Interview: Isla Fisher
The last time we spoke to Isla Fisher it was in her native Australia for the romantic comedy Wedding Crashers. In the four years since then Fisher, who cut her teeth playing Shannon TV soap “Home & Away”, has turned into quite the mega-star. She follows up her bravura turn in last year’s “Definitely Maybe” with “Confessions of a Shopaholic”, in which he has the lead role. TIM JOHNSON caught up with the actress in New York.
Q: Is this your own style?
Isla: No, they got me a stylist for the press junket.
Q: Now do you want to have Patricia Field (Costume Designer) every time you walk in your closet?
Isla: That would be amazing.
Q: How did that work, how did you collaborate with her? And how excited were you?
Isla: Yes, very excited, and normally when I’m creating a character, I’m very hands on about every single detail of the character’s wardrobe, but when you’re working with someone like Patricia Fields, with her pedigree, and knowing myself, and that I’m not a fashionista, I really had to sort of take my hands off the wheel so to speak, and trust her, and her choices. Although at times, I was a little shocked by some of the color combinations!
Q: Did she make you try things you would have never thought you would?
Isla: Oh yeah! The first fitting, was twelve hours long, and I lost the will to live at about two hours! We were having conversations about belts that went for 45 minutes… about a belt! I was starting to sweat, I couldn’t handle it at all. Then, as I got used to the process, it was really an education. And I learned all the fabulous lingo that goes with fashion, like ‘transeasonal’, and ‘deconstructed’, and ‘contrasting… flubalala’. And it was really interesting. But I wanted every silhouette of the character to say ‘shopaholic’, and I wanted her in very high heels, because I think there’s nothing funnier than a comedic character tottering, and I love the fact that she’s such a shopaholic, that she buys the most impractical shoe to walk long distances. And I loved all the accessories too, I thought, ‘the bigger, the better’, I just think you wanted it to tell a story, but you didn’t want the costumes to be the joke. But I’ll let her (Patricia Field) talk about the costumes.
Q: Now you read the books before you got sent the screenplay didn’t you?
Isla: I did read the books, I was a big fan of the books, I read them in London, and it was just true escapism. I remember at the time I had no money and I would just read these stories of this girl that was shopping and I loved her voice in the books. It was so kind of clear, and relatable. I love the books.
Q: Did that scare you about doing a film, where you were a fan of the books?
Isla: Absolutely! Terrifying. Imagine how disappointed I would’ve been as a fan of the books if an actress didn’t capture the essence of Rebecca Bloomwood. And then when I found out they were making her American, obviously I had a certain amount of trepidation because it felt like so much of the wit of the book was because she was British and it was set in London. But then once I realized Sophie Kinsella (Author and Associate Producer) was going to be on set every day, and that she had given the film her blessing, and that she was very much the voice on set, I knew that it was gonna be alright.
Q: You looked fab in the movie, and it was shot just a few months after your pregnancy, how did you get in shape so quickly?
Isla: Jerry Bruckheimer hired me a personal trainer, and he came to my house, and he said, ‘OK, you’ve gained 60lbs in pregnancy, I’m gonna need to see you every day’. I said ‘No way are you coming every day!’, so I managed to get him down to a couple of times a week. He said I had a bad attitude. He took it so seriously, he said, ‘What did you eat? What did you eat today?’ And I literally would be hiding cakes behind my back as I’d say, ‘Nothing’. And there was nothing I was allowed to eat. I wasn’t allowed to eat bread, I wasn’t allowed to eat pasta, I wasn’t allowed to eat, like a muffin. There was a list of things that I couldn’t eat. It left nothing. So obviously I was living a double life. I would show up when the trainer came and be like, ‘I just finished my salad!’, and obviously I had not seen a salad. But I would like to think that it was, I honestly think it was breastfeeding that took the weight off. And so I think to all the men who want to get skinny, just breastfeed!
Q: You were breastfeeding during the shoot?
Isla: Yes, I breastfed through the whole movie. Patricia was great about that. All my costumes were breastfeeding-proof. I was able to whip them out. Olive probably knew those costumes better than me!
Q: When did you discover you had a knack for physical comedy?
Isla: People ask me, and I think the reason is that I’m willing! I just think it’s that I’m willing. I had a lot of the ideas for this movie before, about four years ago I thought that it would always be a really funny scene in a movie to see a girl trying to seduce a guy by dancing and thinking she’s really sexy and enchanting, but actually she’s repulsive. So I always wanted to put that in a movie, and none of the characters that I had inhabited before felt goofy enough, but it felt perfect for Rebecca Bloomwood, so I pitched it to P.J. Hogan, the director and he was so open to it. He said, ‘Yeah, I always have dances in my movies, of course!’.
Q: So that was something you injected yourself?
Isla: Yeah, and the same with the letter retrieving scene, which is classic clown, and I went to clown school, so it’s always been a dream of mine to do that really silly through a jacket swinging. So I pitched that to P.J. and he let me do it, and I guess with all physical comedy, the way I work is I just have an idea at home and it sort of percolates and then I think about the execution and then I pitch it to the director and make sure that we’re covering it with the right cameras and then go for it. And the great thing about working on film is if it doesn’t work it just doesn’t end up in the movie.
Q: So you can improvise?
Isla: Yeah, you can muck around. But I did go to theater school in Paris, Jacques Lecoq, where I studied clown and mime and Commedia dell’arte, so I had come from that background.
Q: How long did you stay in Paris?
Isla: I think about a year and a half in the end.
Q: Comedy is obviously a natural flair for you, is that where you see your career headed?
Isla: I don’t know, I’m open to, why I choose a project is more about the filmmaker and the role, rather than the genre. But I personally sit through a bad drama and it doesn’t affect me, but I can’t sit through a bad comedy, it really stresses me out. So I definitely feel comedy is more difficult in some ways. But yeah, I enjoy it more.
Q: How do you think your character would react with the economic recession right now?
Isla: Oh gosh, well you know I’ve been asked a lot about whether or not this is the right time for the movie to come out and I do think that although we conceived this movie during a different economic period, that actually it feels pretty relevant and topical and that it is a redemption story and that the lesson that Becky Bloomwood learns is a lesson we’re all learning today, so I think it’s a good time for the film to come out.
Q: Because Sarah Jessica Parker said that she thinks Carrie Bradshaw would end up in hospital in these economic times. Do you think your character would do the same?
Isla: I think it would be the mental hospital.
Q: Are you afraid of this movie changing the attention you get from the paparazzi, now you’re the leading lady?
Isla: You know, all I can do is not discuss, you know motherhood is my favorite topic personally, but just not talk about motherhood professionally and not talk about my private life or my relationship professionally. And there’s nothing else really I can do to safeguard it. But I don’t want to complain, because I’m extremely lucky and I love my job and I’m incredibly grateful to be in this position.
Q: And it works, because we don’t see you a whole lot in the magazines.
Isla: Thank you. That’s a compliment, thank you! I try really hard.
Q: How is it to see yourself on billboards all over town?
Isla: It’s very unnerving. It used to be that little Chihuahua, from Beverly Hills Chihuahua, and now it’s me! You know, I did drive by a poster, and I saw Brad Pitt, then Cate Blanchett and then… me. And I thought, ‘What! How am I on a poster?’ Somebody gave me a movie! I think I owe Jerry Bruckheimer a lot. It was very kind of him.
Q: Did making a movie that originated from a book, inspire you to go back to writing? Is that something you would explore again?
Isla: I love writing and I definitely am, Amy Poehler and I wrote a treatment for a movie called ‘Groupies’ about two over-confident dumb-dumbs who chase a band, not dissimilar to Creed and believe the romantic feelings for them are reciprocated when actually the band has a restraining order out on them. So we had a great time writing that, and I still rewrite a lot of my lines, much to the distress of everybody that works with me. And I think that’s kind of fulfilling the writing urge in me right now.
Q: It’s tackled in a fun way, the addiction groups, but did you attend any sessions?
Isla: Yeah I did attend some Underearners & Overspenders Anonymous groups. And I learned there were so many different styles of shopping. There’s image shopping, people that pick up the tab and do really visible stuff, collector shoppers and bulimic shoppers and bargain shoppers and image and trophy shoppers.
Q: It’s like an underworld.
Isla: Yeah, but that’s sort of sad, rather than funny. And I don’t really want to focus on that, because the movie’s just meant to be great, escapist fun.
Q: What did you learn about addiction while making the movie?
Isla: I was surprised by how people’s lives become unmanageable and how painful it can be, and Rebecca Bloomwood certainly learns the hard way about how being creative with the truth can get you in hot water. But personally, I try not to judge my characters.
Q: Do you know girls like her?
Isla: Yes, I do. I have a really close friend who is a shopaholic. It’s really bad actually, she’s a real shopaholic. But she’s not anymore obviously, she’s learned to curb her ways, but she was so excited I was doing this movie, she rang me up every day almost wanting to talk about it.
Q: Did you keep any costume?
Isla: No I didn’t keep anything from the movie. When I first started filming, I loved the costumes so much and I was so excited and I imagined keeping them. Then, by the end of filming I was really happy to see the end of them. They represented a lot of early mornings!
Q: Was wearing the clothes as glamorous as it looks on screen?
Isla: Yeah, particularly for someone like me who doesn’t wear clothes like that, I mean the whole experience and the pageantry of getting ready for that character – you know my hair was curled, my eyelashes were curled, I had makeup on, and then I was adorned with all these fabulous costumes and baubles and accessories and it was really like playing dress ups, it was great fun.
Q: How long did you spend on costume every time you went on set?
Isla: My hair was really long, and they had to like, wash it in the morning, I think it was about an hour and a half.
Q: What time would you get up?
Isla: Every morning? Oh, it depends on what the location was, but I would want to say between 4:30 and 5:30.
Q: Because of the fittings and changing?
Isla: No just because you know I’d never been the lead in a movie before, obviously there’s the fear that goes along with being responsible for the tone of the film, then there’s the actual physical endurance side, and that was sort of like running a marathon. You have to eat every couple of hours…
Q: And you were breastfeeding!
Q: You mentioned you went to clown school, what made you want to study that?
Isla: Because Geoffrey Rush, who’s one of my favorite actors went there, and Emma Thompson had gone there and was really interested in clowning and I loved Comedie-Francaise, and I really wanted to study in Paris too, it felt very exciting, and it was just the greatest experience. And actually, I was the last year to work with Lecoq, who discovered Commedia dell’arte, and brought it from a little Italian village to what we know today. And he actually died the year after I left, so I feel even more blessed that I got to learn from him.
Q: What about working with Hugh Dancy, you have a great chemistry together.
Isla: Thank you. I really liked working with Hugh for many reasons. Firstly, he approached the movie as if it was a dramatic movie. So he grounded the scenes and provided, in my opinion, the heart of the film, and it allowed me to tap in to my inner idiot even more because I was safe, there was someone who was always gonna be sensible in the scene. And I thought he really brought Luke Brandon as I’d read him in the books, to life. I think he’s really talented and really professional and really low maintenance and just a nice guy I guess. He paid me to say that.
Q: Have you got any other roles in the pipeline?
Isla: I just am working on an animated movie at the moment with Johnny Depp, Gore Verbinski‘s directing it, called Rango.
Q: Do you know what character you’ll be playing?
Isla: I do, I’m playing ‘Lizard’. But I’m from the south, so I talk like this (in a South Western American accent). I make a really tough little lizard.
Q: Are you going to be working directly with Johnny Depp?
Isla: No, yep Usually when you work on an animated movie, it’s really sterile, you know, you’re in a booth on your own, just with the director. But the way he’s shooting this movie is that he’s shooting it like a real movie. So we’re all on stage, Bill Nighy is in it, Abigail Breslin, and we’re all acting on stage and he’s shooting it. So then you go in to the sound booth and record your voice, so you have the memory of the emotions in the scene in your voice, rather than just having to conjure them up out of thin air.
Q: A lot of women have the dream to have a little girl, so they can dress them up like dolls, you know, go shopping with them. Was that something you were looking forward to?
Isla: I don’t want to talk about motherhood I’m sorry.
Q: What would be your biggest fashion disaster?
Isla: Oh god, there are so many. Oh my gosh.
Q: Have you tried on the green mankini from Borat?
Isla: (laughs) That is the greatest fashion disaster of all time, for anyone, that green thing. I think that amongst one of my fashion faux pas was, I wore what I thought was a beautiful chocolate silk dress to my year twelve dance, and I remember my date showed up, and he was like, ‘What? You look like poo, have you been rubbed in poo?’ And I wanted him to say anything but that. And then I did look in the mirror, and the color brown was not that flattering. I shouldn’t have told that story. I really regret it. Using the word ‘poo’ in a sentence is so inappropriate at a press junket!
Q: Did the movie change your shopping habits?
Isla: I shop rarely and poorly. But if anything, we did a lot of the shooting of the shopping stuff at night. We would go to Bendel’s, or Barney’s and shoot all night. So there would be no one in the store. And actually when you’re in a store when there’s nobody else there, it’s actually quite magical. You know, the way the cabinets light up. So I sort of had a new appreciation for shopping. Because I think I just don’t like the crowds and the bustle of a store normally.
Q: How did you find shooting in New York City?
Isla: Oh that was amazing. New York City was an amazing place to shoot. I mean everything one says about New York sounds like a cliche so I don’t want to embellish on it. But, I had a great time. And even the paparazzi, who were there every day, you know, they just were cooler. You know?
Q: You grew up in Perth, Australia. How has your life changed since coming to America.
Isla: My life’s changed in so many ways , personally and professionally since I… I never really moved to America. I actually got cast in Australia for a movie that was American, and then I shot it in Australia, in Queensland, and I went to Los Angeles to promote it, and took a meeting, and from that meeting, got another movie. So I didn’t make the conscious decision. And I don’t really live in America, I live in London.
Q: Do you think you’ll come back to Australia?
Isla: I’d love to go back to Australia. I’d love to go back to Australia. I like to think that I’ll end up there.
Q: So what are the things you miss from home?
Isla: Actually I have my Australian passport with me, and I was gazing at the cover of it. What do I miss from home? All the usual things. My family, my friends, the smell of suncream, the burgers that you get, the organic burgers in Bondi, you know smoothies. Food just tastes better. The air, the beach, I mean, the sand, the creatures.
Q: Do you miss Home & Away?
Isla: Umm, no. Definitely not. I do not miss that.
Q: Have you seen ‘Australia’ the movie?
Q: Did you like it?
Isla: Yes. I think it’s visually incredible.
Q: You said you’re not a big shopaholic.
Q: When you shop, where do you go?
Isla: I love book stores. I spend a lot of time in book stores, and I love cook books, at the moment I’ve got loads of cook books. I love to cook. And I love hardware stores. I think they’re just really exciting. I think a hardware store can be really fun. You know there’s paint, and plants and umbrellas, and deck furniture, drills.
Q: Do you do your own home improvements?
Isla: Yeah I try to, but because of my height, sometimes it’s difficult. There’s nothing like trying to put up a picture when you’re my height.
Q: Just going back to the weight you said you had to lose, how much did you have to lose?
Isla: I think I gained 60lbs.
Q: So you got rid of it all?
Isla: Yeah. Actually I don’t know if I got rid of it all. I don’t have scales. I don’t know what I weigh to be honest. Is that bad?
Q: No, it’s very Aussie!
Isla: No, I was very grateful to Jerry Bruckheimer for getting me the trainer because it was important for the characters, given she’s someone who’s focused on fashion and has such a passion for it, that the clothes sat right. They actually put me in this great Spanx too. Do you know what Spanx are? They’re amazing. They hurt, you can’t breathe. They’re this long lycra bodysuit that like, holds you in. Yeah, you cannot breathe, and you can’t go to the bathroom, but it’s worth it!
Q: Did you go to Patricia Field’s shop here in New York?
Isla: I didn’t get the chance to. I know, I’d love to. Patricia was amazing, she found all sorts of stuff from Japan. She’s really an artist too.
Q: How did you two get along?
Isla: Great, she used to make me laugh. She’s like ‘Hi Isla, how are you?’ (in a deep, drawn New Yorker’s accent).’ She was good fun. She has a great sense of humor about what she does. And she doesn’t make any fashion decisions based on fear. You know, a lot of people talk about ‘You can’t wear that, that will be in the bad dressed list’, she’s like ‘If you like it, wear it!’.
Q: So what are you going to wear tonight (to the premiere)?
Isla: Matthew Williamson.
Q: Did she advise you to wear that?
Isla: No, I haven’t got to see Pat, we’ve both been involved in promoting the movie, it’s been crazy. But I’m looking forward to seeing her. She’s really interesting and smart.
Q: Do you think Hollywood is too focused on body image?
Isla: Yeah, absolutely. I remember one of the most influential books I read when I was pretty young was ‘The Beauty Myth’ by Naomi Wolf, and I think that really altered the way that I see the body image and now, I don’t want to talk about motherhood, but being a mother, the time that it takes to wax, prim, pluck, curl, shave, bleach, I mean, that’s time you can’t get back.
Q: How would you describe yourself?
Isla: Oh, I don’t know. Small.
Q: Thanks so much Isla.
Isla: Thank you.