Isla Fisher: Confessions of a seriously funny girl

The Australian actress tells James Mottram why she plays wild women and what it's like to wake up next to a dictator

She may not be as outrageous as her husband, Sacha Baron Cohen, but Isla Fisher is no shrinking violet. OK, she hasn't undertaken same-sex nude wrestling, crashed the Oscars' red carpet or posed in Cannes in embarrassing beach-wear, like the British star of The Dictator. But that doesn't stop the Australian actress chattering away faster than a pair of wind-up novelty teeth; so much so, as she told one US chat-show host recently, she would frequently be approached at parties for cocaine, her friends telling her, "We thought you were high as a kite most of the time."

Now 36, Fisher swiftly explains that she's never even seen cocaine, let alone tried it. The pert Perth red-head has a butter-wouldn't-melt smile that (almost) convinces you this might be true. It's why, she says, she likes to play crazy when she can – from the psycho girl in Wedding Crashers to the "cokehead whore" she recently took on in the comedy Bachelorette. "I don't take drugs, I'm a mum, I don't really drink any more, so to go on to the other side and do something completely different to who I am is really fun."

The pale-skinned Fisher, who today is dressed in a strapless, low-cut black dress, has Celtic roots – she was born in Oman to Scottish parents – but spent the majority of her upbringing Down Under, after her family moved to Perth, which has given her a typically sunny Antipodean outlook. She's far more open than her husband, whom she met at a party in Sydney in 2004, married six years later, and settled with in England. While he shuns interviews unless he's in character and maintains a certain mystique, she is quite the opposite, as candid as she is colourful.

Still, she paints an interesting picture of life with Baron Cohen. Away from comedy, they're both foodies, she says, and, when they're back visiting her homeland, love to swim and sail. But how is it to live with an actor who is known for immersing himself in characters for months? "I think it's more the facial hair that's disconcerting," she quips, referring to his hirsute role in The Dictator. "The handlebar moustache, the big beard… it's the look of the character [that can get on your nerves]." While she reports that he did wake her up at 5am and shout "Death to the West!" during the film's press tour, has he ever struggled to come out of character? "No, no, no," she says, hurriedly. "He's not insane!"

Famously, Fisher converted to Judaism when she married Baron Cohen, though she claims she has no need to temper her on-screen behaviour to fit with her new religion. "My husband's Jewish and the things he does are pretty out there! I don't see a connection between the two." She also refuses to go naked for the camera. "I don't know. I wouldn't feel comfortable doing that." Indeed, with two young children around – Olive, five, and Elula, two – much of their household's output has become quite family-friendly, with films like Hugo and Confessions of a Shopaholic. "See how conservative we are?" she grins.

It's doubtless why her latest film is an animated feature, Rise of the Guardians, a Yuletide-set 3D DreamWorks effort that sees a group including Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and the Sandman team up to fight against the Boogeyman. "It's like an animated Avengers," laughs Fisher, who plays the Tooth Fairy, a half-human, half-hummingbird creature that sounds rather like her. "My character is very hyperactive. She's like a type-A personality – she's very turned on by teeth! There's a lot of humour to my character. I've milked it dry. I made every joke I possibly could about being excited over molars."

Her love of a good gag, she says, comes from her childhood growing up with four brothers. Their father worked for the UN, which meant a different school every year – so a self-deprecating sense of humour helped her make new friends. "Also, when I was growing up in Australia, there were really tall model-y girls and I was a short red-head, and there's only so much a push-up bra can do – you've got to get funny! You've got to take out the competition with some jokes – so that was my pulling technique!" She grimaces. "I'm going to regret that quote!"

Growing up without watching films – her parents only took her to see The Dark Crystal and E.T. – Fisher was turned on to acting by watching her mother play in an amateur production of Twelfth Night. "We had to go to bed really early while she was prancing about singing songs, and I wanted to be a part of it." By the age of nine, she was appearing in commercials, before making inroads in television – notably in that perennial Aussie soap Home and Away. Her Hollywood break came in a supporting role in the live-action 2002 film of classic cartoon Scooby-Doo, before Wedding Crashers sent her global.

While Fisher has mainly plied her trade in comedy – bar 2007's crime film The Lookout, which saw her use all her charms as the seductress Luvlee – she's rarely dipped into drama. But next year will see her in The Great Gatsby, Baz Luhrmann's 3D spectacular take on F Scott Fitzgerald's novel, playing social climber Myrtle Wilson. It was, she says, a "surreal" experience to work for Luhrmann. "He's my dream director. I've only ever had a short list of people I've wanted to work with, and he was at the top of it. I honestly couldn't stop smiling the whole time."

She's also just finished Now You See Me, a thriller about a group of illusionists that pulls off bank heists, alongside Mark Ruffalo and Morgan Freeman. Then there's her love of writing; in the past she's published two "trashy chick-lit" novels – including Seduced by Fame, about a waitress who wins a role in a soap opera. She wants to do more, has even knocked out two scripts, "but it's hard, with having a family and trying to keep my acting career ticking along". No wonder Baron Cohen is bonkers over this lady.

'Rise of the Guardians' opens on 30 November

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
'Eminem's recovery from substance abuse has made him a more potent performer, with physical charisma and energy he never had before'
musicReview: Wembley Stadium ***
Arts and Entertainment
‘Dawn of Planet of the Apes’ also looks set for success in the Chinese market

film
Arts and Entertainment
The successful ITV drama Broadchurch starring David Tenant and Olivia Coleman came to an end tonight

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Characters in the new series are based on real people, say its creators, unlike Arya and Clegane the Dog in ‘Game of Thrones’

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Balaban is indirectly responsible for the existence of Downton Abbey, having first discovered Julian Fellowes' talents as a screenwriter

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Comedian, actor and broadcaster Sanjeev Bhaskar

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Chocolat author Joanne Harris has spoken about the financial struggles most authors face

books
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from How To Train Your Dragon 2

Review: Imaginative storytelling returns with vigour

film
Arts and Entertainment
Josh Hutcherson, Donald Sutherland and Jena Malone in Mockinjay: Part 1

film
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Characters in the new series are based on real people, say its creators, unlike Arya and Clegane the Dog in ‘Game of Thrones’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
A waxwork of Jane Austen has been unveiled at The Jane Austen Centre in Bath

books
Arts and Entertainment
Britney Spears has been caught singing without Auto-Tune

music
Arts and Entertainment
Unless films such as Guardians of the Galaxy, pictured, can buck the trend, this summer could be the first in 13 years that not a single Hollywood blockbuster takes $300m

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has her magic LSD brain stolen in this crazy video produced with The Flaming Lips

music
Arts and Entertainment
Gay icons: Sesame Street's Bert (right) and Ernie

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Singer Robin Thicke and actress Paula Patton

music
Arts and Entertainment
The new film will be shot in the same studios as the Harry Potter films

books
Arts and Entertainment
Duncan Bannatyne left school at 15 and was still penniless at 29

Bannatyne leaves Dragon's Den

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The French economist Thomas Piketty wrote that global inequality has worsened

books
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Super Mario crushes the Messi dream as Germany win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil

    Super Mario crushes the Messi dream

    Germany win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil
    Saharan remains may be evidence of the first race war, 13,000 years ago

    The first race war, 13,000 years ago?

    Saharan remains may be evidence of oldest large-scale armed conflict
    Scientists find early warning system for Alzheimer’s

    Scientists find early warning system for Alzheimer’s

    Researchers hope eye tests can spot ‘biomarkers’ of the disease
    Sex, controversy and schoolgirl schtick

    Meet Japan's AKB48

    Pop, sex and schoolgirl schtick make for controversial success
    In pictures: Breathtaking results of this weekend's 'supermoon'

    Weekend's 'supermoon' in pictures

    The moon appeared bigger and brighter at the weekend
    Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

    How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

    A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
    The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

    The evolution of Andy Serkis

    First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
    You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

    You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

    Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
    Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

    Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

    Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
    Children's books are too white, says Laureate

    Children's books are too white, says Laureate

    Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
    Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

    Blackest is the new black

    Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
    Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

    Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

    The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
    Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

    Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

    From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
    Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

    Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

    Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
    Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

    Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

    When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor