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Isla Fisher kept mouth shut for Great Gatsby role

WHEN Isla Fisher first met Baz Luhrmann to discuss the role of the sensual ? and ultimately doomed ? Myrtle in his lavish adaptation of The Great Gatsby, she had just one thought in mind. “Do not eff this up.”

“I was just so flattered that (Luhrmann) wanted to see me,” the 37-year-old says. “I would have been an extra if he’d wanted.”

Ultimately, she decided that the best course of action to take during their initial meeting was to not say a word.

“A lot of the time, I put my foot in my mouth, so I thought, ‘Don’t say a word around Baz when you meet him because your personality could really hurt your chances’,” she giggles.

“I think a lot of people who know me will tell you that I love to chat, so I said to myself on the drive in, ‘Just get all of your chatting out now – just chat, chat, chat, chat, and do not say a word when you meet him.’

So I got in to the meeting and I was just mute. Marcel Marceau would have been noisier than me. I just nodded a lot and I was just hoping that he was projecting the characteristics of Myrtle to a blank canvas.”

Whatever she didn’t say worked.

“I was so thrilled to get this job, not just because I’m Australian and Baz Luhrmann has made the most amazing movies, but because everybody wants to be part of Baz’s world. It’s a magical, magical world. You just want to be around it.”

When we meet at The Plaza in New York (where many of The Great Gatsby’s most emotive scenes are set in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic novel), Fisher comes off as truly shocked she’s in the film, despite already crafting an impressive career in the US (think Wedding Crashers, Confessions of a Shopaholic and Bachelorette).

The role of Myrtle, she says, has been her greatest professional achievement to date: “It’s a tiny role, and I’m only in the movie a small amount of time, but it’s been a highlight.”

Fisher says she related to Myrtle because “when I was younger, I was in a relationship with a bad boy” (she neglects to say who).

“Myrtle mistakes violence for masculinity and I’m sure there are a lot of women who can relate to that. It’s a tragic thing.”

Joel Edgerton plays Myrtle’s brutish lover, Tom Buchanan. Fisher says the fact that the pair knew each other socially helped their intimacy on screen.

“We’re Australians. We’re in film. We’ve known each other for years,” she says. “It helped us create a chemistry.”

A chemistry she recalls as severely lacking during their first encounter years ago, a meeting which she doesn’t remember at all.

“Joel, our friend Heath (Ledger) and I had gone to throw a frisbee around. There were only three of us. I didn’t remember Joel because I feel like he didn’t say anything the two hours we were there. The next time we met, we had a really good laugh and we got on great, and I shouldn’t have told that story because I never told him this and he’s going to read it! And I’m a terrible person. I do remember him throwing the frisbee quite efficiently.”

Ask Fisher why Australian actors have had such a sustained period of international success in recent times, and she points to our soapie production line as the best possible training for Hollywood.

“The dialogue on something like Home and Away is so bad,” she says. “Even the punctuation isn’t right when you get the script, because these poor writers have to churn these scripts out.

“A lot of the time you’re grappling with unrealistic language and that makes an actor find other tools to make it sound as if it’s your own. If you’re given bad lines, then you have to work even harder, and I think that prepares actors well for going on to work with fantastic dialogue, like we had in this movie.”

She quickly goes on to say that she’s “proud” of what she did on the long-running soap, saying if an actor wants to work in Australia, that’s where the jobs are.

“When I was a young actor, there were no jobs. If you didn’t take a Home and Away (job), then you didn’t eat, so what job are you going to take? It’s not like – when I was growing up at least – that there was a booming film industry where you could take your pick.

“Most of my career, if I was lucky enough to get a job, I was going to take it and then somehow you get to a place where you get offered other jobs and you have to decide what to take. I was just thinking the other day that I much prefer that, having had no choice, because there’s less pressure on the choices you make.”

These days, she says, work takes a firm second place to her family.

“I give the illusion of working a lot more than I do,” she says. “Most of my life is not glamorous like this world. Most of the time I’m not at the Plaza in New York, having spent 2½ hours in hair and make-up, discussing Baz Luhrmann.”

Fisher is married to fellow actor Sacha Baron Cohen, with whom she has two daughters, Olive and Elula. She describes their relationship as very “low-key”.

“We don’t go to showbiz events unless we have to,” she says. “I’m just not that person because, as I said, I do put my foot in my mouth, so it’s better if I just stay home.”

The Great Gatsby is out on May 30.