Isla Fisher Talks Performing Escapist Tricks, Her Chemistry with the Cast, THE GREAT GATSBY, and More on the Set of NOW YOU SEE ME
Question: Can you tell us about your character? And underneath that magic, who is she?
ISLA FISHER: She’s an escapologist, an illusionist. She’s like a lion tamer — she’s fearless — but she’s also vulnerable, particularly around Atlas, Jesse Eisenberg’s character, because they had a romantic history and I guess he’s so much more focused on the work and she tries to get his attention and it doesn’t really work out for her. She’s a really great character to play. She’s just so confident, so sassy, and she’s such a firecracker. She’s really worn off on me. I find myself strutting around my everyday life and being a lot braver in situations where I wouldn’t necessarily be as brave before. I feel like all the characters I’ve inhabited, I’ve always taken away a few traits and kept them for myself and this character I feel like hopefully it’ll be her confidence.
Can you talk about the escapes you’ll be doing? I know that there’s one in a tank with piranhas. How hard is it to do that kind of stuff and be involved in those kinds of things?
FISHER: You know what? It’s surprisingly hard during rehearsal, but once they’re shooting, there’s something about the presence of the camera and the pressure, or maybe it’s just you’re lost in your character, but it becomes startlingly easy and you just go into a zone where you’re able to… I mean, I was able to hold my breath for a couple minutes. I practiced for a while to get up to that but it was wild. I was chained, right at the bottom of a huge tank and it was great fun, I really loved it. That was my favorite day. They did heat the water, before you think I’m that crazy. It was like a Jacuzzi. I mean, please. It’s like Hollywood’s idea of roughing it for the day, being in a Jacuzzi water.
If they threw one of us in there, do you think we’d last nearly as long as you have after all that training?
FISHER: I think you would if it was your job and you wanted to like… I don’t know. I really enjoyed playing Henley. She’s just fearless, she’s so tough, and she’s aggressive and she’s the strongest in some ways, and wildest and bravest one of the gang. And on top of that, the smartest, she builds all of the really complicated machines. I don’t want to give away anything.
Can you talk about what got you involved in the project? Did they come after you? Did you read the script and say “I want to be involved”?
FISHER: They sent me the script and it was actually an offer and normally when you get offered a script, it’s not something that you want to pursue. But this one I couldn’t believe. I read it and it was such a page-turner, and I always try to choose material that I would want to go and see. I don’t choose movies anymore to be in that other people wouldn’t want to see. I used to when I was younger think, “Oh my god, I really like that, it’s set in Scotland.” Now I’m like I just want to do movies that I want to see and I want to see this film. Yes, that’s what happened. I read the script and I loved it. It just had elements of an interesting movie, a good story, interesting people were attached and so many weird contrasting elements — romance, action, a heist… It just seemed like a mixture of a bunch of different movies, like a lovechild of Clash of the Titans meets Ocean’s Twelve meets… you know? It was just an awesome idea.
This isn’t your first heist movie ’cause you were also in The Lookout so do you love heist movies? What are your favorite heist movies?
FISHER: I don’t really watch many heist movies. Actually, I have quite eclectic tastes but I tend to watch just foreign films. I don’t know why that is. I’m not particularly deep or anything, I just like foreign movies.
We were talking earlier to the producer, Bobby, and he was telling us that the tone was Ocean’s 11, Sneakers and stuff like that. Can you talk about what you think the tone is of the movie and did you watch any films to get ready for this one?
FISHER: No, the only thing I watched to prepare for this was a documentary called Make Believe, which is about teen magicians, and then I watched all of Houdini’s work and Dorothy Dietrich, who is a female escapologist, who is amazing, you have to watch her. She can catch a bullet in her teeth. She can get out of a tank. I was more interested in coming out of it from a character point of view. I’m not the filmmaker, I’m not responsible for the tone of the movie, I’m just responsible for making sure that my character is really well… And documentaries help when you’re creating characters. You don’t to copy another actor’s performance but you can steal mannerisms or a walk… Just getting into the mind of a magician through watching a documentary on magicians.
One of the interesting things they said was that Henley used to be an assistant so was she an assistant to Jesse or Woody?
Do they show a lot of that backstory in the movie?
FISHER: It’s just alluded to, it’s not really touched on. From the time we meet, she’s very much a leader and not a follower, you know? We don’t really ever see that side to her except when she’s vulnerable around Jesse’s character because there’s a few scenes where she’s trying to get his attention and he’s not interested.
If they have a past together, that must come a lot and there must be tension.
FISHER: Yeah, there is a lot of tension, but it’s funny. A lot of the time we’re just doing the magic so it’s not really like we play that as much as we may be… I think it’ll be in the edit. They’ll cut it together with looks…
So there’s stuff there, but it’s subtle.
FISHER: No, it’s not like a “hit over your head” — it’s not a romance.
Like there’s no exposition, like ten different discussions about the past?
FISHER: No there’s like one line. It probably gets cut out.
When you sign on for a project, the script is going to be a certain way when you were offered the part and then on set or in the development process, things change.
FISHER: So true.
Can you talk a little bit about how your character changed once you got involved?
FISHER: Well, I was really lucky because the producer on this movie, Bobby Cohen, I worked with him on Definitely Maybe and I knew him to have integrity and be a man of his word. He said to me, “Read this script, Isla, and know that the Horsemen, there’s going to be more humanity in them, we’re going to see them struggling throughout the story. It’s not just going to be this glossy, slick, foursome that pulls off these incredible tricks. There’s going to be more to you.” And I knew that because it came from Bobby Cohen that it would happen, but I have had the experience the other way, where you’re promised giant things and you end up just doing nothing. It’s so frustrating and it’s not a great way to go into a project because you feel so vulnerable as an actor anyway and you’re so exposed because you’re expressing your emotions every day. You’re doing it around people that fucked you over. It’s really hard. “Fucked you over” is the wrong word to use. I meant, “Shafted you.”
Has any guy ever tried to, in the past, pick you up using magic tricks? Does that still happen?
FISHER: No, but I am friendly with David Blaine — well my husband is friends with David Blaine — and he has a girlfriend now but in his heyday, he had extreme luck with the ladies. But I thought it would’ve been funny. I pitched this idea of a scene where a magician seduces a character and just goes [snaps fingers] and the lights go off and then turns and the beds full of roses… It could be comedically really fun to see someone seducing someone through magic.
What’s your character’s relationship like with Woody Harrelson?
FISHER: So I guess Woody’s character is always hitting on my character and my character is exhausted by it, but vaguely amused. He’s such an endearing character, Merritt, because of where he comes from, his backstory. Woody’s hilarious too. He’s always trying to do this mentalism on us. It’s like, “Woody, you’re never going to guess what number we’re thinking so let it go.”
Are you sure it hasn’t worked and you just forgot?
FISHER: No, he has done it once or twice actually. He’s really good.
Was that his trick that he makes you think of a number and then he tries to guess what you’re thinking?
FISHER: That’s one of his tricks but he can do other things. He can guess cards. He hypnotized Mark Ruffalo. He said to Mark… [Turns to someone else] What was the story with Mark, do you remember? It was something like every time he heard the color green he was going to bark like a dog or something. What was it? Are you going to interview Woody?
No, we’re not.
FISHER: Oh, bummer, he’d tell you.
We’re going to interview Mark though.
FISHER: I don’t want to get the story wrong. I think it’s green. But Woody really did it, I promise you. Mark will tell you.
I’m curious. Some people prefer the two take method of Clint Eastwood and some like the David Fincher method like with Jesse and the 99 takes. Where do you fall on that scale as an actor and what is the most you’ve ever done?
FISHER: I love a lot of takes. I can go and go and go and I never get sick of it and I always think of a different way to do it and I always feel so much more relaxed at the end of the day when I think I’ve covered a lot of it really well. Yeah.
What’s the most you’ve ever done?
FISHER: Probably on this movie, which is why my voice is hoarse, because the way Louis is shooting it, the camera’s anamorphic, it’s always moving and you’ll see why. He’s brilliant. He’s a real visionary Louis, and I’ve loved working with him, but he just has this way of shooting everything with a crane and he needs to shoot it from so many different angles to have that feeling so we sometimes get up to 18 takes of something, yeah. But not that often. It’s fun, I’m telling you. This is going to be the most fun movie, it’s just been the greatest cast, a great script, a great group of people, we all love each other and we really had so much fun. If you guys have half as much fun watching it as we had making it, it’s going to be great.
Are you involved in any of the action, being chased?
FISHER: Yes, and you know the irony is I’m the worst runner. When I was at school, all the teachers, back in Year 2, used to make us all line up against the wall and then she’d say, “Isla, run” and I would run and everybody would laugh and that was a way to get everyone to laugh because my run was so bad. When I got cast in this movie, I was like, “I’ll use a stuntperson” but he’s had me running.
Do you get special running training?
FISHER: No, I watched playback and it’s like watching a goose flapping.
You recently did a 3D movie and I wondered if you could talk about working in that environment and coming back to 2D and what you’re thinking about for the future?
FISHER: I learned a lot from working on 3D. I feel like so much more of the performance you’re thinking about really sharing it with the camera. You really project it out, you’re aware of the fact that you have another dimension whereas with 2D, I feel like I’m more able to just think a thought and not feel the need to express it in the same way with my face. Does that make sense? Or is that a 2AM answer? Have these all been 2 AM answers? Would you be able to tell me?
We would be honest with you…
FISHER: Write down “exhausted actress making no sense.”
What’s the 3D movie?
FISHER: Great Gatsby
And you just finished that before this movie?
FISHER: Yes I did.
And what’s the difference in terms of the party dynamic?
FISHER: Well, Great Gatsby for me felt very serious because it’s such an incredible book. I had such a responsibility to Myrtle, I loved Myrtle, I’m obsessed with her and I don’t want to do it disservice and I don’t want to put a foot out of place so I worked so hard, whereas this character, she’s so original and free-spirited and wild and feisty that kind of my boundaries of where I could go with her, I could do anything in a scene and kind of justify it, whereas Myrtle, I have a story to tell and it’s a totally different feeling. That’s not to say that I’m not taking this as seriously as I did Gatsby — I’m happy to be cast in this, but Gatsby was amazing. I’m Australian, so Baz Luhrmann is the closest to the best director I could work with for me. I’m so flattered that I was able to work with him. It was just the greatest gig in the world, I felt like it was a dream come true and I never needed to do anything with my career because I worked with Baz Luhrmann, you know?
I’m curious what you’re thinking about for the future. You’re doing that, you’re doing this and these are both high profile gigs. What are you thinking about for what’s coming up?
FISHER: Well, I hadn’t really worked for three years until I took Gatsby — and Bachelorette, which was only a few days — so I’ve been a stay-at-home mom, so coming back to work is rewarding and exciting and as fun as it’s been, I definitely miss being at home again, so I’d like to be able to take a big chunk of time off again now and just get back into my sweatpants and stuff my face with pain au chocolat and return to my old life.