The Guardian (1999)
Toni Collette's kittchen-sink glamour
October 24, 1999 | Written by Akin OjumuActors just hate being typecast, or so they say. But deep down Arnold Schwarzenegger probably doesn't harbour hopes of playing Romeo, and Sharon Stone is unlikely to put herself forward for a remake of The Sound of Music. So, unlike these peers, Toni Collette has reason to feel aggrieved. Collette, an Australian, came to attention in her first major screen role as the cartoon frump in P.J. Hogan's international hit Muriel's Wedding. She didn't have to beat stiff opposition to win her signature role. Many actresses were offended by being asked to read for the role of the Abba-obsessed social misfit. But Collette cast aside her vanity and piled on the pounds, gaining three stone in seven weeks. She emerged as the Nineties equivalent of Lyn Redgrave's hapless Sixties heroine Georgy Girl.
She was, perhaps, too good as Muriel Heslop. Irritatingly, the image blurred with reality. On meeting her in 1996, a US interviewer couldn't believe the svelte, attractive woman in front of her was the same person. The article began: 'My God,' I shriek. 'You are so gorgeous.'
In the past few years, Collette has made movies in Europe, America and Australia but never as the romantic leading lady. She is commonly the gawky best friend, the ugly duckling or the bad-hair girl. No wonder she has twice played second fiddle (in The Pallbearer and Emma) to Hollywood golden girl Gwyneth Paltrow. Collette, a refreshingly free spirit, declared Jane Austen's novel 'boring, boring, boring'.
She finally got to play the vamp in last year's glam-rock odyssey Velvet Goldmine. In Australian Vogue she described her role as 'a mad, drug-fucked, camp woman who is a complete slut'. Again her method instincts kicked in: she shed a stone, started smoking, partied wildly and tottered around in her character's platform heels for the whole nine-week shoot.
Her latest role is a partial return to her trademark kitchen-sink glamour. In The Sixth Sense, a beguiling supernatural thriller starring Bruce Willis, Collette is the anguish-ridden mother of a young boy (Haley Joel Osment) with ESP ability. The scenes between Willis and Osment are outstanding, but Collette's sympathetic performance as a woman frustrated by her son's increasingly bizarre behaviour lie at the heart of the film. Apparently the 26-year-old actress wept when she first read the script, which allayed her fears of acting alongside Mr Die Hard. The Sixth Sense has been the sleeper hit of the year, and insiders are beginning to predict Oscar nominations for the film. It can only have a positive effect on her profile.
1 She began a year-long relationship with Velvet Goldmine co-star Jonathan Rhys Meyers during filming.
2 Although top of her class, she left school at 16 to pursue an acting career.
3 As a teenager she used to wear rings on every finger, wore numerous earrings and had her bellybutton pierced.
4 After a few informal gigs singing in Sydney, she was offered a record contract and plans to make an album.
5 'I just ate and ate and ate. I was bursting out of my clothes,' she says of her preparation for her role in Muriel's Wedding .