It Girl: Isla Fisher
It isn’t shocking that the fiancée of Sacha Baron Cohen (a.k.a. Borat) is funny — really funny. Or that she’s whip smart. But the dazzling actress is full of delicious surprises.
Four years ago, not long after actress Isla Fisher and her fiancé, comedian Sacha Baron Cohen, came to Los Angeles from London, Baron Cohen gave his future missus some prescient career advice: Be funny. “He’s just always laughed at me,” says Fisher, curled up poolside at L.A.’s Sunset Tower Hotel on a chilly winter afternoon. “But it had never crossed my mind that I would do comedy.” And it wasn’t as if there was a lot of funny going around anyway. “It’s normally the guys who get to be wacky,” she explains, “and the girls are just rolling their eyes.”
The idea, though, was “just such a compliment, coming from him,” she remembers of her Borat-creator beau. The next script that landed at Fisher’s door? Wedding Crashers, specifically the part of a nymphomaniac bridesmaid, Gloria. Thanks to, among other things, her shudderworthy squeal, “I’ll find yoouuu!” to a terrified Vince Vaughn, the redhead officially arrived.
Fisher is indeed blessed with a funny chip. It’s hard for the petite Australian to suppress her natural Isla-ness, which bubbles out of her in an assortment of accents (French, Valley girl, Italian) and naughty jokes. “What I love about Isla is that she is a true comedian,” observes close friend Naomi Watts of her “little sister.” “She just spreads life and energy into everyone.”
But it’s been a big week. Fisher, whose own star is on the ascent, with four films coming out this year, now finds herself officially one half of a Hollywood Power Couple. A few days before we meet, Baron Cohen, whose groundbreaking Borat became a worldwide hit, won a Best Actor award at the Golden Globes, the capper to the film’s six-month ride of the pop-culture wave. For the couple, normality has gone the way of the bootleg jean.
Success, of course, is a wonderful thing. And while Fisher is the first to say how lucky and fortunate she is, “There’s as much crap to being up as there is to being down,” she adds with a wry smile. “I think it’s as stressful to be successful as it is to be not as successful — not that I’ve been really successful.” Day to day, Fisher may face women announcing, “I’m just like Gloria!” (“terrifying”) or weather unsolicited Borat impressions (“Waa waa whee waa!”) directed at Baron Cohen. Tomorrow the two are going on vacation: somewhere far away, somewhere with margaritas.
Courteney Cox has shared a margarita or two with Fisher. “We met her and Sacha at David Spade’s birthday party about four years ago,” she recalls. “They were saying how hard it was to meet people, and we just immediately clicked. We’ve traveled together, been to Mexico.” Cox and her husband, David Arquette, are familiar with the challenges of being a public couple. “Things have really changed since Wedding Crashers, and then with Borat becoming the biggest movie in the world or whatever,” she observes. “They were at Fred Segal the other day, and there were 25 photographers outside. Sacha was like, Who are they waiting for? He hasn’t gotten it yet that everything is different. It will be hard, but they will deal with it. They’re so lovely and such kind people that they will do it with grace and figure it out.” Watts adds, “Nothing is going to crush Isla’s spirit. That’s probably part of the Aussie in her, you know? She’s not going to lose sense of herself. ”
This warp-speed change of circumstances means that while Fisher has much to celebrate, she also has more to protect. She doesn’t give in to the relentless interest in her relationship with Baron Cohen (do they do Kazakh accents in the kitchen? et cetera, et cetera), which is somewhat understandable given that her fiancé almost never does interviews out of character. Even when pressed on the allure of funny men, she wriggles. “It’s just that I find them, uh, sexy. I’ve always had a lighter approach to love.” And a serious one, too. As Baron Cohen is a practicing Jew, Fisher recently converted to Judaism.
Says Watts, “It doesn’t surprise me that someone like Sacha — who is a brilliant comedian, just extraordinary — is with her. The two of them together are just the greatest couple to be around. They brighten everything up a bit, but you can see that they’re not just there to entertain. They’re really connected to each other and are taking care of each other the entire time. It’s beautiful.” Watts stresses that Fisher’s talent affords her the luxury to do as she pleases. “She’s in a very committed relationship, and she’ll probably be knocked up, barefoot, pregnant, and married within the next few years! But she’s got everything she needs to have a huge career. I think she could be a huge star.”
In jeans, a T-shirt, and a blazer, the pinup-pretty Fisher looks positively cardable (“I was carded last night, actually, and that was for entry into Disneyland”), but she is in fact 31. Born to Scottish parents — a banker father and a romance-novelist mother — in Oman, Fisher was raised in Australia and found fame as a teen on the surf-and-sun soap Home and Away. At 21, she left for Europe, studying mime at the Jacques Lecoq theater school in Paris (she’s partial to “wall” jokes, holding her hands up against imaginary bricks) before settling in London. But the ingenue game had its hazards. “I remember when I had no money. I was depressed and I drank and then I auditioned for some kind of phone commercial and they didn’t have a phone. Somehow, I was in a bikini in front of 10 male executives, talking into a giant shell.” She twitches at the humiliation of it. “And then they said to me, ‘Turn around.'”
Fisher met Baron Cohen, then in the Ali G days, in 2002, soon after shooting her first big film role in Scooby-Doo. The two then headed to L.A. when Scooby-Doo was opening and HBO picked up a U.S. version of Da Ali G Show. Soon after, she found her comic calling. “Isla just blows me away with her humor,” says Cox. “She’s got guts is all I’ll say; she’ll do anything. If I were going to do a comedy again, I’d definitely get her to help me.” Fisher credits Cox with many things, one of them “two thirds” of her wardrobe. “Well, when I first met her, I gave her a lot of clothes,” Cox adds. “But I don’t think she needs them as much anymore!”
Fisher will need to be “frock prepared” for her many upcoming premieres, however. (She wore vintage Hervé Léger to the Golden Globes and is a fan of Michael Kors and Chloé.) In 2007, she can be seen in two crowd-pleasing comedies, Wedding Daze and Hot Rod; a romantic comedy, Definitely, Maybe, with Ryan Reynolds and Rachel Weisz; and a drama, The Lookout. She is also producing and will star in the rock satire Groupies with Saturday Night Live’s Amy Poehler. (“It’s kind of like Dumb & Dumber for girls. We are so deluded that we think the bands care about us as much as we do about them.”)
The actress has been so busy, she laughs that she hasn’t “gotten around to getting married yet.” That combined with the challenges of family and friends in Greece, Australia, London, Israel, Germany, and America adds up to a very long engagement. She adopts a wizened expression: “And then we got married when I was 80.”
When she isn’t working, Fisher likes to cook like a madwoman, try out different characters around the house, and brush up on her French. Secret shame? “Some people say that at times my taste in music resembles a 14-year-old girl’s.” Is she deliriously anticipating Britney Spears’s comeback album? “No, but I’m not gonna lie that I won’t buy it!” Best at? “Horseback riding.” Worst at? “I just came back from Mammoth Mountain and will never return to any slope. There were three-year-olds on snowboards mocking me and kicking snow in my face.” What’s it like being a redhead in Hollywood? “Not as good as being a blonde.” Last gut-busting laugh? “Sacha’s Golden Globes speech.”
With her packed film roster this year, Fisher is preparing for the spotlight to shine even brighter. So what would she do if a crazed fan, inspired by Borat’s fixation on Pamela Anderson, tried to abduct her in a large sack? She breaks into a broad smile. “It would depend on whether he had a very sexy mustache. If he had a very sexy mustache, I’d be up for it.”