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HomeEducation & JobsHow Beagles and a Fever Dream Made Rebel Wilson a Star

How Beagles and a Fever Dream Made Rebel Wilson a Star

About five years ago, when she was 39, the actress Rebel Wilson faced a dilemma. She had just had a string of successes, having made $20 million for her comic roles in “Pitch Perfect 3,” “Isn’t It Romantic” and “The Hustle.” But a visit to a fertility doctor had filled her with self-doubt.

Her weight — then 225 pounds — could make it harder to retrieve viable eggs, the doctor suggested. After the appointment, she was devastated and called her talent agent and said she planned to get healthier. Her agent was not thrilled.

“The agency liked me fat because they got hundreds of thousands of dollars in commission for each film where I played the fat funny girl,” she writes in her new memoir, “Rebel Rising.” Losing weight, she worried, could jeopardize her “multimillion-dollar pigeonhole.”

In “Rebel Rising,” which Simon & Schuster released on Tuesday, Wilson details her struggles with food addiction and writes with disarming candor about intimate episodes from her life. Raised in a suburb of Sydney, Australia, as the eldest of four, Wilson had an unconventional childhood: Her family ran a pet product business and bred show beagles, and Wilson had her first brush with show business as a junior dog handler when she was 8.

Success didn’t come easily. Wilson was rejected five times from Australia’s National Institute of Dramatic Art, and auditioned for nearly 30 screen roles in Hollywood before she was cast in the 2011 comedy “Bridesmaids,” a performance that launched her film career.

The memoir has already generated controversy, particularly her account of making the 2016 comedy “The Brothers Grimsby” with Sacha Baron Cohen. Wilson writes that during filming, Baron Cohen made her uncomfortable by asking her to appear nude in the film (they hired a body double instead). She also alleges that he urged her, when they were in character and enacting a sex scene, to stick her finger up his rear end, which she refused to do, while others who were present filmed the encounter on camera phones. Through a representative, Baron Cohen has denied Wilson’s account. “While we appreciate the importance of speaking out, these demonstrably false claims are directly contradicted by extensive detailed evidence, including contemporaneous documents, film footage and eyewitness accounts from those present before, during and after the production of ‘The Brothers Grimsby,’” a representative of Baron Cohen said in a statement.

There are also stunningly personal revelations in “Rebel Rising.” Wilson writes about being a late bloomer who lost her virginity at 35 and had her first orgasm (alone) at age 39. She details her secret romantic relationship with a female professional tennis player, her experience of meeting and falling in love with her fiancée, the fashion entrepreneur Ramona Agruma, and having a baby with a surrogate.

In a recent interview in Midtown Manhattan, Wilson spoke about how her weight loss has affected her career and public image, how her family’s beagles may have prompted her to pursue acting and how a fever-induced hallucination led her to Hollywood.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

In the first chapter, you write about your fear that losing weight would hurt your career. Have you experienced any negative repercussions or backlash from the weight loss?

There were some people that were like, Oh, we don’t think she’s funny anymore, or, Now she’s lost me as a fan because I can’t relate to her anymore. But I think if they read the book they’ll understand my journey with weight and health. Obviously I have a sweet tooth. That’s my vice. And in times of stress, I’d been dealing with it by eating. I don’t think that will ever, ever go away.

Which parts of your memoir are you most anxious about going public with?

The part about losing my virginity at 35. That was something that absolutely nobody knew. And I was like, Should I put it in the book? But then I thought, Maybe there will be other people out there who were late bloomers who might find solace in that fact about me. Because really, there was nothing weird or wrong with me. It was just growing up in a very Christian background, and then not really wanting a relationship and focusing on my career. And then I thought, You know what, if I’m doing a memoir and writing about everything, I’m just going to put that here as well.

You write in the book that you didn’t even tell Mickey Gooch Jr., your former boyfriend, that he was your first.

Well, he was the first person to read it. So he knows now.

You describe your romantic relationship with a female professional tennis player, which has prompted a lot of speculation about who the person was. Did you worry at all that you might be outing that person or jeopardizing her privacy?

There are a few rumors out there as to who it is. But I don’t think anyone would ever guess. And I don’t want their privacy to be breached by my memoir.

But it’s an important part of your story, in terms of your discovery that you were attracted to women.

Yeah. I thought, You don’t just overnight go to dating a woman. I don’t think I would be in a relationship with Ramona if I’d not met the tennis player. And that opened my heart, I guess, to dating a woman.

Probably the biggest headlines out of the book so far have been your description of working with Sacha Baron Cohen, who you say humiliated you on set. He’s disputed your account, and recently footage of the scene that wasn’t in the movie and which shows you acting out the sex scene together in character, has been published by The Daily Mail. What do you make of his response?

I’m sure they’re never going to release the iPhone footage of him asking me to do it, to insert my finger up his ass, and me saying, “No, why are you doing this? Why are you asking me to do this? Where’s the director?” Of course they are not going to release that footage.

What’s your response to his denial?

Just knowing his character, I obviously expected that. I knew he wasn’t going to take it, proverbially, “lying down.” This is not about canceling someone. It’s part of my story — my memoir. And I’m allowed to write about what happened to me, and how that made me feel.

You’re very frank about money and describe how you were able to negotiate $10 million for “Pitch Perfect 3” after you learned that the studio did a market research survey that showed how much people loved your character, “Fat Amy.” I found it refreshing to read about how much money you make, which some successful people aren’t comfortable talking about.

Universal Studios are incredible, but did they make a ton of money from the “Pitch Perfect” movies? Yes. So despite me absolutely loving all those folks at Universal, did I use that leverage to my advantage? Yes. And in the 11th hour, I go, “You know, that’s a lovely offer of $9 million. But I need one more to make it 10.” That’s a big milestone when you’re an actor. To receive an eight-figure offer, for a woman, is huge. Sometimes women don’t like to talk about that. Whereas I don’t think the guys have any issues saying they get $20 million a movie.

There are some delightfully quirky stories from your childhood, like how your mother bred beagles in your garage and auditioned them for commercials and TV shows. I wondered if those beagles were part of why you got into show business.

In a way, yes, because they were the stars of the family. They had agents. My first TV thing was a show called “Burke’s Backyard” in Australia. The dogs were featured, and I’m just in the background, as a kid. I first got into musicals because our dog had auditioned for “42nd Street” and didn’t get the role, and my mom really wanted to know what bitch got it. And so I went to see this thing called “a musical” at 14, and I was like, Whoa, this is really cool. If it wasn’t for the dogs, I never would have had that experience.

But there were lots of points in my childhood where I resented the dogs, because the dogs were the stars, and the dogs got a lot of love and attention that I would have wanted.

You also write about a strange experience that inspired you to seriously pursue acting, when you were living in South Africa and got malaria and had a vision.

It was a full-blown hallucination that I was an actress and I had won an Academy Award. It changed the whole trajectory of my life. When some people would say, “But how did you keep going?,” or “You always seemed to have this self-belief,” I would go, “Because I saw it happen.”

I clung to that, despite the constant rejections and how hard it was, starting in the theater and performing when there might be 10 people in the crowd. But I saw it, that I was going to be successful. And coming to America, I mean, the odds of making it in the entertainment business, first in my own country, then in Hollywood — I think the odds are better that if I were a guy, I could make it to the N.F.L. It’s millions and millions to one, but I thought I was the one. There are plenty of Australian actors who are way better than me and haven’t made it over here.

Maybe because they didn’t get malaria.

They didn’t have the malaria vision.

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