Full name: Isla Lang Fisher
Date of birth: February 3rd 1976
Place of birth: Muscat, Oman
Star sign: Aquarius
Marital status: Husband Sacha Baron Cohen
Children: Daughters Olive Cohen (b. 2007) and Elula Cohen (b. 2010), son Montgomery Moses Brian Cohen (b. 2015)
Growing up in Perth
Isla Lang Fisher was born to Scottish parents on February 3rd 1976 in Muscat, Oman. One among four brothers, Isla and her family lived in Oman until she was nine months old while her father worked there for the United Nations. Her name is Celtic (pronounced Eye-lah.), taken from the Isle of Islay. The Fisher family located to Perth, Australia when she was still a young girl and her parents separated shortly after. “I definitely think that Perth was a very isolated place to live. But, I had a great upbringing. I rode horses and had a very outdoorsy life, that I don’t know if I would have had the same opportunity to have in Sydney or Melbourne,” says Isla. Isla says that her childhood was influential in developing her sense of humour – “I went to something like six different schools before the age of 12, so I was always the new girl and had to make friends quickly. It was difficult at the start because I was very bookish – I was literally sat in the corner reading books, with no friends. So I learnt to be funny and to take the piss out of myself in order to ingratiate myself. I think it’s one of the best skills in life.”
A natural performer
From a very young age on Isla was a natural performer. Her first job was as a lottery ad extra – she was so excited that she hyperventilated for four hours and nearly fainted! Isla began appearing regularly in commercials and on television and by the time she was 11, Fisher was working consistently. She attended Methodist Ladies’ College and appeared in lead roles in school productions. She left home in 1992 to work on the short-lived teen drama, Paradise Beach (1993), about a group of young people from different parts of the world who settle in Australia in search of love, excitement and success. A year later, Fisher joined the cast of the popular Australian soap opera, Home and Away, portraying Shannon Reed between 1994-1997. The show immensively popular and so was Isla’s character. She became a huge star in not only Australia but UK as well. In this role Isla tackled everything from sexual abuse to anorexia. Once her contract was finished, Isla opted to leave Home and Away to pursue other interests – despite being offered a big sum of money to stay.
In 1996, Isla published two novels with the help of her romance novelist mother, titled Bewitched and Seduced by Fame. “I started when I was 18 with my first book. But, before that, I was always in special writing classes after school, and I had always written. My mom wrote, and I had always wanted to be a writer. But, then I just realized that I liked to play dress up too.” Although the books did very well in Australia, Isla decided not to continue writing novels. “Writing is great, but you guys all know it’s also a bit anti-social. Not anti-social, but you’re alone in a room. It’s isolating. I’ve discovered that with age.”
A new start
Once her stint on Home and Away was over, Isla escaped Australia for Paris where she was accepted to the prestigious Jacques Lecoq School after bombarding them with numerous letters. She studied mime and Commedia dell’Arte, and emerged from the school a fully qualified clown. In 1998, she was performing in the British musical Summer Holiday with then fiancé Darren Day, appeared in a London theatre production called Così and in several pantos—pantomime shows — that eventually took a toll on the actress. After a role on the seven-part BBC drama Hearts and Bones (2000) and appearances in Out of Depth (2000) and Attila (2001), Fisher got her first big international break as a movie actress as Shaggy’s girlfriend, Mary Jane, in Scooby-Doo (2002). Isla charmed the audiences with her natural charisma and talent. “I know that a lot of Australians come out to the States with those ambitions, but weirdly enough, I only came out on the back of Scooby-Doo – for its premiere. And then, I ended up getting representation and ended up getting a job, almost straight away. So, I was fortunate, in that I didn’t have to come out to LA and join a queue of however many people, and try to get work. I came in on the back of what was deemed a big studio movie that had had extraordinary success.”
Her role in Scooby-Doo led to no more work than usual — a surprise given its box office success and the exposure she received. Isla next went back to Australia to film the comedy The Wannabes (2003) and appeared in the independent coming-of-age drama, Dallas 362 (2003), the directing debut of Scott Caan. Another brief appearance followed in David O. Russell’s existential comedy, I Heart Huckabees (2004) opposite best friend Naomi Watts and small part in the mockumentary series Pilot Season (2004). In 2005 Isla won the highly sought-after role of the nymphomaniac bridesmaid Gloria Cleary in Wedding Crashers. “She’s this girl in heat who has no etiquette or ability to control herself. I just kept trying to turn it up an extra notch, and I think it paid off,” says Isla of her character. Fisher nearly pulled the rug out from under co-stars Wilson and Vaughn, easily holding her own against the two comedic heavyweights. Wedding Crashers went on to take in over $120 million at the box office and even grabbed the number one spot in its third weekend of release. The performance won Isla the Breakthrough Performance Award at the MTV Movie Awards. “I just got lucky,” says Fisher. After Wedding Crashers, Fisher appeared as Rebecca, a Manhattan party host, in London (2005), sharing the screen with Jessica Biel.
Despite her rising profile as an actress, Isla worked hard to keep her personal life to herself – she met British actor Sacha Baron Cohen at a party in Sydney in 2002 and the two began dating, reportedly becoming engaged in 2004.
Next Fisher starred in Wedding Daze (2006) opposite Jason Biggs. Despite receiving a warm welcome at the Toronto Film Festival, the film went straight to DVD in the US. Meanwile, Isla won praise for her turn as Luvlee in The Lookout (2007), a different and darker role from what the audiences had perhaps come to expect from this rising comedienne. “I had a director who had the vision to imagine me playing someone other than a bipolar nymphomaniac.” In 2007, Isla also starred in Hot Rod alongside Andy Samberg. While the film was well received, Isla herself was not as content in the role. “This was an exciting project for me originally, because I was going to come in and be responsible for creating Denise and we were going to make her a funny character, but we ran out of time.” Indeed, she has actively spoken out against the lack of opportunities for female comedians in Hollywood and has hence decided to write and produce her own movies. Fisher has co-written a script entitled Groupies together with Amy Poehler, and will produce another project called The Cookie Queen.
2007 also saw a new kind of role for Isla – that of a mother! She gave birth to her first daughter with fiancé Sacha Baron Cohen on October 19th 2007. She got back into acting in 2008, spending a few months filming the Hollywood adaptation of the popular chick-lit novel Confessions Of A Shopaholic. Early 2008 also saw the release of two new films for Isla – the original and heartwarming romantic comedy Definitely, Maybe, and the animated children’s film Horton Hears A Who. Now a mother, Isla’s film schedule slowed down, and after filming for Shopaholic was completed, Isla took a break. Confessions Of A Shopaholic was released in 2009 to mixed reviews, but made over $100m at the international box office, and once again showed Isla off as a talented comedienne. The film was produced by Hollywood heavyweight Jerry Bruckheimer, who said that Isla was “clearly going to be a star”.
Isla returned to film sets in 2010, shooting the comedy-horror Burke & Hare in Scotland. The film was released later that year in the UK to mixed reviews. This year saw another two personal milestones for Isla though – she gave birth to her second daughter, Elula Cohen, in August, and she and Sacha tied the knot early in the year in Paris, although – true to their intense desire to keep their lives private – neither have ever confirmed this.
Isla was a busy girl in 2011 – and not just with two young daughters! She promoted her animated comedy Rango early in the year, and landed two new roles which were filmed on opposite sides of the world – Bachelorette, and the hotly anticipated Baz Luhrmann re-make of The Great Gatsby. Soon after, in early 2012, she jetted round the world to film the magical thriller Now You See Me alongside a cast of other rising stars, including Jesse Eisenberg and Dave Franco. This trio of films launched Isla further into the public eye, and she appeared on numerous magazine covers in 2013 and took part in the extensive promotional tours for the films, including premiering The Great Gatsby at the illustrious Cannes Film Festival. Isla described working with Baz Luhrmann on Gatsby as a “dream come true”, and the movie was a success with fans, earning over $100m at the box office but dividing critics; Now You See Me was received similarly and was a sure-fire hit with movie fans.
Movie stars were beginning to flock to TV series, and Isla was no different – The Hollywood Reporter reported that she was one of the most in demand actresses for a TV series, and she took a supporting role in TV comedy Bored To Death and then the revival of the cult comedy Arrested Development, which premiered exclusively on Netflix and earned the cast a Screen Actors Guild Award nomination for Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Comedy Series. Isla again slowed down the pace of her work from 2014, in part due to becoming pregnant again for the third time; she gave birth to a son, Montgomery, in 2015. She took a small role alongside her friend Jennifer Aniston in Life Of Crime, an adapation of Elmore Leonard’s novel ‘The Switch’, a cameo in Danish comedy Klown Forever, and voyaged into the horror genre with the leading role in Visions.
Isla and Sacha surprised fans in 2015 when it was announced they would be doing what they had once declared they never would – working together on a film project. Grimsby was Sacha’s comedic take on the English spy genre, with Isla taking a small role as an MI6 agent. Despite a clever marketing campaign, including Sacha appearing at the Oscars as one of his past characters, Ali G, the film was not a critical or box office hit. Isla has two other projects scheduled for release later in 2016 that highlight her talents – comedy Keeping Up With The Joneses, and the Tom Ford-directed Nocturnal Animals in which she co-stars alongside Jake Gyllenhaal and Amy Adams. Isla has also been diversifying in her career projects, recently lending her face to Australian banking firm ING Direct, and writing a series of children’s books, Marge In Charge, which will hits news-stands this summer.
Isla and Sacha now divide their time between Los Angeles and London. She jokes that – due to her husband’s outrageous characters – their life is not always “normal”, but describes him as her “best friend”, saying “life is filled with highs and lows, and you have a best friend to share it with you. It’s amazing.” Fisher and Baron Cohen are very much focused on their family and value their privacy. “My personal life is very important to me and it definitely comes first,” Isla says, as well as being clear to the press that she will not talk about her life off-screen. Isla likes accepting smaller, supporting roles in films as it often allows her to play the more interesting character, she says, as well as the filming schedules fitting around her busy family life – “Once they are at school, I’ll get back to my creative world – but right now, I put my family first and that’s the most rewarding, fulfilling and exciting way to spend my time.” She picks her projects based on whether she likes the script and the director; the best career advice she’s been given came from friend Naomi Watts, who said “it’s better to have a small part in something good and work with good people, than to have a splashy ‘great’ role in a bad movie”, and this is something Isla follows. While she is unable to visit Australia as often as she’d like, Isla has said that her “sensibility is Australian” and that she has a “laid-back attitude to life” that she feels is very Australian.