YOU hear Isla Fisher before you see her. That throaty Australian drawl, that big, booming laugh. And then that flash of bright auburn hair that’s a frequent fixture on the red carpet thanks to Fisher’s film career, and that of her notorious husband, Sacha Baron Cohen (but which, for readers over a certain age, will be forever associated with anorexic Shannon from the Aussie soap Home And Away).
She clearly knows the man who runs the in-house café at her local Waterstones as she orders a latte but no one else in this manicured part of north London, no doubt well used to celebrities traipsing up and down the high street, bats an eyelid.
Warm, immediately friendly and sporting impressive long turquoise nails, Fisher is here to talk about her first children’s story, Marge In Charge, a comic caper aimed at seven-year-olds, featuring Marge, babysitter extraordinare to Jemima and her younger brother, Jakeypants, and an anarchic cross between Mary Poppins and Pippi Longstocking, with a dash of Dame Edna Everage thrown in.
‘Marge subverts all the rules,’ says Fisher of her fictional creation, who creates mayhem each time she comes to stay. ‘The kids end up babysitting their babysitter. I live vicariously through Marge because, being a mother myself, these days I have to be sensible.’
Fisher has three children with Baron Cohen and the book is dedicated to them, although they are fiercely off-limits for this interview — which is tricky, given that Fisher’s experience of reading to them at bedtime inspired the books in the first place.
Yet while it’s tempting to roll one’s eyes at yet another celebrity who has written a children’s book, Fisher at least has a writing pedigree: she’s written scripts all her life, has just sold a treatment with Amy Poehler to Universal and as a teenager wrote teen romances with her mum. Yes, her mum.
‘There is nothing more embarrassing than writing sex scenes with your mum,’ she says, perhaps needlessly.
Fisher is sweetly self-effacing about her film career.
‘I’m not in that bracket of hugely successful actresses who get offered amazing parts all the time, which is fine by me because it means I get to stay home with my family,’ she says.
Yet the roles are pretty constant all the same: later this year she stars in Greg Mottola’s action comedy, Keeping Up With The Joneses, and Tom Ford’s new thriller, Nocturnal Animals, while earlier this year she featured in Baron Cohen’s latest film, the controversial spy spoof Grimsby.
‘It was the first time I had worked with my husband’ — Fisher never once refers to him by name — ‘and to actually be on set with him was really impressive. He’s a brilliant improviser and I just thought: ‘Oh wow!’ I had that hashtag proud wife moment. But at the same time I didn’t get any jokes. I had to play the straight woman. So he owes me one.’
It was Baron Cohen who persuaded Fisher that she should try out for comedy parts (when they married she had only chalked up one Hollywood film, Scooby Doo).
‘For some reason I’d thought I had to be serious to be taken seriously as an actress,’ she says. ‘But I got an audition for Wedding Crashers and it was the first time I didn’t hold back. I delivered a bipolar nymphomaniac and the casting director started to laugh and it felt really good. I thought, I can just tap into my inner idiot and get paid for it.’
Fisher is a family girl at heart, though: the word keeps coming up even though she steadfastly refuses to divulge any more details and after the interview the PR emails to stress that family is Fisher’s number one priority.
‘Motherhood is the most expanding experience,’ she says. ‘After all, we get to do something 50 per cent of the population can’t.’
Marge In Charge (Piccadilly Press) is out now
Fisher in her own words
‘I know there are different definitions of a feminist but I don’t believe there is any person who thinks they should not get equal pay just because they’ve got a vagina.’
‘There have always been funny women in movies. Then a film such as Bridesmaids comes out and everyone goes: “Wow, this is a new thing.” But actually it’s been there all the time.’
‘With film you give your all, then it’s gone. With writing you can fiddle and fiddle and no one is coming into the room to say: “Enough now.” You can shift words around all day.’