Isla Fisher's bold new ad­ven­ture

The Daily Telegraph (Sydney) - Best Weekend - - FRONT PAGE -

P ic­ture Isla Fisher as one of those ace mums at the school gate or a cool col­league you’d like to get to know more. She’s easy com­pany and seems every bit as funny as her hus­band Sacha Baron Co­hen, the cre­ator of the out­ra­geous comic char­ac­ters Ali G, Bo­rat and Bruno. There aren’t many Hollywood A-lis­ters who’d send them­selves up like she does in her faux-diva TV com­mer­cials for ING Di­rect or, when col­lect­ing an award for act­ing, thank US pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump for “show­ing the world that un­qual­i­fied orange peo­ple can win things”.

And when BW Mag­a­zine chats with her from her home base of Los An­ge­les, in the midst of com­ing and go­ing from one awards night to the next, she’s quick to ex­plain why the Golden Globes are the most fun: “Be­cause you get to sit there at a table and drink booze.”

De­spite liv­ing overseas for many years now, Fisher has re­tained her Aussie ac­cent — al­beit with a slight English lilt from time spent in her hus­band’s home­land — and her con­ver­sa­tion is still pep­pered with a few “no wor­ries”.

Fresh from a three-week hol­i­day Down Un­der with Baron Co­hen and their three chil­dren, Fisher feels recharged and ready to take on the new year. She’s just re­leased Marge And The Pi­rate Baby, the sec­ond book in her Marge In Charge series un­der a three-book deal with Allen & Un­win. The books — aimed at five to eight-yearolds — are ded­i­cated to her daugh­ters Olive, 9, and Elula, 6, and son Monty, 2.

“My favourite small peo­ple on the planet and the best ed­i­tors a writer could wish for,” reads the ded­i­ca­tion.

Fisher says she’s been mak­ing up sto­ries at bed­time for her kids since they were born, but that’s as much as she’ll speak about them. She ex­plains that she’s been liti­gious in the past with pub­li­ca­tions that have run pic­tures of her kids, so any­thing about them is off-lim­its.

Her books’ ec­cen­tric babysit­ter pro­tag­o­nist, Marge, is a com­bi­na­tion of two of her child­hood friends, she says.

“Marge would be their love child — one is the eter­nal Pe­ter Pan and is in to­tal de­nial about reality and the other one tells amazing, mag­i­cal sto­ries.

“I can hear both of their voices in my head when I think of Marge, but hon­estly nei­ther of them know it’s them. It’s one of those things where I think it’s a com­pli­ment, but they’re both sen­si­tive and I’ve never brought it up.”

Fisher, 41, joins a long list of celebrity chil­dren’s au­thors that al­ready in­cludes Lit­tle Bri­tain fun­ny­man David Wal­liams, Aussie ra­dio fave Andy Lee, as well as the likes of Madonna, Jim Car­rey and Tori Spell­ing.

She’s in the throes of pen­ning the third in­stal­ment — Marge And The Great Train Res­cue — in between school runs. If suc­cess­ful, more Marge is likely to fol­low, but if not, Fisher has other ideas for books for older chil­dren.

It’s not Fisher’s first foray into writ­ing. She co-au­thored two books for young adults, Seduced By Fame and Be­witched, with her mum El­speth Reid, an artist who was a ro­mance nov­el­ist. “It’s al­ways a fun thing to do — not — writ­ing a sex scene with your mother when you’re a teenager. Noth­ing awk­ward,” Fisher laughs. “It was ac­tu­ally a fun ex­pe­ri­ence but she did carry the lion’s share of that work. “I do feel su­per proud of the books, though. The ideas were all mine and I did learn so much about struc­ture, the be­gin­ning and mid­dle and end, and how to put your hero­ine up a tree and throw rocks at her un­til she meets the man of her dreams; the ins and outs of the writ­ing process. “I love writ­ing, and read­ing was such a fun part of my child­hood. We moved around a lot. I was born in Oman, moved to Aus­tralia when I was six and kind of hid in books. “I moved school every year un­til I was in eightheg grade. My grandma was an avid reader; my mum, too. I’ve re­ally loved mov­ing into that world.” Fisher has of­ten said she prob­a­bly would have been a full­time writer had she not found success as an ac­tor. After mak­ing her name lo­cally play­ing Shan­non Reed in soap Home and Away in the mid-’90s, Hollywood beck­oned — but only after two years at a pres­ti­gious clown school in France, where she learnt that jug­gling wasn’t her forte and that there prob­a­bly weren’t many jobs that called for mim­ing “the wall”. After some years au­di­tion­ing for dra­matic roles with lit­tle luck, it was Baron Co­hen — whom she met in 2001 at a party in Syd­ney — who en­cour­aged her to chase com­edy gigs. H e was the one who said I was funny,” she re­calls. “I sort of knew I was be­cause I used to make my friends laugh at school and I was al­ways get­ting kicked out of class for it, but I never knew you could par­lay that into an ac­tual job. I al­ways thought of com­edy as proper co­me­di­ans who wrote ma­te­rial and per­formed it. I never re­alised you could im­pro­vise your own silly jokes and peo­ple would tap into your in­ner id­iot and (you could) make a liv­ing. It was my hus­band who kept say­ing it, so then fi­nally I had the courage to say to my agent, ‘Do you think I could do a funny role?’ ”

In 2005, she landed Wed­ding Crash­ers. Play­ing mem­o­rable sexed-up “stage-five clinger” Glo­ria op­po­site Vince Vaughn would be her break­out.

She went on to star in Def­i­nitely, Maybe; Con­fes­sions Of A Shopa­holic; Grimsby along­side Baron Co­hen and Rebel Wil­son; and most re­cently Keep­ing Up With The Jone­ses, in which Han­gover star Zach Gal­i­fi­anakis played her hus­band. But she’s also shone in char­ac­ter roles in Now You See Me, The Great Gatsby and, lately, Noc­tur­nal Animals, which played on her flame-haired like­ness to Amy Adams.

With big films, of course, comes pub­lic­ity.

I catch my­self be­ing so bossy

Given she and Baron Co­hen are one of the en­ter­tain­ment in­dus­try’s most pri­vate cou­ples, does she en­joy the red car­pet? “It de­pends on the day,” Fisher says. “After a break, I’m su­perex­cited. It’s the fun of the makeover — you sit in the chair look­ing some­thing and you’re spun into some­thing else. I can find it quite cor­po­rate, too, in that there’s a lot of pres­sure on peo­ple to look a cer­tain way and wear cer­tain de­sign­ers. Some­times I feel like (peo­ple’s) own char­ac­ter or creativ­ity isn’t nec­es­sar­ily out there like it should be. That’s why I love some­one like He­lena Bon­ham Carter on the red car­pet be­cause she has her own unique style that’s great to see.”

The de­mands of a young fam­ily mean Fisher chooses her roles care­fully — the plan­ets must align on tim­ing, lo­ca­tion, role and film­maker.

“I do one job a year, which doesn’t sound like much … It’s not that I don’t love to act — I’m crazy about it — but there are just so many other hu­man be­ings I need to en­sure are happy.

“You also want to find a char­ac­ter whose emo­tional land­scape you can in­habit and you feel you can iden­tify with or not iden­tify with but know the jour­ney will be en­ter­tain­ing for you in some way as an artist or help you grow.”

Fisher hopes to get into pro­duc­ing or di­rect­ing movies, like her hubby, one day.

“I catch my­self be­ing so bossy, I think it’s a waste to not utilise that bossi­ness. But I know it’s such an in­tense work­load. The di­rec­tor is the first one there and last to leave, is in the edit and the fi­nal cut. From de­vel­op­ing the ma­te­rial to cast­ing ac­tors, it’s full on — like giv­ing birth to a baby. I don’t have the space right now with my re­spon­si­bil­i­ties to at­tempt that, but one day I hope to have the op­por­tu­nity.” Her dream project? “This is go­ing to sound cheesy, but some kind of ro­mance with a fe­male lead in­volv­ing the Aus­tralian out­back. The coun­try­side in Aus­tralia is breath­tak­ing. I love it.”

Fisher, Baron Co­hen and their brood came back to Aus­tralia late last year for the AACTA Awards in Syd­ney, where she made the Trump quip while col­lect­ing the Trail­blazer Award, a gong that cel­e­brates an “Aus­tralian screen prac­ti­tioner who in­spires oth­ers with their port­fo­lio of work”. (The awards co­in­cided with their 15th an­niver­sary of be­ing to­gether. They mar­ried in 2010.)

Of the hol­i­day, she says: “For three weeks we got to prop­erly chill out — we had no work to do, I wasn’t pro­mot­ing any­thing. It was amazing. At the beach every day.

“There’s also the sen­so­rial stuff — like the smells and the feel­ing of be­ing in the sea and the taste of the sea. All the child­hood mem­o­ries are reignited when you’re in that space again. The peo­ple, too. There’s some­thing about Aus­tralians. Ev­ery­body’s so friendly and calm and re­laxed and happy to be there. I miss that. I’m very calm when I come back. I’m back to the Isla I was as a kid.”

Marge And The Pi­rate Baby, $14.99, Allen & Un­win, is out now

Isla Fisher at the AACTA In­ter­na­tional Awards in Los An­ge­les in Jan­uary.

Fisher per­fected her flame-haired glam­our look early in her ca­reer. With De­bra Lawrance in Home and Away.

Fisher and hus­band Sacha Baron Co­hen party with Paul Ho­gan in Syd­ney.

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