Isla Fisher: Why I’m promoting breastfeeding in the developing world
Isla Fisher leads a glamorous Hollywood life. She lives in a multimillion-dollar home, which she shares with her husband, Borat star Sacha Baron Cohen, and their two daughters, Olive and Elula. When I meet her, she has just returned from a charity trip to Brazil, where she visited breast milk banks as part of a campaign to reduce infant mortality in the developing world.
That must have made for quite a contrast with her normal life? ‘Yes it did but seeing people put themselves out for one another was really inspiring,’ she says. ‘Pumping milk after breastfeeding is extremely tiring but these women have their own babies and were finding time to pump milk and schlep it to a milk bank to give to strangers’ babies. It was very moving.
‘I saw babies in intensive care, which wasn’t easy – no one likes seeing tiny babies being so sick. We met one baby who was two months premature and was being kept alive by the donated breast milk.’
But the actress is not keen on talking about her own children. ‘Motherhood is my favourite topic personally but I don’t like to discuss it professionally because it draws unwarranted attention to my children, who didn’t choose to be in the public eye,’ she says. She is similarly reticent about life with Cohen (pictured left). ‘I don’t talk about my husband but I will say it’s always nice to surround yourself with people who have a similar sense of humour to you – it makes life better. If you can’t laugh, what have you got?’
Who can blame Fisher, 37, for being wary of people prying into her personal life? She’s one of a group of LA-based celebrity mothers who are papped each time they take their children out of the house. She also basked in the glare of the British media spotlight back in the 1990s when she had a short-lived romance with notorious love rat Darren Day. They met on a touring production of musical Summer Holiday – and her career has changed beyond recognition since.
She made a perhaps inauspicious Hollywood debut in 2002’s Scooby-Doo, where she played Shaggy’s girlfriend, but her role in 2005’s Wedding Crashers demonstrated her talents as a comedy actress and opened doors. She says she faced her fair share of rejection in the intervening years.
‘Usually they use the physical thing, “you’re not hot enough” or “you don’t look strong enough to be a superhero”,’ she says. ‘I’ve never been told I’m too tall. If that email ever arrives, I’m framing it,’ laughs 5ft 3in Fisher. ‘I’m very comfortable getting honest feedback. There are a lot of actors out there and you’re either right for a role or you’re not.’
Fisher’s latest role is one of her highest profile to date – in May, she’ll be hitting screens as Myrtle in Baz Luhrmann’s mega-budget adaptation of The Great Gatsby. She describes the experience as a ‘dream come true’ then asks if I’ve read the book. I tell her I haven’t. She is aghast.
‘Would you read it? I promise you’ll like it,’ she says. I say I will, I’ve seen the light. She is unconvinced. ‘I know you haven’t, really. If you haven’t read it before this interview, something tells me you’ll never do it – but I swear you’ll be blown away. You can read it at any point of your life and then re-read it and you’ll find something new. It’s timeless.’
Literature-loving Fisher has written novels herself – she wrote two romance books with her mother before she found fame as anorexic lesbian Shannon Reed on Home And Away. She has also written her own screenplays and recently teamed up with her mother again to write a thriller inspired by ‘those 1990s movies with female protagonists – like The Net with Sandra Bullock or Deceived with Goldie Hawn’.
Don’t expect it to see the light of day though. ‘There was a lot of laughing and gin and tonic involved,’ says Fisher. ‘It was really just for fun.’
I put my foot in it again by asking if working with Luhrmann has ‘raised the bar’ when it comes to choosing her future work. ‘I’d like to think I’ve endeavoured to keep the bar as high as I possibly could,’ she replies. ‘It’s about opportunity. I’ve taken time out to breed and you have to work your way back up. I’ve always tried to work with people who are better than me so I can learn and try to be the best actor I can be.’
She’s certainly done a large variety of work with high-profile performers – she’s written a comedy, Groupies, with Saturday Night Live star Amy Poehler, worked with Johnny Depp on Oscar-winning animated film Rango (‘He treats everyone so kindly and is incredibly funny and relaxed on set, even though he’s the biggest star there, he’s completely generous as a person’) and is about to work with her pal Jennifer Aniston on The Switch, an adaptation of an Elmore Leonard book.
While she’s had a busy year – she also appears in heist movie Now You See Me with Morgan Freeman – she says she chooses work to fit in around her family life, is ‘still in mum mode’ and has never been ‘pre-meditated’ about her career.
‘I’m surprised and gratified and utterly thrilled and appreciative of where I am now – I came from Home And Away,’ she laughs. ‘But what’s the point of having a career trajectory mapped out in your head? I’d rather enjoy the journey.’
Save The Children’s breastfeeding campaign – what is it about?
Save The Children’s latest campaign encourages women in the developing world to breastfeed. Researchers estimate 22 per cent of babies who die in their first month could have survived if they started breastfeeding in the first hour of life.
Donating 75p to the campaign can pay for equipment to clear a baby’s lungs of mucus, £14 pays for a course of antibiotics for a newborn with an infection and £63 can train a midwife.
Isla Fisher visited São Paulo in Brazil, which has halved its infant mortality rate since breastfeeding promotion began in 1981. Breast milk banks exist in every hospital where mothers who can breastfeed donate their milk to those who can’t.
‘I met a 20-year-old student who had a baby boy, was still studying at school, breastfed her own baby then pumped milk to donate to other mothers,’ says Fisher. ‘We don’t want to be inconvenienced by waiting in line for five minutes for a chai latte but here are women with new babies, who are dealing with cooking, cleaning, working, studying and still find time to donate milk to strangers. It’s a big deal and very humbling.’