After marrying a dictator and having two kids, the wickedly funny and talented Isla Fisher is back in action.
“Everyone, look at me…I’m the new Tom Cruise,” Isla Fisher announces. A couple of waiters bustling about the otherwise empty Chateau Marmont dining room don’t even stop to indulge the 5’3”, 37-year-old mother of two who’s making outrageous claims in the corner. She’s only half joking. Fisher is describing the unlikely plot twist of her new Hollywood trajectory—one which transpired when Baz Luhrmann cast her in the The Great Gatsby, out next month.
“This is the story my agent told me: ‘Baz saw me on ‘Chelsea Lately’ talking about Rango and being myself and thought that I had something of Myrtle in me. When I got lucky enough to meet with him, I said to myself, ‘Just say nothing, be a blank canvas, let him project.’”
By any interpretation, Gatsby is no Mission: Impossible, but Fisher assures the film has been “Bazzified” with all the bells, whistles and high-flying stunts we’ve come to expect from the Moulin Rouge mastermind. Myrtle Wilson, don’t forget, is the hapless adulteress beaten up by her lover and eventually run down by Gatsby’s roadster. “Yes! The screenplay is very true to the text.”
Before shooting the movie in Australia last fall, Fisher attended a three-week intensive workshop in New York, something of an extreme book club with her fellow cast mates: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire and Carey Mulligan. While Fisher was born in Oman (a tiny state on the Arabian Peninsula), she spent her childhood in Perth, and was delighted for her husband, actor Sacha Baron Cohen, and their two daughters to accompany her return to Oz.
The intensely family-focused star chooses projects (she hasn’t had to audition much in the past few years) according to a new pecking order: “It’s all about location because of the kids. Then, it boils down to the filmmaker and the role and the cast. It’s definitely different than it use to be. Location wasn’t even a consideration, unless it was Syria or somewhere.”
Fisher’s priorities began to shift in 2002, after meeting Baron Cohen (who had just started filming BBC’s “Ali G Indahouse”) in Sydney. Somewhere in those Borat, Bruno and The Dictator years, she completed a full conversion from Methodism to Judaism. While not outwardly religious, it seems to be a strong cultural pillar: “I love the focus on family, food and laughter. You know, I didn’t get to go to university because I’ve been acting since I was a kid. So, for me, studying theology was also fascinating. I love Judaism.” The couple welcomed daughter Olive in 2007, were married under a chuppah in a private ceremony in Paris in 2010 (adorable pictures emerged of them walking around the Place Vendôme in matching berets) and had baby Elula in London during the time that Baron Cohen was filming Les Misérables in 2010.
“It’s definitely not a normal relationship,” Fisher says of her marriage. “You know, there have been times in the past with the guerilla style filmmaking of Borat and Bruno where there were surreal conversations: ‘How many people are suing us?’ ‘Are you wanted in any states?’ And, um, ‘Are you alive?’”
Despite the lawsuits, including one from the government of Kazakhstan (all of which have been dismissed), the family seems blissfully normal. They keep a house in London and are starting to spend more and more time in L.A. “I’ve really got roots here now.” Fisher, who admits she’s addicted to “Homeland,” also raves about a book called Mindfulness: An Eight-Week Plan for Finding Peace in a Frantic World. Her father, a Scotsman who previously worked as a banker for the United Nations, is visiting with Fisher’s stepmother before her mother arrives next week. “I feel like all weekend I cooked, set the table, fed everybody, cleaned up, put everything in the dishwasher, waited til dishwasher was finished, unloaded and
repeated three times a day.”
At the center of it all, she and Baron Cohen, 41, are clearly each other’s biggest fans. “Bruno is my favorite comedy movie ever made. When Bruno says, ‘Looking up at the stars makes me think of all the hot guys there are in the world.’ So freaking funny.”
Not surprisingly, following their L.A. relocation in 2005, it was at Baron Cohen’s encouragement that she start auditioning for more comedies. “I needed a little push. It’s so embarrassing admitting that you think you’re funny. Even though he has to say that because he’s my husband.” Her big break was playing a hyperactive nymphomaniac in 2005’s Wedding Crashers, opposite Vince Vaughn. Spend enough time with Fisher, and it’s clear that comedy is what feels most natural. She’s adorably playful and easygoing, after all, she is married to a man who dressed up as a Middle Eastern
dictator to last year’s Academy Awards, spilling the ashes of Kim Jong-il along the red carpet.
Just after giving birth to her first daughter, she filmed her first lead role in Confessions of a Shopaholic—while tending to her newborn between takes. “I breastfed both my kids for two years so, you know, it was very tiring emotionally and physically. I’m not sure I’d want to do another at this juncture in my life.” It’s why ensemble pieces are so attractive to her these days.
Dave Franco, Woody Harrelson and Jesse Eisenberg co-star in her next film, Now You See Me, out in June, where you’ll catch more counter-intuitive, Cruise-like moves. The plot follows a team of illusionists who pull off bank heists mid-performance, only to reward the audience with the loot. Fisher was on set in Vegas for two weeks and spent three of those days filming a scene where she is chained and submerged in a tank of water. “It’s gonna sound like I’m bragging, but the director [Louis Letterier] said he was really blown away,” she adjusts, “Well, not blown away…but really impressed that I had done so many of the stunts. That’s good, right?”
On the back of Now You See Me, Fisher decided to write a screenplay with her mother (an Athens based backpacking tour guide) because it meant she could work from home. This is not the first writing project they have done together; When Fisher was 18, they wrote and published two teen novels. “Actually, when I was a kid I got a scholarship to a special, gifted writing school,” she says sheepishly.
Three-and-a-half weeks and a few gin and tonics later, the script is ready to shop around. It’s a cyber thriller, a throwback to the 1995 Sandra Bullock blockbuster The Net (Fisher became obsessed with crime novels while pregnant with Elula). “I really want to have my mom on set. It would be such a scream. I highly recommend doing a creative project with a family member.”
Can you imagine Fisher and Baron Cohen together on screen: Desi and Lucy in the 21st century? “I would love to. But I think we are collaborating on enough. We’re doing our two most difficult, most wonderful screenplays: a 5-year-old and a 2-year-old at home. I feel like that’s the most important collaboration.”
Written byy Kelsey McKinnon
Photographed by David Cameron
Fashion Editor: Jordan Johnson for Rachel Zoe studio