By ANGELA DAWSON
Front Row Features
HOLLYWOOD—Rebel Wilson came to fame in Australia in the TV comedy series “Bogan Pride.” For non-Aussies, “bogan” is a derogatory term for someone who is uneducated and unfashionable. Of course, the plus-size Wilson, who created and starred in the series, managed in her unique way to make her main character, and all bogans, for that matter, cool.
It didn’t take long for the talented actress, whose career came to her in a vision while recovering from malaria, to be noticed by Hollywood. In just a few years, the 26-year-old has become the go-to girl for comedy, with supporting—and scene-stealing—roles in “Bridesmaids,” “What to Expect When You’re Expecting,” “Bachelorette” and now the comedy “Pitch Perfect,” which delves into the cutthroat world of competitive collegiate a capalla singing. She co-stars with Anna Kendrick (“Up in the Air”) and Brittany Snow (“Hairspray”), as members of a rag-tag singing group competing for bragging rights against other college teams as well as the self-important all-male a cappela team at their school. Wilson plays a girl named Fat Amy, who came up with the unflattering moniker herself because she didn’t want people using it behind her back. The outlandish comedy is a mix of “Bridesmaids,” “Bring it On” and “Glee.”
Unlike the many boisterous, foul-mouthed characters she has played, Wilson is quiet and much more reserved in person, though her appearance is still eye-catching. For an interview, she is dressed in a black tank top and pants ensemble with a pink and white letterman’s jacket with the initial “R” (for Rebel, of course) on the breast. Her hands are adorned with silver rings that spell out her name across her knuckles in glittery gems.
“I had them custom made by some guy in Brooklyn, who usually does them for rappers,” she explains in a soft voice.
Wilson is reveling in her newfound and well-earned fame. She just bought a Hollywood manse with a pool. It’s a far cry from her humble beginnings on the outskirts of Sydney, where her parents raised show dogs and came up with unusual names for their kids. Yes, Rebel is her real name. When she spies a box of swag to be handed out to journalists, her eyes light up.
“Are there gift bags as well?” she queries. “Oh, that’s sweet. Shirts? Oh my God. I love free stuff.”
Q: Did you improvise a lot in this movie?
Wilson: Kay Cannon wrote such an awesome, hilarious script, but my style is to see what she’s got on the page and take that as a starting point, and then go la-la-la-la-la for as long as (director) Jason Moore will let me. I’m partnered with (fellow comedian) Adam Devine in the movie, and he’s a great improviser as well. So they had hours and hours of footage of us bantering back and forth saying crazy stuff to each other.
Q: What are you particularly proud of that you came up with?
Wilson: The girls upstairs were mentioning “the crystal meth” line. But I don’t even remember what I said. I never do, because they’re not rehearsed. So when I saw it in the final cut, I thought, “that was a pretty good line.”
Q: You auditioned for “Pitch Perfect” using an American accent but you speak with your native Australian accent in the movie. Why?
Wilson: We had the four weeks of rehearsals. Usually if I’m doing an accent in the movie, I keep the accent in character the whole time, but because we were doing 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. rehearsals every day, I just couldn’t keep it up. It was too exhausting. So I started talking in my own accent. I don’t even know if Jason knew I was Australian at first. One day he said to me, “you have to use that voice in the movie.” And I said, “no, I want to be an actor and do acting. I don’t want to use my real voice.” And he said, “Trust me, it’ll be great.” So I changed the character a bit (from the script) because she wasn’t written as an Australian girl.
Q: Did you come up with the mermaid dance, where you pretend to swim on the dance floor?
Wilson: Yeah. That (scene) cost them a lot of money because they didn’t know I was going to lie down on the ground and start dancing. They had all these pieces of tape on the floor. So after they filmed me, they had to digitally remove the tape from the shot. I think it cost them thousands and thousands of dollars just to use that joke. (She laughs.)
Q: Are you a fan of Disney’s Ariel?
Wilson: Oh yeah. I love “The Little Mermaid.” I just got a new house here and it has a pool so I pretend to look like a mermaid in the middle of the night. It kind of de-stresses me.
Q: Do you think it could become the next dance craze?
Wilson: The problem is club floors are pretty disgusting. So imagine if that dance became a club craze and people were doing mermaid dancing on the ground. That would be pretty gross.
Q: What cliques were you a part of growing up?
Wilson: I was actually part of an a cappela group. It was called Twelve Boys because there were 12 girls in it. How original! I went to a Christian school so we would sing church songs at people’s weddings and funerals and stuff. We had to wear these peasant blouses and disgusting velvet long skirts. We’d just belt out these songs in the churches. It was good for singing. We got good practice. I was an alto in the group.
Q: What was your favorite music in this and your favorite song to sing?
Wilson: I really love it when I get to sing, “Turn the Beat Around,” because that’s when (my character) Fat Amy gets to show her stuff. And I get to hit that big note at the end.
Q: When did you know you were funny or destined to be a performer?
Wilson: I never thought I’d end up being an actress. I thought I’d go into serious stuff like law or politics. When I finished high school, I became a youth ambassador for Australia, and I was based in South Africa for a year to spread goodwill across the continent. While I was there, I got malaria really badly and was put into intensive care—they give you this cocktail of drugs to fix you so you don’t die—and I had this hallucination that I was at the Oscars and I won. I was a really good actress. (The hallucination) was so real that when I came out of hospital, I started saying to people, “I’m going to become an actress.” I know this sounds crazy, because I’m very serious and a bit shy and people were like, “I don’t think you should do that. You just got into law school. You should just do that.” So I went back to Australia the next month and started at a theater school.
Q: Did you achieve success right away?
Wilson: No. It took a while (to become an actress) because girls who look like me or are from the poorer areas where I’m from in Australia, you don’t think you’re going to become a movie star. You just didn’t think that would happen where I’m from. So I started writing my own plays and putting them on, and singing and dancing in them and stuff. I started getting attention very quickly after that. I got onto Australian TV, which led to coming over here. I wrote a musical television series in Australia called “Bogan Pride.” That’s what caught the attention of (talent) agents. It’s me singing in a swimming costume (bathing suit) and I had pubic hair and they showed to William Morris Endeavor, my agency here, and they said, “Yep, she might be the next Dame Judi Dench.” (She laughs.) That’s how I got representation here.
Q: Do you miss Australia?
Wilson: I do. I got in at 6:30 this morning from Australia. It’s a very long way to come. I do go back a lot because all my family’s there. I try to go back when I can but the movies are keeping me so busy here, which is great because it was my dream to come here and do movies.
Q: What’s your go-to karaoke song?
Wilson: The best karaoke song I do is Elton John’s “Crocodile Rock,” because I like the chorus. But I don’t really like karaoke much because the mics always seem worn out. I’m too professional to go out and do it. (She laughs.)
Q: What’s your personal style?
Wilson: I’m a little preppy with a gangster edge. (She shows off her ring bling.) They custom-made this for me in Brooklyn. But I also like comfortable (clothes) as well. I don’t know if that’s a style: dressing for comfort. (She giggles.)