The trouble with Toni
Toni Collette may be hot in Hollywood, but she says the journey wasn’t always an easy one.
Toni Collette says life after Muriel’s Wedding hasn’t always been a Hollywood dream. The earthy brunette, who shot to stardom in the quirky P.J. Hogan comedy and won an AFI Award and a Golden Globe nomination for the role of Muriel five years ago, is again basking in Tinsletown’s limelight – thanks to her supporting role in the hit thriller “The Sixth Sense”, starring Bruce Willis and 11-year-old Haley Joel Osment.
However, Tonni still has mixed feelings about the overnight stardom she endured in 1994. “When Muriel came out, I was travelling all over the world and I felt very lonely,” Toni says of that time. “It was a major change in my life, and I even considered giving up acting. Then I thought to myself, ‘I’ve already come this far, and no one can take that away.’ I didn’t want to take the wonderful part away because I felt uncomfortable with the other stuff. Maybe I’ve just grown up and feel more comfortable with myself.”
The vivacious 26-year-old has certainly made her way in Hollywood. Following “Muriel’s Wedding”, Toni worked non-stop on films such as “The Pallbearer” (with “Friends” star David Schwimmer), Jane Austen’s “Emma” (with Gwyneth Paltrow), the independent British film “Clockwatchers”, “The James Gang” and “Diana And Me”. She also returned to Australia to play the brassy girlfriend of an ex-con, played by David Wenham, in the gritty drama “The Boys”.
Now Toni is hot property again in Hollywood, thanks to “The Sixth Sense”, which has grossed more than $US200 million at the box office. In the film, Toni plays Lynn Sear, the mother of eight-year-old Cole (Haley Joel Osment), a boy haunted by a dark secret – ghosts visit him. Confused by his paranormal powers, Cole is too afraid to tell his mother about his anguish, but finally trusts his secret with child psychologist Dr. Malcolm Crowe (Bruce Willis), who uncovers the ominous truth about Cole’s abilities.
“I was sent the script when I was in New York,” Toni recalls. “I was going through a rough time with jet lag – and I also put off reading because it was starring Bruce Willis and was a much bigger package, and I didn’t really have faith in those type of projects. But one night I couldn’t sleep, I picked it up at 3am, thinking it would send me off, and I couldn’t put it down.” Toni’s emotional connection to the thriller also comes from her own strong belief in the supernatural, from visiting psychics to buying crystals. “We had a granny flat at the back of our house when I was growing up, and when my nan died I sued to go there and feel her presence,” she says. “I’d feel so scared – it was as if she was trying to talk to me.”
“There was also an instance in New York, where I was abducted after I’d been out shopping. I got into a cab and was begging the driver to get over to 9th Avenue so I could get home and he wouldn’t. The I looked at his ID. It didn’t match the driver and I was suddenly in a panic. He was turning onto te ramp that goes to New Yersey,” “Toni continues, “when totally out of the blue, this car banged into us. We had to stop, and I got away. I immediately thanked my grandmother. A few days later, I went to a psychic. She said ‘Your grandmother is around you, and she has something to tell you…’ and she told me all this family stuff she couldn’t have known.”
As well as the secret ending to “The Sixth Sense”, Toni believes the film is successul because audiences are responding to its heart. “This film is beautiful and concerns us all,” she says. “It’s about fear and letting go of it, and it’s also about changes – including the biggest change of all, death – and not being afraid of it. I think people really want to see the film and talk about it because it deals with important subjects. We’re alive and then we die, and who knows what’s going on.”
With two more movies already under her belt – Peter Greenaway’s “Eight and a Half Women” and the British film “Hotel Splendide” – Toni is unsure of her next career move. As for her personal life, she laughs at stories romantically linking her to REM singer Michael Stipe and insists she is single. “I met Michael a while back, and we have become good friends,” she says. “I’ve been on tour with REM – but I don’t have a boyfriend at the moment.” Which begs the question – is anyone making her happy? “Oh, people are making me happy, “Toni says, smiling mysteriously, “but not just a boyfriend”.