the back-and-forth story lines merging into real time.
Then, on the Oct. 23 finale, maybe Ellen will be saved. Maybe Frobisher will get what he deserves. Maybe Patty will be seen for what she really is: a complicated heroine ... or maybe a duplicitous wacko.
It will mark the end of a wild ride for the audience.
The actors, too.
"It's the hardest job I've ever done by far," says Byrne. "Long days! Everyone's exhausted all the time and getting more exhausted by the day.
"Tomorrow we start the next episode, and I haven't read it yet."
Wrapping early (6 p.m.) one day not long ago, she arrives right after work for an interview a block from her Greenwich Village apartment. She comes into the restaurant with several garments she picked up from the dry cleaner next door.
"I'm multitasking," she jokes in a voice that exposes her very un-Ellen-like Aussie accent.
The 28-year-old Sydney native has made numerous films including "Marie Antoinette," "28 Weeks Later," "The Dead Girl" and "Troy," along with the BBC miniseries "Casanova." None of it quite prepared her for her current show's demands.
Not only does Ellen appear in a heavy number of scenes (filmed at the show's Brooklyn studio as well as on locations all over town) but, as she travels the continuum between Then and Now, she has steadily evolved from the wide-eyed law-school grad Patty hired six months ago. This gives Byrne the challenge of a character who's always in flux.
Gone, it seems, are Ellen's innocence and idealism.
"She is becoming more shrewd, more aggressive," says Byrne. "And that's a cool thing about acting. I'm timid, I'm shy. I'm not a very aggressive or assertive person in my own life. It feels really good to play somebody who has these qualities.
"She's kind of a Frankenstein's monster," Byrne proposes. "Patty has created someone like herself, who's plotting her ruin one day."
Scenes with Ellen and her mentor-nemesis have always been series highlights.
"They're my favorite scenes to do," says Byrne. "Glenn's a blast to work with. She makes the scene real. She's so thorough, she makes my job easier."
Byrne decided to make acting her job as a child, the youngest of four who loved the attention from her siblings when she clowned around. She began acting classes when she was 8. She landed her first professional role at 13 (in the Australian comedy "Dallas Doll," starring Sandra Bernhard).
She spent summer 1999 in New York, in an acting program at the respected Atlantic Theater Company.
It was then, she recalls, that her dreams really took hold.
"I said to myself then, if in 10 years' time I could be back in New York doing a play or a movie or a show, it would be so great. I think about that now, every day." She gazes around her, tired but delighted. "Am I really living in an apartment in the Village? Am I really doing a TV series?"
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EDITOR'S NOTE Frazier Moore is a national television columnist for The Associated Press. He can be reached at fmoore(at)ap.org
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