Rebel Wilson Got Healthy at 40 — Now, She's Getting Serious

After more than a decade in comedy, the Aussie actress is set to star in her first major drama and make her directorial debut. But first: She's getting her spending habits in order.

Rebel Wilson Q&A
Photo: Courtesy

Exactly 10 years ago this month, a little film called Bridesmaids debuted introducing us to a wonderful world of giant heart-shaped cookies, Wilson Phillips wedding sing-alongs, and a wacky roommate with a tequila worm tattoo played by the one and only Rebel Wilson. Despite the fact that Wilson had just moved to the U.S. from Australia and Bridesmaids was her first major gig, she stole nearly every scene she was in and quickly solidified her spot as Hollywood's up-for-anything comedy queen.

And that meant she was off to sing a cappella as Pitch Perfect's Fat Amy, play the field in How To Be Single, re-write the rules of rom-coms in Isn't It Romantic, and, yes, dance around in Lycra in Cats. And then, 2020 happened.

Right before COVID-19 halted the production of films around the world, Wilson decided to take a beat of her own as she turned 40 and embark on a "Year of Health," which she launched with an Instagram caption saying, "I put on the athleisure and went out for a walk," and adding that she was trying to hydrate, cut sugar, and make "some positive changes this year." She prioritized her wellbeing, losing 60 pounds and gaining a whole new perspective in the process.

Wilson's health journey inspired her to take a closer look at other parts of her life too, from her finances to her future in film. And thankfully, as Hollywood has slowly re-opened, she has been back and busier than ever, taking on a handful of surprising new passion projects, including her first major dramatic role in the upcoming film, The Almond and the Seahorse; a cheerleading comedy for Netflix that she will both star in and produce called Senior Year; and directing her first feature film, Girl Group, in 2022.

We caught up with Wilson on a rare day off to talk fashion, her new partnership with Afterpay, her favorite memory from Bridesmaids, and more.

You're so busy right now — your ABC show Pooch Perfect just had its finale last week, you just wrapped The Almond and The Seahorse, and you're about to start on Senior Year. How are you keeping it all together?

It's busy, but it's good! The Almond and the Seahorse is a British drama, so mostly I'm excited to show people a totally different side of my acting range. And in the next few days, I'm about to go to Atlanta to film Senior Year, which is a cheerleading comedy. It's part Bring It On and part Never Been Kissed. And it's funny because cheerleading is not really a thing in Australia, so I only know about it from watching things like Cheer on Netflix or Bring it On. To me, it's such a cool American thing to do. I'm excited to get in there and start some cheer rehearsals!

We all followed along last year on Instagram as you posted about your inspiring Year of Health journey. How do you look back on it?

Now that I know I can do it, sometimes I feel sad that I didn't do it earlier. Maybe I should have tried when I was 30, not 40. But everybody's journey is different, and it's not a race or competition. I've always been a bit of a late developer. I started acting when I was turning 19, which is quite late. And when I came to America as an actress, I was almost 30, which again, is quite late. So I try not to compare myself to other people. But I have a natural empathy for anyone who struggles with weight issues because that's something I've always struggled with. And that's why I put things on Instagram about my journey. Obviously, I have access to some amazing high-tech treatments, but what I learned is it's really the little things that I do every day that make a difference. Like today, I went for a walk at Griffith Park [in L.A.] and that's free. Anyone can go on walks and drink more water and do little, consistent things that'll improve their lives. It's not too late to start, no matter what age you are.

How do you stay motivated to stick with it when you have such a busy schedule?

During The Almond and the Seahorse, I was working with two incredible European actresses, Charlotte Gainsbourg and Trine Dyrholm, and they were amazed at my discipline because every morning I was up in the gym at the hotel working out for 90 minutes before a full day of filming. But that's just my life now. I watched the Mark Wahlberg docuseries [Wahl Street] and saw how he gets up and trains every morning and manages his time, I was like, "That's similar to what I've been doing." Although I don't want to get up at 4 a.m. like Mark. [laughs] Quite a lot, I do have to get up at 6 a.m. though.

You also recently partnered with Afterpay on a new campaign (below) that aims to help people take back control of their finances. How does financial wellness fit into this new mindset that you have?

When I did my Year of Health, I was obviously more focused on my physical and mental health because I had suffered from emotional eating for many years. But after I crushed that and have now just been maintaining it, I thought, Oh wait, financial wellness is important too. Now that I'm in my 40s, you really start thinking about setting yourself up for the future, so you've got to be a bit smarter with your money. I shop online all the time, and with Afterpay, I like that if you purchase something and pay in four installments over six weeks, they don't charge any weird fees or interest. It's a good tool for people and it's an easy way to spend better, kind of like the old school idea of "layaway" as you call it in America or "layby" as we call it in Australia.

Have you always been good with money or did it take time to figure out what works?

Because some of my comedy characters are so crazy, people get shocked by how sensible and responsible I am in real life! [laughs] I have a law degree and I was lucky enough to go to college, so I've learned a lot over the years. I also have business managers in Hollywood, like most actors. But, you know, you still hear all the time about celebrities losing money. I have friends who are very successful in music or acting that have had millions taken from them. So what I did last year is set up a monthly meeting where I go through all of my accounts and transactions, every single one of them, and make sure everything is correct. I check that I'm getting a good deal on things like cable TV and my phone plan, and that I'm saving the right amount of money for taxes. It only takes a few hours to go over, but that's how I stay on top of it.

What have you been splurging on lately?

I just bought a Yves Saint Laurent handbag after finishing The Almond and the Seahorse because I'm trying to be healthier and treat myself with things that are not food anymore. Although I think I may have slightly transferred addictions to online shopping. [laughs] Net-a-Porter is one of my favorite sites. I never used to be able to wear the high-end brands, but now I can fit into [some] and I'm obsessed. I especially love Gucci dresses — I have so many of them! My other new favorite thing are Commando leggings that my stylist Elizabeth Stewart told me about. They make your legs look amazing. I just bought them in a new slinky latex-looking material, but I have a matte finish as well. On the finale episode of Pooch Perfect, I wear a pair of them. They're about around $90, so they're not mega-expensive, but they give your legs a good svelte shape.

What's the best piece of style advice that you've learned from working with Elizabeth?

First of all, I'm a girl from the Bush who was, like, very feral, so I was born with no style. [laughs] I didn't even get my nails done or anything like that until I was like 25. If you go look at my dress from the premiere of Bridesmaids [in 2011], you can clearly see I hadn't started working with Elizabeth yet. But it's been so fun figuring it out with her. When she first signed me, she was working with these icons like Julia Roberts, Sandra Bullock, Viola Davis, and Cate Blanchett. I was shocked that she wanted to work with me. For a while, I was her only plus-sized client. I've been a size 16 to 18 for most of my career, and now I've gone down to a size 10, so there are different options to play with. I think I look good at all sizes, but I've learned there are little tips at any size to make yourself look good. I like a lot of color because it pops in photos. I don't like a lot of patterns ... but I do like to show some skin; if you show some leg and some arm, or tailor a long sleeve into a three-quarter length sleeve it can make an outfit so much better.

You're known for comedy, but The Almond and the Seahorse is going to be your first major dramatic role. What made you want to go for a drama?

Originally when I started acting, I thought I would be like the next Dame Judi Dench. But it just so happened that people liked laughing at me. [laughs] The first play that I was in at the Sydney Theatre Company, I thought I was playing a serious role and people started laughing, so I just kind of leaned into it. I was also diagnosed around that time with PCOS [polycystic ovary syndrome] and gained a lot of weight quite rapidly. And being a bigger girl, I was like, comedy is kind of a good sell when you're bigger and can do it well. So I went down that path. But all my original roles on stage were serious. It's been really cool to flex that muscle again.

Was it hard at all to switch back into the drama gear again?

I'm used to doing these big commercial comedies where the characters are bit similar to myself. So I did some sessions with acting coach Tasha Smith, who worked with Andra Day on The United States vs. Billie Holiday. Andra's performance was so gutsy and emotional in that film. And Tasha helped me dig deep to some really uncomfortable places to get my performance too. I hope that it resonates with people.

You recently teased on Instagram that you'll be directing your first film in 2022 as well. What can you tell us about it?

Yes! It's a movie called Girl Group, and my producers are Miky Lee, who produced the brilliant movie Parasite; Debra Hayward who did Cats with me; and Alison Owen, who produced Saving Mr. Banks. We put together this amazing team for a girl power movie about a former girl group pop star who has fallen from grace and has to coach a bunch of underprivileged teenage girls to form a new girl group. Obviously, Pitch Perfect was a big part of my career, and I wanted to create a new franchise that was similar but different. Girl Group will be this big celebration of girl group music throughout the decades. I wrote the film as well, and since the Spice Girls were such a big influence on me growing up, I may have also loosely based some of the parts on them. [laughs]

What inspired you to want to direct?

It was cool to see two female directors, Emerald Fennell and Chloé Zhao, get nominated for Oscars. Even seeing Elizabeth Banks when she directed Pitch Perfect 2 as her first movie and how successful that was, I was just like, "Wow, I think I could do that." I haven't directed anything before, but after 20 years of experience, mainly in musical comedy, I felt like it's a great time to step up and give it a go.

The 10th anniversary of your first U.S. film Bridesmaids is this month, and I saw you posted a shot of the ring that director Paul Feig sent to the cast.

Yes, and I've been wearing it all week! Paul had them made — they have our names on it, and "Bridesmaids 10th anniversary" and then it says "Hold On" on the one side, referencing the Wilson Phillips song in the movie. I love it so much.

What's your fondest Bridesmaids memory?

Paul Feig and [producer] Judd Apatow gave me the part [of Brynn] and it was my first job in America and such a warm and welcoming set. I was probably the most junior person there, but Kristen Wiig was also so kind and generous to me. She let me do my own jokes and improvise. They let everybody shine in that movie and I think that's why it was so good. Now when I'm the boss, like with Senior Year, which I'm producing as well, I want to create sets where I can give other actors a chance to highlight their talents.

Rebel Wilson Q&A

I think a lot of people would love to see a brother-sister comedy with you and Matt Lucas reprising your Bridesmaids characters.

Fun fact: after we played roommates in Bridesmaids, we very quickly became actual roommates and we lived together for three years! Matt is like a brother to me. He's so talented and funny.

If you could play any of your characters again, who would you choose?

I think Fat Amy is probably my most popular character. Would I like to see more Pitch Perfect movies where she appears? Yes. Will that happen? I don't know.

What do you think a post-COVID rom-com would look like?

Oh my Lord. I mean, dating…it's challenging now. It's harder than ever. So I kind of feel like it's best to ignore COVID entirely in rom-coms.

You've been so busy lately — have you even found time to dip your toe back in the dating scene yet?

No, not really. But hopefully this summer when I'm free, I'll be able to tear it up a little bit. [laughs]

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

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