MoviesOnline – March 1st 2007

Isla Fisher Interview, The Lookout

MoviesOnline talked to actress Isla Fisher recently about her new film, “The Lookout,” which marks Academy Award-nominated screenwriter Scott Frank’s (“Out of Sight”) directorial debut. The intelligent crime drama focuses on Chris Pratt (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, “Mysterious Skin”), a once promising high school athlete whose life is turned upside down following a tragic car accident. The traumatic event leaves him with a faulty memory and an unreliable sense of self that makes even everyday situations challenging. Unable to make it on his own, he lives with his mentor in navigating this surreal life – the wisecracking, fiercely independent blind man, Lewis (Jeff Daniels, “The Squid and the Whale”). For a job, Chris sweeps the floor at the bank in the small midwestern town where he lives, waiting for his halted life to come unstuck.

Things suddenly shift when he meets Gary Spargo (Matthew Goode, “Match Point”), an old school acquaintance and street philosopher who begins to revive Chris’s shattered confidence, even helping him find a girlfriend – albeit a stripper named Luvlee Lemons (Isla Fisher, “Wedding Crashers”). But Gary has bigger plans, and when he recruits Chris into his grand scheme to rob the bank where he works, Chris appears to be in way over his damaged head.

Far from your standard villains, Gary Spargo and the stripper Luvlee Lemons are complicated people with their own quirks, foibles and stories to tell. Gary might see Chris Pratt as expendable, but even so, he winds up expanding Chris’s horizons, especially when he introduces him to his stripper friend and partner-in-crime, Luvlee Lemons, whose mission is to seduce Chris.

It was a stand out audition that convinced Scott Frank to cast Isla Fisher. “We met with lots and lots of young women – it was a hard job but somebody had to do it!” laughs Frank. “And then Isla came in and just lit up the room and was so clearly right for the part. We also had her read with Joe and they had great chemistry together. What I loved is that Isla brought a more childlike character to Luvlee. Her whole approach was that she didn’t want to play a femme fatale — instead, she wanted to play someone who was more naïve, who didn’t really want to be aware of what was going to happen to Chris.”

Fisher explains her take on Luvlee: “There’s a pathos and a mystery to her that I think makes her really beautiful. I see her as a people pleaser, someone who basically operates only through her heart and doesn’t filter anything through her head. Mostly she likes to feel needed and wanted, so she wants to fit in with Gary and his gang. But she’s cultivated more childish innocence than worldly smarts. She’s so in the moment that she was a lot of fun to play and it was especially interesting to play a character like that reacting to people who are brain damaged and blind.”

In her seduction of Chris Pratt, Luvlee actually starts to fall for him, although that was never the plan. “I think she’s attracted to Chris because he doesn’t really have any sense of identity and she can relate to that,” Fisher explains. “Really, they have a beautiful little love affair and I think they each gain a lot from each other.”

Fisher loved working with Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Jeff Daniels and Matthew Goode but most of all, her heart belonged where all the cast seemed to have theirs – with Scott Frank’s writing. “I was often pinching myself on set, realizing that I was going to get to say these incredible words. I loved every minute,” she sums up.

Isla Fisher is most widely recognized for her critically acclaimed performance as Vince Vaughn’s off-kilter love interest in last summer’s blockbuster “Wedding Crashers.” Isla first appeared stateside in the Warner Brothers’ live action feature “Scooby Doo” in 2002. She also made a splash in Fox Searchlight’s “I Heart Huckabees” for director David O. Russell and recently wrapped the independent “The Pleasure of Your Company,” directed by Michael Ian Black and co-starring Jason Biggs.

Born in the Middle East country of Oman, Isla’s family moved to the small city of Perth in Western Australia when she was a young girl. At the age of nine, Isla was already appearing in commercials broadcast on Australian television. She then became best known for her role as “Shannon Reed” in the popular soap “Home & Away,” which also helped launch the careers of Guy Pearce, Naomi Watts and Heath Ledger. While working on the set of “Home & Away,” she also found the time to write and release two best selling teen-themed novels.

Isla Fisher is always surprising and known for putting a distinctive mark on whatever character she plays. We really appreciated her time. Here’s what she had to tell us about her new film and the unique challenges it presented:

Q: So how did you rate this role? Is this an unusual one compared to the parts that you’ve played?

Isla Fisher: Definitely. I read the script and this is a role I instantly had to audition for. This is a role I knew where I would be up against huge obstacles to get being a comedic actress, or at least being that way in the marketplace, and knowing there were X number of very celebrated, serious and better comic actresses, going in. So, it was one of those situations where I read the script and thought, “This is the take. I don’t want to play the cliché femme fatale. I don’t want to come in and be the woman with the sexual appetite, who wants to take down this man. I want to come in and make her this big beating heart, and innocent — a woman who has no identity, who knows the man she’s with, who doesn’t have an agenda.” Because every character in the script has an agenda. I thought how interesting if Luvlee doesn’t have one — if she’s a victim of her own kindness. So, that was my starting point. And, I did a little bit of work and went in there and thought, “They’ll either like it or hate it,” and I was lucky that Scott totally loved it.

Q: Did you build your own back story because I was never clear if she was Gary’s girlfriend or how she got involved in this whole thing?

Isla Fisher: Yeah, I built my own back story. I think she was Gary’s girlfriend, but I think he was more a paternal figure to her — someone who took care of her. I think, again, she’s someone who would see being a girlfriend as . . . She’s the type of woman who would want to just please him and just belong. She’s someone who never belonged. But, I do think her feelings for Chris Pratt became genuine. I mean, that’s how I wanted to play it. That was the most challenging for me.

Q: Were you surprised that she left him because she seemed to be so taken by him?

Isla Fisher: Well, there were other options. At one stage, there was one scene where she warned him, but I was very against that ‘cause, while she warned him, she knows. I wanted to leave it more enigmatic. What does Luvlee know? She leaves him because she’s scared. The thing that was taken out of the film was that I had a massive bruise on my face because I had been beaten by Gary, which is why I essentially leave, but that was taken out.

Q: After you did “The Wedding Crashers,” was there something where you felt like you wanted to take on a specific big role like this?

Isla Fisher: No, I don’t have a plan like that because I think that’s a very scary way to live your life, in any area. And so, I just read the material. I’m attracted to good dialogue, and Scott’s dialogue is just incredible. You read great dialogue and you think, “Oh, please let me say this,” instead of half the time when you’re reading, you think, “How would I even deliver that line? Who would say that line?”

Q: You’re dealing with a blind guy and a brain damaged guy. Did you study these kind of people?

Isla Fisher: No, because I didn’t want her to have any experience. That was her charm. I wanted her to see this blind guy for the first time, reach out and touch him, and have no clue how to . . . You know, the best thing about acting with people with impediments — people with brain damage, or who are blind — is that you, in a weird way, are so much less exposed. Jeff’s not looking at you, he’s looking around, and Joe is looking through you. In a weird way, there’s less intimacy, which I found easier. I can’t explain why. Just as a performer, I felt it was easier to tap into my emotions, and much more relaxing than the full intimacy of another actor playing [directly to you]. I really loved it.

Q: So how did you and Joe work in rehearsals?

Isla Fisher: That’s what was great about Scott. I’m not a big fan of over-working something till you know exactly who’s going to do what, at what time. We worked in a way that we discussed our back stories and how our characters felt about . . . just the history of everything. Then we kind of read things in a really gentle way and felt around them, but there was not the pressure of final product. I didn’t make any decisions in rehearsal that I knew I’d have to stick to on the day, and I left it so that my imagination was still alert, alive and excited by filming, instead of sometimes thinking, “We rehearsed for hours and I probably did it a thousand ways, and now I think that’s a wrap.” It just takes away the hunger, for me. Not all the time, but sometimes.

Q: Regarding the scene where Jeff Daniels’ character tells you he was blinded by looking at the sun too long, what did you think your character’s reaction says about her?

Isla Fisher: Well, that was interesting. That was a comedic choice that I made, that I thought, “They’ll never put that in.” That scene, to me, was like a good joke that I did on that day, to amuse myself. I did other versions of that. But, the thing in the movie, I think worked really well. I mean, you know she’s not the brightest spark in the shed — is that the term? The sharpest tool in the shed? But, that’s really confirmed in that little moment, and I think it’s very endearing. But, I suppose it’s what you took away from it.

Q: Did you hate it?

Isla Fisher: Oh, no, I didn’t hate it. Up until that point, I didn’t think she was that clueless because she is kind of part of the mastermind plan. Well, that’s something interesting about this character. Everybody feels very differently about her. And, I can see when I’m talking about her with certain journalists, that people feel that it’s not what they saw, and I think that’s what’s great about the movie.

Q: Do you think she actually knows what’s going on?

Isla Fisher: No, I think she finds out when she sees the guns. I think she could possibly know somewhere inside her, but she’s just one of those classic characters who is in denial and goes about their lives without thinking . . .

Q: In your opinion, do you think she goes back to him in the end?

Isla Fisher: No, no, no. I hope not.

Q: But, she does feel guilt?

Isla Fisher: Yes. She definitely feels guilt.

Q: Did you have to do a certain scene with Joe where you were auditioning? You did audition for the part?

Isla Fisher: Yes. We did the scene where she tells him about seeing him at the hockey game, and I had one of those defined moments where his shoe lace just came undone during the audition, which is such a blessing because, if you get the opportunity to do something real within the structure of a fake scene, it just connects you to the reality of the truth of the scene. So, his shoe lace came undone and I was able to be really maternal and loving with him, and do it up very gently. I think that was what really helped my angle on the character.

Q: Are you still writing, and how did those teenage novels happen?

Isla Fisher: I’m not writing Trashy Chick Lit anymore. [Laughs] I did write with Amy Poehler this treatment called ‘Groupies,’ which is a great female driven comedy that we set up at Paramount. And, since then, I developed another project called ‘Cookie Clean’ that we set up at Universal — not with Amy, but a couple of male writers. So, I’m still being creative and moving more into production, and making sure I have a little bit more power and control over my career.

Q: But the books did okay, didn’t they?

Isla Fisher: Yeah, they did really well, at that time, for me.

Q: And, this was in Australia?

Isla Fisher: Yeah. Writing is great, but you guys all know it’s also a bit anti-social. Not anti-social, but you’re alone in a room. It’s isolating. I’ve discovered that with age. I was very young when I wrote, and I wrote with my mother, so it was more collaborative, and I had a lot of help. I really love creating characters and I love following a structure. It’s exciting, writing. Acting, you’re told where to stand, what to say and you’re always being cut out of the exciting bit, where you could go anywhere and do anything with any character. Ultimately, I’m too gregarious.

Q: How old were you?

Isla Fisher: I started when I was 18 with my first book. But, before that, I was always in special writing classes after school, and I had always written. My mom wrote, and I had always wanted to be a writer. But, then I just realized that I liked to play dress up too.

Q: Does being close with Sacha Baron Cohen and his improv style help you when you’re writing with Amy Poehler?

Isla Fisher: No. It’s totally different things.

Q: It is all improv, though.

Isla Fisher: Yeah. But, with all writing, you think on the spot, really, and then you go back and make sure it all fits together. Amy and I wrote a lot of the structure and a lot of the gags, but we hired another writer, Erica Rivinoja — this really talented female writer who came in and wrote the actual script — so there wasn’t as many jokes written as there was just making sure that we girls got to be funny for once, and we didn’t stand there while some boy made a joke.

Q: Did any of that Thanksgiving scene in this movie get tossed around and added on the spot? Or, was that all written in the script?

Isla Fisher: No, a lot of that was improvised. But, Scott Frank’s dialogue reads like it really is happening. It’s not the same clunky stuff you normally read.

Q: Who was that old guy in the house?

Isla Fisher: Who Bones steers away? Supposedly, it was his farmhouse. It’s unclear. You know what? You have to ask Scott Frank that. It’s either a home invasion, or it’s somebody’s distant relative who they kind of know. Whatever happens, you know that guy does not know what’s going on. That actor was so great.

Q: What was it like, working with Matthew?

Isla Fisher: Matthew’s hilarious.

Q; This is a different role for him?

Isla Fisher: Yeah, and he did a great job, didn’t he? He’s so charismatic. Matthew is similar to me, in the fact that we’re not method actors. Joe stayed in character, and had to. He had to isolate himself, in a way, in order to play such a challenging character, not that he did so at dinners in the evening. He’s the loveliest guy. I would at least stay vocally in character through the day, just to keep my American accent up. But, Matthew’s hilarious because one moment he would be Gary, this mean, hard, charismatic, dark guy, and then you’d cut and he’d be this charming English, happy guy. He was two very different people, every day.

Q: Even though you don’t have a goal, in terms of your career, when you look back at the earlier stages of your career, was Hollywood a goal for you?

Isla Fisher: No. I know that a lot of Australians come out to the States with those ambitions, but weirdly enough, I only came out on the back of ‘Scooby Doo’ — for the premiere of ‘Scooby Doo.’ And then, I ended up getting representation and ended up getting a job, almost straight away. So, I was fortunate, in that I didn’t have to come out to L.A. and join a queue of however many people, and try to get work. I came in on the back of what was deemed a big studio movie that had had extraordinary success.

Q: Are you happy living here?

Isla Fisher: I don’t really live here. I live 50% of the time in London and Europe.

Q: But, you grew up in Perth, which is the most isolated city in Australia. Was it different growing up there, than growing up in Melbourne or Sydney or Canberra?

Isla Fisher: I don’t know. I didn’t grow up in those other places. But, I definitely think that Perth was a very isolated place to live. But, I had a great upbringing. I rode horses and had a very outdoorsy life, that I don’t know if I would have had the same opportunity to have in Sydney or Melbourne.

Q: You were born in Oman?

Isla Fisher: Yeah.

Q: How long did you live there?

Isla Fisher: I lived there for 9 months, just till I was 9 months old.

Q: Did Sacha talk to you about his honor at the Israeli Film Festival last week?

Isla Fisher: I was coming and then, at the last minute, we had family in town and I had to look after them. He was very honored to accept that. His mother’s Israeli.

Q: Can you talk about the plot of the film you wrote with Amy Poehler?

Isla Fisher: It’s essentially two girls who . . . It’s a little like ‘Dumb and Dumber’ with two women. We’re these really deluded, over-confident, dumb dumbs who fall in love with the band, and we believe that they share the same love for us. [Laughs] And, we run their fan club. It’s called ‘Groupies,’ and we are the world’s worst groupies, but we think that we are king of the mountain.

Q: Why are you the worst groupies?

Isla Fisher: We’re the worst groupies because we never get into the VIP section, even though we’ve been going for 15 years. The band has restraining orders out on us and we have no idea. We think that they love us. It’s a classic, very broad comedy idea.

Q: What’s your own relationship with groupies? Do you have really rabid fans out there that you’ve had odd experiences with?

Isla Fisher: No. During ‘Wedding Crashers,’ I had a lot of women come up to me and say, “Your character in that movie is exactly the same as me. It’s so good to see it.” And, I was like, “Okay!” That was the only thing that was interesting to me — how many women really related to Gloria. When I was reading Gloria, she was so absurdly mad, it was amazingly funny. That’s where all the comedy came from. So, to meet people who proudly owned those characteristics was definitely amusing.

Q: When will your own wedding take place?

Isla Fisher: I don’t know yet.

Q: No plans?

Isla Fisher: Not yet.

Q: Well, congratulations.

Isla Fisher: Thank you!

Q: Are there any plans for you guys to work together?

Isla Fisher: I don’t see why not. There’s no plans, but I think all couples really end up collaborating on things anyway. We help each other out. I happen to love reading scripts, so I do a lot of script reading. [Laughs] But, yeah, I don’t see why not.

Q: Are you ever concerned with how much he puts himself out there? Are you ever concerned, when he’s filming on location?

Isla Fisher: I guess it’s like anyone who has a relationship with someone who does things that create situations. I try not to think about it.

Q: Joseph said that when you came on the set in Winnipeg, it had a whole different feel to it.

Isla Fisher: There were no women.

Q: What did you bring to it?

Isla Fisher: There were a lot of men, and it was just me. I’m lucky I grew up with brothers, so I’m very comfortable in that role. And, I definitely got very good at pool. My pool got better.

Q: Is it a different experience for you than going onto a set that has more women?

Isla Fisher: I think it always depends on the men. Nobody in this movie had that frat boy humor that isolated women. There was no misogynism. That can happen in movies where the boy’s club happens, and it’s very isolating. I’ve definitely experienced that. But, that wasn’t the case. Every man in this movie, starting with the captain of the ship, Scott Frank, is extraordinarily intelligent and sensitive and respectful of all human beings. So, I never really felt any different from anyone else.

Q: Do you think you were accepted as one of the guys, or do you think they held you in more esteem because you were the only female on the set?

Isla Fisher: I don’t know. No, ‘cause Tinsel [Korey] worked with me a lot — the girl who plays Maura in the movie. So, she was with me and we all spent a lot of time [together]. I’ve got to say, I don’t really know how they saw me. It definitely didn’t stand out to me. It’s only now, that you mention it, that it does dawn on me that I was the only girl.

Q: Were you a better pool player than some of the guys?

Isla Fisher: Hell, yeah. I’m from Perth. [Laughs] Misspent youth.

Q: What’s your next project?

Isla Fisher: I have a movie called ‘Hot Rod.’ And then, after that, I have a movie called ‘Definitely, Maybe’ with Rachel Weisz and Abigail Breslin.

Q: How was it working with Andy Samberg [on ‘Hot Rod’]?

Isla Fisher: I haven’t seen the movie yet. I’m very excited to see it. I think I’m going to get to see the movie either this week or next week, so I’m very excited.

“The Lookout” opens in theaters on March 30th.