When it comes to Hollywood actresses, Rebel Wilson, by her own admission, doesn’t exactly fit the stereotype.
Certainly you wouldn’t expect one of Tinseltown’s leading ladies to turn up to chat about her latest film — the musical-comedy Pitch Perfect — wearing a black Adidas tracksuit, the only hint of her “celebrity” status a Louis Vuitton handbag emblazoned with the initials RW in hot pink.
Yet, from the moment you meet Wilson it’s clear that being different has paid off for the 26-year-old who, within three months of arriving in the US to pursue her dream of becoming an actress, landed a role in the unexpected hit Bridesmaids and is now one of the most successful Australians Stateside.
Sitting at a table outside the Australian Theatre for Young People in Sydney’s Walsh Bay, Wilson admits it’s hard to believe that in just two years she has added nine Hollywood films to her resume.
“I sometimes ask my friends from back in the day ‘Did you think I would make it?’ because I don’t necessarily think I was the best actor when I was here,” says Wilson, who last year was listed by trade paper Variety in the top 10 comics to watch for.
“I was obviously unique but there were so many talented kids here. I think I just had the right kind of drive and ambition and a uniqueness that worked in my favour.”
That Wilson chose to conduct press interviews for Pitch Perfect at the ATYP, where she took drama classes at night between the ages of 18 and 22, is testament to just how grateful she is for her formative years as an actress.
“I did like eight productions here,” Wilson says. “And it was just the best place to be because we used to sit at these tables and have snacks and dinner, sometimes before our acting classes. This was before any of us were professionals. We were just young kids who really wanted to be actors and were just interested in being creative. It was never about money. It was just for the love of it.”
Wilson was born and raised by her professional dog-handler parents in Sydney’s north-west, along with her three siblings, Liberty and Ryot, who were on the first season of The Amazing Race Australia, and Annachi. She studied law and arts at the University of New South Wales while taking acting classes at ATYP.
She excelled at mathematics but she decided to pursue an acting career after she contracted malaria in South Africa and experienced hallucinations in which she saw herself as an actress who had won an Oscar.
However, as a fuller-figured actress, Wilson admits finding roles in Australia wasn’t easy.
“No agent was really looking my way and thinking ‘Oh yeah, she is going to be the next big thing,” she says.
“People didn’t look at me and go ‘Movie star’.” So Wilson was forced to take a different approach, relying on her personality and unique brand of humour to get noticed.
“What I had to do was write my own play, put it on and get people to come to it. Then they’d say ‘Oh yeah, I get it now, I see where she could fit into the industry.’”
That play was the Westie Monologues, which emerged from the 2002 Sydney Fringe Festival and poked fun at the stereotypes Sydneysiders have of those from the north-west suburbs.
It led to her being seen by the creator of the SBS show Fat Pizza, Paul Fenech, who cast her in her first regular TV gig as Toula, an obese Greek-Australian girl.
“I look back on those days so fondly now because if you don’t have that experience you could never walk on to a movie set with the best comedians in America and be able to hold your own,” she says.
Wilson went on to write her own comedy series, Bogan Pride, which screened on SBS. The show barely made a ripple here but her talents as both a writer and comedic actress hadn’t gone unnoticed by those in the industry in the US, where she moved in 2010.
Having signed to talent and literary agents William Morris Endeavour, it took the fledgling actress just three months to land the role that would change the course of her life forever — as Kristen Wiig’s bizarre roommate in the Paul Feig-directed Bridesmaids.
Wilson originally went in for the role of Megan, bride Lillian’s (Maya Rudolph) abrasive and comical future sister-in-law, which in the end went to Melissa McCarthy, who was nominated for an Academy Award for her performance.
However, Wilson was so impressive during her audition — which involved an hour of improvisation with Wiig — a role was carved out specifically for her as Little Britain star Matt Lucas’s sister and roommate Brynn.
Lucas and Wilson became such good friends they now share a home in West Hollywood.“He’s kind of like an older brother to me,” she explains. “He’s been through so much in his career and life, so he’s very good at giving me advice. And we have the best fun. We’ve got a pool, we’ve got a hot tub, we’ve got a cinema ...
“Matt is the most hilarious guy. Sometimes I don’t think I am that funny in real life but when we are in the house we are always doing characters and silly voices. Even if he’s like ‘Do you want to go to this new restaurant called Cravings?’ and we’ll just go ‘cravings” (Wilson puts on her best Marjorie Dawes from Little Britain voice).
Speaking of Little Britain, the actress says she is still pressing Lucas to make a spin-off movie starring his character Vicky Pollard. “But I want to play Vicky,” she says. “How good would that be?”
Not that Wilson is looking for work. Bridesmaids went on to gross more than $288 million at the box office.
In its opening week, Wilson’s phone didn’t stopped ringing.
“Basically as soon as it came out I booked, like, five movies,” says the actress, who went on to land roles in A Few Best Men, What to Expect When You’re Expecting, Bachelorette, the animation Ice Age: Continental Drift, and what is undoubtedly her best performance to date, in the toe-tapping Pitch Perfect.
The movie centres around all-female college a capella group the Bellas and stars Academy Award-nominated Anna Kendrick.
But it’s Wilson who steals the show as Tasmanian Fat Amy whose hilarious lines have the audience in stitches — “You call yourself Fat Amy?” one of the Bellas asks her. “Yeah,” says Amy, “So twig bitches like you don’t do it behind my back.”
“I did my own body percussion to Lady Gaga’s Edge of Glory, because why not spice it up a little,” Wilson says, demonstrating the moves that landed her the role by beating her hands on her chest then fist-pumping the air.
Indeed, so keen was he to cast Wilson, Pitch Perfect director Jason Moore re-wrote the script to allow the actress to keep her Australian accent.
“It was never supposed to be an Australian role and I took it on my own to kind of make it a stand-out character,” says Wilson.
As her character’s name implies, Wilson was required to stay the same weight for the role — which proved a little difficult considering she was at the time an ambassador for Jenny Craig.
I wonder now, given the glamorous women she’s surrounded by in Hollywood, whether she feels any pressure to lose weight.
“They are all so beautiful there, I wouldn’t want to compete,” says Wilson. “And also it’s not my personality either. I love to eat. I do exercise — I work out with a trainer three times a week in LA — but I also love to have a good time and go out to really nice restaurants.”
Pitch Perfect is arguably the feel-good film of the year and things look equally as rosy in Wilson’s immediate future.
Next year she will star alongside Mark Wahlberg and Dwayne Johnson in Michael Bay’s movie Pain & Gain and she has been commissioned by US TV network ABC to write, act and produce a comedy series, Super Fun Night.
“I think it would be bad if you were just an actor and you wanted to do comedy but you didn’t know how to write,” says Wilson. “I think the ones who tend to make it are those who are generating their own material. All the really big movie-star comedians are not just actors who are funny, they also know how to make something funny.”Pitch Perfect opens on Thursday.
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