New York Daily News (2004)
Toni can grin again
January 7, 2004 | Written by Nancy Mills
Now that she's recognized as a dramatic actress, Toni Collette says she can go back to comedy. It's all a reaction to the success she had with "Muriel's Wedding," a reaction that included a near breakdown.

"After 'Muriel's Wedding' came out, there was this assumption that I was a comedic actress," Collette says irritably of the 1994 Australian film about an overweight wanna-be bride. It was the movie launched her career. "People would say, 'C'mon, give us that Muriel grin,'" Collette says. "It drove me crazy, so I was determined to prove myself as an actor who could do anything, not just be funny." A decade later, Collette has made her point.

She exchanged a kiss with Julianne Moore in "The Hours," tried to kill herself in "About a Boy" and seemed at her wit's end as Haley Joel Osment's mother in "The Sixth Sense," a performance that brought her an Oscar nomination. In "Japanese Story," opening Jan. 16, Collette manages a few happy moments, but this tale is mostly about anger, self-protection and loss. She plays a geologist forced to chauffeur a young Japanese businessman on a field trip around Western Australia's Pilbara Desert. They instantly dislike each other, but when their car gets stuck in a sand trap, their relationship shifts. "It's a life-threatening situation," Collette says. "They think they're vastly different and then realize they're very similar. Their dire circumstance enables both of them to have a beautiful, real, honest exchange, which then changes both of their lives."

Collette won the Australian equivalent of an Academy Award for her work, and there's now talk of an Oscar nomination. If it should happen, she says she'll handle it better than when "Muriel's Wedding" made her an international movie star. The daughter of a Sydney truck driver and a customer- service representative, Collette quit drama school to work on stage but never expected to be famous. She gained 40 pounds for "Muriel's Wedding" and later reportedly battled bouts of bulimia and panic attacks. "I really wasn't prepared for there to be an audience, let alone an audience as large as it was," she says. "I wasn't prepared for fame. It pretty much changed my life.

"I spent my 20s trying to be comfortable in my own skin. I had a heightened sense of reality - traveling around the globe, working constantly, always in a space where nothing was familiar and trying to acclimatize, instead of having a base that was solid and safe." Eventually she rebelled. "I got fed up with work because it wasn't allowing me to experience things for myself," she says. "I was giving so much for my job that I felt I needed to save some for me. "At 28, I stopped running and I moved back to Australia. I took a break and met my now-husband [musician Dave Galafassi]. Everything slowed down. I felt safer, more settled and solid." Collette has two Hollywood movies, both comedies, due out this year. In "The Last Shot" with Matthew Broderick, she plays a blond bombshell just out of rehab. In "Connie and Carla," she and Nia Vardalos play pretend drag queens in a takeoff of "Some Like It Hot."

"I play someone quite na´ve, verging on dim," Collette says. "The movie's very flamboyant. Feather boas and tiaras abound."