The Sydney Morning Herald (2002)
From the dirty to the dusty, Collette lives her dream
July 16, 2002 | Written by Garry Maddox
Sixth sense and sensibility ... Toni Collette revealed her thirst for the Australian desert yesterday at the W hotel in Wooloomoolloo. Her new film, Dirty Deeds, opens on Thursday. Photo: Penny Bradfield The desert is drawing Toni Collette west. Next week the Australian star of Muriel's Wedding, The Sixth Sense and Shaft starts shooting a new film in the remote Pilbara region in Western Australia. She plays a stranded geologist in the drama Japanese Story - a far cry from the comical Muriel Heslop in Muriel's Wedding, the film that brought her international acclaim. And just as far from the characters she plays in two films about to reach cinemas, a gutsy gangster's wife in the Australian crime tale Dirty Deeds and a suicidal mum in the British comedy About A Boy.

Speaking before the premiere of Dirty Deeds last night, Collette said her character in Japanese Story meets an enigmatic Japanese investor who changes her life. "I'm playing a character who is quite shut down, and I end up waking up and appreciating life a bit more.". Having lived through well-documented battles with bulimia and panic attacks, Collette liked the fact that the film, by director Sue Brooks, is a meditation on death. "That's something I'm slightly obsessed with," she said. For a Blacktown-raised actor who has been nominated for an Oscar (The Sixth Sense) and a Tony award (the Broadshow show The Wild Party), there is also the mysterious pull of the desert.

"I really wanted to get out into the desert. I've never really spent much time out there. One thing I miss when I'm away from Australia is the light and the space. And I'm certainly going to have a lot of that." Collette, 29, said returning to work in Australia was a natural progression. "I was 21 when Muriel's Wedding came out, and everything kind of exploded. I was living out of a suitcase and running around the planet and working and working and working. "When I wasn't working I was trying to figure out 'What am I suppose to do? I don't really live anywhere' and having holidays and not really relaxing."

Reaching her late 20s she began reassessing her life. "I'm learning to appreciate simpler things now. I just needed a place of my own, and I needed to be still for a while and figure out what normalcy is." How much Collette works in Australia in future depends on the scripts she is offered. But she is developing two films to produce here, adaptations of Luke Davies's novel of a Sydney woman's love and loss, Isabelle The Navigator, and Larry Writer's book Razor, which centres on the vice queens who dominated Sydney's underworld in the 1930s.

"It's not that I haven't wanted to work here. It's just that, I guess, nothing has been right. I'd prefer to stay here and work, but it's a much smaller industry." Like her Muriel's Wedding co-star Rachel Griffiths in The Hard Word, Collette plays one tough woman in Dirty Deeds. "I'm all for strong female characters," she said. Needless to say, that goes for whether they are supporting Kings Cross crime bosses or facing their mortality in the Australian desert.