Isla Fisher's bold new adventure
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.