Doing a celebrity cover interview is a lot like going on a first date. You wear a cute outfit, strategize some safe talking points, re-scan their deets to memorize their interests so you can bring those up. Once there, you try to get the banter going, dutifully referencing the mental list of Things You Just Don’t Talk About on Dates: sex, religion, politics, how annoying your ex’s Insta account is (depending how many whisky sours you consume). Celeb interviews often have their own unique verbotens: “Don’t talk about the time he almost died.” “Do not ask about her extremely famous boyfriend who is basically the only thing interesting about her.” Or just the all-encompassing go-to: “Absolutely no personal questions.”
But no such caveat emerged from Rebel Wilson’s people. Was she just as brash and don’t-give-a-f-ck as her on-screen roles and amazingly ridiculous (real) moniker? This is a woman, after all, who shot to fame playing a character who christened herself Fat Amy to pre-empt name-calling. It was balls-out, vaguely dickish Fat Amy who became the fan favourite from the Pitch Perfect franchise that now boasts two movies, $400 million in box office and a third instalment on the way. Even Wilson’s less flashy roles showcase her prickly, yet irresistible, prepossession. It’s there in the calm, weird intensity of the strange roommate, Brynn, her breakout turn in Bridesmaids. And in the nerdy-but-determined-to-go-out-for-once-you-guys office worker Kimmie from her Conan O’Brien–produced one-season sitcom Super Fun Night (which she both wrote and starred in). And it’s definitely there in the just-released How to Be Single, a raunchy girl-powered romp about the pleasures and pain of solo life. Dakota Johnson is top billed, but it’s telling that the trailers foreground Wilson’s brassy paralegal character Robin, who flashes her boobs to scam freebies from the corner bodega, berates Johnson about her overgrown bush (“You have LTRP: long-term-relationship pussy”) and tit-punches her for errant emoji use.
Sadly, Wilson’s reps shot down my whimsical list of proposed activities for our interview (one-hour smoky eye course, paddle boating in Echo Park, dive bar drink-up, tarot card reading), decreeing instead a noon meal at Cecconi’s, a gloriously pretentious Soho House offshoot in WeHo that functions as a power- unching enclave for L.A.’s elite. Intriguing choice, I thought; how very boss bitch. There, true to the apparent carte blanche, we powered through it all: Tinder fears, single life, secret career dreams. Isn’t that how all the best first dates go?
After wending my way between the Porsches and Audis crammed in the cobbled driveway, I sit down at our table, lazily Bumble-swiping while waiting for Wilson. I spot her on the patio, chatting away with some tanned Brit child-bros she knows, before she beelines over—we met at the cover shoot the previous day—and promptly relocates us to a pretty table on the patio. All the better to gawk at the ridiculous clientele, including slender, orange-hued socialites; leathery agents with sweaters draped around their shoulders; and a Real Housewives creature Wilson identifies as Lisa Vanderpump, accessorized with her famous Pomeranian Giggy.
Wilson, 35, immediately pulls focus. Not because of her size—she’s surprisingly delicate in person—but because of a certain girlish sweetness. This is not Fat Amy, or raucous Robin: it’s Rebel. Name notwithstanding, she’s actually quite…chill. A couple of movie-star features immediately ping: her ludicrously flawless skin, which I can’t help but ask about (“It’s just the glow from working out”) and wide-set, slightly slanted eyes that always seem to be in motion. She’s clad in a white T-shirt, tight black jeans with zippered pockets and a faux-leather jacket (with tiny microphone zipper pulls), all from her Torrid clothing line, along with cute shades and a pair of pointy-toed pink lamé Nicholas Kirkwood brogues. “I need to put myself together more,” she sighs. “My stylist told me to get shoes like this because I have very small hands and feet so it makes them look longer. Normally I’m the girl who doesn’t give a shit what she looks like, but because I’m in the public eye I have to try a little bit.” See? No filter. And considering the title of her new film, I’m ready to brandish my free pass to ask whatever nosy questions about her personal life I want.
Based on the popular Liz Tuccillo book, How to Be Single is a surprisingly inspiring film. Johnson plays the tremulous, charming heroine, partial to vintage silk blouses, while Wilson plays the hard-partying vixen, blonde bouffant a-swing as she rips up the dance floor in a series of tiny dresses and bold sequinned tops, makes out with hot dudes and rolls into work post-rager like a champ. As always, the fat funny friend is 1,000 times more interesting than our heroine (sorry, Dakota). Take the sauna scene where Wilson teases Johnson about her unruly bush. “It’s like you dropped your hairbrush in your vagina quarter.” “It’s a whole bowl of petrified curly fries.” “You should close your legs, there’s a reason I stopped watching Duck Dynasty.” “Is that Tom Hanks from Cast Away?” “Seriously, it’s like Gandalf is staring right at me. ‘No penis shall pass!’” That impressive run of burns? All Wilson improv.
The public at large expects many of our wackiest comedy performers to be full-on Chris Farleys IRL, getting wasted and constantly on. “The amount of drugs I get offered?!” Wilson yelps. “I’m just like, no. I might have one or two drinks when I’m out, but I don’t think I’ve ever been drunk-drunk, like slurring my speech, or sick.” Instead Wilson is more of a nice restaurant or cinema kind of girl. “I just think I’m the funniest,” she laughs, “and I’m really the darkest one that people want to kick out of [my friend] group.”
She is open to adding a dude to her life, although it can’t be just any rando. As someone “eternally single,” she was drawn to the message of her new film: “that you shouldn’t really settle or be in a codependent relationship because that’s not really fun,” she says. “The movie is just so pro being single and not getting together with a guy at the end, which is different and unexpected.” It’s a nice counterpoint to the standard narrative of her Sydney crew. Wilson went to an all-girls Christian high school and many of her friends got married shortly after graduating. Her little sister tied the knot recently, too, and at the wedding the actress had to endure the same kinds of “What’s up with Rebel, why doesn’t she have anyone?” nonsense us normals have to put up with. “But,” says Wilson, “interestingly enough, I caught up with some of my girlfriends from high school when I was back in Australia in December, and a lot of them weren’t very happy with their situations and were envious of mine. I’m definitely not lonely in any way. I love being by myself.”
The benefits of being by yourself, according to Wilson: “Doing whatever you want, whenever you want. I’m very attached to that. If I just want to go on a holiday, I go on a holiday. If I just feel like going on a hike today or sleeping in today, eat whatever…I’m not very accustomed to compromise.” (She tells me that she recently pitched Jimmy Fallon a music video for his show of all the good things about being single.) That said, her best dating advice is to not get so stuck in your ways that you can’t change if the right person comes along. Wilson reminds me of so many young unattached women today: strong, successful, happy in her choices…but not above hankering for a little romance. Couple blowouts like V-Day can be hard as a single girl, she says, somewhat wistfully. “I don’t think I’ll be getting anything this Valentine’s Day. But there was a line in this movie The Diary of a Teenage Girl where the main character goes, ‘I wonder if anybody loves me who I don’t know about,’ and I was like, ‘That’s interesting: you never know.’ On Valentine’s Day you could get sent something.” So, despite her pro-solo stance, there’s an endearingly human itch there.
So how does Wilson plan on finding the right guy? Well, Tinder’s out. “Most people try to tell me how I can be less single—that I should take certain one-night-stand opportunities and stuff. I’m not like that. It would be hilarious, I’m sure, but I don’t know if I could actually go through with it.” I ask her what kind of boo she’s looking for. “I always say, someone I couldn’t beat in a cage fight,” she says. “I like men who are traditionally masculine. Like if a table needs to be lifted, he would do that. I mean, I like that show The Millionaire Matchmaker. There’s something about traditional manliness and chivalry, and gentlemanliness. But then is that sexist? I don’t know. Men are traditionally stronger physically. So if you need something done at your house that’s physical, they should do it.”
A weakness for masc guys is one thing, but making your man the sum total of your #goals is out of the question for Wilson—something her mother instilled in her. “My mom was always a big proponent of going out into the world and living your life: have kids but have them later. And so I really took that to heart,” she says. “I think the saddest thing in the world is when you see a woman who is really smart and a go-getter and then she gets married too young or has kids too young and doesn’t really fulfill her dreams.”
The Wilson family is tight—Rebel is close with her beagle-breeder mother and three siblings. (Her father passed away two weeks into production on Super Fun Night.) They grew up in the Bible belt of suburban Sydney, where the confidence she would become famous for manifested early: after reading that one’s character becomes set in stone at age 15, the formerly shy Wilson decided that she’d better “get a personality” before it was too late, so she pushed herself to join debate clubs, to speak up more.
Then came the now-infamous origin story of her acting career. During a year as a Rotary International Youth Ambassador for Australia in South Africa at 17, she came down with malaria and experienced an intense fever dream about winning an Oscar. She took it as a sign. Upon returning to Australia, she went into law school as planned—while also attending the prestigious acting school Australian Theatre for Young People, focusing on drama. After some high school musicals and plays, it seemed like a natural fit. “I really didn’t set out to be a comedian; it just kind of…probably because I started gaining weight when I was in college. So comedy was the easier angle to go in. I realized really quickly that people like to laugh at me.”
That hallucination, the beagle-breeder background, the fanciful name—they’ve all come under the press’s scrutiny on occasion, but Wilson doesn’t strike me as someone prone to exaggeration. She came under fire last year for allegedly fudging six years off her age when she came to the United States, but she is just as candid about that debacle as she is about anything else. “An actress has a playing age and can play within that, so why does it matter what her actual age is? I don’t get that. My movie was No. 1 and [the Australian press] tried to find anything they could that was bad on me,” she says. “The most they could find out is that I stopped saying my age in press articles. It’s a business thing because you don’t want to be like, ‘Oh, I’m 29, about to be 30 coming to America, great.’ That’s not a positive thing to do when you’re an actress in Hollywood.”
She is fond of the malaria narrative, though. “It’s a pretty good story,” she tells me. “People thought it was a comedy bit. I’m like yeah, as if I friggin’ made that up, I almost died.” She sometimes wonders: “Was it always something in me that I wanted to be an actress, or was it really a vision of the future and it was so strong and powerful that it propelled me to do it?” Such visions are a force in Wilson’s life: “Most people who know me very well know that I’m slightly psychic. Apparently my father was a bit psychic as well.” She has dreams about people she is very close to, and recalls the time she envisioned her sister Liberty being seriously hurt after getting her hair tangled in the wheels of a go-kart. “I called her and said, ‘Lib, I don’t want to freak you out, but I just had this dream about you.’” As it turns out, Liberty was just about to go kart racing. She ended up going to the track—but didn’t get in a kart.
Post-fever, after doing time in a half-dozen Australian TV shows for four years, Wilson knew it was America or bust, so she gave herself six months to move to L.A. and land a part or she’d move back home. On her second day there, she was signed to a fancy management agency. Within a few months, she booked Bridesmaids. And from Bridesmaids, she landed Pitch Perfect. The movie hit so big that paparazzi started camping outside her house. The dream was starting to come true.
It’s a good time to be Rebel Wilson. For years, she could have languished in garbage BFF roles in formulaic romcoms or as the kooky fourth-billed girlfriend in bro-fests. Instead, exciting, feminist, female-focused comedies are slowly filling our multiplexes. “I feel really lucky to be a woman in Hollywood doing comedy right now,” Wilson says. “Now that more writers are getting a chance to create these scripts, it’s just more edgy. Girls [are often] relegated to just being the love interest in a guys’ movie. The experience of filming How to Be Single is so different than, say, my experience on Sacha Baron Cohen’s movie The Brothers Grimsby.” In that film, opening March 11, Wilson plays—sigh—the crass, low-class wife of Cohen’s leading man. “They just want you to stand in the corner and do nothing, which is a waste.”
So Wilson wants to create more women-driven films herself, and recently started a production company (“The name’s stupid so I won’t tell you”). “Now I’m at the point where I can develop projects to star in because they trust me enough to give me like millions of dollars,” she deadpans. “It’s so much fun.” Wilson has hired two female writers so far, and her goal is to get a film off the ground next year. Some movies she has on the go include a reboot of the classic Goldie-Hawn-in-the-army flick Private Benjamin, and a remake of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels in which the titular swindlers are now women trying to con a man.
As our date draws to a close, I ask Wilson about the next step to realizing The Dream. “What you first become famous in is what they like to pigeonhole you in,” she says. “But a lot of people don’t understand that I did serious acting.” True to form, she’s putting it out there: while presenting at the BAFTAs later this year, she would love to do a bit onstage about how she is available for serious roles. “So you really want to do drama?” I ask. “Yes, totally!” she says. “I need to win an Oscar. That was the vision. There’s a lot of amazing directors and I’m just not really in their minds yet—all you need is one role to transition and then they’re like, ‘Oh, she can do it.’ And then you’re like, ‘Yeah.’”