Diana, Toni & Me
In the smoke-filled bar where all manner of media have congregated to conduct interviews in the midst of this year’s Sundance Film Festival, Toni Collette is fashionably late, reports Paul Fischer – but she does reveal her ultimate dream.
Arriving, wrapped in blue Parker, the 25-year old AFI-award-winning star of Muriel’s Wedding, Lillian’s Story and the now controversial Diana and Me, was at Sundance to promote the independent American film, Clockwatchers, a film dealing with the plights of a group of office workers, played by Parker Posey and Lisa Kudrow. “It’s become just another Festival now” on Sundance Collette is no stranger to the jet-setting Festival circuit, with Sundance proving to be a unique experience for the actress. “I somehow thought it would be a lot more intimate and focused on movies, but I think it’s become just another Festival now. What I DO love about it, is that it does embrace independent movies, which is great, but they’re starting to copy each other anyway being a fusion of so many different genres. BUT it’s beautiful here, I’ve never had snow before and I love the fact that the moon is out during most of the day.” Obviously a romantic at heart. “I guess – when I’m in a good mood”, she adds laughingly. Collette gets to show off her softer, romantic and comedic side in the new Australian comedy, Diana and Me, directed by cinematographer David Parker. She plays Diana Spencer, a Wollongong woman obsessed with the other Diana, Princess of Wales. They share not only name but birthday, so when she wins a trip to London with her less interested fiance (Malcolm Kennard) it’s a dream come true, and one which comes with some major surprises. “It was a great experience to work on…” on Diana and Me Collette says the film “explores the manic obsession we have with celebrity, royal or otherwise.” She adds that “it is about someone who’s also a terrible magazine junkie and believes everything she reads, and ends up in her own story. She ultimately learns about the scum factor of the paparazzi industry along the way.”
Toni didn’t have to do much research on the subject. There’s no love lost between her and the tabloid press. “Funnily enough, a lot of tabloid shit was being written about me in Australia while I was in London shooting Diana and Me, but it was a great experience to work on nonetheless.” Times have been good for this actress who was relatively unknown just a few years ago. Always interested in acting, Collette made her stage debut at 14, in a school production of Godspell .Three years later, Collette attended NIDA, but only lasted some 18 months before quitting the prestigious drama school. “I thought it was hypocritical, and besides, I was offered a job with the best theatrical director in Australia, working with amazing actors. The funny thing was, they were doing the same play that term in NIDA, and I thought: well, you can learn here or you can go and learn in the real thing. I guess I chose the latter, and fuck, I’m glad I did that.” “I had no expectations whatsoever other than to do the best job that I could.” on Muriel’s Wedding Toni worked hard at her craft, appearing in several major plays. She made her feature film debut in “Spotswood”, opposite the likes of Anthony Hopkins, Alwyn Kurts and a youngster called Russell Crowe. But it was her sympathetic starring performance in the black comedy, Muriel’s Wedding (1994), that generated international attention, acclaim, and her first AFI Award. As Muriel, an overweight introvert who hopes that marriage will give her life as much meaning as an ABBA song, Collette put on over 18 kilos and became an underdog that audiences could root for. At the time, the actress now recalls, the film’s ultimate success wasn’t what she’d been expecting. After her initial successes, she was back “struggling again” before the role of a lifetime finally came her way. “At the time, I was just happy to get a job; I was delivering pizzas before Muriel’s Wedding came along, and then things just snowballed.” She still relishes her work on that mini-budgeted film, referring to Muriel “as a brilliant part which changed my life, but I didn’t go in knowing ANY of that. I had no expectations whatsoever other than to do the best job that I could.” Collette has been busy since Muriel was launched into the Australian cinematic consciousness.
Her work has extended from the intense drama as a victim of child-abuse in Lilian’s Story, to her deftly comedic work in Emma and The Pallbearer, and she’ll be next gracing our screens in the female ensemble comedy The Clockwatchers, a film which she is keen to talk about. “I think it’s the film I’ve felt the most connected to since Muriel’s Wedding,” the actress admits. The film deals with the funny and poignant lives of a group of dissatisfied temporary office workers coping with insidious modern bureaucracy. Collette plays the newcomer to the group, painfully shy and introverted. “You always find something within yourself with which you empathise, and you empathise through your own experience and what you understand as a person. For instance, with Muriel’s, at that stage of my life, I totally got that character, and when Clockwatchers came up, I had gone through similar emotions, so I was able to give as much as I could.” She sees this character as “very shy, very intelligent, very internal and very much in her own head.” The actress further defines the emotional connection between this character and herself. “I totally understood what was going on and that comes from within you.” “If it’s not going to challenge ME, if it’s not going to interest ME” So far, Collette has resisted Hollywood, preferring to work on independent films. “If it’s not going to challenge ME, if it’s not going to interest ME, if I can’t learn from it, then there’s no point in doing it. If I don’t think I can give my entire self to it, then I don’t want to know.” What she DOES know, is that she won’t do anything that is repetitive, or a clone of Muriel. “I know that I’m playing different characters all the time.” Her next few films are proof of that, such as the new film from original film maker Todd Haynes, Velvet Goldmine, co-starring Ewan McGregor.
“It’s the most original screenplay I’ve ever read; it’s basically about the glam rock era in London, and kind of traces the life of David Bowie. Basically I’m playing Angie Bowie. She’s this brittle, sexy, young thing and I even get to age 20 years.” “I want to build a mud-brick house on some beautiful land in some beautiful part of Australia, with a river and a waterfall on it.” Asked about her major ambition, and the response is a little unexpected. “You know what my dream is? I want to build a mud-brick house on some beautiful land in some beautiful part of Australia, with a river and a waterfall on it.” Along with the hubby and kids? “I don’t believe in marriage, but I want to be with SOMEBODY and I want kids some day. I also want to learn languages and musical instruments. I want to do everything; doesn’t everybody?”