Interview with Isla Fisher: “Instagram is toxic for children and full of fake news”
Isla Fisher has a solution to the sleazy landlord problem, though it may not be available to everyone: rent a house from Jennifer Aniston instead. In the mid-2000s, the Australian star of wedding crashes, Now you see me and Confessions of a Shopaholic needed a home in Los Angeles to share with her then-boyfriend, now husband, Sacha Baron Cohen. A dinner date with Courteney Cox led the couple to her Friends co-star, who happened to have a spare abode.
“She was the nicest hostess,” Fisher says. “When we arrived she had left a desk sized basket and in it were flowers, fruit and the sweetest of handwritten notes. There were magazines and I think she put a book I had rented countless apartments and never, ever had a landlord or landlady even say hello to me. I couldn’t believe it…if you can rent from Jennifer Aniston, you absolutely should do it.
That Fisher can make a line like this not only non-infuriating but smooth and fun is a credit to his innate buoyancy. Then again, the 46-year-old is so quick at self-mockery that you barely have time to notice if she’s saying something starry. When she asks me not to divulge where she and her family currently live, she acknowledges that it is not the usual thing to do. “It’s for safety, I’m just worried,” she sighs. Similarly, when she appears on her Zoom camera for a few seconds before turning it off completely, she berates herself with a joke. “I don’t wear makeup and I’m also 105. It’s not the greatest. I usually try to look presentable when I’m trying to sell my TV show. She’s understandably disarming. I imagine everyone who meets her is convinced that she will be their new best friend.In the meantime, however, we have to make do with her work.
Fisher’s TV show is wolf like me (soon to air in the UK on Prime Video); it’s a comedy-drama about a boy, a girl, and the werewolf she turns into every full moon. She plays Mary, a traumatized advice columnist in Adelaide, who mysteriously crashes widower Gary’s (Josh Gad) car. Gad and Fisher are a bit thrown against type: there are laughs here, but they’re deliberately subtle. I was surprised at how moving the show is and the sense of lyrical urgency that writer/director Abe Forsythe gives it. There are emotive voiceovers, sweeping vistas, and plenty of racing. wolf like me is about the horrors of a new love and what happens when two broken people seem destined to be together.
“We’re so used to seeing romantic comedies where we only get the nice people who tune in,” says Fisher. “It’s quite original. Love is scary! Once you give someone your heart and they give theirs, you’re obviously completely vulnerable. The show is more of an exploration of love mixed with shame and fear. Fisher says she gravitates to characters with secrets, “but I also liked playing Mary because she’s so lonely. I’m super gregarious, I like people, I socialize whenever I can. Mary is the complete opposite of me, and she has all that baggage and doesn’t feel safe around people…”
It’s at this point that Madame Tiny Paws has had enough. Fisher gasps. “Okay, so while I’m talking to you, our cat just got up on two legs and opened the door in front of me. In fact, she took it upon herself to get Houdini shit out of this room. She bursts out laughing. “Even in our household, where everyone has such big personalities, Madame Tiny Paws is kind of the boss. Honestly, you should just chat with her. I’m sure it would add a real dimension to this interview.
Few Fisher characters would ever cede the limelight like that. His designs tend to have the energy of a drunken stranger in a nightclub bathroom, people who are as surprisingly deranged as they are wise. wedding crashes, Shopaholic and black comedy Bachelorette Cast her, respectively, as a nymphomaniac, a credit card addict, and a cocaine addict, all of whom tremble with manic desperation. You’d think they’d be more beloved, but like most character comedies, they usually fly under the radar. Especially when it comes to large rewards organizations.
“Comedy is the most vulnerable type of performance,” she says. “If you miss the target, there’s nothing to catch you. It’s not like drama, but comedy just isn’t seen as equal, especially in the eyes of the Oscars. She unrolls an embarrassing list of great comedic performances that failed to land the Oscars: Emily Blunt in The devil wears PradaRegina Hall at horror movie, Goldie Hawn in “All Bloody”. “So many mainstream comedies have these fantastic performances, and yet they don’t get the love they deserve.”
She expresses her disappointment in past interviews that ignored how she does what she does. “In general, it tends to be [questions] about the last time I saw an infinity pool or details about my husband. Without looking like a luvvie and without becoming an “actor”, I went to the school of clowns. I studied with Jacques Lecoq, who is a phenomenal clown teacher. He taught me to think about how [my characters] walking and talking – it’s like putting on a suit, and then it informs all the internal work. You prepare and you prepare, and you try to be as thorough as possible.
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Is there an element of sexism in people’s lack of curiosity about female comedy? “It’s really complicated – I kind of don’t want to weigh in on that, because then that becomes the quote.” She recalls years ago telling a reporter that it was unfair that women were so often cast in comedies as “the straight woman who rolls her eyes at the overconfident, dumb guy.” But then he dragged her. “It proliferated on the internet and I always had to give interviews about it.” Things are better today, she says, both in the industry and in interviews. “I like to be asked more meaningful questions about how I really feel about things. And I hope that even though I am deeply proud and completely in love with my beautiful husband and my family, I will be asked questions on more than that [too].” I surreptitiously scribble Borat’s questions on my notepad.
As I accidentally remind him throughout our conversation, Fisher has been around for a while. Long before she became Shaggy’s hippie girlfriend in scooby-doo in 2002, she rose to fame in 1994 playing the ever-unlucky Shannon Reed on At home and away. In 1997, she moved to the UK to find work. I guess her late 90s London era – where she made BBC One comedy-dramas with Amanda Holden and dated Darren Day – were her ‘lost years’. “I wouldn’t say those were my most focused years professionally,” she says. “It was that classic time in your life where you’re just trying to define your identity. I definitely didn’t have my wings clipped in London. I remember doing a lot of theater in the West End and, honestly, going from good time in pubs.
She was also learning, going back and forth between London and Paris to study at clown school. Although she always made people laugh – moving lots of schools and countries thanks to a UN worker father meant that humor became a defense mechanism – she was not trained as a clown for this reason. Really loved Geoffrey Rush’s performance as pianist David Helfgott in shine (1996). “I found out he was studying with Jacques Lecoq, so I thought, ‘Hey, I have to study with Jacques Lecoq too! I’m the new Geoffrey Rush, I thought. She quickly stops. “Just kidding – oh my god, please don’t print ‘Isla Fisher: I’m the new Geoffrey Rush’!” Because that’s not exactly what I thought. I just wanted to be able to one day materialize my comedy like that. Slapstick, mime, making a face: there’s just something I appreciate more than anything.
All that said, she didn’t realize she was a natural comedian until Cohen pointed it out to her. “My husband said, ‘You’re the funniest person I know – you should be doing comedy,’ and before that it had never crossed my mind.” It was shortly after they met in 2001. They got married in 2010 and have three children. Fisher insists on not talking about his family in interviews, but occasionally mentions Cohen in conversation and often posts photos of him on his Instagram. But echoing her husband’s crusade against social media companies – in 2019 he called Facebook “the greatest propaganda machine in history” – she has issues with the platform as a whole.
“We all know what Instagram is,” she sighs. “It’s toxic to children and [for] the proliferation of fake news. They don’t have to meet publishing standards, it appeals to our basic instincts. In fact, I’m nice – Instagram increases bullying and fear of missing out and leads to anxiety and depression. So obviously I’m not a fan of Instagram. I try to focus as much as possible on [posting] work-related stuff and don’t post anything personal. Sometimes I post, like – it’s Valentine’s Day today, so I can post something later…”
A few hours after our conversation, I visit Fisher’s Instagram and see that she has indeed posted a Valentine’s Day message to her husband. “Sacha, you are my rock,” she wrote, alongside a blurry photograph of a massive erection-shaped rock. It’s deeply silly, oddly romantic, and perhaps more indicative of the humor at the heart of their chemistry than anything she could have said out loud. Love is scary, but it can also be funny.
“Wolf Like Me” can be streamed on Prime Video from February 25