She’s hosted the BAFTAs and starred in Hollywood comedies like Pitch Perfect and The Hustle, as well as the Oscar-winning WW2 satire Jojo Rabbit.


But dramatic roles? That’s something Rebel Wilson is far from used to. "To cry within a scene... I just hadn’t done that in so long, like 20 years or something, from when I did serious stuff on stage in Australia," the Sydney-born actress muses. "And it’s really challenging… but the writing was so good."

Sitting in the plush library of a Zurich hotel, Wilson is talking about her time on British movie The Almond and the Seahorse, a tear-jerking drama that sees her play Sarah, an archaeologist whose husband, Joe (Celyn Jones, who also co-directs with Tom Stern), is unable to form new memories after he endured surgery to remove a brain tumour.

A film that co-stars heavyweight performers like Charlotte Gainsbourg and Trine Dyrholm, it’s been a powerful – and taxing – experience for Wilson. "It’s hard to play the partner of the person that’s had the traumatic injury," she says.

Her comment stems from personal experience. For a while, Wilson dated someone who had previously sustained a brain injury after a fall. "I didn’t know him before the injury. So I didn’t know [what he was like before]," she recalls. "Sometimes, he’d tell me something, and then he’d tell me again an hour later."

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Thankfully, the injury wasn’t as severe as the one seen in the film, but Wilson still drew from her time with this ex. "I used a little bit of that for the character."

With the film adapted by Jones and Kaite O’Reilly from her own 2008 novel, Wilson credits Jones, as her main scene partner, for helping her through the more dramatic moments. "You just try not to bring the comedic timing into it," she says. "But you try to be open and play off the other actor.

"And with Celyn and I, each scene was pretty different. And there were long scenes… so it felt improvised, in a way. But it was drama, so you’ve got to bring that same kind of fun and spontaneity – just not in a comic way. It felt very fresh."

Curiously, Wilson’s move into drama was inspired by a very famous former co-star: the late Robin Williams. "We were working on Night of the Museum 3 and it was a month or two before he passed," she remembers.

At the time, she was improvising a scene with Ben Stiller, and Williams was watching on the sidelines intently. "It was three in the morning. And he’s like, 'Can I talk to you?' And I’m like, 'Hell, yeah,' because it’s Robin Williams. And he’s a legend."

Williams sat her down. "And he goes, 'You should be doing drama. I can see it in you.'" The iconic comedian, who had made his own switch to dramatic roles in films like Insomnia and One Hour Photo, even told his daughter Zelda about his conversation with Wilson.

"And then, after his death, Zelda said, 'I just wanted you to know my dad said such great things [about you].' After that, I was thinking, 'It would be good to do something,' but because the comedy stuff was going so well, I didn’t really get any opportunities."

Fortunately, Celyn Jones spotted Wilson’s dramatic potential and offered her the role of Sarah in The Almond and the Seahorse. "This script came along after I did something at the BAFTAs in 2020. And then I was like, 'Okay, this could be a stepping stone into more serious stuff.'"

In retrospect, she felt hugely grateful to Williams. "It was one of those chats where I was so glad that I was there on that freezing cold night in London and got to sit with him for 45 minutes and just chat about life. I feel like very lucky that I had that experience."

Typified by her move from comedy into drama, it’s been a period of transition for Wilson, who lost 35 kilos before she shot The Almond and the Seahorse. "Weirdly, losing weight makes me a better actress," she claims. "Because the weight, in a way, is like a barrier… you can kind of hide behind it.

"And then, doing The Almond and The Seahorse, which is the first movie I shot after losing weight, I felt I was much more vulnerable and raw. I couldn’t hide behind anything. Which was an added benefit, I guess, from losing weight, but I think maybe I’d become a better actress. Hopefully."

She was also forced to go public about her first same-sex relationship (with fashion designer Ramona Agruma) when Australian newspaper Sydney Morning Herald said it was about reveal all.

Being 'outed' like that did not sit well. "I wouldn’t have thought, in 2022, that that would have happened," she comments. "But it was something that I was close to sharing anyway. I just had to have some very quick conversations with family members that didn’t know! 'Hey, so an article’s gonna come out and be about this!'

"But my girlfriend is from Latvia. They’re very conservative. So her journey has been a bit more difficult."

Strangely, Wilson’s journey is echoed in The Almond and the Seahorse, with Sarah growing closer to Gainsbourg’s character, whose partner also has a traumatic brain injury.

"Charlotte was the first woman I’ve ever kissed," she reveals. "I think it’s pretty cool that she was the first ever woman I kissed. She’s an amazing actress and such a cool lady. I was very nervous… but then I wanted it to go way racier, and I wish [the directors had] done that. They were being too respectful. They kept yelling 'cut!' just when it was getting good!"

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More recently, Wilson’s been in the news for her just-published memoir Rebel Rising, in particular a chapter about her time working with Sacha Baron Cohen on the 2016 comedy Grimsby.

"Entitled Sacha Baron Cohen and Other A**holes, the chapter detailed her fraught time with Cohen on the film – but after a legal battle, the book is now being published in the UK with those passages redacted. Despite this, Wilson remains proud of the book, stating on Instagram, 'This is my full story – from my childhood to the birth of my beautiful daughter [Royce Lillian, born in 2022 via surrogacy].'"

It shows that Wilson is as outspoken as ever, despite the dangers. "It’s definitely been a weird time, I would say, in the last four or five years, [it's] been a very weird time to make jokes," she says.

"But comedy is always cyclical... the different types of comedy. The gross-out comedy, or the really extreme offensive type of humour... there’s always been comedians who come up and who are like that, and then that trend falls away. Or really extreme character comedy or naturalistic comedy, it always goes. But it has been pretty hard."

Wilson points out that comedy often becomes more popular in times of trouble. "Traditionally, say, the '30s, with the Depression, comedy starts getting real popular again. So, the one positive for someone like me is that with the downturn in the economic climate, comedy is going to come back up."

What about the woke brigade? Is it an issue back home? "Australia is probably less woke," she smiles. "That’s why some of my jokes are a bit cheeky. We're not on the forefront of wokeness. We’re so far away."

That was never more apparent than when Wilson hosted the BAFTAs in 2022, making digs at JK Rowling, Harry and Meghan and Benedict Cumberbatch.

"I think all my jokes were justified," she says. "There was an Armie Hammer joke, a Will Smith joke. I don’t know... I guess knowing insider information, stuff like that, the jokes are valid.

"If I got up there and said no jokes, people would be like, 'That's weak.' I could have just done that and just been like, 'Hi, good evening everyone,' and not said anything. But they wanted jokes and the BBC wanted a younger, more diverse audience, and that’s what they got. So they were really, really happy with that."

Wilson admits it was "a really hard job" to take on. "I talked to some of my other friends. I said, 'Would you do it?' And they’re like, 'No, I wouldn’t do it!' It’s very challenging. A lot changes on the day."

Was she writing all the jokes? "I was the head writer, and then had a couple of friends helping, but basically half of it changed right before. Which is terrifying, because as a performer, you like to know what you’re doing. And a lot of it was winged on the night.

"But I don’t know, it’s a really hard job, especially with the state of comedy. You say one thing and it could be a headline or taken the wrong way with the woke culture of diversity, inclusion, respect. Obviously, I am that as a human being, but sometimes as a comedian, you got to point things out."

The Almond and the Seahorse is released in UK cinemas on Friday 10th May 2024.


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