Toni Collette: A star is torn
With a head-spinning round of film shoots, Toni Collette is feeling the pressures of stardom
Toni Collette, Australia’s reluctant star and the world’s flavour of the year, has had a tough week. She flew back from London, went straight into night shoots for her new film “Diana And Me”, hosted a premiere of “Emma”, partied with Sting and Kiefer Sutherland, endured bad press for not dressing up enough and is now sitting, looking outrageously relaxed, in a posh Sydney hotel. She’s barely recognisable as the yearning chubby-faced loner from the film which made her a worldwide name, “Muriel’s Wedding”. This Collette isn’t svelte – she’s got a better figure than that – but her face is much more fine-honed than it scents on screen. And she has that irrepressible smile which has lit up every movie role. whether it be the gentle mental home inmate in this year’s “Cosi”, the scatty, indecisive Harriet from “Emma” or the anguished incest victim in “Lilian’s Story”, for which she’s been nominated for Best Supporting Actress in this year’s Australian Film Institute Awards, to be announced on Friday. She’s 100 per cent committed to her career – “You have to love what you’re doing to get up at four o’clock every morning” – but she’s much more ambivalent about other aspects of filmmaking.
“It was head-spinning after Muriel’s Wedding. It made me want to stop acting for a while. I find doing interviews very uncomfortable.” she says. “I guess I’d romanticised my involvement with acting and it is a business. It is about money and power. Actors are powerless – they’re there to put their heart and emotions and spirits on the line. It’s hard to keep a shell around that. It’s hard to do that when there is all this pressure.” She had her first taste of bad press while making the new version of Jane Austen’s “Emma”, co-starring Gwyneth Paltrow and Greta Scacchi, in England. “Apparently while I was away there was some story about me being a complete nightmare on set,” says Collette, sounding half-resigned, half-indignant. “We had a whole heap of paparazzi on “Emma” and I think they just wanted to sell photographs. There’s no basis for it. They have no shame.” Watching her at Emma’s post-premiere tea party last Sunday afternoon, held in an elegant English mock-up at Sydney University, you can see Collette is torn between what she’d like to do (spend time with the family that she’s barely seen in the past two years) and what she has to do (constantly pop off to do photos or quick mini-interviews).
She’s caught in the trap of a serious character actress who has suddenly become front-page fodder. Now she has to decide how much of her interior life she’s going to sacrifice. She is, after all, only 24 and she’s been the focus of attention for the past eight years, ever since she quit school as a Blacktown teenager to focus on acting. WI think that kind of big star pressure could be hideous. When Brad Pitt came to visit (his girlfriend) Gwyneth (Paltrow), we were all staying in this Knightsbridge hotel, and there were people camped outside. The paparazzi would follow us when we went out to dinner. But Brad and Gwyneth are such genuinely nice people, not weird. Of course he’s faithful to her – they’re so in love. I haven’t been out in such a long time! Last night was actually the first time,” she notes about her partying on in a group of young actors which included Australian Jeremy Sims and English Carrington star Rufus Sewell who’s out here shooting “Dark City” with William Hurt. She then laughingly squishes a query about a rumoured romance with her “Emm”a co-star Jeremy Northam. Collette is now at the stage where everyone gives her advice. In America, she’s become a regular for Miramax Films, which distributed “Muriel’s Wedding” overseas, produced “Emma” and Collette’s other upcoming comedy “The Pallbearer”, also starting Paltrow. Flattered with her AFI nomination, Collette says with genuine puzzlement: “It freaks me out a bit. I don’t know how you judge performances. How can you judge creativity?
Emma opened on Thursday