Jump to content

Fishing for trouble

Guest Di

Recommended Posts

Fishing for trouble

By Stephanie Bunbury

August 7, 2005

Australian actor Isla Fisher hardly seems the sort to court controversy, so why, Stephanie Bunbury wonders, does she need a bodyguard?

I am not entirely sure why my interview with Isla Fisher needs to be supervised. There sits the tiny former Home and Away star, with her long red hair and cheeky smile, looking about half her 29 years; over in the corner sits a large American woman who promises, not entirely comfortingly, to be "very quiet". She is. But she does not invigilate anyone else's interviews, at least nobody I ask. Apparently someone, somewhere, clearly thinks I want to stitch Isla Fisher up.

But who would want to stitch up Isla Fisher? She is here because, after playing Shaggy's love interest in Scooby Doo, she has landed a real comedy role in Wedding Crashers, a boundary-crashing comedy in which she plays a half-mad nymphomaniac. Fisher comes from Perth. She studied mime in Paris. She now lives in London, but travels often to Los Angeles. The only thing about her of any prurient interest is that she is engaged to marry Sacha Baron Cohen, better known as Ali G.

They have, in fact, been engaged for three years, but they have yet to set a date for the wedding. For two years she has studied Judaism, in preparation for conversion. She thinks they will have a traditional Jewish ceremony, complete with glass-stamping. Her life, in short, seems so transparently blameless that even The National Enquirer would have trouble getting any meat from its bones.

Actually, though, there are two things about Isla Fisher that do intrigue me. One is her ears. They are unusually large, as she often points out in interviews. I like the fact that she wears those ears with pride. The other is that she insisted that the director of The Wedding Crashers, David Dobkin, use a body double during her sex scenes. This surprises me - and it surprises me that the producers went along with it - given that the point of the character is that she's mad for it.

Fisher plays Gloria Cleary, a bridesmaid at her sister's wedding who spots Vince Vaughn across the crowded pews and, when he makes a play for her, turns the tables by pursuing him like a woman possessed. She exhausts him; he cannot get away; she does not even understand that no is an answer, let alone being prepared to take it. In the funniest sequence in the film, she arrives in Vaughn's bedroom in the middle of the night and, before he knows what is happening, ties him up. She is naked in this scene, but half the time it isn't her.

Gloria would seem the wrong role for anyone not prepared to take her clothes off. "There was a moment when it did occur to me that there are probably a million actresses who are more than willing to do the role and to be nude for it," she admits. "But I think you have to stand by what you believe in and it was important to me, so I asked for it."

She has no objections to nudity, she says. She just didn't feel comfortable with it. It doesn't matter that audiences will see that naked back and think it's hers. "It's for me. I know it wasn't me. My family and friends know it wasn't me."

Isla Fisher is very short; one article I read said she was 160 centimetres, but that sounds generous. She barely reaches her fiance's shoulder (he is 191 centimetres) and would be lucky to come up to Vince Vaughn's ribs. "It was a height challenge, for sure. I'm trying to get a rapport with an actor when I'm looking at his belly button," she laughs. "Luckily, he did a lot of scenes sitting down."

Vaughn says the height difference was played for laughs but, given that she spends most of the film throwing herself on to his body and clinging on for dear life, it's more likely to induce queasiness: the inescapable image is of a grown man headed for sex with a capuchin monkey.

Wedding Crashers begins brilliantly, with a long montage showing Owen Wilson and Vaughn, whose characters are divorce mediators by day, worming their way into a succession of weddings where they enjoy free food and drink, and sex with an endless succession of bridesmaids. Like Billy Bob Thornton in Bad Santa, they are repellent characters and yet, secretly and enviously, we are on their side. Pity, then, that the film chickens out on its own grossness, the wildness of its first half dissolving into just another mawkish rom-com.

Anyway, back to Isla Fisher. Her determination to keep her clothes on is curious because, in other respects, she is spectacularly abandoned as Gloria, making us cringe in the same way the wedding crashers do. "Comedy is shocking; it has to be," she says. "You've got to leave your inhibitions at the door or you're not going to get the joke. And the joke is the most important thing. You've got to be willing to make a fool out of yourself in order to get a laugh. My fiance says the most shocking things in character and I find him hilarious."

She liked the role, she says, because it allows a woman to be both pretty and funny. This is practically unknown in the Hollywood universe. "You read a lot of scripts where the female protagonist is just this sweet, nice girl who falls in love with someone and there is not much to it. But Gloria was more interesting than that."

There is certainly an edge to Gloria's antics; Fisher's preparation was a heady dose of Fatal Attraction followed by The Hand That Rocked the Cradle. But she was also able at last to use the skills she learned at Jacques Le Coq, the prestigious and very traditional Parisian mime school where she studied. "I always used to joke that I had the most useless degree ever, because I never got to use it. But in this film, I did. I was able, finally, to apply some stuff I'd learned. Although, without wanting to sound pretentious, everything you learn along the way helps with everything else, because you play characters and you learn about people and just get older."

Her interest in acting all started, she thinks, with her mother, who, along with postgraduate studies and writing romantic novels, was an enthusiastic am-dram actress. "She was doing Twelfth Night and I wasn't allowed to go to a performance, because it was too late at night when they finished. But I'd see Mum in her dressing room beforehand and I think a part of me felt I'd missed out on something magical that was happening in the evenings. I think that piqued my interest."

She has been acting professionally since she was 12, beginning with the mini-series Bay City, where she had tutors on set. In 1994, she was cast as girl-next-door-gone-bad Shannon Reed in Home and Away, which she describes as an apprenticeship that taught her discipline, endurance and the ability to cry for eight scenes in a row if required.

Then came mime school, Scooby Doo and a relatively easy entry into Hollywood on the back of Scooby's big red-carpet premiere and financial success. Other work arrived, including a punchy little part in David O. Russell's I (heart) Huckabees, which she loved. She still has a flat in Sydney and friends, of course, but it is years since she has been to Australia. Her family is in Europe - her father, who was with the United Nations, has now retired to Germany, while her mother lives in Greece. Her own professional future clearly lies in Hollywood.

Despite all that, she is very Australian. Vaughn is a keen improviser, she says, but it was difficult for her to respond because the lines that came into her head always sounded Australian. "Once he's committed, he's like a train that's going to stay on that track; if he's gone off on a tangent, you've got to go with it. There is no point in trying to return to the text. But I had to try to think in American idiom, in different words." She was lucky, she says, that her accent held up. "Because you feel, when you're improvising, that maybe a word is out or the stress is on the wrong syllable."

There is something Australian, too, in her down-to-earth attitude to her work. She loves it, particularly comedy. And, clearly, she takes it seriously enough to spend years at the fiercely exacting Le Coq school. She feels there is something absurd, however, about talking about it. "It's just fun to play a character. I wouldn't want to do something as myself; I wouldn't feel confident. It is dress-ups, essentially. I laugh when you get asked serious questions, like now. It's slightly embarrassing."

And the side-effects of fame, in so far as she is slightly famous, are just irritating. She is recognised in London, partly because she is photographed at celebrity events with Sacha Baron Cohen and partly because of her soap career. They were anonymous in Hollywood, until they were marked as the couple who used to rent Jennifer Aniston's house. (The story went around that Aniston threw them out after she and Brad Pitt split; Fisher says it isn't true, they had already moved.)

Interviews unnerve her because she says she is "always misquoted" and always misinterpreted; jokes made in conversation become serious in print and end up giving offence. "It's so easy for the tone of something to read differently from how you intended it, or to use the wrong word when you're tired or nervous or eager to please. I became famous quite young doing Home and Away, so when you're growing up - when you have a bad hairstyle or a feisty moment or you're going through a phase - you do it in public."

Hence the publicist, perhaps. She baulks at answering even the most innocuous question about Sacha Baron Cohen, even something as banal as whether they make a lot of jokes at home, so she must have been burned.

But like I said, who would want to stitch up Isla Fisher, a small, cheerful person who plays the crazy girl in a film about weddings, but is a bit tardy in organising her own? Surely nobody wants to try that hard.

Just for the publicist's records, I certainly don't.

Link to comment
Share on other sites


This topic is now archived and is closed to further replies.

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    • No registered users viewing this page.
  • Create New...

Important Information

We have placed cookies on your device to help make this website better. You can adjust your cookie settings, otherwise we'll assume you're okay to continue.