‘I’m not perfect, but that’s OK’: The Big Interview – Isla Fisher
Former Aussie soap star Isla Fisher talks about finding her place in Hollywood comedy and the serious business of being a mum
Originally we were going to chat in New York. Then it was Miami. But at the last minute, it changed to LA. That’s what Isla Fisher’s diary looks like and I’m exhausted just trying to keep up.
‘It isn’t always like this,’ she says, when I eventually catch up with her. ‘Most of the time I’m based in LA, but I start shooting a new film called The Beach Bum, on location with Matthew McConaughey, tomorrow, so right now it all feels a bit overwhelming.’
It seems as if Isla, 41, has been around forever. We’ve grown up with her since she first appeared, in 1994, as a teenager on Australian soap Home and Away, and have watched her become a successful actor in Hollywood, a transition few soap stars have achieved. Though, that’s not to say it’s been easy.
‘When I first arrived in America, I was going for all these dramatic roles, getting to the last few girls, but then being turned down,’ she tells me.
‘I was becoming very disheartened, but then I met my husband, [Sacha Baron Cohen] and he said, “Listen, you’re one of the funniest people I know, why don’t you go for comedy roles?”
‘I certainly hadn’t ever considered that being funny could actually be a job. I cringed with embarrassment when I asked my agent to put me forward for comedies, but I’m glad I found the courage.
‘The very next week she sent me to audition for Wedding Crashers, which was a really big turning point for me.’
The 2005 romantic comedy, also starring Owen Wilson, Vince Vaughn and Christopher Walken, was a huge hit around the world, grossing $285million.
‘Even today though, there are still not enough female comedic roles,’ she continues. ‘There are plenty of eye-rolling women as the male lead makes a joke, but very few are commanding the starring role.
‘I remember when Sex and the City started – we all thought we were going to get so much more work, but then it went quiet until Bridesmaids. Everyone was like, “OK, now we’ve really proved that women can be funny,” but sadly it’s all died down again.’
MARGE TO THE RESCUE
Isla credits moving schools every year for being able to tap into her inner idiot.
She says: ‘I had to make new friends all the time, so I learned how to be funny pretty quickly. I grew up with four brothers and I think it’s the Australian sensibility in me that makes me think, “I don’t care whether you think it’s funny, I think it’s funny, so I’m going with it.”’
And when the jokes tanked she’d turn to books. ‘They were my safety net in so many ways,’ she explains, ‘and a great form of escapism for me.’
Now with three children of her own, books are a big deal for Isla, so much so that she has turned her hand to writing and is currently working on a fourth book in her Marge In Charge series.
‘I worry that books for children are dying out,’ she says. ‘We’re in a world of emojis, hashtags and Twitter feeds and I think we occasionally need to find words to express ourselves, instead of an emoticon happy poo. The wider your vocabulary, the easier it is to articulate more clearly and precisely.
‘We all get lazy with images and turn off, but that’s where fake news really prospers; we don’t bother to read well written, worthy articles any more. Then we find people get elected that we might not want, and the world goes to shit.’
HAVING IT ALL
Despite her acting career going from strength to strength, [her box office hits after Wedding Crashers have included The Great Gatsby, Now You See Me and Nocturnal Animals] Isla’s primary job is that of a mum, a role she refuses to relinquish, no matter what may come calling.
‘I have three tiny people to look after now and it’s the best thing in the world,’ she says. ‘Acting isn’t quite as appealing when you not only have to find a role you’re challenged by, but also one that coincides with the school holidays and isn’t being shot on another continent. You’re very limited in what you’re able to do.’
She makes it sound as if you can’t have it all. ‘You can,’ she says, ‘just not all at the same time. But then, why would you want to? There’s a real pressure on us, particularly as women, to be perfect and do everything, but we are only setting ourselves up for disappointment.
‘Sometimes I think we could all do with cutting ourselves some slack. I’m not perfect – I’m consistently dropping balls – but that’s OK.’
Whenever Isla feels the pressure, she reverts to meditation with Headspace – an app recommended by Sacha. ‘I’m hooked,’ she says, ‘but I usually do it when it’s too late! By the time I get around to it, I’m already feeling the stress – which isn’t healthy. Meditation definitely works though. It quietens frantic thoughts and unlocks creativity.’
For the most part, Isla likes to live a clean, healthy life, and can normally be found dressed in sportswear which, she laughs, ‘is pretty ironic, seeing as I never go to the gym.’
She continues: ‘I like to give the impression I’m trying to be fit – all the gear, no idea – that’s me!’ That’s not to say she’s lacking in exercise. If she’s not hiking with her girlfriends or running around the park with her kids, she’ll be dropping in on a yoga class. ‘I do try,’ she says. ‘I also drink lots of water, make sure I get seven hours sleep a night and eat as clean as I can.’
That’s all great for her inner self and wellbeing, but does being in the spotlight mean she feels she has to look a certain way as well? ‘I’ve stopped having that battle,’ she admits happily. ‘I’ve chosen to embrace the ageing process. I don’t want to look younger, I just want to look OK for my age. Realising that has made life a lot easier.’
considering the future
Isla is very focused on the future, not just in terms of the people her children are going to grow into, but the state of the world by the time they reach adulthood.
‘I worry that if we don’t start foregoing fossil fuel, living closer to work, become vegetarian and stop cutting down trees, we’re all going to impact climate change to such a degree that it’s irreversible.
‘I’m constantly inspired by those who have given up their lives and jobs to raise awareness and create decent structure to really make change. We need to start listening.’
Looking forward herself, Isla’s remaining ambitions are all family related. ‘In terms of my career, I feel like I’ve surpassed my wildest dreams,’ she says.
‘When I used to think of Hollywood as a young kid, growing up in Perth, I always imagined I’d be cleaning someone else’s pool, not having one of my own.
‘I feel so grateful for everything I have and the health and happiness of my family is the ultimate goal. For me now, it’s less about “what more I can have?” and rather about “how great it is that I’ve got what I’ve got.”’
Marge and the Great Train Rescue, the third in Isla Fisher’s Marge in Charge series of books for five to eight year olds, is available now (£5.99, Piccadilly Press)