Isla Fisher is sitting in her office at her LA home, staring at the only film poster on the wall.
It’s of_The Great Gatsby_, in which she starred five years ago alongside Leonardo DiCaprio and Carey Mulligan.
It’s her favourite project to date, but looking at the poster is making her homesick: they shot it in Australia, her homeland, and right now she’s desperate to go back. ‘Australia is where I grew up, it’s where I spent my childhood,’ she says, her Australian accent undiluted despite years living between London and LA.
‘I miss everything, from the weather, to the food, to the people and the smell of sunblock. I haven’t managed to go back for a little while, but I’ve got a trip booked in at Christmas. I’m counting down the days.’
Perhaps that’s why her latest project, Marge And The Secret Tunnel – the fourth book in her much-loved children’s series, Marge In Charge – is a ‘love letter to Australia’.
The books follow Marge, a babysitter, who ‘breaks all the rules’ by cooking the children chocolate soup for dinner, making a mess and doing, in short, everything Isla wishes she could do as a self-proclaimed clown. ‘I have to be a sensible mum and make sure everyone goes to bed on time, otherwise things fall apart,’ she says. ‘But Marge can just encourage the kids to get creative. She’s this naughty character who became really popular with my kids at bedtime.’
Writing children’s stories isn’t what Isla had always had in mind. Indeed, the 42-year-old is far better-known as an actor and for her hilariously mad performance in_Wedding Crashers_, for 2009’s Confessions Of A Shopaholic and from her days as Home & Away’s Shannon Reed in the ’90s.
She’s also one half of Hollywood’s funniest power couple (she’s married to British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen), a subject she’s famously private about. Ahead of our interview, I’ve been advised that there should be no personal questions, which rules out the couple’s eight-year marriage and their three children, Olive, 10, Elula, seven, and Montgomery, three.
Yet on the day we speak, I find her remarkably open. If anything, she seems happy to talk about her home life (‘Humour is just so important in our house’), regularly cracking up with a laugh that makes me giggle in turn (imagine Jimmy Carr’s but throaty).
Despite the success of Marge In Charge – see the hundreds of parents raving about the books on Amazon – Isla admits she is not a ‘real career-pledge writer, I’m just an actor who loves to write silly stories’.
This year, she’ll star in Tag alongside Jon Hamm (‘He’s always a lot of fun’) and The Beach Bum with Matthew McConaughey (‘A good soul. He’s the gentleman who always stands up and pulls the chair out for his wife every time she comes to the table’). She’s excited about both, but I get the impression neither project is giving her what she’s really looking for: top billing.
‘You know what? I’d like to play the lead in a comedy,’ she sighs. ‘Maybe with a character I’ve developed or something I’ve had a hand in.
‘I miss comedy, there’s just something about it that’s more challenging than drama because, if you get it wrong, you’re hung out to dry. The adrenaline of it is really addictive. And it’s so much fun to tap into your inner idiot and pull silly faces.’
Lead parts have eluded Isla in recent years and she’s unwilling to sacrifice time with her children for much less. Part of the reason she loved The Great Gatsby so much was that her whole family came to Sydney while she shot the film with Australian director Baz Luhrmann.
But such opportunities are few and far between. ‘I always want to work, but I don’t always get offered the role that I’m really dying for,’ she says. ‘I don’t really want to do something that doesn’t make sense to my family, which is hard now with the school schedule and my husband’s job. It’s just always trying to consider everybody’s life – I’m not a single actress any more who can just pack up and go play a role anywhere. And leaving my kids wouldn’t bring me satisfaction. That’s probably why you see me less – it’s not through a lack of passion.’
The ideal solution, she says, would be to team up with Sacha again, having previously worked together on the 2016 film Grimsby. ‘I honestly would love to work with my husband, I had so much fun working with him on Grimsby,’ she says, before adding, slightly cheekily, ‘It was so nice to share a trailer, so that would be fun too.’
She speaks fondly about the time she spent in Atlanta filming Tag, and how ‘fun’ it was that her children could join because it coincided with their school holidays. I wonder how she squares placing them directly into Hollywood life on set while also fiercely protecting their right to a ‘normal’, grounded childhood. ‘That’s interesting,’ she says, taking her time to respond. ‘I think all parents – not just those in Hollywood – are trying to keep their kids grounded and humble and kind.
'No matter where you’re from, or what your background is, you want to impart those values to your children. I am just trying to do my best as a mum. Being in the public eye is something that I chose as an adult for myself. I’m definitely not going to thrust them into the limelight.’
Her children may be ordinary, but her friends certainly aren’t. Earlier this year, Isla was pictured on a hike with Amal Clooney in LA, prompting fevered excitement that they had established the coolest mothers’ club in Hollywood.
How did that friendship come about? ‘Oh my gosh, please don’t ask me any questions about how we met because I can’t remember and it’s going to make me sound ditsy!’ she laughs. Does that mean there was alcohol involved? ‘You’re taking that to mean I’m a true Australian!’ (throaty laugh). Then she remembers. ‘We were at a dinner in LA years ago, and we share a birthday – 3 February. She’s a wonderful humanitarian and an incredible mother.’
I obviously want all the details on Amal’s twins, and what George is like as a father. But Isla is already off – she needs to do some more work and then has to pick the kids up from school. The sensible mum indeed.
Marge And The Secret Tunnel is out 17 May (£5.99, Piccadilly Press)