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Rebel Wilson is used to being the funniest person in the room. She shot to global fame as the scene-stealing Fat Amy in three Pitch Perfect films and is always the star of the chat-show sofa, with razor-sharp comic timing and a host of naughty stories. Yet despite Rebel’s comedic talent and the riches it’s brought her in Hollywood – where she’s also had roles in Bridesmaids as well as Isn’t It Romantic, which she produced – it’s not enough for the Australian star. An ambitious woman with a law degree who has written her own showbiz contracts, Rebel has decided not to rest on her comedy laurels. Instead, she wants to be taken seriously as an actress.
We’re chatting about it today over Zoom, where Rebel has turned out looking every inch the star in a flattering electric-blue body-con dress, smoky eye make-up and blonde hair that tumbles over her shoulders.
Although Rebel’s look is red-carpet ready, her personality is more measured and thoughtful than we’re used to seeing when the camera’s on. Rebel doesn’t use jokes as a shield to deflect personal questions – on the contrary, she is surprisingly open for an A-lister when discussing the weight-loss journey she’s on.
As Rebel has shared on social media, she has called 2020 The Year of Health and is trying to slim down to 75 kilograms (11st 8lbs), posting pictures of herself in the gym and running up and down the stairs of Sydney Opera House as part of her regime.
Rebel admits that this newfound desire to transform her trademark physique is not just for health reasons, but to get the roles she wants.
“I literally feel as if I have to physically transform myself, because for some reason, even though we’re in a very imaginative industry, it’s very difficult for people to imagine me as a serious actress and I feel that I physically have to show you that I am different,” muses Rebel, who turned 40 in March.
“I am somewhat transforming myself in order to help transform my career. I still love comedy and I will obviously still work in the comedy space, but I did train originally as a dramatic actress and did Shakespeare and Christopher Marlowe plays, which people kind of forget.”
To make it in Hollywood, that bastion of stick-thin women, Rebel carved out a niche as a larger-than-life woman who was unapologetic about her weight, epitomised by Pitch Perfect’s Fat Amy.
In fact, Rebel was obliged not to lose weight while under contract for the movies and, until now, she’s never seemed concerned about her weight, claiming that being curvy helped her stand out.
But now she sees it hampering her bigger ambitions. “People really don’t associate me with serious acting because they know me as Fat Amy from Pitch Perfect, so I am deliberately trying to do more [serious] stuff,” says Rebel.
And unlike stars who keep their weight-loss transformations under wraps, Rebel speaks with endearing candour of how tough she finds shedding the pounds.
Her journey started with a visit to one of the renowned Vivamayr health retreats in Austria, where, she says, they “reset” her whole system.
“But it’s difficult,” confesses Rebel. “I mean, I just love eating and I think I’m addicted to sugar. I was an emotional eater and to work not just on the outside but also on the mental component for me is probably the biggest thing.”
She’s no couch potato and has always been a gym bunny, even showing off her martial arts skills in Pitch Perfect 3.
“People get shocked when I say I’m sporty and athletic,” she chuckles. “People are like, ‘Huh?’ and look at me like I’m crazy, but when they get to know me they’re like, ‘You work out every day, pretty much.’”
“So for me it’s more about the mental side and there is no easy answer,” says Rebel.
“Oprah [Winfrey] is one of my role models and if there was an easy answer, Oprah would have found it. There is none and she struggles with similar things to a large extent.”
“It’s a slow, gradual process and hopefully by the end of the year, I’ll have reached my goals. I don’t know – maybe if I become very successful with the transformation, I should write a book about it.”
Although she may not have time, if Rebel’s next career move comes off – because the pandemic interrupted her plans to relocate to the UK.
“I was planning on making the move to London before this all hit,” explains Rebel. “I was looking at apartments and stuff and suddenly coronavirus was everywhere, and I came back to Australia.”
“We’ve done a great job in Australia in getting rid of the virus, but I’m sad because I can’t go to Europe for the summer. But with the huge things going on in the world I shouldn’t care about trivial stuff like that.”
Rebel sees the UK as a hive of creativity and the best place to launch the next phase of her career.
“I personally think the highest quality stuff in the world is being shot out of London,” she says.
“I’ve got UK representation now and just finished a whole series of meetings with very amazing UK talent. [Coronavirus] has delayed my plans to move over, but maybe next year it’ll be fine to do that. “
“London’s so classy. I love it and you’ve got so many talented people over there. I think you’ll see me in a BBC series that we’ll now shoot next year, which’ll be really cool.”
Morphing into a dramatic actress isn’t the only leap Rebel has undertaken. She’s also become a producer with her own production company, Camp Sugar, and produced and starred in last year’s The Hustle, co-starring Anne Hathaway, and the romcom Isn’t It Romantic.
“I was very proud of those movies,” says Rebel. “It’s hard to take that leap, but when I first started putting on plays as a playwright, I would act in them but produce the plays as well, so I had a history of doing it.”
Yet she concedes that Hollywood is a different financial kettle of fish. “Those movies, they were $35 million budgets each, which is a big thing for someone to entrust you with,” she says.
“But for me, it’s coming down to control over the material and stories and to have more power over what’s shown in the finished product. Because sometimes when you’re just an actress you don’t have any kind of say.”
Her next writing, producing and acting project is Seoul Girls, about a Korean American girl and her friends entering a global talent competition to be the opening act for the world’s biggest K-pop [South Korean pop] boy band.
Rebel is stepping out of her comfort zone elsewhere, too, tackling her first roles as a TV presenter.
She is executive producer and host of a new Australian comedy series currently streaming on Amazon Prime Video. Called LOL: Last One Laughing Australia, the format sees 10 Australian comedians trying to make the others laugh without laughing themselves.
Rebel keeps an eye on the contestants from a control room full of cameras and when one is spotted guffawing, she shows them a yellow card; at the second laugh they are expelled. The last comedian left straight-faced earns a prize of $100,000.
It’s a filthy, funny show with the comedians going to great lengths – including stripping off – to get their fellow comedians to laugh.
“It’s pretty edgy,” says Rebel, smiling. “It’s a format that was very successful in Japan and Mexico, so it wasn’t my idea, but it was good Amazon entrusted me [to executive produce] and that I had an eye over the casting of the show.”
Her name and presence bring star power to LOL, part of Rebel’s ongoing mission to promote Australian talent.
“When I was younger, Nicole Kidman gave me a scholarship and I was able to go overseas with it and that was really awesome,” she says. It’s true. In 2003 Rebel won he Australian Theatre for Young People’s scholarship to study acting in New York, funded by Nicole.
Now Rebel and fellow Australian actress Rose Byrne fund the same scholarship programme. “Obviously I’ve done so well in my career and so anything that gives a platform to others I’m happy to do,” she adds. A true Rebel cause.
LOL: Last One Laughing Australia is on Amazon Prime Video now.
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