Confessions of a comedy-holic
She may have a soft spot for Summer Bay, but these days actress Isla Fisher is all about the laughs, along with her funny husband
Day & Night is scheduled to meet Isla Fisher on the hottest day of the year so far in London, but the temperature in the junket suite might be about rise for reasons independent of the climate.
I’m waiting outside Fisher’s room, waiting for the nod to come in, when the door opens and the Aussie actress strides out, barefoot, and walks purposively over to her PR’s desk.
“That last interview was a Q&A of all personal questions — what I was like as a child and all that kind of stuff,” she informs them.
She sounds annoyed. Not furious, more caught off guard than anything.
Fisher returns to her room and a minute later I’m sitting opposite her, where that temporary annoyance has been replaced by the perky cheeriness for which she’s known.
The first thing you notice about her is that she’s tiny — around 5ft2ins. Today, she’s wearing a black top and a short skirt that matches her auburn hair colour. Hard as it might be to believe (especially for hard-core fans of Home and Away in which she first found fame), but Fisher is now 37.
She’s become well-known in recent years for comedic roles in movies like Confessions of a Shopaholic, Definitely Maybe and\[Prestige\] the aforementioned Wedding Crashers, but Fisher is probably equally famous for being the wife of Sacha Baron Cohen.
The pair met in Sydney in 2002, were engaged within two years, and married three years ago. They have two daughters, Olive (5) and Elula (2).
That’s about as much as you’re likely to know about their relationship, because Fisher has made a point of it in interviews to politely but firmly decline to talk about her family. He does likewise, and in fact rarely breaks character during press engagements.
That rule probably explains Fisher’s evident discomfort with the format of that last interview. “No, it’s not that,” she says. “It’s just you don’t know the publication and what it wants. You want to give the right answers to the right thing. If you’re meant to give soundbites like it’s a fun thing . . .” She seems to give up. “Oh, I’m just jet-lagged,” she finishes, with a smile.
She’s been tearing around promoting Now You See Me, an enjoyable caper about a troupe of magicians and illusionists (played by Fisher, Jesse Eisenberg, Dave Franco and Woody Harrelson) who pull off bank heists during their stage performances.
It sounds like she had fun making the film — she recounts a story about Harrelson, who plays a mentalist, constantly trying to hypnotise her on set (it never worked though).
One story doing the rounds during the movie’s junket is that Fisher almost drowned during a tricky underwater escape sequence.
“Obviously it’s been exaggerated as I’ve gone along promoting the movie,” she says.
“I did actually have a little bit of a tricky situation, but the difference was there were so many safety precautions. The funny thing is I didn’t know you could have a stunt double! I know that sounds stupid. They only used this woman who looks identical to me towards the end. I was like, ‘Why didn’t I think of that on day one?’”
You could always hire her now as a lookalike to carry out some of your duties, I suggest, not unlike the Michael Keaton movie Multiplicity, or, ahem, The Dictator, directed by and starring a certain somebody.
“That’s a great movie! I love that movie, I can’t believe you brought that up! No-one has seen that movie. He’s brilliant, that guy in that,” she says with jovial sarcasm, though it’s very possible she could be genuinely gushing about Michael Keaton.
This seems as good a time as any to talk about — or, at least, talk around — her marriage. Given both their backgrounds, people must expect their house to be comedy central, I say.
“You know, I think my husband is the funniest man in the world,” is her reply, before doing a jazz hands impression and saying, “ta da!”
But do people always expect them to be “on”, like many other comedians? “Erm, I mean, I don’t know,” she replies, awkwardly.
“I’m friends with a lot of comedians through being in the business and I find them all really funny. I know what you mean when you think of a comedian . . . I guess I just haven’t seen that . . .” She pauses. “Is that a bad answer? Sorry, I don’t know where I am.”
She’s obviously not going to give anything up, but let’s give it one more go. Given Baron Cohen’s penchant for outrageous publicity stunts (cue mental image of him as Borat in the mankini), is Fisher easily embarrassed?
“I think I’m comfortable tapping into my inner idiot,” she replies.
And how about other people, perhaps closer to home, tapping into theirs?
“No comment,” she says, in a friendly but firm voice.
Another potentially awkward conversation point is Home and Away, in which Fisher starred as troubled teen Shannon from 1994 to 1997. She has intimated in past interviews that the job wasn’t her favourite professional experience. Does she think her time on the soap is now some kind of albatross?
“No, it’s not. I liked it,” she replies. “I feel sentimental about it, I’m a sentimental person. So when people come up to me and talk about Home and Away, I can see in their faces that they feel sentimental about it, which then makes me feel sentimental.”
After leaving the Bay in 1997, Fisher studied clowning and mime in Paris, and did some panto and touring rep work in the UK, before heading to LA to try her luck at movies.
“The toughest time of my career was probably right before I got Scooby Doo [in 2002], which was my big Hollywood break, so to speak. If you could describe it that way.
“Before that I’d got to a stage where I was working but for no money. I remember thinking, ‘I’m putting a time limitation on this. If I don’t get something in the next few months, I’m out. I can’t do it’. So for me to be sitting where I am, promoting a movie like this, is very surreal. I never imagined I’d be lucky enough to have had a career like this.”
This year has been Fisher’s most high-profile yet. In the last few months, we’ve seen her in The Great Gatsby and in the new season four of US comedy Arrested Development, though it must be said that the reactions to both were\[Prestige\] wildly mixed.
“You know, I’m not the lead in any of these projects, so I had no pressure or no expectation on an outcome,” she says.
“There is no reason for me to even read reviews — it’s not as if I’m carrying the movie. So I guess I didn’t really register people’s reactions to it. I can only go by my friends and family, and they all really loved those projects.
“I guess if people have seen a movie of yours and didn’t like it, they just don’t mention it.
“There is no world in which someone comes up and says, ‘You know that movie you were in? You sucked!’”
As for what comes next, Fisher is writing a screenplay with her mum Elspeth, who is a novelist. Indeed, Fisher once co-wrote — with Amy Poehler, no less — and sold a treatment for another movie called Groupies. “It’s never going to happen. I wish,” Fisher says.
So would she ever be tempted to write a vehicle for her husband or for both of them to star in? “Erm . . . I don’t know,” she says. “Life is an open book, darling.”
She flashes me a steely smile. “How about that for evasive?”
Now You See Me is released on July 5