Actress Isla Fisher spins some kooky-sexy magic in this month’s Confessions of a Shopaholic, celebrating the unique style of New York fashionistas. And, as Hollywood’s brightest new star, she bewitchingly moves beyond her identity as Borat’s plus-one.
Hollywood redheads are either Ritas or Lucys. That is, they’re either gorgeous but unlikely to make you laugh (Rita Hayworth, Julianne Moore), or they’re hilarious but, as a piggish casting executive might say, not “doable” (Lucille Ball, Kathy Griffin).
But Isla Fisher breaks the mold. Rushing into L.A.’s Chateau Marmont, the actress skids to a stop (you can hear the cartoon brakes). “I’m sooo sorry I’m late,” she says, grinning, arms spread wide. “Let’s hug it out.” And with that—a move both comical and adorable—she shows she’s part Rita and Lucille. And why all of Hollywood (including her fiancé and baby daddy, Sacha Baron Cohen, a.k.a. Borat) is smitten.
After supporting roles in Scooby-Doo, Wedding Crashers and Definitely, Maybe, the 33-year-old is starring in her first huge movie: Confessions of a Shopaholic, the film version of the chick-lit best seller. Isla plays Rebecca Bloomwood, a stylish but klutzy NYC girl who lands a job as a financial journalist to support her shopping addiction and falls in love with a wealthy entrepreneur (Hugh Dancy). It’s a romantic comedy, but also a fashionista’s dream. The fashion-forward looks scream live it up—including Isla’s favorite, a white Vivienne Westwood suit with a vintage belt, Alexander McQueen heels and a giant anchor necklace—and could make the character the next Carrie Bradshaw.
Sipping on a giant latte, with a 40-foot Confessions billboard just outside on Sunset Boulevard, Isla explains what drew her to Rebecca. “As a female lead, you’re usually the straight one, and everybody else around you gets to be crazy. It was great to see a female who’s eccentric, deluded and comedic.”
Patricia Field, the kooky-genius stylist behind Sex and the City, created the movie’s over-the-top ensembles, which range from a hot-pink skirt worn over rainbow tulle and topped with a leopard fur coat to a blue poufy party dress, purple belt, orange gloves, yellow bag and plaid cape. (“The character’s got 20 coats in 20 colors. I’ve never worked on a movie with such liberal financing!” Pat says. “I found Isla to be flirty and fetching, with a twinkle in her eye. She’s petite and cute, but has a sexy Cheshire cat quality that inspired me to dress her the way I did.”) Says Isla, “I wanted Becky to walk that line between high-fashion and girl-next-door. I’d see the clothes and think, ‘I’m not gonna wear a red hat, green gloves and yellow socks.’ But then Pat would put them on me, and I was transformed. I also wanted Becky to wear ridiculously high heels, so she would totter, like she could fall over at any point.”
The actress always looks elegant on the red carpet, and recalls with a dreamy look a “whimsical, romantic, pale-pink Chanel dress” she wore to the 2005 Wedding Crashers premiere. As far as style influences, she name-checks the new first lady. “I’m obsessed with Michelle Obama. She looks gorgeous in anything and has an innately cool sense of style.” But while a list of her favorite designers includes Prada, Calvin Klein, Lanvin, Marc Jacobs and Vivienne Westwood, Isla insists she is nothing like the style-obsessed shopaholic she plays. “I shop rarely and poorly. I don’t follow fashion or trends. If I’m going to a premiere, I put on killer heels, but never during the day. You’ll never see me in the front row at Fashion Week,” she swears. “Playing [a shopaholic], I felt like a kid in a candy store.” And she recognizes the potential weirdness of having a film that celebrates credit card culture hit theaters right now. “Obviously this movie was conceived during a different economic period. It is a strange time for it to come out, but I hope it’s an escape.”
Today, Isla’s style is low-key hipster: fringed suede booties from Anthropologie, J Brand jeans, a T-shirt from Sienna Miller’s line Twenty8Twelve and an Alice & Olivia jacket. She pulls out the waistband of her jeans: “Oh, and my underpants are American Apparel. I’m so happy I’m wearing them today,” she laughs. “Most of my wardrobe is from Forever 21, although lately they’ve been turning the music up really loud, and I find myself feeling old around all those young people. I’ve got an Abba T-shirt that I’ve had since I was 8. It still fits. I also have a few pieces from Target from when I was pregnant that I still wear all the time.”
In an industry where everyone seems six inches shorter and 40 pounds lighter than they appear on screen, 5’3″, size zero Isla is truly tiny—in fact, a child inherits her hand-me-downs. “My friend’s daughter, who’s 8, gets all the clothes I buy but never wear,” she admits, adding, “I’m embarrassed that I’m that small.” Her physique, she explains apologetically, is mostly the result of genes. “I never work out. I just don’t enjoy it. I gained 60 pounds during my pregnancy, so [producer] Jerry Bruckheimer hired me a trainer for Confessions of a Shopaholic. But the trainer said I had a bad attitude. He told me I was genetically blessed because I’m little, but he did warn me that it was gonna catch up with me. I didn’t feel self-conscious about my body until I had a baby, and now I think, ‘Thank God there’s a photograph of my thighs when they looked like that.’ ”
Growing up in Perth, Australia, with Scottish parents (Dad was a banker; Mom was an amateur actress and writer) and four brothers, Isla became interested in acting. “I’d be backstage before Mom went on, and I felt the adrenaline of costumes being put on and lighting being rigged. That’s when I got bitten by the bug. Then I saw Ann-Margret in the Elvis movie Viva Las Vegas, and I’d never seen a redhead [onscreen] before. That made me think, ‘Wow, maybe I can be an actress.’?”
When Isla was 9, she began appearing in TV commercials, including a spot for the local lottery. “I was wearing the worst outfit: a Hawaiian shirt tucked into high-waisted safari shorts,” she remembers, shaking her head. “I was so excited—I laid that outfit out the night before!” In 1993, at age 17, she landed a role on the Australian soap opera Paradise Beach. From 1994 to 1997, she played a home-wrecking lesbian on the Aussie soap Home and Away (alums include Heath Ledger and Naomi Watts). She wrote two teen romance novels (Seduced by Fame and Bewitched) in her early twenties and then moved to Paris to take clown and mime classes at the Jacques Lecoq International Theatre School. After Paris, she did theater in London, and was cast in what she jokingly calls “the Academy Award-nominated” Hollywood movie Scooby-Doo. The rub? She had to dye her hair blond. “It looked horrible. But I did get more honks when I would walk down the street.”
Isla’s star was rising and she moved to Los Angeles to pursue her dream, but there were hiccups. “I once auditioned to play a businesswoman, and I dressed in an ’80s blazer with shoulder pads,” she says, laughing. “There was a panel of people, and I thought it would look impressive if I used their paperwork as props. So I was rummaging around on their desks during my monologue, and their faces were like, ‘Do not touch my f–king stuff, you crazy actress!’?” (She didn’t get the part.)
In 2002, she began dating Sacha Baron Cohen, the British comic known by alter-egos Borat, the scatological Kazakhstani TV reporter; Bruno, the superficial Austrian fashion expert; and Ali G, the thug-wannabe talk-show host who pummels important people with stupid questions. They became engaged in 2004 and she converted to Judaism for their upcoming marriage. Sacha also helped Isla realize she was on the wrong path. “I had been going for dramatic roles, so I’d pace around trying to learn serious dialogue. And I’m just not a serious person. Finally Sacha said to me, ‘You’re the funniest girl. You should be doing comedies.'”
At long last, in 2005, she landed the breakout role of Gloria, a bipolar nymphomaniac, alongside Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson in Wedding Crashers. Among her onscreen duties: Shagging Vince on the beach, molesting Vince on a toilet and tying Vince up and having her way with him. A less endearing actress might have made the “stage-five clinger” seem sleazy, but Isla turned Gloria into the most lovable sex maniac in cinematic history.
On set, Isla soaked up as much as possible from Vince and Owen. “I appointed Vince as my mentor and studied him. He’s brilliant at improvising.” She learned that just because you’re an A-lister doesn’t mean you have to be an a-hole. “My limited experience has been that the higher up you go—like Dustin Hoffman or Clint Eastwood—the more good-natured and full of humility you are,” she says. “Vince and Owen have good attitudes and are nice people. And yet, you meet someone [from] a reality show and they’re rude.”
Now living in the Hollywood Hills with daughter Olive, born in October 2007, Isla and Sacha have become one of the town’s most popular power couples. They vacationed in Hawaii last summer with Tobey Maguire and his wife, Jennifer Meyer, and Courteney Cox and David Arquette. Meanwhile, Jennifer Aniston, Ellen DeGeneres, Portia de Rossi, Ben Stiller and Christine Taylor came to Olive’s birthday party.
Sacha is famous for very rarely being interviewed as himself (as opposed to speaking as Borat or Ali G), so it’s no surprise that Isla is also guarded with her personal life. “Believe me—my daughter is my favorite topic of conversation, but I don’t want her to have any more exposure than she already has.” Another beef with the press? “I have a sarcastic sense of humor, and because it’s difficult to understand the tone of something when you read it, I can come across as ignorant or rude when I’m just trying to be funny.”
So does the ginger girl have any unfulfilled dreams? Isla sips her latte and stares off in the direction of her billboard, as if it’s a crystal ball. “I would love to play Frankenstein. I just would put a really different slant on him—make him a lady with red hair, but walk in that Frankenstein way.” After all, she may look like a Rita but at heart she’s a Lucy too.