For those of us who’ve loved seeing actor Rebel Wilson steal scenes in films like Bridesmaids, Bachelorette and the Pitch Perfect series, her newest role as leading lady in director Todd Strauss-Schulson’s Isn’t It Romantic will assuredly tickle our fancy. It also marks her first foray into the world of producing films.
The romantic comedy follows a cynical woman, Natalie (played by Wilson), who suffers a mild concussion and finds herself trapped in a glossy, gorgeous rom-com and at the center of a romantic struggle between Josh (Adam Devine) and Blake (Liam Hemsworth). It lovingly embraces and perfectly satirizes all that’s good and bad about the much beloved genre, and decontextualizes tropes by refashioning them into a refreshingly unique film with an empowering message at its core.
Speaking with SheKnows ahead of the film’s release, Wilson candidly confessed that making the transition from a supporting player to the lead was fairly intimidating given that the shooting days were long and the weather wasn’t exactly ideal. “It is a lot of responsibility to carry a movie. It was 16-hour days, sometimes six days a week in the heat of the summer in New York. The conditions were brutal for someone like me who sweats all the time. I can’t tell you how hot it was, and we were on real locations without a lot of air-conditioning.”
Part of what makes Isn’t It Romantic so special is its ability to call out the toxic trappings of romantic comedies. Traditional ingredients like the lack of diversity is something Wilson wanted to highlight, rebelling against it and casting Priyanka Chopra as yoga ambassador/Josh’s love interest, Isabelle. “For me, it was really important to cast Priyanka as one of the coleads. This is a modern rom-com, and the stereotypical hot chick doesn’t have to be a skinny white blonde.”
The other part is the film’s sentiment about uncovering the confidence to step into the role as leading lady in your own life. Wilson found a similar inspiration a few years ago that changed her whole perception of love. She elucidated, “I was very cynical about love and closed off. A few years ago, I really had a paradigm shift in that area and have changed my life. I thought maybe love was never going to happen for me or it comes down to that thing of not feeling worthy of love. I’ve been totally able to change that 180 degrees to a different future for myself.”
A facet of Natalie that challenged Wilson’s capabilities as a singer was performing Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” as a showstopping karaoke number. Needless to say, it was daunting. “Dana [Fox] and Katie [Silberman] had put a Whitney Houston song into the script. Nobody in their right mind who sings for fun, like me, would want to sing a Whitney Houston song. She’s a hero and a legend. I had, like, five other options I wanted to do for that number. Everyone was so strong about that song because it is such a brilliant song. Eventually, I just had to give in.”
Wilson even roped her Pitch Perfect music producer, Alana Da Fonseca, into the fun. “She’s secretly in that scene too,” she spilled. “We came up with an arrangement that I felt was funny and I could do. It goes real high towards the end. I have to warm up a lot to hit those notes. We just tried to do the song justice and create that fun, great energy that it has.”
The role of Natalie required Wilson to exercise her muscles in the physical comedy arena as well. Being that her character inhabits a fantasy world where nothing really goes wrong, she’s still not impervious to hilarious pratfalls — a rom-com trope that makes Natalie bristle. Putting her body on the line for the sake of comedy opened Wilson up to suffering the consequences of stunts gone awry. “I do get injured and I bruise really easily,” she said. “Two of my toenails had to be glued on because of the shoes I was running around in the few days before, which has never happened to me in my life!”
Not only that, similar to her character’s state, she also got a mild concussion. “It wasn’t from doing a stunt. I was going to meet our director, Todd, Liam and Adam for rehearsal at the outdoor Hamptons sequence, and I slipped down a hill and really whacked my head. I rushed to the hospital, got the full MRI. They said, ‘You’ve got a concussion. It’s up to you if you wanna go back.'”
At the end of the day, all the blood, sweat and tears Wilson poured into her journey bringing this film to life was worth it. “When people see the fun and energy of it, they can now think about what energy it took to do it. It’s all worth it to me. I do put my body on the line a bit, especially for comedy, because it is all worth it when I entertain people. To me, that’s a small sacrifice.”
Isn’t It Romantic hits theaters on Feb. 13.