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Sixty Minutes (2002)
About a Girl
June 30, 2002 | Written by Charles Wooley
As a movie script, it would go like this: a girl drops out of school, leaves her working class suburb and becomes a Hollywood star. Too corny to believe? Well, not if you are Toni Collette. Ever since her memorable role as Muriel Heslop in Muriel's Wedding, Toni Collette has been stealing the show. In less than a decade she's gone from Blacktown in Sydney to Los Angeles, an Oscar nomination and a string of successful films. As Hollywood and Charles Wooley have discovered, there's something very special about this girl. Toni Collette is a cinematic chameleon, a master of disguise, who loses herself completely in whatever role she plays. She'll dress up, she'll dress down, and she'll do just about anything to fill the screen.

CHARLES WOOLEY: There's nothing too daggy or too dangerous?

TONI COLLETTE: No, the daggier the better, I say. The more, kind of, normal, you know, the more familiar to people, so that people feel okay that they're seeing someone that actually reflect who is they really are. I think there's enough crap out there kind of representing this fantasy world that we're all told we're meant to live in and I, kind of, like to dabble in the part we do live in.

CHARLES WOOLEY: It is now part of Australian movie folklore how a young and naive 20-year-old got her break by stacking on the kilos to play Muriel Heslop in Muriel's Wedding. For Muriel, you put on weight?

TONI COLLETTE: Yeah. To this day I still hear people say, "You're so skinny!"

CHARLES WOOLEY: Yes, that's right, yeah.

TONI COLLETTE: Well, at that age I had no idea. I was 20, I had a job, I was so excited about it I would have done anything. I didn't think twice. It was just part of the character.

CHARLES WOOLEY: How much did you put on?

TONI COLLETTE: Three stone.

CHARLES WOOLEY: In how long?

TONI COLLETTE: A couple of months and I was doing a play at the time.

CHARLES WOOLEY: Do you like tucker?

TONI COLLETTE: I love food. I'm a foodie.

CHARLES WOOLEY: Toni Collette's first role was in the quirky Australian film Spotswood. It was her big chance and a big risk, still only 17, this girl from a working class family in Sydney's Blacktown had dropped out of school to pursue her passion. It's a terrible formula for kids getting into acting, isn't it? It's something like 90 percent of actors are out of work 90 percent of the time, something ridiculous. Did your parents tell you about that?

TONI COLLETTE: Oh yeah, I was very well warned. I tried to leave school at the end of Year 10 because I knew I wanted to act. I just knew I had this feeling in my gut and I listened to it. But my parents weren't listening to it. They said, "No, no, you must have your HSC to fall back on", which is totally understandable and I went back to start Year 11, did a few months and then basically kind of had a conversation where I said, "No, this is what I'm going to do, you know, please trust me". And they've been so supportive and it is crazy, and the distance has been really difficult, you know, coming from Australia and working all over the world.

CHARLES WOOLEY: It was as if she'd sensed she would succeed and succeed she has. In less than a decade she's matched it with Hollywood's best and been Oscar-nominated for her role in the movie The Sixth Sense. The Sixth Sense - you read the script and you liked it?

TONI COLLETTE: I avoided reading the script and then I finally read it.

CHARLES WOOLEY: Because you don't like scary things?

TONI COLLETTE: I had, kind of, no idea it was actually going to be scary. I found it quite beautiful.

CHARLES WOOLEY: I see dead people!

TONI COLLETTE: Yeah. It draws you in and I had no idea, so when there's that twist at the end I was just as shocked as, you know, as half the cinema-going public.

CHARLES WOOLEY: It is an amazing twist, isn't it, and then you think, "Well, you should have seen it coming."

TONI COLLETTE: Yeah. Then you go and see it and that's how they make lots of money, those people at the Mickey Mouse Company.

CHARLES WOOLEY: Hollywood may love her, but after eight years of living out of a suitcase, Toni Collette is home again and it was fellow larrikin Bryan Brown who gave her a reason to come back - to appear with him in the film Dirty Deeds.

BRYAN BROWN: We'll all be lucky to have her in this bloody movie, I'll tell you that. She plays my wife, that's why.

TONI COLLETTE: You just wanted to snog me.

BRYAN BROWN: I do and I got to.

CHARLES WOOLEY: You're Shazza, the gangster's wife.

TONI COLLETTE: Randy shandy Shaz.

CHARLES WOOLEY: Dirty Deeds is no soft romance. It's a furious romp through Sydney's criminal underworld back in the 1960s. Bryan Brown wears two hats: producer and leading man, as local crime figure Barry "Bazza" Ryan.

TONI COLLETTE: I am the woman behind the man. I'm the other half of his team, yeah. He's kind of this, he's the head of a gang and he's clearly having an affair. She doesn't allow any of the shit in and makes him realise that, without her brains and without her kind of power, he wouldn't be what he is. So she's pretty ballsy.

CHARLES WOOLEY: Where did you find her? She's a great character. I assume that you're probably not going to tell us, but you must have observed somebody who is probably someone out there.

TONI COLLETTE: No, that's the beauty of working on a very fine script. It's, all honestly, it's there and it's just a matter of, you know, either understanding it or not, but ...

CHARLES WOOLEY: So it is not your mum, it might be the writer's mum?

TONI COLLETTE: It's not my mum! But, you know, I guess that kind of character is familiar. I mean, you know, we've all met somebody like Shaz.

CHARLES WOOLEY: As an actress, Toni is also a very fine singer. She gets to sing but is required to sing very badly, which she does very well, in her other latest film About a Boy. In the movie, Toni plays a depressed, vegetarian, new age hippy, single mum. You're a bit of a new age hippy yourself, aren't you, just a little bit?

TONI COLLETTE: Define that.

CHARLES WOOLEY: Let me be really personal. What is this going on between you and the Dalai Lama?

TONI COLLETTE: I wish there was more going on between me and the Dalai Lama. I find Tibetan Buddhism incredibly comforting. I've been interested in it for approximately 13 years. Ultimately, I have come to see that it's all about being happy. It's very practical and very logical and it's almost about mind management - knowing your mind - so that you can just, kind of, not create havoc for yourself.

CHARLES WOOLEY: For a while Toni's onscreen histrionics were matched by off-screen dramas. Only now has she publicly admitted a battle with bulimia which began after Muriel's Wedding.

TONI COLLETTE: Well, the bulimia thing I, kind of, held very closely to my chest for a very long time, um, and now I'm over it, so I'm able to talk about it.

CHARLES WOOLEY: I mean, this came from the beastly eating and then trying to lose weight?

TONI COLLETTE: It came

CHARLES WOOLEY: Or was it the stress of suddenly becoming

TONI COLLETTE: Do you know, I think it is a complicated, kind of, position to be in, and I think there are many things that contributed to it. But the thing that made me stop it really was I had my first panic attack and I thought I was going to die and I started to appreciate life a bit more and, kind of, a wake up to myself.

CHARLES WOOLEY: The great theory in psychology is that out of these trials, we come to know ourselves better.

TONI COLLETTE: Yeah, yeah, which sucks, but it's great, you know, it's life.

CHARLES WOOLEY: So you don't have panic attacks any more?

TONI COLLETTE: No, don't have panic attacks any more.

CHARLES WOOLEY: Not even now?

TONI COLLETTE: No, I don't. I haven't had them for a number of years.

CHARLES WOOLEY: Her life these days is on a much more even keel. Toni's dating local musician David Galafassi and has settled very happily back in Australia.

TONI COLLETTE: I'm Australian and I have finally, after running around the world for so long, have come home and have the most beautiful house and I feel completely at home and stable and grounded and secure and I'm surrounded by my family and the people that I love and who could ask for more than that? I'm going to try to work as little as possible.

CHARLES WOOLEY: Because you're in love, aren't you?

TONI COLLETTE: I'm a bit in love, yeah. I'm very in love.

CHARLES WOOLEY: What's that like? How do you play that role?

TONI COLLETTE: It's new ground for me. I found it pretty scary initially and now it's just the best thing that's ever happened.

CHARLES WOOLEY: Because there's no script is there?

TONI COLLETTE: No, there's no script and that, in fact, is the beauty of it, I think.

CHARLES WOOLEY: And she doesn't have to put up with it. Toni's paid her dues. She's gone from the 'burbs to the bright lights, from a high school drop out to Hollywood star - a truly remarkable journey.

TONI COLLETTE: It's kind of, like, why not? You know, I've for so long in life I've asked "Why? Why? Why?", and now I'm, like, "Why not?" Go with the mystery, don't question, you're never going to figure out why things occur anyway.

CHARLES WOOLEY: You can't stop looking already; you're not even 30 are you?

TONI COLLETTE: I'm 30 in November.

CHARLES WOOLEY: Time to just accept everything.

TONI COLLETTE: Not accept, accept a little more.

CHARLES WOOLEY: In your new-aged wisdom?

TONI COLLETTE: Oh please, you're making me sound like a wanker.

CHARLES WOOLEY: No further questions, Your Worship.

TONI COLLETTE: Thank you, Mr Wooley.

CHARLES WOOLEY: Thank you very much.