U Redlands Magazine (2004)
Outback where she belongs
January 2004 | Written by Evan Henerson
Toni Collette braves the elements - physically and emotionally - for 'Japanese Story'

The mom of the kid who saw dead people says she almost 86'd the business. Toni Collette had just turned 28, was working with director Norman Jewison on the 2001 HBO film "Dinner With Friends," and capping off a decade of career related globe-trotting. Since her breakout role in "Muriel's Wedding" in 1994, the Sydney-born actress has been one of British and Australian film's most regular performers, appearing in Peter Greenaway's "8 1/2 Women," Todd Haynes' "Velvet Goldmine," and Douglas McGrath's "Emma." Sprinkling in some commercial fare, she had roles in "Shaft" and "About a Boy," and received an Oscar nomination for a little project called "The Sixth Sense." She also reconnected with her stage roots, staring in the Michael John LaChiusa adaptation of "The Wild Party" at New York's Public Theatre - earning a Tony Award nomination.

But even with the plaudits and steady work, Collette had reached a kind of crossroads. "That was a strange time," recalls Collette, who appears in the limited release "Japanese Story." "I was starting to feel like my career was taking away my emotional life. I felt like I was putting so much into work that I was being raped of experiencing my own feelings. So I was ready to quit acting all together. Since then, everything's sort of balanced out." What? Just like that?

"After 'Dinner With Friends,' I basically went home, bought a house, created a home and just became much more stable," she continues, "and kind of opened a window for my husband to walk into my life." That would be musician David Galafassi, whom Collette married a year ago this month. And, no, she didn't chuck acting or globe-trotting. The thoughtful and slightly frazzled actress you see before you is now 31, has completed two movies this year and knows that all roads lead home and to a kind of serenity. "Your late 20s are that time, I think, where everyone goes through that kind of thing where you sort of fall into whoever you're going to be," says Collette, wearing a sleek dark pant suit, her hair blond, longish and straight. "It's just an accumulation of time and psychological growth. I think the 20s are very turbulent, and then you start to kind of calm down and groove into your 30s."

It's late on a Thursday in mid-December, and Collette is finishing a day of publicity-related duties for "Japanese Story" in a Beverly Hills film office. She's completing a year that saw her do two projects - and spend a couple of months on the road as a "groupie" for her husband's band, Gelbison. "So it's been a very hectic year, but I'm going for a holiday in Morocco, which is the first holiday I've had for a long time. In February I'll end up doing another film." For "Japanese Story" she actually got to work in an area of her home country - the Pilbara - that she didn't know much about. "Part of the reason I wanted to do it was to go and experience that vast expanse," says Colette. "It's so beautiful. It's kind of frightening because it's just so still. There really is nothing."

She laughs. "But I guess because this film was so emotionally intense, it's inevitable that I absorb some of this, and at times being able to look out at absolutely nothing was kind of a relief." In the film, directed by Sue Brooks, an emotionally closed-off geologist named Sandy (Collette) is forced to play tour guide to a visiting Japanese businessman (played by Gotaro Tsunashima). They journey into the Outback where the two very nearly get stranded. Matters take an unexpected turn after the two - despite early tension and vast cultural differences - realize they have more in common than they originally thought. Of her co-star Tsunashima, who is nicknamed "Go" ("because it's much easier, and he likes it," Collette says) the actress has nothing but praise. Shooting emotional scenes for six weeks in the desert, she says, will help you a develop a bond. Tsunashima's English is much better than his character in the film, and "when he was drunk, he was totally fluent."

"He was so open and available," she adds, "and I think in a film where there really wasn't a way of preparing to go into the head spaces we need to, it was really great to work with someone who was willing to go as far as we needed to go to get it right." "Japanese Story" has taken in a ton of Australian film awards, including the Australian Film Institute (AFI) award for best actress for Collette. She has traveled to Telluride and Toronto to help publicize the film. Grateful director Brooks is pleased to have Collette working for the film - and is even more pleased that the actress signed on in the first place. She may be a native daughter, but - like fellow Aussies Nicole Kidman, Naomi Watts and good friend Rachel Griffiths - Collette has done well for herself and doesn't need to return, especially for low-budget art-house projects.

"I thought if she read it, she'd see this as a great opportunity to do something she could put her back into and get her teeth stuck into," says Brooks. "For us, she's a real Aussie girl. She's sort of got guts, and she'll put her whole body into a performance. She doesn't hold back, doesn't over-analyze. She just goes for it." Which is easy to do, Collette says, when you get a role that you connect with from the moment you read it. The actress says she usually develops a quick connection to a script. Either she "gets it" or she doesn't, and "Japanese Story" was an instant connection. "I probably sound like a (expletive), but I had such a deep understanding about how it had to be," she says. "There are some films where I think, 'I know I have to do this, but I don't know exactly how I'm going to do it,' and there are others where I actually can see and feel and taste exactly how it needs to be done from the initial read."

"Muriel's Wedding," she says, was another instant connection. Playing the title character - a chubby ABBA-singing marriage-obsessed wallflower - Collette won her first AFI award and a Golden Globe nomination. "It was like a religious kind of experience," she says of playing the role. "It just struck me. I was vehement about it. I thought it's going to be such a big huge mistake if they cast someone else." And "The Sixth Sense?" "That one, I got pretty much straight away, although the one misconception was I thought it was sort of a beautiful spiritual tale - and then I realized I was in a horror film," she says.

The role as Lynn Sear, mother to Haley Joel Osment's Cole Sear, also pretty much guaranteed that strangers approaching her would always have an opening line. "I get a bit of, 'I see dead people,' and `You're terrible, Muriel.' " she says. "Between the two, I can't complain."