She’s soon to be a classic Hollywood comedienne. Hear her laugh.
Though “newcomer” is a tag that’s frequently pinned on Isla Fisher, it’s somewhat off the mark, a bit like an American tourist sticking a flag into a Sydney Airport runway and claiming he’s discovered a land where dogs hop on hind legs. True, the flame-haired 32-year-old is new blood to us Yanks. Until her big “Who is that?” moment as the bipolar nymphomaniac who brutalizes Vince Vaughn into loving her in 2005’s Wedding Crashers, she existed here solely as the romantic appendage to Borat and Ali G creator Sacha Baron Cohen.
But a good chunk of the English-speaking world already knew Fisher, who got started at 12 doing commercials and children’s TV in Perth, Australia. Britain’s Soap Opera Digest crowd remember her big break in 1994 playing troubled teen Shannon Reed on Home and Away, the exported Australian soap that’s featured onetime nobodies such as Guy Pearce, Naomi Watts, and Heath Ledger. (It’s tough to forget a teenager like Shannon, who, in three years, suffered a bout of anorexia, remembered she’d been molested by a dirty uncle, propositioned a married man, and finally blew town with her lesbian lover.) “That show was like an apprenticeship,” Fisher says. “Some of the lines were so laughable, you’d really have to work harder than you ever will again to make them even seem realistic.” (Toughest sell: “Wild horses wouldn’t drag me away from you.”)
So it’s fair to say that in only meeting her now, we’re getting the best of Isla (pronounced eye-la) Fisher. For this, we offer props to the 6’3″ Cohen, who, when he’s photographed next to his 5’3″ fiancée, conjures memories of those Guinness Book world’s tallest meets world’s smallest photos. When the couple met in 2002, Fisher’s post-soap career as dramatic actress wasn’t exactly catching fire. “I was disillusioned,” she says. “I was auditioning and getting many less than enthusiastic responses. Then Sacha said, ‘You’re the funniest girl I know. You should be doing comedies.’ And I thought, Wow, that’s inspiring coming from the funniest man in the world.” As luck would have it, reading for the part of Gloria, Wedding Crashers’ “stage-five clinger,” was her first audition with this new lease on her career. And now—fresh from feasting upon some big roles in movies such as Hot Rod and Definitely, Maybe—Fisher hopes to exploit Hollywood’s new, post–Sex and the City glow for female-anchored comedy. “Women can be as broad as men can and so many are wasted playing the eye roller or the love interest,” she says. “There’s so many funny women—Amy Poehler, Tina Fey, Sarah Silverman, Anna Faris—and there’s an audience of women who are desperate to go out and see other women be funny.” Fisher will get her own laboratory to test this theory when she stars as Rebecca Bloomwood in Disney’s Confessions of a Shopaholic, based on Sophie Kinsella’s novel about a compulsive shopper facing back-breaking credit card debt. Kinsella has written five Shopaholic books, and considering that the film’s producer Jerry Bruckheimer shepherded three whole Pirates of the Carribeans with the sole source material being a single Disneyland ride, look for about 250 sequels if enough women show up on Shopaholic’s opening weekend. “Somebody saw an early cut and told me, ‘God, I haven’t been so excited about an actress since I saw Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman,’ ” says Bruckheimer, obviously an interested party but one with a track record for letting little-tested actors carry pricey movies, as he did with Will Smith in Bad Boys. “Isla is such a gifted actress and comedienne. Clearly she’s going to be a star.”
Perhaps before making Shopaholic XXII: Electric Shopaloo, Fisher will have done a little shopping of her own—for a wedding dress, considering that she’s got a one-year-old baby, Olive, and a six-year-old engagement. “No,” Fisher replies when asked if there’s a date for the big day. Well, mazel tov nonetheless on that conversion to Judaism she’s been undertaking; any happy by-products of the new faith? “I do make a mean chicken soup,” she says.