HOT ROD: An Interview with Isla Fisher
Isla Fisher, the scene-stealing breakout star from 2005’s “Wedding Crashers,” is back on the big screen where we all want her – in a comedy. However, in this week’s new film “Hot Rod,” she plays Denise, the straight girl/love interest to Andy Samberg’s delusional, emotionally-stunted, wannabe stuntman Rod. We spoke with the petite and very pregnant Fisher recently and she told us all about being the only girl on set, the difficulties of playing the straight girl and that the next time we see her on-screen, it will likely be in a project she’s created herself. We also have to mention that upon our exit from the interview at the Four Seasons in Beverly Hills, we walked out with Fisher who, after politely bidding us adieu, got into her own little car and drove herself home.
What was it like on the set of this crazy movie?
Isla Fisher: It was a lot of fun. It was a boys club in a way, but these guys are so friendly and ingratiating that I felt instantly welcomed.
You didn’t feel excluded?
Fisher: I feel as though a few of those men have vaginas, and that made me feel at ease.
Can we tell them that?
You mentioned that originally you were set to play a character that was wilder and funnier, can you talk about that?
Fisher: Well we went between various characters, but essentially we wanted a funny counterpart for Andy in a way of explaining to the audience why someone like Rod, who’s sort of emotionally stunted with slightly special needs, is able to get someone like Denise. In the end they wanted the film for the audience to relate to, so Denise is the straight girl. I think it works really well, it’s sort of charming, their relationship.
It’s interesting that there were discussions about character relationships and stuff like that, because the movie’s pretty silly.
Fisher: Oh yeah, we take it all very seriously.
Does that mean you had a whole back story as to why she had the bad boyfriend?
Fisher: No, no. That would be absurd. We weren’t doing Shakespeare, but you do want the story to work in whatever genre it is. With a movie like this, you really want it to work to a degree. You don’t want to look too closely at it, cause it will probably dissolve.
Did you know Andy’s work on SNL prior to signing on?
Fisher: I did. I’m a huge fan of Amy Poehler and SNL and so I’d seen I think “Laser Cats” [a mention which received an approving round of laughs from the journalists in the room] and a couple others. I’m glad you guys laughed at that, I really liked “Laser Cats.” Some people don’t get it and I think it’s one of the funniest… anyway, so that whole Lonely Island crew, they had a really original voice and I don’t think it’s like any other kind of comedy that you see at the moment so I felt excited. It’s like discovering a new alternative band, I really wanted to work with them.
What’s the dynamic between the three of them, since they’ve known each other since junior high?
Fisher: Interestingly during the junket, I’ve heard that apparently they were at each other’s throats during the filming, that’s the line. They seem very close, there was a lot of snuggling for three straight men and they lived in a house together and made every creative decision together and they have a very interesting dynamic. We never really got to the bottom of it but I think what’s great about them is that they work together and are really sensitive to each other’s comic sensibility and all of them bring something to the party. Jorma tends to be more of an assertive sense of humor, Andy is really quick and Akiva kind of intellectualizes everything, approaches and really thinks about different styles of comedy. They come together and they work very well as a unit.
We keep seeing you as the all American girl, is it ever difficult to get that angst and do you ever feel uncomfortable with it?
Fisher: Not really, actually. I think for Australians, we just have so much, so many American shows played growing up and we’re all kind of fans of them and I think it’s easy for us to do the accent. Definitely if I take a trip home to Oz or I go to London to visit and then start working again, I’m always a bit rusty. I always sound a little South African or something. That’s not right, but it’s the first thing that came to mind. They sound a little Australian but they’ve got a curlier accent.
You’re talking about growing up with American shows, was there anything that surprised you when you started to work in American films?
Fisher: I was surprised at how many great opportunities there are as an actor in Hollywood. Coming from a sort of small industry, if you will, there are more opportunities, that was my main surprise. I kind of figured from the outside that it was a situation where you cast the same people in the same roles and there’s a sort of formula but I find in coming here that they’ve been open to someone like me playing a typical girl next door, when I’m obviously the opposite of that, it’s great.
Were you surprised by the welcome you received after Wedding Crashers, how you were kind of singled out?
Fisher: I was because you never know if a movie is going to work or not so it was just amazing. We got so lucky that the movie really worked and people embraced it and I was lucky enough to get in a room and meet more people and audition for more jobs.
Are you being offered mostly comedy scripts?
Fisher: Yes. I did a movie called “The Lookout” actually, post-Wedding Crashers and that was such a departure, obviously it’s a very dark film, and I was given that opportunity and now I’m tying to mix it up, I don’t really have a strategy.
The Lookout was completely different…
Fisher: Completely different.
It was strange that you were in it, but I guess it’s good for you to break out of that. Did you do that intentionally?
Fisher: No, not to change the perception of myself, more just to work with Scott Frank, but obviously I was very happy it did sort of break me out of that mold. And it was good too, to come and do Hot Rod, even though I had signed up to do the movie in order to get to be funny, even though I ended up playing the straight girl. It was still great for me to go and play the straight girl in a comedy because again, it’s a different experience and difficult, in its own way to keep a straight face. And you have to stop mucking around, something that I really struggle with.
You’ve been so busy in the last year or two, are you planning on taking some time off?
Fisher: Yeah, well now that I have another special project [nods to her pregnant belly]
When does that start, the taking time off?
Fisher: That’s been starting, for quite some time. I’ve been taking time off for all of this year, actually. I’ve been a bit of sort of setting up… it’s really hard being a woman in comedy, there’s no strong female leads. So I’ve been sort of finding my own material, creating my own material and pitching it to studios, so I’ve been sort of producing, I guess you would use that word. Otherwise, I’ve been taking it easy. This junket is about as much work as I’ve done.
Where are you living?
Fisher: I’m still living between London and Los Angeles
Now Sascha [Baron Cohen, Fischer’s significant other] is known for putting a lot of his personal life into his work. Have you set any ground rules? No cameras around the baby, for instance?
Fisher: [Laughs nervously] I don’t know how to answer that.
Your career has certainly taken off as well as Sascha’s after Borat, have you felt any of that pressure or attention?
Fisher: No, not for me. I think it’s important in every relationship to keep work separate.
In talking about where you live, would you ever go back to Australia? There seems to be a lot of filming going on down there.
Fisher: Yeah. It’s really exciting what’s happening in Australia right now, I would love to go back to Australia but I have no immediate plans to go back there right now. My family emigrated to Greece and so it’s easier for me being in Europe.
Looking at your background, you’re from Oman, so are they Greeks?
Fisher: Both my parents, we’re Scottish. My father worked for the World Bank and the U.N. He’s now retired. You don’t want to ask these questions, believe me… it’s not going to be very interesting.
Well if you look at the international flavor… living in London, commuting to LA, growing up in Australia…
Fisher: And I went to clown school in Paris for a year. Yeah, I’m definitely someone who loves the nomadic lifestyle.
So you’re comfortable with that. Do you feel like you don’t really have a home or is Australia home/
Fisher: I feel like Australia, even though I don’t have any belongings there right now, I still have my little flat and my friends, even though my family aren’t there – although I guess wherever my family is feels like home too – that’s a tough one.
Being the only woman on the film, with the Boys Club, as you said, was there anything particular you brought to the film that the boys appreciated or warmed to?
Fisher: I didn’t bake any cookies, if that’s what you mean, I do not bake. I think you’d have to ask them.
Was there anything you did with your sense of humor, that set them off?
Fisher: No, I definitely think I was a good audience for them, though. I’m an easy laugh.
We have seen you as the comic, so you are playing against type. Do you think people will expect the comedy from you…
Fisher: And then be bitterly disappointed? I don’t know. I definitely know the next comedic role I take will be comedic. I want to go and get to be the funny one again, just because it’s more fun.
Might that be Groupies?
Fisher: Yeah, that would be great, but we’ll see.
So you don’t really have a plan then?
Fisher: No, I don’t have a plan. You mean work prospects? Obviously I have opportunities that I’ve been offered and created, but I don’t really feel at this juncture in my life, given that I’m pregnant, I want to stop making plans.
The comedy in the movie seems really loose, even though the guys said that everything was scripted, were there opportunities for everyone to work on a scene?
Fisher: No, not for me. Certainly not for me, they were very strict with me. They really wanted me to be the straight girl and I think they were really worried to let me improvise, probably rightly so. I was mucking around a lot between takes and then during takes I was serious. But I think Danny [Boyle] and Bill [Hader] did a lot of improvising. All their stuff I think is improvised, it is so funny, they would crack me up.
Is it difficult being the straight person in a comedy?
Fisher: It is because it’s frustrating. You want to make jokes too and you can’t, but at the same time it’s rewarding because it’s difficult to keep a straight face if you find it funny.
How do you think the movie will play to audiences?
Fisher: I think the movie is similar to Napoleon Dynamite and Wet Hot American Summer and I think it’s got a lot of great 80s parodies, a real Monty Python-esque, silly feel, so I can’t see why it wouldn’t work, but you never know.
There’s this genre of the Arrested Development male, where they can’t get over themselves, or can’t grow up, what is thrown at you in terms of female roles in comedy?
Fisher: There are no roles thrown at you to be the female funny one, it’s always the girl, like in this movie. But the roles that I’m developing are for the emotionally stunted women.
So you’re going to corner that niche?
How was Akiva as a director, given this was his first feature?
Fisher: Akiva seemed extraordinarily experience from day one. He really had thought through all his choices, the way he wanted it to be shot, the form of the movie, he had a very clear vision for the film.
How involved was Lorne Michaels as an executive producer?
Fisher: He was on set. He brought his sons to visit a couple of times. I’m not sure how involved he was during the creative process, the boys will tell you that, I’m sure he was pretty involved, but at the same time he’s got a lot on his plate, but it was great to see him.
Do you think you’d ever like to host SNL? Did you drop any hints?
Fisher: It would be great fun. I kind of would love it but at the same time it does seem nerve racking, the impromptu nature of it, you just get out there and it’s all live.
Have you done much stage work?
Fisher: I have, yes. I’ve done a lot of stage work in London.
So you’re used to a live audience…
Fisher: Yeah but with stage you’ve rehearsed and rehearsed and rehearsed and you know exactly where you’ve got to stand and deliver your line and you know exactly the emotional arc. When you’re doing something like SNL I think you just show up on Monday and then, I don’t really know how it goes.