The actress knows firsthand what it’s like to be in the public eye at a young age. Though Fisher was born in the Middle Eastern country of Oman to Scottish parents — she owes her exotic upbringing to her father’s job with the World Bank — she grew up in Perth, Australia. By age 9, she was appearing in television commercials. As a teenager, she boldly left home to star in a TV series called Paradise Beach. Even then she was daring: She has joked that her character only ever wore a bikini, probably even to funerals.
Soon after, Fisher landed a role on the enduring Australian soap opera Home and Away, which also launched the careers of Naomi Watts and the late Heath Ledger. Fisher took advantage of her high profile by publishing two books with the help of her mother, a romance novelist. One of the stories sounds awfully familiar: Seduced by Fame is about a wannabe actress who lands a role in a fictitious TV show called Sunshine Coast.
“I’m sure if I read them now, I’d be cringing,” says Fisher, who admits that fame was initially beguiling. “When I first started getting recognized, I remember thinking it was really fun. I’m sure I enjoyed it for a good six months before becoming terribly self-conscious and feeling very exposed.”
Fisher laughs between sips from her latte. “You go from having that beautiful anonymity to being defined by people other than your family who don’t know you. There’s nothing better than trying to work out who you are when everyone else decides for you.”
It was time for a fresh start. At 21, Fisher quit the soap opera and, in a typically intrepid move, relocated to France.
She bolts upright on the hotel-lounge couch, straightens her lavender sweater and proceeds to mime touching an invisible wall with open palms. It’s just one of the many skills she learned during her study of clowning at the Jacques Lecoq International School of Theatre in Paris.
“Would you like me to juggle something?” Fisher asks brightly. The actress balls her tiny hands and mimes an upward rhythmic motion while she explains her unconventional choice of acting school.
“It seemed like such a different world. Commedia dell’arte and mime and mask and movement,” Fisher marvels. “All the traditional drama schools felt very oppressive to me: Shakespeare and Chekov and ‘show up on time’ and weep on cue. It just felt very serious, and this other school felt like it would be more me.”
Yet, when Fisher and then-boyfriend Baron Cohen first arrived in Hollywood in 2002, she tried out mostly for serious roles. Her phone didn’t ring very often.
Fun Fact: As research, the cast of Now You See Me was taught magic tricks by the Magic Castle's David Kwong.
“I didn’t have any luck,” Fisher rues. “Sacha said, ‘You should be doing comedy.’ I said, ‘Really?’ He said, ‘Yeah, you’re the funniest girl I know.’ ” (For his money, Luhrmann agrees: “Personally — and I don’t say this lightly — Isla can be one of the funniest people you have ever encountered.”)
Fisher was dubious. Nevertheless, she agreed to audition for Wedding Crashers, the 2005 comedy starring Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn as incorrigible bachelors who con single women at weddings. Until, that is, they meet their matches in the forms of Rachel McAdams and Fisher.