The Chicago Sun-Times (2000)
Each day a g'day for Toni Collette
October 18, 2000 | Written by Cindy Pearlman
You get a sixth sense that Toni Collette doesn't approach stardom in the conventional way. Take last year's Oscar ceremony. Standing backstage at the Shrine Auditorium, waiting to hear if she had won supporting actress honors for "The Sixth Sense," the Aussie actress wasn't meditating. She wasn't clutching her agent's sweaty palm in a death grip. She wasn't even praying.

She was being mauled by a "Gladiator." "I saw my old mate and countryman Russell Crowe. We slapped each other's rumps hard and screamed, `Go Australia!' " Collette recalls, laughing. "All these very well-dressed people looked at us like, `You're so strange.' " Collette doesn't care about such matters. The outspoken actress, who broke through as a frump with fire in "Muriel's Wedding," won't tone down her act. On fame: "I lead a charmed existence now. I'm really f- - - - - - lucky," she says as a publicist gasps over her choice of words. Such bravado seems to be working. Though she didn't win an Oscar, it's still a g'day to be Collette. Consider: She starred in one of the biggest films of all time, "The Sixth Sense." Then she copped a role in this summer's blockbuster "Shaft." And she earned a Tony Award nomination for her Broadway turn in "The Wild Party."

"People keep saying, `Oh, you're having a great few years.' But I don't look at things that way," she says. "It's moment to moment. Day by day. And you know what? None of the above has changed my life. It just changed other people's perceptions of me." Onscreen, Collette still likes to defy other's perceptions of her. Which is why she can squeeze in some smaller films in between the bigger budget fare. One of these indie efforts screens today at the Chicago International Film Festival: the comedy "Hotel Splendide." Collette stars in this tale of a dilapidated home-away-from-home packed with a bunch of oddballs and permanent guests. The hotel is run by the bizarre Blanche family, including their deceased mother whose presence never seems to diminish. She still "prescribes therapeutic treatments" for the guests and haunts the hallways. Enter Colette, who returns to confront her past, fix the hotel and rekindle a relationship with the second son and head chef Ronald. Collette started cooking up ideas to become an actress while she was growing up in Sydney, Australia. At age 17, she did her first movie, "The Efficiency Expert" (1991), with today's man of the moment and fellow countryman, Russell Crowe.

"Russell was great. He is basically the same person now. Perhaps he was just a little quieter back then." Ask her about this Aussie bravado, and she just smiles. "I think people on the whole present a certain image of themselves because if we really walked around as we were then we'd be so vulnerable," she says. "We need the veneer in order to survive in the world." Collette needed somewhere to hide after becoming internationally famous with her star-making turn in "Muriel's Wedding" (1994), where she gained 40 pounds in seven weeks to play the romantically challenged single. She also received raves for "Emma" (1996). "I've grown since then and I'm more comfortable with myself," she says. "I feel more stable and balanced. Nothing knocks me off my perch anymore. I honestly think things happen at the right time."

Her early brushes with fame were not too daunting. "Not to get too heavy, but I think there is also a responsibility when you're in the public eye," she says. "You should do things where people hold you in high regard. I just always try to be honest about who I am." Millions more people know who she is, thanks to "The Sixth Sense," in which she played Haley Joel Osment's tough-as-nails-but-fragile- on-the-inside mother. Collette fought to get the role. "I was in New York meeting on another movie," she says. "But when I read `The Sixth Sense,' I had to do the movie. On the set, I kept wandering around saying, `This is very special, don't you think?' " Her crying scene in a car when Osment talks about Collette's dead mother being proud of her was gut-wrenching. "I just sat there thinking about my own grandparents," Collette says. "I just started to weep naturally."

But don't feel too bad for Collette. She doesn't haul out the Kleenex too often. "I have a great, exciting life."

And a rather bohemian one.

"Since 21, I've basically been living out of a suitcase," she says. "But I miss Australia. I miss the open spaces. But I like living in a place for a couple of weeks and then leaving. I like to put myself in unfamiliar situations because that's where you learn the most."

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