Isla Fisher A Reluctant Billboard Queen Due to Lead Role
Cameron, Nicole, Julia . . . Isla.
Aussie actor Isla Fisher still pinches herself when she sees her picture alongside Hollywood’s leading ladies.
And lately her image has been plastered on buses and billboards across the US.
How am I on a poster?” she wonders when she sees them. “Somebody has given me a movie,” she reminds herself.
She admits it’s all a little unnerving.
Now 32, Fisher looks every bit as young as she did playing troubled teen Shannon Reed in Home and Away in the late 1990s.
But now she has that international accent peculiar to so many nomadic actors.
“That’s so annoying,” she says, sounding part-British but still Aussie enough.
“Thank you,” she says, relieved.
When not working, Fisher lives in London with her actor/comedian fiance Sacha Baron Cohen (of Borat fame) and the newest addition to the family, daughter Olive, 16 months.
Born in Oman to Scottish parents, Fisher was raised in Perth, lived in Sydney during her Home and Away days, then left Australia in her early 20s to sate her appetite for theatre in Paris.
There she enrolled in the Jacques Lecoq theatre college – known in the industry as clown school.
Her lessons there prepared her for her latest role as a shopping-mad journalist in Confessions of a Shopaholic.
Based on the books by British author Sophie Kinsella, the film underwhelmed critics in the US. Nonetheless, it grossed $42 million in its first 10 days.
“It has some great comedic moments, and some great heart,” Fisher says.
“For me it was great to play in a romantic comedy where it’s not all about the romance – she’s not sitting around moping, waiting for a date. She has a full life, a career and her friends and her family.”
Tapping the inner idiot
Fisher’s first Hollywood lead role demands big, physical comedy – she’s constantly throwing herself across tables, over desks and into large, heavy objects.
“I’m not afraid to tap into my inner idiot,” she says.
It was work so bruising, she had to wear knee and elbow pads in some scenes.
“It’s a lot of fun,” she says.
“I’ve always done a lot of physical comedy but I’ve just kept it to my private life, for my mates. Now I get paid to do it – that’s pretty amazing.”
She replies with a firm “no” when asked if she misses Summer Bay, but concedes her experience in Australia helped her through her biggest role yet.
“Shooting the lead of a movie is something I’ve never done before. It’s a test of endurance,” she says.
“You only have a certain amount of time to shoot a lot of material and I’d never considered that before I started shooting.
“When you play support you get to go there, muck around and go home. With the lead, you’re there all day, every day for three months – so Home and Away, which was those kind of hours, prepared me.
“You have to make sure you eat all the time and you conserve your energy off camera, because we covered so much material in such a short time.”
Despite her passion for acting, Fisher considers herself a mother first and foremost. With Shopaholic, she juggled the demands of parenthood and performance.
Baby Olive was on set during filming and costume designer Pat Field – known for grooming the Sex and the City girls – had to make Fisher’s outfits newborn-friendly.
“All my costumes were breastfeeding-proof,” Fisher says. “Olive probably knew those costumes better than me.”
Mega-producer Jerry Bruckheimer hired Fisher a personal trainer immediately after casting her in the film, to help her lose the weight gained during her pregnancy. Fisher and the trainer did not see eye to eye.
“He said I had a bad attitude,” Fisher says, laughing.
“I would be hiding cakes behind my back – there was nothing I was allowed to eat.”
Prohibited foods included “bread, pasta, muffins – the list left me nothing, so obviously I was living a double life”.
She told more than one white lie about her diet, but managed to shed the extra weight anyway.
“I honestly think it was breastfeeding that took the weight off,” she says.
Fisher has never been much of a fashionista – on Oscars night, she stayed home in her Ugg boots.
So to spend 90 minutes in make-up each day and spend hours talking about silhouettes and textures was a strain.
“The first fitting went for about 12 hours. We had conversations about belts that went for 45 minutes,” she says.
“I was starting to sweat, I couldn’t handle it at all. But as I got used to the process I learned all the lingo that goes with fashion and got into it.
“I wanted very high heels because there’s nothing funnier than a comedic character tottering on really high heels.
“The bigger the better.”
The Aussie redhead won serious praise from those who worked with her.
Bruckheimer calls her “the next Lucille Ball”.
Australian director P.J. Hogan says: “I love improvisation and she has a real gift for it.”
Her fellow actors were flattering, too.
“You can see in the movie the range she has,” says British actor Hugh Dancy, who plays her editor and love interest.
So what does Fisher think?
“After the movie wrapped I was involved with reshoots and it’s been a part of my life for a long time, so for me I can’t be objective about the outcome,” she says.
“I have no idea how it will be received. I’m happy with it.”
Fisher and her fiance Cohen are considering leaving their London home to live part-time in Australia. Fisher has turned down several films to concentrate on motherhood after the birth of her child.
“I haven’t had the appetite to perform,” she says.