Toni Collette: I have to stop crying
A string of serious roles have left Toni Collette emotionally exhausted, she tells Garry Maddox.
One minute Toni Collette seems every bit the truck driver’s daughter who grew up in Sydney’s vast western suburbs and left school at 16. “It was all very normal,” she says. “The suburbs. We talk, we don’t talk, we fight, we watch television, I threw a sausage at my cousin across the dinner table.”
At other times, Collette seems like the poster girl for every Zen-cum-New Age star in Hollywood. Having had Buddhist monks assist at her January wedding to drummer Dave Galafassi, she talks about “creative visualisation” and says she is now eating meat again “for energy”, after finding an organic butcher down the road. “I realise I’m part of the eco-system myself,” she says. Collette seems to experience life through extremes. She doesn’t drink coffee, for example.
“It sends me into a spiralling mess.” Even one cup?
“One sip. Even a decaf.”
Back home after 10 flights in two weeks, visiting film festivals, Collette is briefly uncertain whether it is September or October. It is a hectic schedule for the 30- year-old who has been nominated for a Golden Globe, a Tony and an Oscar since emerging in Muriel’s Wedding.
She wants to take the rest of the year off, “doing the normal things that normal people do” – barbecues with the family, hanging around at home.
“I can very easily not leave the house now for a whole day… maybe two or three. I’m very good at just pottering, amusing myself at home. You know, relaxing.”
Collette jokes a lot while talking about her life. With a longish face framed by blonde hair, she looks at you with a directness bordering on intensity, breaking into a smile that could guide ships at night.
When the photographer asks her to assume an awkward pose on the bed, she impersonates a Bombay shopkeeper. “I think you are living in another world, Quentin,” she says cheerfully. “Get on with it.” When he finally finishes, she starts singing Born Free.
She has just finished making Connie and Carla, in which she and Nia Vardalos (of My Big Fat Greek Wedding) play fugitives who hide by impersonating drag queens in Los Angeles, and expects to “cry all the way through it” when it screens.
The emotions of acting can take a toll, she says.
“Usually, there’s a huge kerplunk at the end of a job where it feels like I’ve just fallen into the depths of who-knows-where. You kind of have to rebuild how you want to live again.”
It even reached the point, two years ago, where she felt acting had taken away her emotional life.
“I just really wanted to experience things for myself because it felt like everything was being funnelled through work.”
As an actress, Collette has an exceptional ability to be a character. At her best – like that eerie scene in the car in The Sixth Sense, her cameo as a woman heading for a breakdown in The Hours or taking a Japanese businessman into the desert in her current film, Japanese Story – you forget she is acting. Unlike many of her peers, especially in Hollywood, she seems unselfconscious about her appearance on screen.
Turning 30 has brought her a new perspective on life. It has also brought happiness with a new husband, a new ambition to record some of the songs she has written, a new attitude to her work and new thoughts about starting a family.
“I’m very happy to be out of my 20s,” she says. “They were quite tumultuous in many different ways – very enjoyable, but I don’t want to go back.
“Now I feel much more relaxed and settled and stable in myself. I’ve got a lot more love in my life, which allows you to like yourself a bit more.”
As well as Connie and Carla, she has made The Last Shot this year, playing a blonde bombshell who wants to star in a bogus movie being produced by an undercover FBI agent. She admits it is probably significant that she has chosen two comedies in a row.
“I’ve got to stop crying,” she says. “After Muriel’s Wedding, everyone kept saying, ‘Give us that Muriel grin’. I was so determined to show that I could be a very straight, dramatic actress. And I think that I did it.
“Now I can come back and laugh with others and at myself on screen. It’s a much nicer way to work, in a way. It’s just lighter. You’re not beating yourself up.”
It was even tough for Collette making the comedy About a Boy, given she was playing the suicidal Fiona.
“I ran into the directors earlier in the year and went, ‘I was so depressed when I was making that movie’. They said, ‘Really, we had no idea’. It’s inevitable that whatever you’re working on, you’re going to absorb some of the atmosphere.”
Collette’s creative streak is not satisfied by movies or the odd stage venture, such as the Tony-nominated performance in The Wild Party on Broadway. She wants to finally record some of the songs she has written over the years in the recording studio she and her husband have built down the south coast.
“It will be a good balance to what I’ve been doing earlier in the year, because when you’re working as an actor, you’re only part of the whole. You’re dependent on so many other people putting the pieces of your performance together. “With music, I’ve written it and it’s very personal and there’s more control.” It is a common thing for actors to wonder whether they will ever get another job. But Collette thinks those days are behind her now. “I feel I’ve come to the point where I actually know I have a career and it’s not going to end. I think most actors are freaking out most of the time, thinking they’re never going to work again. But I feel quite comforted by the fact that I can take a break and there’ll be something waiting, eventually. I feel like I’m able to take advantage of it more than it can of me any more.”
She also has a different attitude to acting these days.
“Work is just a fragment of my life – I’ve always said that but I think I’m actually feeling that a lot more now. I’m actually fulfilling the prophecy.”
She pauses. “That’s creative visualisation for you,” she says, laughing. “It works.”
Japanese Story is now showing