Tic Tac Toni
“Bubbly or still?” Toni Collette is standing at the fridge in her Sydney hotel room, offering me a drink. Suddenly she spies something else, and her eyes light up like a giddy 14-year-old left home alone for the weekend.
“Champagne! Do you want some? Come on! Let’s!” The words tumble out of her mouth with such velocity one is left unable to answer. Collette, herself, is both bubbly and still. She has a childlike energy and an unnerving intensity, all at once. It is a duality that runs through both her work and the girl. “I think I’m growing…calmer,” says Collette, startling both of us with the claim. “I’m becoming less of an extrovert…” She glances downward. “…which is a complete paradox, wearing what I’m wearing!” Collette styled herself for this Australian Style photo shoot, fronting up in her own ensemble of old hoop skirt, fishnets, and daffy red boots. Back at the hotel, she splashes a drop of champagne on her dress. “Much worse things have been spilled on this skirt – if you get my drift.” The infectious laugh that follows (one of a multitude) and the way her face scrunches up are the only reminders of Muriel, the hapless but lovable dickhead from 1994’s Muriel’s Wedding. Collette is in town for less than two weeks but she cannot stay at her own place at Bondi, since she couldn’t give the obligatory one month’s notice to the tenant. “I miss my own bed,” she laments. It’s a wonder she even remembers what it feels like.
Since leaving home at 15, she has found temporary homes in London, New York, Los Angeles, Ireland (where she owns a house in the Wicklow Mountatins) and Philadelphia, the setting of her latest film, The Sixth Sense, which has menaced the American box office out of more than $210 million. “I didn’t realize it was scary,” says Collette. “When I read the script, I bawled my eyes out.” Her role as Lynn Sear, the mother of an eight-year-old who “sees dead people” is likely to trigger global waterworks. “She basically spends 99 per cent of the film not quite knowing what her son’s dilemma is.” She trumpets the virtues of child actor Haley Joel Osment, who, as Cole, upstages Bruce Willis’s child psychiatrist. “He’s not your typical child star actor. I remember we did a read through of the script and Bruce was just kind of mumbling his way along. Then Haley started and the whole level raised.” As Collette insists, the film is not your garden-variety Hollywood horror shlockfest. “I think it’s about living in fear, and letting go of fear.” It should come as no surprise to those who remember Collette’s daring display of determination in the 1994 Australian Grand Prix Calibra race in Adelaide (she bullied other celebrity drivers off the road) that the 27-year-old has a tomboy sense of adventure. -Id like to climb the Harbour Bridge…I wouldn’t bungee jump, though. I am quite extreme. I try to work a balance but I feel like my balance can be that I go from one extreme to the other.” It is here that her haunting performance as Mandy Slade in Todd Haynes’ Velvet Goldmine (1998) comes to mind. “Yeah, sometimes it’s really hard to let go and I have to really work at it,” she admits. “I want to rewind my whole life and go back there. Everybody just fell in love with each other.” She may be speaking loosely but it was on the Goldmine set that once made her cringe. No longer. “Besides, to a foreigner, a westie must actually sound kind of cool.”
Despite being offered a slew of big roles, Collette makes her selections instinctually, not tactically. “It’s pretty rare that a studio film has the integrity that The Sixth Sense possesses,” she says, “which is why I’ve been avoiding them. I’m attracted to characters that I know I can play but I don’t know how – or that I think I can’t play but a little, tiny part of me that knows I can.” Collette recently optioned Kate Summerscale’s book, The Queen of Whale Cay, and plans to star and co-produce the screen adaptation. It’s in keeping with her eclectic tastes – the book is a biography of British speedboat racer, and cross-dressing lesbian, Marion “Joe” Carstairs. Her next appearance will see her alongside Katrin Cartlidge in Terence Gross’ Hotel Sordide. And if you happen to be in New York early next year, you may catch her on Broadway. I ask if this theatre pursuit is a serious drama or, perhaps, a musical, but Collette reluctantly whispers that she Collette met 22-year-old Irish actor Jonathan Rhys Meyers, who played the Bowie-esque Brian Slade in the film, and the onscreen relationship reportedly spilled over to real life. She’s not discussing Meyers today but it is clear that the shoot for the glam-rock epic had more than a passing effect on Collette. “It just had the most exciting, palpable energy,” she raves. She could just as easily be talking about the groundswell under her own feet.
Collette is currently the subject of an international hum as Hollywood giants whisper her name in ‘secret’. And, while she is unquestionably dedicated, there appears to be no premeditated plan for her global ascent. She speaks of missing the hearbreakingly commonplace moments of home, like morning visits from cockatoos and raiding the cupboards for junk food at her parents’ place. The folks still live in Blacktown, in Sydney’s west, and Collette is delighted to learn that her and I went to rival high schools in the working-class suburb. “We probably played netball against each other,” she laughs. pv-The “westie” tag, and the scruffy connotations that accompany it, cannot say, adding: “It sounds so wanky and pretentious, I know.” I suggest she have some more champagne. “Bitch!” she squeals. “You’re trying to get me pissed!” If she didn’t have to remain coherent for the TV appearance that follows our interview, perhaps I would have succeeded,. for Collette appears to be a drinker. Which is another thing she misses – the spontaneous meeting of mates, now limited by insane schedules and oceans of distance. “I do get a bit choked up when I come home. I get excited.” As we leave the Opera House following the photo shoot, she gazes upon the tourists milling around Circular Quay and wonders what it is like to be a tourist visiting Sydney.
“I think everybody changes when around different people and in different circumstances, but I feel really grounded here. “Just this morning, I was walking along the beach and I started to cry. Because it agreed with my make-up. The smell, the feeling – it’s just home to me. It’s not even something I can articulate. “It’s just…it…is…me. Here.”