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Thursday 23 May 2019

Isla's trip from Summer Bay to Hollywood

As her new film, 'Tag' opens in cinemas, Isla Fisher spoke to Donal Lynch about marriage to Sacha Baron Cohen and friendship with Bono

Isla Fisher
Isla Fisher
Isla Fisher and her husband, comedian Sacha Baron Cohen

The idea for Tag, Isla fisher concedes, "is one of those high concepts that can either completely work or completely not work".

Based on a true story, it features a group of men in their 40s (including Jon Hamm and Jeremy Renner) who play... well, a long-standing game of tag, with each other, traversing time zones and wedding ceremonies, as they are profiled by a (mostly silent) journalist from The Wall Street Journal. There are special effects, rapid fire jokes, toilet humour aplenty and a heartwarming story of lasting friendship.

It's the type of action-comedy kidult fare you half expect to involve Adam Sandler - but one key difference is that the women here are not the disapproving foils, but instead hold their own in the jape stakes. Fisher says she took on the role because she already knew Jon Hamm and when she met director Jeff Tomsic (whose debut feature this is) he seemed to have a great vision for the story.

"A lot of what I did here is improvised. I based my character on Joe Pesci in Goodfellas and I got to sort of be him and think about what he would do. I've been doing my bit about having tiny ginger balls for years for instance. I have a puerile sense of humour and I love being silly and making people laugh."

Isla Fisher and her husband, comedian Sacha Baron Cohen
Isla Fisher and her husband, comedian Sacha Baron Cohen

Fisher has a solid record of making successful comedies, including Confessions of a Shopaholic and The Wedding Crashers, and says her natural comic timing stemmed from a peripatetic childhood.

She was born in Oman to Scottish parents and when she was a child her father's work with the United Nations took them to live in Perth, Australia.

"It's really hard to make friends when you're the new girl with red hair, giant ears and a funny accent," she says. "We'd travelled to a different school every year because of my parents' work and making a fool of yourself really ingratiates you with people, and I think that was when I really learned the power of being silly."

Fisher made her first on-screen appearances in ads on Australian television at the age of nine, and made her professional acting debut in 1993, with two guest-starring roles in children's television.

At 18, with the help of her mother, she published two teen novels, which would themselves foreshadow a later career; in the past few years she has published a number of successful children's books. But she yearned, most of all, to be an actress. "My parent helped me with my first head shots and drove me to auditions but they're not stage parents", Fisher recalls. "There wasn't a huge (entertainment) industry in Perth, so it seemed like an unusual thing to be doing."

Isla says growing up in a house of brothers helped her deal with the rough and tumble of the audition process.

"I grew up in a house full of rambunctious teenage boys. I was a bit hardier. My brothers prepared me for a bit of harshness."

Fisher was best known to Irish 1990s kids as Shannon Reed, a bisexual young woman who develops anorexia, in Home and Away. Fisher says her time on the series was formative.

"I never cringe about it, I loved my time on Home and Away, I made lifelong friends there," she says.

"It was a wonderful work experience. The turnround for those shows is so quick, the writers are constantly churning out new scenes. And because there are so many new writers on a soap you can sometimes feel like your character isn't really all that consistent. So you learn how to deliver terrible lines, and trust me that stands to you."

Fisher transitioned to Hollywood in 2002, with the part of the love interest of Shaggy in the live-action film Scooby-Doo. In common with some of her biggest movies, the film was a commercial but not a critical success, but that was enough to open some doors for her when she moved to America.

"I joined the very end of the queue when I came to America. The only small advantage I had was because I had appeared in Scooby-Doo I was able to get an agent straight away but I feel like during that time I was terrible in audition. I was always not funny enough, or too short or something."

At the time she was frequently mistaken for Amy Adams, to whom she bears a fairly uncanny resemblance and, like Adams, she says she sometimes struggled with the jocular tone on certain film sets.

"In comedy there can be a type of frat boy humour and it can feel a bit alienating. You have to sort of learn to hold your own."

She segues into a comment about the Me Too movement and I wonder aloud if she ever had to deal with awkward situations herself?

"Well of course, but I don't think this is the right time to discuss them. I think there has been a bit of a change in that way though and it's been amazing to see what the Me Too movement has done in such a short time. People should be paid the same for the job they do regardless of the fact that they have a vagina."

She's been married to comedian Sacha Baron Cohen - he of Ali G and Bruno fame - for eight years and they've been together for nearly two decades. They have three children together, daughters Olive (born in 2007) and Elula (2011), and a son, Montgomery (2015).

Isla and Sacha met at a party in Sydney and she tells me that it was his sense of humour that first caught her attention.

"I think my husband is the funniest man in the world so that was really what attracted me to him."

Given that theirs has been one of the more enduring showbiz marriages, I cannot help but wonder what she thinks has been the secret to their longevity as a couple?

"I don't want to stand on a soapbox and talk about what makes great relationships because I feel like we live in a world where everything is posted on Instagram and it's nice to have something private just for us. In general, I would say it's a great idea to have a date night."

She and Cohen are good friends with Bono and have spent time with him and his wife, Ali, on their yacht, Kingdom Come.

"I've been very lucky to spend a bit of time with Bono. He's been a huge inspiration just personally and professionally and I think he's an amazing man," she says. "He also has a great sense of humour."

All of which means he might enjoy Tag. "Well, it's a light-hearted and fun film," Fisher says. "And when the news is so dark and serious I think films like that are even more needed. I hope people love it."

'Tag' is showing in cinemas nationwide from June 29

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