Rebel Wilson’s First Dramatic Role Delivered First Kiss With a Woman Months Before Coming Out

Rebel Wilson’s First Dramatic Role Delivered First Kiss With a Woman Months Before Coming Out

Many aspects of Rebel Wilson ”s life are brand new.

The comedy star has taken a bold step by directing her first dramatic feature, The Almond and the Seahorse , in opposition to Charlotte Gainsbourg , Celyn Jones, who co-wrote the script with Kaite O’Reilly and also co-directed the film with Tom Stern. Based on O’Reilly’s play, Wilson plays the role of an archaeologist who helps her husband (Jones), navigate life after a traumatic brain injury. She finds comfort in a surprising relationship with Gainsbourg, a woman who is also dealing with the same problems as her wife Dyrholm.

The IFC Films release hits theaters and on demand on Dec. 16, less than two months after another first for Wilson: She announced in November that she had welcomed her first child, a baby girl, Royce Lillian, via surrogate. Wilson said that the announcement was a long time in the making. This announcement comes just months after she announced that she is in a first relationship with Ramona Agruma, a fashion and jewelry designer.

Wilson will also take a short break during the holidays to film a new movie in Italy next summer while she is in pre-production for her feature directorial debut. What’s that for a season full of firsts? With The Hollywood Reporter , Wilson was open to discussing all of this with us. The star of Pitch Perfect, Senior Year and The Hustle opened up about how a kiss with Gainsbourg influenced her love life, the impactful advice Robin Williams gave her on set, and whether there’s more dramatic work in her future.

What’s it like to be a new mom?

It’s quite busy and it’s good. I had to decide whether to have breakfast or put on my makeup this morning. I was cuddling my beautiful little girl when I realized it was time for me to get out of bed. There isn’t enough time. It’s hard to balance the baby with your personal life and work obligations. But I am so fortunate to have such a supportive family. My mom has been there and my girlfriend Ramona is amazing. It’s still a lot to have all of them there to help.

I went from being a single mother to having an instant family. It has been a huge adjustment. It couldn’t have been busier on the work front. There are so many films in development. The Almond and the Seahorse are out. Next year, I will be directing a movie so I am starting pre-production. It’s very busy, but that’s part the adventure. It’s one day at a moment.

When announcing the baby you said it had been “years in preparation.” You can’t control your career or personal life when the baby arrives. You are just doing what every mom does — trying to fit it all in …

Yes, because I wasn’t sure if it would work. You just try it, but you never know. It was difficult to plan it and then think, “Well, I won’t be able to have any movies then because you don’t know when it’ll happen.” It was a great experience for Roycie, but it is impossible to plan everything perfectly. We’ll have a lot of fun with it, and I’ll take her to the movie sets. She will be a very international baby.

I am excited to ask about The Almond and the Seahorse , because the headline states that Rebel Wilson is in this film like she’s never seen before, in a dramatic role. This is not surprising to you, as you were a dramatic actor in your youth. Can you tell me about this time?

Yes, it’s different. I’ve done all these glamorous Hollywood comedies which I absolutely love, but when I started out in acting, I thought I wanted to be Dame Judi Dench. I was inspired by that woman so I did serious plays, including Christopher Marlowe and Shakespeare. It turns out that Hollywood never saw this work, as it was performed in Australia. This was probably the best thing. It was only when I won the scholarship from Nicole Kidman when I was 23 that I started specializing in comedy. That scholarship allowed me to travel to New York to work in comedy. It was a strategic decision that seemed to be a better one.

Although I didn’t think that I was funny before that, I don’t believe you can come to Hollywood and claim that you can do everything. This is a mistake. It’s better to be an outsider and claim that I have a niche in Hollywood. But I wanted to show them my other side. After so much comedy and improv on film, it was difficult to get back into it. It was difficult to get into the emotional scenes [for Almond et Seahorse ].]. Movies like Pitch perfect , made me feel like I was playing an older version of myself. Because you’re having fun with friends, there’s not much acting required. [Laughs] This movie was shot in the freezing north of England, with intense scenes.

Did you ever feel like you could not wait to get some dramatic work done while your career was booming?

I have a photo of this moment [as she points to the camera]. I was at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb ].. It was a freezing cold night in London and I was doing a scene with Ben Stiller and just kind of improvising, trying to get more lines in the movie and just chitchatting and bantering while cameras were rolling. Robin Williams approached me and asked if I would like to have a conversation. It was 2 a.m., and I was like, “Oh my God, Robin Williams, I can have a conversation, it’s Robin Williams!” I wanted to talk with him, but I had always tried to be respectful of his privacy and not bother him. We sat for about 40 or 45 minutes in between turnarounds of the camera and he said that I should be doing drama.

I was surprised because I don’t know how he watched that scene I just did and thought I should be doing drama but he said, “You should 100 percent be doing drama as well.” It really stuck with me. His daughter, who was also his daughter, told me after his death that he loved the conversation that they had and that he had told him about it. I thought that Robin Williams would think I could do it so I decided to give it a shot. So we started looking for a project. Then Almond came up and the Seahorse was born. It’s a challenging script, but it’s also very brave so I decided to give it a shot.

Rebel Wilson and Celyn Jones star in IFC Films' The Almond and the Seahorse.

Rebel Wilson and Celyn Jones star in IFC Films’ The Almond and the Seahorse.

Courtesy of IFC Films

Robin Williams is an excellent example of a comedy icon who also did critically acclaimed drama work. Adam Sandler is another example. There are many others. Are there any other comedians whose comedy talents you admire? Or performances that have had an impact on your life?

Olivia Colman has done a lot in broad comedy, which is what she was famous for in the U.K. I vividly remember her at the Vanity Fair Oscar party. I was like, “Oh, my god, I want you to be me,” which probably scared her. You shouldn’t say this to someone at 3 AM. Her career path is incredible and she’s had so many amazing roles. There are many more, but she has been an inspiration to me.

Sarah is a character in The Almond and Seahorse ,. She’s a demanding performer and a fun character to play. She is an archaeologist who has to navigate the new reality with her partner’s brain injuries. She also has a fling, longs for a mother, and so on. How did you prepare for this role as an actor? How deep did it take to find Sarah?

Celyn Jones, my co-director, and my co-star in this film, was lucky because it’s based upon a play. There was already a close connection to nonprofits that deal specifically with traumatic brain injury. They provided us with access to many videos and articles that showed what it was like to care for someone with this condition. In real life, I was also in a relationship with someone with a traumatic brain injuries. Although it was not as severe than the one with my husband in the movie, there were some things I could relate to.

We did a lot research and the script was well researched so that was a great resource. It’s more common than you might think. It happens all the way around.

What was it like to share scenes alongside Celyn Jones, who is also directing?

Celyn co-directed the film with Tom Stern, who is brilliant. He is a world-renowned cinematographer and has worked on many Clint Eastwood movies. This movie was micro-budget, I believe $2.5 million. We had to shoot fast because there was so much to do. It was great to work with Celyn, as he had so many things to do as co-director and co-writer.

One day, he came to me and said that “we have to quickly film last scene of the movie” due to the location and the time. It had to be done quickly, but I wasn’t yet ready. I was like “What are you talking??” I was so emotional because of my character, so I started to cry. Celyn is so kind and caring and he helped me through it. He said that we would just film it, and that if it doesn’t work, it can be reshot later. He is a great actor, no matter if he is my co-star or the director. It was a difficult task that we both had to overcome together.

What was the most difficult adjustment you made in moving from big-budget Hollywood films into a micro-budget independent film?

I can still remember the moment I walked up to the set on day one. There was no trailer. It was 6 a.m., and I was wondering where I would go to change or use the bathroom. Because I had only done large movies, I was very familiar with the Hollywood system. It was just that someone was running behind and they eventually got me the best trailer they could locate in the north of England. It was still a bit gross and smelly, but these films are about being real and not about Hollywood movies.

Another thing was that we had to shoot a lot more pages per day. On a big Hollywood movie, you might do two to three pages per day and on this, we were definitely doing 10 or more a day. It was great, even though we went through it very quickly. It was very fast and you only get three scenes. For me that meant my character could go from zero to 100 in some scenes. It was a challenging act. It was a difficult task, but I knew I had to do it. I ended up doing really well. It’s all about the performances, and that shines in the film and that’s what makes me proud. It was great fun, except for the one scene where we had to jump in the freezing ocean. It almost ended our lives. [Laughs]

Can you identify the most difficult scene?

It was a tortuous process. The script had many difficult scenes. I spent two weeks in London in quarantine before filming began. I wanted to be able to deliver it and not disappoint everyone so I spent the entire time practicing the scenes every single day. I ran the lines because I was paranoid that I wouldn’t feel the emotion because I hadn’t exercised my muscles in a while.

In a scene, I tell Cath (played here by Alice Lowe), that I cheated on Joe. It was freezing cold and snowing, even though you can’t see it in this scene. It was hard to bear the thought of freezing my tummies. After I told her that, I broke down so much. I was crying, crying and crying. This scene isn’t in the movie, because I think it was too much. But yeah, that one was hard. It was hard to watch all the scenes. It’s because of the writing.

When you’re supposed to cry on command, what happens to your brain? Is there a particular memory or experience you want to tap into?

I had to ground my thoughts in things with emotional resonance. Tasha Smith was my co-worker, and she helped Andra Day with her Billie Holiday performance [The United States against Billie Holiday ].. It was a very raw, emotional, and gutsy performance, and I knew I wanted to capture that for this film. Before filming, we talked a lot about past events in our lives. I was thinking about visiting my nana, who suffered from dementia due to alcoholism, at the end her life. I can still see scenes in the hospital where I was reminiscing about those or other moments that were similar to my father’s passing.

Because it was rooted in very painful, tragic memories of mine, that’s why I used the word tortuous. I wanted to convey those emotions. Some of my friends suggested that I could have used a tearstick or something. [Laughs] But it wouldn’t have felt so real. This was a big departure for me and I didn’t want fake anything. It brought me to a very emotional place and I kept sending people weird texts during that time. I don’t think I went insane, but I was really sad during those few weeks when I was playing that role.

On the opposite end of all that emotion and crying, you have some romantic scenes in this film and you do a fair amount of kissing …

I was so nervous. Charlotte Gainsbourg was my first ever woman I had ever kissed. I had never kissed a woman before, so I was wondering, “Oh God, how is that going to turn out?” Charlotte is cool and French. A few days prior, I took Charlotte out for a donut. I ate the donuts, not that she eats them. [Laughs] She is so cool and I absolutely love her. I watched her movies to prepare for working with her. It made me feel like this movie was a breeze compared to other roles she has played.

Strangely, I think our scenes could have been a bit more steamy. I believe male directors were respectful and cautious. After I got over my initial anxiety of kissing a woman, and then getting into the scene, I realized that it was more about the emotion and we could make it more sexy or go a little further. We had to keep the conversation moving because we were on a very tight schedule.

Rebel Wilson and Charlotte Gainsbourg star in IFC Films' The Almond and the Seahorse

Rebel Wilson and Charlotte Gainsbourg star in IFC Films’ The Almond and the Seahorse.

Courtesy of IFC Films

Have you seen a few? Do you have a favorite Charlie Gainsbourg performance or song?

Well, the one that freaked me out the most was Nymphomaniac. I was able ask her many questions about the process, including how they did it and how they used doubles. She is a great actress, and she plays all these amazing roles. Trine Dyrholm is also a great actress. I enjoy watching all of her stuff.

Let’s get back to the first time we kissed. Your character is exploring her sexuality after she finds unexpected comfort in another woman and it surprises her. This is a few months after your first confirmed relationship with a woman. Do you look back at the filming experience differently now?

When I first read the script Toni, Charlotte’s character was written as a male. I was the one to say, OK, I feel like it could be played by a woman. It was originally supposed to be Pierce Brosnan, but schedules changed. They offered it to Charlotte because I felt we should. It could work, I don’t know why but it was something I felt.

I had had a relationship with a woman once before but not in a sexual one. We hadn’t even kissed. Then Charlotte proposed a kiss. It wasn’t a big deal to me. Strangely, after kissing her in my professional career, I thought, “Maybe I should try that in my personal life.” And it worked. [Laughs] That was in 2021 and then I met Ramona at the end of 2021. I don’t think I would have met Ramona if it wasn’t for the experience I had with Charlotte and the one with the other woman. Those experiences opened my eyes to the possibility. Those two experiences are what I am grateful for. It completely changed my love life. It’s amazing.

That’s so beautiful, and it sounds really organic …

Yeah. Another friend of mine was an actress who had to kiss a woman on a show. She then became a lesbian for a while. [Laughs] Another actress I know here in America experienced the same thing. I actually know of a couple. This is something I didn’t know about before, as I only knew of men. It’s something I’ve seen on TV about lesbians like The ,, but it never occurred to me. I thought those shows were great. I was very proud to have kissed Charlotte. Because she’s so cool, I was very stressed that day. It was amazing. Yes, those experiences were invaluable and I wouldn’t have been open to Ramona if it wasn’t. She’s an amazing partner.

Yes, there was quite a bit of controversy around your relationship when it came out.

Yes, it was indeed the Sydney Morning Herald . An Australian journalist sent an email to threaten to release the story. I have been quite open about my personal life, and it was something I was likely to share soon. It was something that required delicate conversations with people. Ramona comes from a conservative background, and I was slow to tell people about it. We rushed it and it was very uncomfortable. We didn’t have enough time to tell everyone. I didn’t want a journalist publishing a story like that. It’s very personal and I wanted it to be shared. Also, I don’t think in 2020 that we need to make a statement.

This was a snarky journalist, who had written terrible articles about me in the past. I knew he would write something negative. I thought, “Well, let’s just put it out there.” We are not ashamed of it, but it was our amazing thing together and we were gradually telling others. Ramona isn’t in the public eye while I am. It’s much more difficult for her and I wanted her to be protected. It did make it easier than we could have done on our own.

I’m sorry about that. I was reading in People that you also had a heavy situation that happened during filming of Almond and the Seahorse with the news about your journey to being a mother with freezing your eggs. I was also drawn to your character in the film. What was it like? How much pain did that cause you?

I had three surgeries done on my eggs and had them frozen. Then, I had found a donor and we made a plan for the embryos and I think, at that point, I had 18 good quality eggs so you think there’s going to be some success there. Each day, I received an update from the lab on how things were going. It was down to seven days before they had any viable embryos. It was a lot. I had gone through so much. I lost all my weight, had to freeze my eggs, and had to overhaul my entire life. To not be able create life the way I wanted, it was truly devastating. The news came right at the end.

This is something that many women face when going through IVF or similar journeys. It’s a difficult situation, and you need to ask yourself if it’s worth the effort. Like my character in the movie she wants to have children. But you need to be realistic about the situation. So, it was easy to relate. It took me a while to grieve the process, and then I decided, OK, I’m going back in to do another surgery. That was how little Rowan was born. It was the fourth time I did it. It’s amazing, but it’s hard. It’s possible to be very lucky, but it’s difficult to endure.

Back at work. There are many comedies that have been revealed, but I was curious if you were open to another drama after you’ve completed this one.

Yes, I have many comedies in development. They are so much fun for me. There are many serious projects, but it’s about choosing the right ones. I also plan to direct a musical, an Australian musical. It’s a huge challenge, but I’m ready for it after having worked on so many musical film sets throughout my career and learning from all the directors. It will be difficult to fit everything in, but we’ll see how it all turns out next year.

Do you know when you will be returning to work?

I’m shooting a film next month in Italy called Verona. It’s the story of Romeo and Juliet .. I don’t know if that’s been made public yet. It’s a very serious role, and I’m playing Lady Capulet (Juliet’s mother), so it’s a bit different for me. God, I don’t know what I’m supposed to say.

Will there be a directing project?

That one will be directed by me late next year. It will all depend. It will depend on what I have. There are many.

Speaking of musicals, there’s a new Pitch Perfect spinoff. Are you paying attention?

It’s funny, I just started watching it. Adam Devine is in it and I call him my work husband because I’ve worked with him so much. He’s the cutest. [Todd StraussSchulson] directed my movie “Isn’t It Romantic”. I will watch it, but I’m still not done. I might watch it while I fly to Australia for the holidays.

I saw that you launched a clothing brand with Ramona. Some people were critical of the sizing. Did you hear it?

It was a fun capsule collection that we could only do one color or a large range of sizes. We just tried it out to see what happens. I know from personal experience that plus-size is not the best way to dress. I heard all the criticisms and I loved all my fans. I also paid attention to them. We couldn’t cover all sizes in this little collection. But, hopefully, for the next one, we will be able to and I can. I understand the criticisms and I completely agree with them. This was our first experiment, and Ramona and I are doing it all by ourselves.

You’ve had this professional and personal makeover. Are you noticing a difference in the kinds of parts you’re being offered?

I was stereotyped into being the fat funny girl. I loved it and made millions doing it. Although it was not a negative, people can sometimes see you differently if you make physical changes. People can see the benefits and they may say things like, “Oh, she looks different now, maybe we should cast her into different projects.” Unfortunately, Hollywood requires people to see you differently to cast you in new roles or give you opportunities. There are always directors who don’t see a comedian as a serious actress. However, others must first see it. For me, the physical transformation was a big help, but it’s still too early to know. We’ll see what happens.

This story first appeared in The Hollywood Reporter magazine’s Dec. 7 issue. Click here to subscribe.

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