Rebel Wilson’s on-screen presence and comedic timing have made the Australian native’s transition to U.S. cinemas a seamless one. Her breakout role as Kristen Wiig’s hilarious roommate Brynn in Judd Apatow’s blockbuster sensation “Bridesmaids” left audiences curious and wanting to see more. Her film “Bachelorette,” also starring Kirsten Dunst and Isla Fisher, premiered at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year and was just released in theaters. In her new comedy, “Pitch Perfect,” about competitive collegiate a cappella singing, Wilson plays Fat Amy, the larger than life, super-confident, self-professed best singer in Tasmania.
At the “Pitch Perfect” press day, I sat down at a press conference with Wilson to talk about her latest film which opens in theaters on September 28th. She discussed how director Jason Moore allowed her to improv in many of her scenes, what inspired her mermaid dance, and why “Turn the Beat Around” was her favorite musical number in the film. She also revealed the life changing event that made her realize she was destined to be a performer.
Question: Can you talk a little bit about your improv? Were you able to do a lot of your own thing?
Rebel Wilson: Yeah. Kay (screenwriter Kay Cannon) wrote such an awesome, hilarious script. My style is to see what she’s got on the page and take that as a starting point and then just go blah, blah, blah for as long as Jason (director Jason Moore) will let me. And also, because I’m partnered with Adam DeVine in the movie and he’s a really great improviser as well, so pretty much the stuff that made it into the movie was the improvised. But they will have hours and hours of footage of us bantering back and forward and saying crazy stuff to each other.
Q: What were you particularly proud of that you came up with?
Wilson: I think the crystal meth line and I never even remember because most things you don’t remember what you said because they’re not rehearsed or anything. When I saw that in the final cut, I thought that was a pretty good line.
Q: One of my favorite improv moments was the mermaid dance and I heard you improv-ed that?
Wilson: Ah yes, you know, that cost them a lot of money because they didn’t know obviously that I was going to go on the ground and start dancing. In the original shot, they had the tape. When you’re filming and you have the tape marks, they usually use fluorescent tape. They were all over the concrete. So I went down and did dancing and Jason wanted to use it in the movie, but there was all this tape, so they had to digital effect the tape out of the shot to be able to use it. I think it cost them thousands and thousands of dollars just to use that joke.
Q: Where did that come from? Are you a big fan of Ariel?
Wilson: Yeah, I love “The Little Mermaid.” I just got a new house here (in Los Angeles) and I’ve got a pool and I pretend to be like a mermaid, like in the middle of the night. (Laughs) It kind of de-stresses me but I just like her around. I don’t know why. I did really like “The Little Mermaid” growing up. It’s awesome.
Q: What do you think of a Mermaid dance cruise?
Wilson: That could be good. The problem is, like in club floors, they’re very disgusting. And so, imagine if this started to become a club craze and people would just be doing mermaid dancing on the ground. It’d be really gross, like ooohhh. There’d be this slime all over.
Q: Do you think vertical running will catch on any time soon?
Wilson: Vertical running was added because I did the horizontal line on the day in the other scene and then when we do ADR and Jason was like “Can you think of anything funny to say?” and I did, like maybe I’ll just go “I’m vertically running.” So, we put that in post. But it was good. It was a good callback. I like callbacks on jokes.
Q: What school groups were you part of?
Wilson: I was actually part of an a cappella group. It was called Twelve Boys because there were twelve girls in it. I was like yeah, how original. I went to a Christian school and so we’d sing church songs at people’s weddings and funerals. They were kind of really pretty, but we’d have to wear these peasant blouses and these disgusting long velvet skirts. We were 15-year-old girls and we’d have to stand like this, kind of like what we do in the movie in the Ace of Bass song. We’d just be belting out these songs in the churches. At least it was good for singing. You got good practice. I was an alto in that group and in The Bellas I’m playing alto as well which is good.
Q: I’m guessing there wasn’t a lesbian in that group?
Wilson: There was but they were closeted at our school.
Q: What was your favorite music in this and what was the most fun scene to shoot?
Wilson: I really liked when I got to sing “Turn the Beat Around” because that’s where Fat Amy gets to show her stuff and the big note at the end. Some scenes were really hard to shoot. All the night stuff was actually in the freezing cold in Louisiana. All this beautiful stuff in the swimming pool, that was like freezing, freezing temperature. Most of us were wearing jackets because inside we had little heating pads and stuff because it was that freezing. But my favorite scene was probably the finale which was super tough because I think that routine is about 3-1/2 to 4 minutes. We always thought when you film movie musicals you don’t do the full number full out. Jason will cut it up into different shots. But he made us do that number full out I think about forty times. We were giving it every single take because there was a real crowd there. We didn’t want to bore them so we were really giving it every single take and singing along. But it was just so much fun and we were all working so well together, all of the girls, and the crowd was loving it. They were. It was kind of like we actually won that competition even though we didn’t. But when you were there, you just really felt like yeah, it was really good group camaraderie that day.
Q: When did you know you were funny or that you were destined to be a performer? Was there a special moment?
Wilson: I never thought I would end up being an actress. I thought I really was going to do serious stuff like law or politics. So, when I finished high school, I was what’s called a Youth Ambassador for Australia and I was based in southern Africa for a year to spread good will across the African continent. As part of my job, I got malaria really badly and was put in intensive care, and I had a hallucination because 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 and I was a really good actress, and it was so real that when I came out of the hospital, I started saying to people I’m going to become an actress. I know this sounds crazy. I know I’m very serious and a bit shy, and people were like “Oh, I don’t think you should do that. You got into law school. You should just do that.” But I said “No, no” and so I went back to Australia the next month and started at a theater school in Australia. It took a while because I think girls who looked like me or were from the poorer area where I’m from in Australia, like you don’t think “Oh, I’m going to be a movie star.” You just didn’t think that would happen to girls like me where I’m from. And then, I don’t know, I just … the first thing I did was I started writing my own plays and putting them on and singing and dancing in them and I just very quickly got attention by doing that and got into Australian TV which then led to coming over here. I wrote a musical television series in Australia called “Bogan Pride” and that’s what caught the attention of the agents here. I was singing in what we call a swimming costume – it’s like a bathing suit — and I had pubic hair and they showed it to William Morris at my agency here and they said “Yup, she might be the next Dame Judi Dench.” (laughing) That’s a joke. And so yeah, that’s how I got representation over here.
Q: You said you bought a house here. Do you miss Australia?
Wilson: Yeah, I do. I’m just back. I got in at 6:30 this morning from Australia. It’s a very long way to come. But I do, because all my family is there. I try to go back when I can, but the movies are just keeping me so busy here which is great because this was my dream to come here and do movies.
Q: What’s your ‘go to’ karaoke song?
Wilson: My very best karaoke thing I did was Elton John’s “Crocodile Rock” I think because I liked the choruses but I didn’t quite know the verses. That was really bad. I was very unprofessional. I don’t like karaoke because the mics are always so worn out. The quality of the mics is such that you’re always going (screaming) “Yeah, yeah!” and then you can’t like it. It’s like sometimes I’m too professional to get up and do it.
Q: Can you describe your personal style?
Wilson: I’m kind of a little bit preppy but with like a gangster edge. (shows us the large rings she’s wearing on each hand that spell out her first and last name) This is my name actually and they’re custom made from Brooklyn like from a total gangsta. Yeah, but I also like comfortable as well. I don’t know whether that’s a style. I’m just dressing for comfort.
Q: You mentioned one of your favorite music moments. What was the biggest challenge for you personally as far as singing and dancing and what routine?
Wilson: Because we have the 10-part harmonies in basically every number, except for “Party in the USA” which is pretty simple, but the 10-part harmonies when you’re not used to singing harmonies, it’s really difficult. We also thought we’d be getting vocal coaching, but when we got to Louisiana, they said “No, you’re supposed to learn it yourself.” So, we’d get the tracks and we’d have the full track in one ear and your part in the other ear and you’d basically have to sit there and learn. And, when you sing your bit, like in the Ace of Bass song, it’s just like (sings) “I…….I……and it opened up my eyes……happy living without you.” So, it doesn’t sound good when you’re just singing your bit, but when it’s in the group, it sounds really, really good, but that actually was my part in the song. It’s like if someone hears you just singing that, it’s not even the right timing usually unless you’re singing the melody in the songs but normally somebody like Kendrick was singing that. But it was pretty challenging if you’re not doing that all the time. So, even though I’ve done musical theater singing, it was quite hard to blend in.
Q: You auditioned using an American accent initially, right? What happened?
Wilson: Right. What happened was that we had the four weeks of rehearsals, and usually if I’m doing an accent in a movie, I’ll keep the accent and kind of the character the whole time. But, because we were doing 9am ‘til 6pm rehearsals every day, I just couldn’t keep it up. It was too exhausting. So I started talking like this (using her normal Australian accent), how I am now, and Jason Moore heard me and he was like… I don’t even know whether he knew I was Australian at first. And then he heard me talking like this and he was like “You’ve got to use that voice in the movie. You’ve got to.” And I’m like “No, I want to be an actor and do acting. I don’t want to use my real voice.” And he was like “Trust me, it’ll be great.” And so that’s another reason why I just improvised, I guess, to change the character a little bit because she definitely wasn’t written as an Australian girl.