Isla Fisher on ‘Back to the Outback’ and What Makes the Netflix Animated Movie a Love Letter to Australia
She also talks about her upcoming TV series ‘Wolf Like Me’ and the fun of getting to work with Josh Gad.
From co-directors Harry Cripps and Clare Knight, the Netflix animated movie Back to the Outback follows a poisonous snake named Maddie (voiced by Isla Fisher), a Thorny Devil lizard named Zoe (voiced by Miranda Tapsell), a hairy spider named Frank (voiced by Guy Pearce), and a scorpion named Nigel (voiced by Angus Imrie), who are tired of their reputation as lethal monsters and decide to leave their home at the zoo to find their real families in the Australian outback. But when they realize they’re stuck with their nemesis, a celebrity koala called Pretty Boy (voiced by Tim Minchin), what they thought would be a road trip turns into a journey of self-discovery, as they learn to find their inner beauty.
During this 1-on-1 interview with Collider, which you can both watch and read, Fisher talked about the appeal of this story of unlikely heroes, what makes this film a love letter to Australia, what she thought of her character, how terrifying it was to sing, how she experienced her own self-doubt growing up, and why she’s personally not good with spiders. She also talked about her upcoming TV series Wolf Like Me and the fun of getting to work with Josh Gad.
Collider: I’m digging the wallpaper for your background there.
ISLA FISHER: It seems as if [it’s] for this press junket, but it’s actually been up here awhile.
When this came your way, with all of the great messages that the story contains, what most excited you about the project that made you want to do it? It’s just such a sweet, fun story.
FISHER: Ultimately, first and foremost, it’s a celebration of Australia, and I was particularly homesick at the time I was sent the script, so I just devoured it. I love that it was a story about these really unlikely heroes, like a taipan snake, a spider and a scorpion. I feel like the creepier characters, or the creatures rather, don’t get to be main characters in movies, so that was fun. And also, Maddie’s a great character.
This has been described as a love letter to Australia. What would you say the film gets right about Australia and the way that it represents Australia?
FISHER: I like to think we Australians are very funny, and the film is hilarious. It has a lot of adventure, which one gets when one travels Australia and all the incredible landscapes. I think the Outback is just spot on. The fact that it’s a cast of Aussies that I, personally, am a big fan of, like Guy Pearce, Eric Bana, Jacki Weaver and Kylie Minogue, I definitely feel like it gets everything right for me.
Is really the only downside of doing something like this, the fact that you don’t get to work physically alongside all of those people in the cast?
FISHER: Yeah. The downside too, particularly for comedy, is that if you have the other actor in front of you, then you can improvise. There’s a lot of communication that’s nonverbal, where you pick up the other person’s cue that they might be about to do a bit. You can’t really do that, obviously, when you’re on Zoom. So, that would have been the only downside. But I really enjoyed this process. I found Clare Knight and Harry Cripps, our directors, to be very collaborative. It’s always fun. You get to go into your imagination and play in a character.
What was it like working with two directors on this? Did they each bring something different to the project, or were they always on the same page with the project?
FISHER: They were always on the same page. There was only twice, in all the sessions that I did, that either Clare or Harry wanted one more take or one more version for a line. I feel like they definitely shared the same vision.
At what point did you get to see what Maddie would look like? What was your reaction to seeing her and does that help your performance at all?
FISHER: Yeah. Right away, I got sent the script and the lookbook for the character, so I knew how it was gonna look. I just thought she was so adorable. I couldn’t take it. She just was so cute.
They’re so cute, when they’re supposed to be so evil and scary. I get that’s the point of the movie, but they’re just adorable.
FISHER: They’re so adorable, and it’s nice that it proves that, just because you’re different, it doesn’t mean you’re not beautiful. I loved all the messages of embracing someone’s inner beauty, and family being who you journey with, not just who you’re born with, and not to judge a book by its cover, and to put aside your differences, and that home is where the heart is. As a mom, I read the script and thought, “This would be a great story to tell,” and that it would give lots of opportunities for conversations about things that you would want to organically bring up with small people.
What’s it like to hear yourself bring an animated character to life? Is it easier to watch an animated movie that you’ve done then when you do live-action movies?
FISHER: It’s so much easier to watch an animated movie because you don’t have to look at your own face. I don’t think there’s anybody that likes listening to their voice or seeing their face, personally. Maybe I’m wrong, but it’s always challenging.
How was the experience of getting to sing a little song for this? Was that fun? Was it exciting? Was it scary? Was it all of the above?
FISHER: It was so terrifying. I said to Harry and Clare, “Please, please, can’t somebody else sing this song? It shouldn’t be me. I can’t sing. I’m gonna ruin the movie.” And they said, “Please, Isla.” And so, I had to record it. Some members of the family, that will remain unnamed, laughed very hard at my rehearsal process, but I tried to remain courageous, like Maddie, and I recorded it. And then, when I heard it actually in the movie, I thought, “Oh, you can’t really tell. It sounds fine.”
I love that each of these characters have their own quirks and their own insecurities. Personally, do you feel most like Maddie, or do you think you’re more like any one of the other characters?
FISHER: Growing up as a redhead in Australia with an English accent, I definitely felt the same way as Maddie. It’s hard for her to accept her differences, at the beginning, because she was conditioned to believe that she was this horrible thing, and then she really grows to learn to love herself and be empowered by what’s on the inside. For a lot of us who looked a little different than our peers during adolescence, it’s a similar journey to come to a place where you go, “Yeah, I’m used to my red hair now and it’s what makes me different.”
What’s next for you? Are you currently working on something? Do you know what the next project is?
FISHER: I completed a television show called Wolf Life Me, alongside Josh Gad, directed by Abe Forsythe, and produced by Made Up Stories. I believe that’s coming out in January (on January 13th). It’s a limited series on Peacock, and I play a very unusual character again. So, I’m excited for people to see that.
What was the fun of getting to work alongside Josh Gad? He seems like he would just bring a lot of fun to every day at work.
FISHER: Josh brings so much fun to every day. He is the kindest and most collaborative, fun same partner. I really enjoyed working with him.
What do you think life was like for Maddie, after this film? Do you think she goes on to embrace both sides of herself, the sweet and the scary side, a little bit better?
FISHER: I think she ends up acclimating to the Outback and actually becomes pretty wild. I could see Maddie being someone who finally, after being raised in captivity since she was an egg, and then having a chance connect with her home country, having a lot of fun. Let’s just say that.
From the first time that you read this script until the finished product that we see now, were there any standout story or character changes, along the way, or did things stick pretty close to what you first read?
FISHER: I feel like the relationship between Pretty Boy and Maddie actually evolved a lot, during the course of us shooting this. I know that moment in the Blue Mountains, where they develop empathy for each other and Maddie realizes that, in order to have somebody except her for who she is, she needs to extend the same to him and truly understand what his experience is, being so beautiful and being judged for his outside exterior, like she is, instead of their interior. That scene and their relationship was definitely something that seemed to grow deeper, as we worked on the story.
Do you think Pretty Boy will also be changed now and won’t go back to his old ways, after this experience with her?
FISHER: Yeah. Even though Pretty Boy will always be a spoiled celeb who’s dependent on how many likes he gets on Instagram, I think now he sees others for who they really are, through his relationship with Maddie and their friendship. He’s equally trapped and marginalized, but on the other end of the spectrum. Once he’s seen through that window into her experience, I’m sure he’ll be in different Koala bear, moving forward.
How do you normally feel about snakes and spiders and scorpions, and things like that? Are you someone who’s curious or terrified?
FISHER: I will just tell you now, I can’t even hear the word “spider” without getting the heebie jeebies. I recently stayed in a house in Australia, where mommy spider gave birth to many, many, many spiders, and they covered the ceiling of my bedroom. It was definitely not the most fun time. Let’s just say that.
I would have burned down the building.
Back to the Outback is available to stream at Netflix.