The Light Shines on Toni Collette
Most movie actors don’t seem like the kind of people who could ever be a friend. They’re too self-involved and too concerned that those admitted into their orbit have the same wattage as they do.
Toni Collette is an exception. Immediately warm and chatty, she’s definitely girlfriend material. She won me over at a small dinner party for her new movie, “Japanese Story,” which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival and opens Friday in the Bay Area.
We got to chatting about her fellow Aussie actors, whom Collette knew before they made it in Hollywood. She said that becoming famous hadn’t really changed them. Those who are jerks now were jerks before they became larger than life on the big screen, while others, like Guy Pearce and her close pal Rachel Griffiths, are as down to earth as ever.
Add Collette to the unaffected list. American audiences became aware of her a decade ago as the stubborn bride-to-be in “Muriel’s Wedding,” a role for which she beefed up 40 pounds. She was her svelte self again in such memorable movies as “Emma,” “Velvet Goldmine” and “The Sixth Sense,” for which she was nominated for an Oscar as best supporting actress.
Collette deserved another Oscar nod as a depressed single mom comforted by Hugh Grant in “About a Boy.”
“Most of the time there is some kind of parallel with what is happening with a certain character and what’s happening to me,” Collette said, resting her hand on her chin, a habit she has when she’s talking about something serious. “I actually was depressed making ‘About a Boy,’ but no one knew except the director, Chris Weitz. I think it was because of the role and because of the English weather and because I was running around the world making movies for six years straight. I just needed to stop and take some time off. My light at the end of the tunnel was just getting through the shoot.”
Her vivaciousness indicates that the 31-year-old star has located her light. Collette glowed with her windswept hairdo and sophisticated black pinstripe suit softened by a saucy lace blouse. Her recent marriage to Australian drummer Dave Galafassi has a lot to do with the spring in her step.
“We are mates on many levels. Dave is the most beautiful person I know, and you can’t really go beyond that. My family loves him, I love him. We all love each other,” Collette gushed.
She’s finally over worrying that she’ll never work again. “I have gotten to the point in my life where I realize that my career isn’t going to go away. It is not going to suddenly stop. I don’t even have to audition for roles anymore, which is certainly a luxury.”
Her new confidence allowed her to settle in Sydney not far from the suburb of Blacktown where she grew up, the daughter of a truck driver and a housewife. “I know some Australian actors have ended up living in L.A., but when I thought about living there, I realized that I don’t really want to live there. The more I traveled, doing movies back to back, the more I realized that Sydney is where I want to be.”
Collette got to stay in her homeland for “Japanese Story,” which despite its title is set mostly in the western Australia desert, in a mining area known as the Pilbara. The movie is about a clash of cultures that develops into a romance. Collette plays a geologist who accompanies a married Japanese businessman checking out the Pilbara for possible investment. She’s supposed to provide him with information, but winds up being little more than a driver when he refuses to acknowledge her expertise.
“When I read the script, I thought there was such potential. It was made from the heart,” she said of the film, directed by Australian Sue Brooks. “Japanese Story” was a box-office hit Down Under and won best picture from the Australian Film Institute, the equivalent of an Academy Award.
Her co-star is Gotaro Tsunashima, a relative unknown who caught Collette’s eye on an audition tape. “They sent me tapes of different actors, but I kept coming back to Gotaro because there was something quiet and understated about him. We had two weeks of rehearsal, but there was no forced friendship or anything. I think with a lot of films, there’s that condescending thing where they force people to go out to dinner. But Gotaro was very available and very open.”
It’s fortunate they hit it off because they have the most intimate sex scene Collette has ever done. It’s completely spontaneous, which adds a realism lacking in movies where you can predict the moment when the two leads will find their way into bed. “We’ve all had the experience of all of a sudden being attracted to someone and having it be unexpected,” Collette said.
The scene becomes really provocative when Collette’s character, in the midst of the seduction process, impulsively slips on her man’s trousers and zips them up. “It is very sexual when she’s on top wearing his pants, but I think it’s a metaphor, too, for the fact that she is getting into his pants and understanding him more.”
There aren’t any sizzling sex scenes in her next two movies. Collette co- stars with Nia Vardalos in “Connie and Carla,” a comedy about dinner theater singers who go undercover after witnessing a crime. The only way they can continue to perform is to disguise themselves as drag queens. “I got to wear a s — of wigs and hang out with real drag queens, who are a lot of fun.”
Collette wears a blond wig for “The Last Shot,” another comedy, this time about a struggling filmmaker who thinks his movie is finally getting made, except that the production is actually a sting operation to smoke out a couple of mobsters. Collette plays a fading bombshell who believes that the movie that nobody will ever see is her comeback. The talented cast includes Matthew Broderick, Alec Baldwin and Tony Shalhoub.
There’s another production Collette would like to start in the near future. “My husband and I are really eager to start a family. It’s like I suddenly have baby fever. I’m seeing children everywhere. I think something does happen to you emotionally when you’re ready to have a baby. It is one of those miraculous experiences, so I am definitely going to do it.”