Isla Fisher tells Tara Brady that red­heads do the fun­ni­est things,

Af­ter her early ca­reer in Aussie soap Home and Away, Isla Fisher pur­sued an aca­demic in­ter­est in buf­foon­ery and com­edy work. She tells fel­low red­head Tara Brady why gin­gers are fun­nier, what it was like to work with Johnny Depp and how she learned to keep

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Front Page -

DAINTY, beam­ing and sniff­ing apolo­get­i­cally, Isla Fisher looks far more ra­di­ant than some­one with a cold has any right to. Where mere mor­tals might bark and splut­ter she emits an adorable, raspy ex­cla­ma­tion.

“Hmmm,” she purrs. “We know we’re spe­cial in other ways. We know that red­heads have bet­ter hand-to-eye co-or­di­na­tion. Be­cause when you have to make do with bows and ar­rows in the Scot­tish High­lands for gen­er­a­tions, you’re bound to have an ad­van­tage in ten­nis. But there is some­thing about red hair and com­edy that goes right back to Lu­cille Ball.”

She’s right, you know. Isla Fisher, a woman crowned with shim­mer­ing gin­ger locks, be­longs to a fine lin­eage of kooky sil­ver-screen sirens. Whether it’s Ball or the sub­lime prat­falls of Made­line Khan, there’s some­thing about com­edy and those who pre­fer Fac­tor 50 sunblock that just works. Think of Katharine Hep­burn, who put in plenty of fine dra­matic turns dur­ing her decades in the biz, yet never looked more com­fort­able than she did when fall­ing off lad­ders or chas­ing wayward pan­thers. Think of Alyson Han­ni­gan, who near sin­gle-hand­edly res­cued the first three Amer­i­can Pie movies from the straight-to-DVD shelf.

Born in Oman to Scot­tish par­ents, Fisher sus­pects the red com­edy gene has a good deal to do with be­ing dif­fer­ent.

“We moved around a lot,” says Fisher, whose fa­ther is a for­mer banker for the UN. “So from years one to eight I was in a new place and a new school ev­ery year. I fig­ured out early on that the quick­est way to make friends and get ac­cepted was to take the piss out of your­self. That was how I ac­cli­ma­tised each time, un­til it be­came a kind of in-built mech­a­nism. And it was good prac­tice for even­tu­ally liv­ing in the UK.”

Raised mostly in Perth, her child­hood was, she says, “out­doorsy”, not priv­i­leged. “We weren’t posh. There is a class struc­ture of sorts in Aus­tralia. But it’s not like it is in Bri­tain, where it’s all about blood­lines and be­ing in line for the throne. We Aussies don’t do posh.” Acting snuck up on her. “Weirdly enough, even my par­ents weren’t at all wor­ried when I got into it. Like me, they had no ex­pe­ri­ence of the busi­ness and just pre­sumed if you wanted to act for a liv­ing you’d sign up some­where and it would hap­pen for you. No­body tells you about the lean years in Paris or Lon­don.”

She came to promi­nence in this part of the world as a reg­u­lar on Aussie soap im­ports Par­adise Beach and Home and Away. At a time when Aussie soaps still meant hys­te­ria, Ja­son and Kylie, it was a good spot to be in. At heart, how­ever, she longed for shenani­gans. Wav­ing good­bye to her ca­reer as a soap star­let, she trav­elled to Paris to study at L’École In­ter­na­tionale de Théâtre Jac­ques Le­coq, where she spe­cialised in clown­ing and com­me­dia dell’arte.

“I love be­ing a

“I fig­ured out early on that the quick­est way to make friends and get ac­cepted was to take the piss out of your­self”

clown. It’s harder than it looks. I hon­estly find it eas­ier to watch a bad drama than a bad com­edy. Ev­ery time you can pull off com­edy, it’s like a lit­tle mir­a­cle. So many el­e­ments have to come to­gether. You have to work so hard for a line to be funny or to come up with a funny lit­tle phys­i­cal piece, and then you can blow it with bad tim­ing. There’s a rhythm to be­ing a goofy red­head.”

What was her favourite les­son from clown school? “Play­ing it real,” she says. “Drama and com­edy are not all that dis­sim­i­lar. They come from the same place. You have to play com­edy real. That’s not nec­es­sar­ily the same as play­ing it straight.

“You can see the dif­fer­ence when you see a great dra­matic ac­tor take on a comedic role. It’s never the same as watch­ing some­one who

re­ally loves fall­ing over. My favourite ac­tors come from com­edy for that rea­son. Look at Peter Sell­ers; he’s so mov­ing in Be­ing There but so broad in the Pink Pan­ther se­ries. And look at the way Goldie Hawn can slip be­tween gen­res.”

Her keen in­ter­est and aca­demic train­ing in buf­foon­ery has, to date, served Fisher well. The star of box of­fice hits The Wed­ding

Crash­ers, Hot Rod and Def­i­nitely, Maybe is equally at home in the in­die sec­tor, where she has worked on I Heart Huck­abees and The

Look­out. A “very laid-back Aussie” by her own ac­count, she dis­misses her glit­ter­ing re­sumé with a self-dep­re­cat­ing shrug.

“I’ve fallen in and out of love with acting over the years. I’ve def­i­nitely been more am­bi­tious than I am now. It’s like any­thing you do for a long time. I love what I do but I’m not al­ways pas­sion­ate about it. When I first had suc­cess I was ex­cited, but now I’m a mother my pri­or­i­ties have com­pletely changed. I have to re­ally love, love, love the part I’ve been of­fered in or­der for me to leave my fam­ily.”

She of­ten finds her­self say­ing no when LA comes a-court­ing. “I’ve turned down a lot of nag­ging, bor­ing girl­friend roles,” she says. “I don’t see the point in do­ing a film where the guys get to be funny and the girl­friend is just this an­noy­ing voice of rea­son.

“You can do won­der­ful things with a straight guy – look at Ben Stiller in There’s

Some­thing About Mary – but there isn’t a lot of room for zip­ping up your wiener as the nag­ging girl­friend. There’s of­ten no ma­te­rial there you can re­ally score with. And peo­ple don’t walk out of those movies think­ing ‘that char­ac­ter was meant to be the straight man’. They walk away think­ing ‘she wasn’t very funny’.”

She’s much happier about Rango, an an­i­ma­tion from Pi­rates of the Caribbean di­rec­tor Gore Verbin­ski. An ec­cen­tric fam­i­lyfriendly mash-up of The Good, The Bad and

The Ugly, Hunter S Thompson and Chi­na­town, it fea­tures Fisher and Verbin­ski reg­u­lar Johnny Depp as em­bat­tled fron­tier lizards.

“We didn’t use sound booths,” she says. “We acted it all out on a stage. It was a cre­ative, fun way to work. Johnny Depp was at­tached. No brainer, re­ally. And I love Beans, my char­ac­ter. She has the wide-apart eyes. She’s smart and feisty and slow­blink­ing. I think she’s beau­ti­ful.”

Away from the won­der­fully mag­goty road­kill crit­ters of Rango, Fisher and her fa­mous hus­band, Sacha Baron Co­hen, main­tain a fiercely pri­vate home. The name of their sec­ond daugh­ter has, tellingly, never been re­leased to the press, and their where­abouts are, at any given mo­ment, un­cer­tain.

“We’re set­tled here, but we’re of­ten on the move. We’re lucky. We don’t have to leave the UK. It’s a good base. When­ever Sacha and I are work­ing we’ll go over to the States, but come straight back again. My fam­ily are in Greece at the minute and dad is in Ger­many. Sacha has a lot of fam­ily in Is­rael. It prob­a­bly sounds very jet-set but in prac­tice you just spend a lot of time in air­ports.”

Away from the cam­eras, she rel­ishes the role of quiet Jewish house­wife. She com­pleted her con­ver­sion to her hus­band’s faith in 2007 fol­low­ing three years of study.

“You know what? I speak a tiny bit of He­brew from go­ing to Is­rael a bunch to visit Sacha’s fam­ily. But most of my study­ing was about keep­ing a kosher home and get­ting all the fes­ti­vals straight in my head. There are a lot of Jewish fes­ti­vals.”

So who gets the best lines in that house­hold, we won­der? “I think it’s an even split. He’s a pretty funny guy but I’ve got the red hair, re­mem­ber?”

RANGO

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