Mad About a Boy
Lonely and alone, often filled with panic, Toni Collette searched the globe for a place to call hers – only to find it back where she started. And the homecoming couldn’t have been sweeter, with a plum role in a new film and a “beautiful boy” she can’t stop smiling about. Liz van den Nieuwenhof reports.
In the dim, austere hotel lobby its not dif-ficult to spot Toni Collette. Not with that chick-got-the-caboodle grin of hers. It’s there from the minute she strides into view, trailing an unmistakable whiff of con-tentment that comes from having finally hit the jackpot in love. Also, she’s home for good. And that, too, may account for the radiant smile giving her face such a strenuous workout. It has taken her years to reach this point after the emotional chaos unleashed by her trajectory to stardom. In fact, so rapid was her ascendancy from Sydney’s working-class Blacktown to Hollywood there were times her life seemed to track the all-too familiar script of the endearingly scatty Muriel Heston fleeing Porpoise Spit. Where it differed was that her tinsel ride from obscurity came with scores of film offers, glitzy premieres around the world, AFI awards, an Academy Award nomination, a Tony nomination and all the lick-spittle you’d come to expect of a business clotted with rampaging egos. Not half bad for the daughter of a truck driver who quit school at 16 and baldly announced to her parents that acting seemed to be the go and with that. was off.
Yet not long after her lead role in P.J. Hogan’s 1994 hit film Muriel’s Wedding thrust her into the stratosphere, Collette claims she began feeling disoriented and was tormented by a searching need for a simpler, more stable life. She tried putting down roots in London, New York and Los Angeles and on impulse even bought a romantic gate lodge in the Irish countryside only to find that it didn’t quite feel like home. This restlessness seemed symptomatic of her inner turmoil. There came panic attacks, those much-publicised yo-yo battles with her weight, physical exhaustion and bouts of such scaring longing that finally, in a desperate need to take stock, she heeded the call of home and returned to Australia last year. It was the best thing she has ever done for, as homecomings go, nothing could have been sweeter. Within a matter of weeks, the 29-year-old actress bought a S 1.8m home, complete with ocean views, in Sydney’s ritzy Tamarama. And with pressing haste she set about creating a “nurturing environment” for herself in her new eyrie where much of the decor is in bright orange, the colour of joy and vibrancy. It accords with her current frame of mind for she confesses she has never been happier. Or looked more stunning. On the morning of our interview in one of Sydney’s fashionably minimalist hotels she cuts a sexy and slim figure in a sober grey trouser suit and brandishing that lovesick glow of hers. The latter, she admits without prompting, comes courtesy of “the love of a beautiful boy”. The boy in question being 25-year-old Dave Galafassi, drummer in the Sydney band Gelbison, who came into her life not long after she returned home. “Forget cloud nine. I’m on cloud 59 and it’s very high.” she warbles with unexpected candour. “It’s the best thing that has ever happened to me.”
Being constantly on the move and having worked incessantly over the years has not been conducive to maintaining long-term relationships. There was reportedly a brief entanglement with Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, her co-star in Todd Haynes film Velvet Goldmine, but when she returned to Australia craving nothing more than a rejuvenating break in her new home the last thing she expected was to fall head over heels in love. “It’s strange really,” she ponders thoughtfully, “but it was finally taking the time out that allowed this beautiful person to walk into my life!’ They met at a barbecue she had been reluctantly dragged to by a friend. Collette, fearing she wouldn’t know anyone there and be left stranded on her own, vowed to stay for no more than 10 minutes. That was until she spotted Galafassi. “We had met briefly at a gig he’d played at where I was blown over by this drummer who actually smiled instead of looking agonised. I didn’t really talk to him much then, but we recognised each other instantly. I think we got to the party at about one in the afternoon and from them it was like a long, slow dance,” she confides with girlish glee. “By midnight we were inseparable and we’ve been together ever since.” She doesn’t use the word soulmate, but throughout our interview it becomes patently obvious Collette has found in Galafassi that someone special. He shares many of her passions and interests, most notably music. and to her Gelbison is “simply awesome”. But then you wouldn’t expect a woman madly in love with the drummer to give his band anything but a glowing rap. “I heard them for the first time that day at the party when I forced them to play their EP. I loved their music immediately.” she gushes. It turns out Collette has been penning her own songs for some time and is now collaborating with Galafassi on a possible recording project of her own. She has always wanted to do something with her music and has been offered record deals, but says none felt right. “It is something I definitely want to do within the next year. As an actor you’re always in someone else’s hands. But with my music I don’t want to give my power away because it is so personal. It is something that comes from within me. So I am looking at putting a little home studio together and just doing it very simply without too much interference and then just letting it seep out into the world the way it needs to:’ It doesn’t mean she envis-ages giving acting away.
On the contrary, a recent seven-month break not only rekindled a love of her craft, but also drove home the fact that she needed to set some limitations. So there will be no more living out of suitcases for extended periods. “I definately want to base myself here,” she stresses. “My family is here and I have fallen in love with the most beautiful person and we’re living together. I only want to go away for work and always come back to this. Because this is home. This is where I feel nurtured and nourished and most myself. And I can’t tell you how pleased I am to have finally figured it all out after having run around for so long. Things started to creak and change a year ago, but now I feel kind of poised. I’ve come to appreciate simplicity a lot more. I’ve discovered the importance of making the time to relax and be still.’ As luck would have it she was offered the part of Bryan Brown’s wife “Randy Shandy Shaz” in David Caesar’s rampant cinematic yarn Dirty Deeds not long after she made the move back here. Her part as a gangster’s wife – “a real ball-breaker of a woman” – is in some respects a dramatic departure for Collette who has made her mark playing vulnerable women. There was the ABBA-mad Muriel, of course, and her lead role as the mother of a disturbed child in The Sixth Sense that won her an Oscar nomination and more recently, that of the idealistic Fiona (“Miss Granola Suicide”) in the forthcoming film About a Boy opposite Hugh Grant.
But she found the part of Sharon in Dirty Deeds enormously enticing. Not only did she get to wear fabulous ’60s clobber complete with vampy wigs, but it gave her a chance to work at home with the likes of Brown and Sam Neill. “In a sense it was like a fantastic welcome home gift because it was like being taught to be Australian again. It was as if the whole universe conspired to make this happen!’ she says. In fact there were times when she was moved to some rather embarrassing tearful displays during its filming. Like the morning a young crew member came to collect her from her hotel near Broken Hill, where she was on location. Says Collette: “The drive to the set would take about an hour so I put an Australian band on the CD player and watched the most spectacular sunrise unfold. It was 130 degrees flat and the colours that were being projected across the land were simply breathtaking. That’s when it hit me that I’d come home. I started bawling my eyes out. I had to keep reassuring poor Jason (the driver) that I was actually crying because I was so incredibly happy.”