Jam! Showbiz Canada (1998)
Collette copes with her celebrity
June 1998 | Written by Bruce Kirkland
Muriel's Wedding, Clockwatchers co-star taken aback at media frenzy

Clockwatchers may be a comedy about office temp workers, but it's also a telling social statement for the masses, according to its star Toni Collette. "I guess it's the voice of the repressed, the oppressed," Collette offers. "The four women we play rebel against authority. I think most people have, unless they're at the top. And they are the ones who try to dominate and oppress others."

Clockwatchers, which was a hit at last September's Toronto film festival, has just opened commercially here. In that movie, the four temp workers are sucked into the vortex of a working world they detest, and which just uses them as anonymous cogs in the machinery of business. Using their friendship as a base, they plot their revenge.

Collette, an Australian who adopted a neutral American accent for the role, co-stars with Parker Posey, Lisa Kudrow and Alanna Ubach as the gang of four. "The story is just sort of so whole and so perfect," Collette says of the work by director Jill Sprecher, who co-wrote Clockwatchers with her sister Karen Sprecher. "Every word, every phrase has a meaning. Everything is so meticulous, but not in a cold way. The story is told with such warmth, which is paradoxical because the story is quite bleak and is so mundane.

"Which is what people find funny in it, I guess. That's where the humor lies, because it is so familiar to all of us. I've never done this kind of temp work but I've had my fair share of doing things you don't actually want to do. The majority of humans spend their lives doing something they don't want to be doing. "This is about four people who know that, and they gain some measure of strength through their friendship. For Iris (her dumpy but potentially dynamic character), it's the 'hugest' thing that has ever happened to her." The 'hugest' thing that ever happened to Collette, at least as an actress who grew up in a Sydney theatre troupe, is making Muriel's Wedding, a 1994 film that propelled her to stardom as the lovable loser who worshipped the music of ABBA.

Now that she has made another new movie, Todd Haynes' glam rock homage Velvet Goldmine, the subject of rising from obscurity to fame is fresh again. Collette plays a fictional character loosely based on the life of Angie Bowie, David Bowie's wife at the time when David Bowie was involved in an alleged love affair with Iggy Pop. The film made its debut at Cannes and is expected in Canada in the fall. Velvet explores the world of fame with surgical precision. "After Muriel's Wedding," says Collette, "I was petrified that I would be doing this sort of thing (interviews) and that all the attention was part of it. I just enjoyed acting, so that was a shock for me. It made me so extremely uncomfortable that I actually considered giving up the thing that I loved -- acting.

"I was going to stop. It was such an extreme change in my life, and I don't think human beings are really conditioned to want such change." Collette spent part of a winter holed up in Melbourne, "where it's so cold in winter and it was so dark and dismal." Mired in a depressing setting, she eventually worked her way through the shock and, like Iris in Clockwatchers, found a way to cope.