Performers often remark on the reserve of British theatre audiences compared with the whooping of their US counterparts. But when Rebel Wilson tottered on stage in London on Thursday night as Miss Adelaide in Guys and Dolls, it might as well have been Broadway. Before she had delivered a single line, the crowd could not contain itself. Wilson spent the next two and a half hours proving she deserved the hysteria.
The 36-year-old Australian actor’s emotional openness on screen, in hits such as Bridesmaids and the two Pitch Perfect movies, has always been simultaneously monstrous and moving, terrifying and tender. That quality converts easily to the stage. She has perfected the distinctive nasal squawk required to play Adelaide, who has a permanent cold, which it is suggested is caused by having been engaged for 14 years without any sign of a wedding. She looks as if she could tear her fiance, Nathan Detroit (Simon Lipkin), limb from limb as easily as she plucks the petals from the dancers’ costumes in a game of he-loves-me, he-loves-me-not. One of the show’s highlights comes during the song Sue Me when she mimes choking him to death, dragging out the crime to ridiculous lengths. But she also makes it clear that Adelaide is missing important protective layers.
The director Gordon Greenberg cast her as a way of returning the show to its audacious origins. “These days it seems quaint,” he explains. “But I wanted to recapture the danger and the racy tone that it had in 1950, when the language and the sheer exposure of flesh made it pretty bold. I needed someone who would bring a fresh, young, vital energy to the show. Rebel is very smart and strategic about the work she does and you can see instantly that she connects with the audience in the way the young Bette Midler did. She’s amazingly perceptive. She’s that interesting creature who always knows what’s happening in every corner of the room.”
It has been hard to escape her this year. She was very winning within her natural habitat – the female-oriented buddy-movie – in How to Be Single, where she brought the odd moment of rage to her over-sharing, cheerfully disinhibited shtick. Then she popped up in two British comedies: Sacha Baron Cohen’s dismal spy caper Grimsby, in which she was wasted in a tiny role, and Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie, where she had heaps more fun as a budget airline flight attendant who squares up to the indomitable Patsy (Joanna Lumley).
Mandie Fletcher, who directed Ab Fab, was immediately impressed by Wilson. “I found her rather touching,” she says. “It’s not easy to come on to a set at the end of a shoot where everyone already knows one another. But she’s incredibly self-possessed. She knows herself very well and has lots of ideas. Then once she gets in front of the camera – well, she lights up like a flipping candle. She’s one of those people whom you know is absolutely in the right job.”
Wilson, who was born in Sydney and trained as a lawyer, carved out a successful comedy career for herself on Australian television. Her legal background stood her in good stead for negotiating contracts and protecting her business assets. Working on an Australian TV sketch show, for instance, she was the only person who made sure she owned the rights to all her characters.
She first came to the attention of international audiences in the 2011 hit Bridesmaids, in which she played the mildly unhinged sister of Matt Lucas. Another newcomer might have been daunted by the prospect of appearing alongside talents such as Kristen Wiig and Melissa McCarthy but Wilson made this small, odd role her own. The otherworldly inflections of her accent, best described as sedated English, combined with the character’s brazenness, left viewers reeling slightly from shock. Her evident ease with her larger-than-average size was also an undoubted part of the charm. “I saw my size as being an advantage,” she said, “whereas so many women see it as a disadvantage.”
With that brief, startling appearance a career was born. From that point on, Wilson became prized as the obliviously uncouth party girl, at once cuddly and abrasive, who says what no one else would dare – the ball of fun with a core of steel. She carried the out-of-control persona with her from Bridesmaids into the 2012 comedy Pitch Perfect, where she played Fat Amy, one of a group of young women who enter an a capella tournament; she stole the film and its sequel from her co-stars and will doubtless do so again in the third instalment, which starts shooting as soon as her eight-week stint in Guys and Dolls is up. The one departure from the Wilson narrative of good-natured raucousness has been her decision to sue parts of the Australian press over its accusations that she embellished stories of her ordinary middle-class upbringing and lied about her age. It’s hard to know whether Wilson has a strong case with her claim that the coverage cost her work. With her sharp legal mind, though, it would be foolish to rule it out.
Wilson’s career so far has been dominated by films that have used her to provide a brief, electrifying jolt, from What to Expect When You’re Expecting to the third Night at the Museum movie. But she has been frank about her ambitions to win an Oscar. “I have to transition into drama,” she said recently, “because I can’t fucking win an Oscar for Pitch Perfect 3, can I?”
For many of her fans, this move will be overdue. “She does this wonderful job of undercutting, coming in and stealing the scene,” says Fletcher. “But now I think it’s time for her to take the lead in something.” Greenberg thinks an Oscar is perfectly within Wilson’s grasp. “She’s still evolving as an artist and the fact that she has her sights set on a very highfalutin goal is a good thing. She certainly has the soulfulness, intelligence, curiosity and talent to get herself there. This is just the beginning.”
Born 2 March 1980
Career Sydney-born actor, graduated from the Australian Theatre for Young People in 2003, became a homegrown TV star before moving to Los Angeles and landing a part in Bridesmaids. Since then, she has been the go-to girl for any film needing a rejuvenating shot of comic wildness.
High point Playing Fat Amy in the Pitch Perfect comedies. Presenting at this year’s Baftas (“I have never been invited to the Oscars because, as you know, they are racist …”).
Low point Suing Australian publications that accused her of lying about her age.
What she says “There’s something about me that people like laughing at.”
What they say “You feel because she’s so good at playing hot messes on film that that’s what you’ll get in real life. What you get is a woman who doesn’t drink when she goes out with the cast after the show. She has a Coke, talks for a bit and then goes home to work on her craft.” Gordon Greenberg, director of Guys and Dolls.
Rebel Wilson has made a career out of brash cameos and outrageous self-mockery. She may not have a glorious singing voice, but here in her West End debut she demonstrates her talent for grabbing attention and holding on to it relentlessly. There’s a thrusting naughtiness in her portrait of lovelorn Miss Adelaide, the nightclub chanteuse who’s been hanging on for 14 years in the hope that her beau Nathan will propose marriage.
Sporting a red curly wig and a selection of figure-hugging outfits, Wilson exudes zany energy. She’s the silliest and most breezily simple-minded Adelaide I’ve seen. True, she could be funnier — some of her saucy moments have a strenuous coarseness — and she could be better integrated into the production, but she has certainly put her mark on the role.
Opposite her is Simon Lipkin as mischief-making Nathan. Though at first he seems to be less smitten with her than with trying to mastermind dodgy back-room gambling, the couple share a strangely effective chemistry. This is sparked by the contrast between his air of klutzy haplessness and Adelaide’s charisma.
There are plenty of other bright performances in Gordon Greenberg’s witty staging, which began life at Chichester Festival Theatre two years ago. Oliver Tompsett brings a slick charm and soaring voice to high-rolling Sky Masterson, revelling in his romantic scenes with Siubhan Harrison’s initially buttoned-up religious crusader Sarah. And Gavin Spokes aces the role of Nicely-Nicely Johnson, the sunny gambler who anchors the show’s best number Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ The Boat.
The show has a lovely buoyancy, rippling with humour, and there’s swoopingly dramatic choreography courtesy of Carlos Acosta and Andrew Wright. Most importantly, it’s alive to all the golden pleasures of Frank Loesser’s score and lyrics. The presence of a star as bankable and unorthodox as Rebel Wilson — until August 21, though the production runs until January — should introduce a whole new audience to what’s arguably the most irresistible of all Broadway musicals.
Until January 7, Phoenix Theatre (0844 871 7687)
When Rebel Wilson was a child, one of her dogs auditioned for a part in 42nd Street. Not everyone will remember a canine role in that musical, but part of Wilson’s gift for comedy is a persuasiveness about such things. “My mum had to train the dog,” she explains, in her low-key Australian drawl. “The actress would call the dog, and the dog had to run across the stage and come to the lady.” But, she remembers, “our dog came halfway, pooped on the stage, then ran off.”
I suggest that this is the kind of scene-stealing of which she might approve.
“Yeah,” she replies, “I mean, I would have done the same.”
We are sitting in a dark, bar-like room behind the stalls of the Phoenix Theatre on Charing Cross Road. Wilson, who now lives in Los Angeles, has been in London for a week rehearsing the part of Miss Adelaide in Guys and Dolls, which she’s due to perform – in a style she says will be indebted to Bette Midler – for the next two months. While she takes her lunch break, the Underground rumbles past like thunder, and sounds drift across from the stage. “That’s good old reliable Nathan,” the male cast members sing, “Nathan, Nathan, Nathan Detroit!”
On screen, Wilson is famous as Fat Amy, the ostentatiously ungainly plus-size character in the Pitch Perfect films (rumour has it that she was contractually forbidden from losing weight while a sequel was in the offing). In person, she’s almost petite. She’s wearing all black – Lycra leggings and a long-sleeved
T-shirt from her own fashion label, Torrid – and although she may be a little round, she’s also rather pale and unassuming.
It’s easy to forget that Wilson, who is 36, has been visible to British and American audiences for only five years. That’s when she appeared, briefly, in Bridesmaids, the outrageously clever Judd Apatow comedy written by and starring Kristen Wiig. Now she’s everyone’s favourite comic – when we meet, she says she’s looking forward to attending the opening day of Wimbledon, in the royal box, and a few days later she is mobbed outside the stage door after the first preview of Guys and Dolls, at which she’s given a standing ovation.
She’s also appearing alongside her hero, Jennifer Saunders, in the film version of Absolutely Fabulous, having had roles, very recently, in Sacha Baron Cohen’s Grimsby and the anti-rom-com How to Be Single. This year alone, she’s been invited to perform at the Hollywood Bowl, on James Corden’s Late Late Show, and at the Baftas. “I have never been invited to the Oscars,” she said at that ceremony, puncturing a fierce debate with very little effort, “because, as you know, they are racists.” Even if there were a way of measuring degrees of deadpan, a whole new thermometer would have to be invented for Wilson.
Her secret is an uncanny gift for holding your attention on-screen. Whether she’s delivering a death stare or a dumb gaze, she can take what would otherwise have been a cameo and make it a star turn.
That is what happened with Bridesmaids. Wilson, an Australian unknown who’d just arrived in Hollywood, auditioned for the part that eventually went to Melissa McCarthy. But the filmmakers knew there was something about Wilson they didn’t want to lose, so they created for her the very small role of an incredibly stupid person – which she spun out into hilarity.
“I really could have ended up having zero lines in that,” Wilson admits. And yet, as she puts it, “It did pop, and people went: ‘She’s interesting. We want to see more of that girl.’ And one of the movies I got from that was Pitch Perfect, which turned out to be a mega franchise.”
With Pitch Perfect 3 ready to start filming any day, the Australian star reveals she would like to take on more dramatic parts.
Australian comedy actress Rebel Wilson has told Sky News she is setting her sights on more dramatic roles.
As the Pitch Perfect star makes her West End stage debut in London as Miss Adelaide in Guys And Dolls she admitted she hopes the part of the hypochondriac night club performer will allow audiences to see what she is capable of as an actress.
“In Guys And Dolls of course there is so much comedy and sass with the numbers, but there are some real heartbreaking moments,” she said.
“The thing about Miss Adelaide and when I just saw the lovely Samantha Spiro, who I’m replacing, I saw her performance and it’s so heartbreaking in moments so it would be interesting to see how the audience reacts in those more dramatic bits.
“Sometimes in movies you don’t get the chance to show that range because you are just playing the funny friend or the Australian girl and so hopefully people will see me in a different light from doing stuff like this and looking for the right dramatic movie.”
Despite Wilson’s hankering to be taken more seriously, the 26-year-old revealed she can’t help but improvise during scenes for Guys And Dolls.
“You’re supposed to stick the the formula in the West End, do it the same every night, but there is something in-built in me that I can’t really do that – like the professionals!” she laughed.
“I kind of want to sneak in some cheeky jokes and I will be doing that.”
:: Wilson is in Guys And Dolls at the Phoenix Theatre in London until the end of August.
“Hopefully I crush it,” said the ‘Pitch Perfect’ actress of playing Miss Adelaide.
Fat Amy has arrived on the West End.
Rebel Wilson will make her West End debut on Tuesday night in the musical revival of Guys and Dolls at London’s Phoenix Theatre. She will take over the role of Miss Adelaide for an eight-week run through Aug. 21.
The star of the Pitch Perfect films was seen onstage earlier this month at Los Angeles’ Hollywood Bowl, playing Ursula in a concert sing-along of Disney’s The Little Mermaid with Sara Bareilles, Darren Criss and Tituss Burgess. Wilson trained at the Australian Theatre for Young People and performed in eight productions and also wrote, produced and starred in 2008’s short-lived Australian musical comedy series Bogan Pride.
“A lot of people who know me from my more recent film work have no idea how much theater has influenced my life,” Wilson said in a statement, according to Playbill. “I saw my first musical at age 14, a show called 42nd Street, after one of my family’s dogs had unsuccessfully auditioned to be in it. It blew me away and I’ve loved musical theater ever since. I am delighted to be making my West End debut in Guys and Dolls and to be playing such an iconic role as Miss Adelaide is truly an honor. Hopefully I crush it … but you’ll have to come and see me to find out!”
The actress will be seen next in the upcoming Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie, as well as Pitch Perfect 3, due out in summer 2017. Wilson is repped by WME and Creative Representation.
Rebel Wilson can take on all rivals when it comes to being hilarious, sarcastic and giving the boys a run for their money in the world of stand-up and comedy. There’s a lot to learn from her.
Rebel Wilson stars as loud and proud singleton, Robin, in ‘How To Be Single’ – a tale of the perils and pitfalls, but also pleasures, of single life. Whether you want it or not.
To celebrate, we are going to look at eight Life Lessons that Rebel can teach us to help us through the humdrum routine of daily life…
Rebel’s Life Lesson Number 1: Don’t worry if you can’t find time for exercise… we all have our priorities…
“Who can train for a marathon? I’m currently training to be able to blow dry and straighten my own hair without having to take a break”!
Rebel’s Life Lesson Number 2: What you see is not always what you get
“I think I appear very innocent and soft, but I’m actually very dark and edgy. It’s a weird dichotomy.”
Rebel’s Life Lesson Number 3: Knowing that things can always change for the better
“At school, nobody thought I was smart and I became smart. Nobody wanted to be my friend and then I had lots of friends.”
Rebel’s Life Lesson Number 4: Embracing your wing-woman status
“I’m more of the girl who’s always in the friend zone, and I try to help if my other friend wants to get with someone.”
Rebel’s Life Lesson Number 5: How to act around beautiful people
“I’ve only met [Brad Pitt] once before. Well, I didn’t really meet him. I kind of just stood behind him and smelled his hair. It smelled really good.”
Rebel’s Life Lesson Number 6: On timekeeping
“Got a new personal best at the gym this morning…arrived only 5 minutes late”.
Rebel’s Life Lesson Number 10: Loving life in the real world
“There are so many glamorous actresses, but you know what? In the real world, nobody looks like that.”
Rebel’s Life Lesson Number 8: On ignoring stereotypes
“I don’t think I’m very vain. Even though I’m on a TV show, I don’t really care what I look like that much. And I think that women out there should just be happy with how they look and they shouldn’t really try to conform to any stereotype. Just be happy and hopefully healthy.”
Rebel Wilson stars in ‘How To Be Single’ on Digital HD and on Blu-ray™ and DVD out now.