The Sydney Morning Herald (2014)
No exit plan for Toni Collette as doors swing open for exploration
November 12, 2014 | Written by Stephanie BunburyFor a woman who grew up in Blacktown in Sydney's west, Toni Collette has come a long way - and has no plans to stop travelling.
Toni Collette has never been afraid to transform herself for a role – she was launched onto the world stage, after all, as a chunky version of herself in Muriel's Wedding – but as Maureen in A Long Way Down, which screens as part of the British Film Festival now touring the country, she seems almost to have shrunk inside her frumpy cardigan.
The film was launched at the Berlin Film Festival, which is where we speak. The day after it debuts Collette is back up on the screen again in another film, the small American independent Lucky Them, playing a hipster rock journalist. In real life, she thrives on living out of a suitcase and is a big believer in embracing change. "If you try to put the brake on," she says, "it's all going to go to shit."
A somewhat less bumpy version of this message pervades A Long Way Down, which is adapted from Nick Hornby's novel about four very disparate people who meet on a London rooftop one New Year's Eve. They have all come to commit suicide. Each has his or her reason, but Maureen's is the most poignant: she has a severely disabled son who would get much better care, she believes, if she were not there to look after him. Maureen is also isolated, friendless, overworked and terribly tired, a situation that starts to ease a little when the four would-be suicides form an unlikely gang.
Having effectively blocked each other's New Year's Eve attempt at annihilation, they agree to reconsider things on Valentine's Day. And so they stay in touch. They tell each other their stories. They even find themselves having fun – quite a lot of fun, by anyone's fun-meter measure. "Life comes in with other plans," Collette says. "And thank God, because you just don't know what's around the corner, so why shut yourself off to it?"
Collette has rounded quite a few surprising corners herself. She grew up in Blacktown in Sydney's western suburbs. She attended ballet classes and nursed dreams of performing. "I got into acting through musicals: I did these kind of horrific talent quests in shopping malls when I was younger. My parents were like, 'What is going on? What are you doing?' But they have always been so supportive."
The Sixth Sense and, later, the fabulous Little Miss Sunshine and the Showtime series United States of Tara confirmed her as a Hollywood name as well as an Australian one. "I still pinch myself. I don't take this for granted," she says, looking around the plush Berlin hotel room where we are talking.
"It's so different from the way I grew up. But I think my relationship with acting has changed. I think, initially, I really needed it as a form of expression, just to get shit out. It is still that sometimes. But I love looking at life through my characters' different perspectives – and the past couple of years I've been so lucky." At 42, Collette is at an age when many women find the film roles start to dry up. She says she is not entitled to complain when work is going so well, but she is taking the initiative as a producer to make films including women past their ingenue years. Not for her the surgery route. On the contrary, ageing is one of the changes she wants to embrace.
That realisation hit her, she remembers, when she was only 24. She was travelling in Tibet and was bathing in a hot spring near a village that was home to a large Buddhist convent. A tiny old nun got into the water next to her. "She had a face like a road map and was the most exquisite creature I have ever seen. And I was just like, 'Wow, the more you grow, the more you just let it happen'. Surely, that is the way to live. I really don't get this trend of trying to stay young. It seems to me to represent denial on a really deep level, of not accepting your own existence and the natural flow of life. Which is so crazy it makes my mind explode."
She shows me her mermaid tattoo which, she has decided, is actually a merman. "But the point is that it symbolises the ocean and how it's all constantly moving together; it is an acceptance of change." As she sets off to New York with her family to shoot for five months, she feels the pleasure of being footloose.
"I don't know where I want to live now," she says. "I used to be very clear about living in Australia, where my family is, but now I'm not so sure. I'm not good at being in one place for too long." Five months in busy New York is fine; five years anywhere, I suspect, is another matter.
"Yes, I find that really troubling," she laughs. "I need to know there is an exit door. It just seems crazy to stay in one place when you can keep exploring."