The Actress who puts the bruised heart in Velvet Goldmine
Toni Collette is at the peak of her powers in Velvet Goldmine as Mandy Slade, a vivacious woman made rueful by her marriage to a rock’n’roll Icarus: The more nuances we see in Collette’s performance, the more she conjures up Angie Bowie in particular and the rock wife archetype in general, as well as the screen character who inspired Mandy – Citizen Kane’s frowsy Susan Alexander Kane. Hitherto best known for her portrayal of the hapless heroine of Muriel’s Wedding, the Aussie actress is, as I discovered in her hotel room, a pip.
GRAHAM FULLER: More than one A-list actress campaigned to play Mandy. Did you think you’d get the part?
TONI COLLETTE: No. When I auditioned with Todd it was three in the afternoon. I’d had all day to work myself into a knot, and he was jet-lagged. I went away kicking myself and thinking, There’s no way I’m going to get this. Back in Australia I went to stay with my friend Rachel in this hippie village called Byron Bay. We went out for a walk and were lying on our backs looking at the stars and I said, “Please give me a sign about this film.” And seven shooting stars shot across the sky. Seven! So I knew I was going to play Mandy. I think that epitomizes how profound the whole experience was for me. I knew I wasn’t physically right for the role and that Todd cast me from the inside out, and that’s really rare in the film business. Usually it’s an aesthetic quality that wins out.
GF: When you started working …
TC: I was so petrified I thought, I have to quit – I can’t let Todd down. But once I got over that, I had an amazing time. It was absolutely liberating for me. I went berserk.
GF: What happened?
TC: A lot of things that had been lying dormant in me were unleashed throughout the course of making this film. And those experiences are for me to know and for you never to know. [laughs]
GF: I see. Was it a watershed moment for you?
TC: I have no idea, but in terms of personal change – involving thoughts, feelings, knowledge, love – I was very deeply affected.
GF: Did you meet with Angie Bowie during your research?
TC: No. I’ve never met her. I don’t want to. I’m scared to!
GF: I met her a few years ago. She’s a woman with a huge heart – a much more resilient survivor than Mandy. Yet your performance conveyed Angie’s aura. It was uncanny.
TC: Shut up, you’re giving me goose bumps! I read her autobiography to try and figure out what she must have gone through. In the film, when Mandy meets Brian [Jonathan Rhys Meyers], he’s young, beautiful, talented, and fresh in every way. He enters her world and that’s why it’s so tragic. She introduces him to everyone and helps create the style that leads to the entire glam upsurge, and then, slowly but surely, she’s elbowed out of the circle and is left standing on the periphery looking back at this collapsing castle. She helped build it but she’s no longer allowed on the property. How devastating would that be? Not only does she lose her best friend, she loses her lover and her entire life. It knocks her sideways and it’s taking her a very long time to stand up straight again.
I think the beautiful thing about Mandy, though, is that when we see her being interviewed by Arthur [Christian Bale] it’s clear she’s the most truthful of all the characters. Brian is still out there living a lie. He’s created yet another facade for himself whereas Mandy has come to grips with who she is. Even though she’s dressed in black and seems to have a black mood, there’s a sense of irony and a sense of relaxation that wasn’t there before and I think she is much more connected to herself, having gone through such a painful experience.
GE: What do you think the movie has to say about sexual freedom?
TC: Nothing didactic. Basically, it says people should allow themselves the freedom to be who they really are, and who gives a shit who you fuck?