By Lori Beedsler
As I look out to the glorious Manhattan skyline, watching the clouds and the sun play their own personal tug of war, I am sitting patiently in a semi-quiet midtown café, waiting to meet up with Tania Fisher. It’s been years since we last saw one other in person. We first met in an Italian restaurant in Melbourne, Australia, where, as a lowly British immigrant, I studied journalism and worked part-time as a waitress. I recognized Fisher from popular TV shows (which made it to England) and TV commercials, daring to strike up conversation with her. It turned out I needn’t have been so cautious. She was courteous and generous with her time, despite my interrupting her meal with friends.
For those who don’t know Fisher, she’s been a familiar face on Australian TV for the past couple of decades. Yet she struggled to make it. Her grandparents and parents immigrated to Australia from Italy after World War II, at a time when Australia was inviting Europeans to help their nation grow. First generation Australian-born, she grew up in humble surroundings in the small town of Adelaide, in South Australia. In her bilingual household, she grew accustomed to the immigrant mindset: “work hard, make money.” Creativity and time for writing poetry, and putting on plays, was not encouraged. Nevertheless, the sparkle of footlights and the words of Shakespeare and Oscar Wilde found their way into her heart.
She’s certainly not loud or brash, but heads turn as she casually pulls off her sunglasses and waves a hand over her hair to control some stray strands. “You’re early!” she exclaims, giving away her Aussie accent. I explain that I am neurotically early for everything, and she leans over to give me a warm hug.
Fisher blames her Australian upbringing for her frankness and her Italian heritage for her passion and hand gesturing during conversations. She also is not cagey about sharing her difficult upbringing: the violence, abuse, and a general crushing of childhood dreams. Perhaps her openness comes from the fact that she has been working on a play and a book to cathartically expel some of the hurts. Or, as she puts it, to “articulate the damage unbalanced family dynamics can have on a child, so that clarity can lead to knowledge, which in turn can lead to healing.”
She tells me she’s been “acting professionally for nearly thirty years.” Then she winks and flashes a smile, whispering through her voluptuous lips, “which I know is impossible, given I’m only twenty-five.” Yet, she has found time to work around the globe, having starred in Alan Bennett’s Kafka’s Dick at The Garrick Theatre in London. As a film producer, Fisher has been to the Cannes Film Festival and acted in New York in theater and film. She sits before me taking in the room and looking as impressed as I am by the view. “My, ain’t she grand?” Tania exclaims.
Her admiration for Jerry Lewis then comes up early in our conversation, as he always does.