If the shoe fits...
It might be love, or maybe maturity. Whatever “it” is, it’s making actor Toni Collette more relaxed and more willing to go with the flow. By Katherine Tulich.
Toni Collette is on tiptoe with her fingers clinging to the door frame as she oozes herself into a catlike stretch. Its been a long day on little sleep and the actor is doing her best to revive herself before we sit down to chat. Not that talking about herself is one of Collette’s favourite tasks. In fact she despises it. “It’s extremely boring. You sit all day talking about yourself in a zombielike state,” she says with a bitter twist. As well, after two months in Los Angeles (shooting the film Little Miss Sunshine) she’s homesick for Australia and the arms of her Sydney-based husband, musician Dave Galafassi. “I’ve been here for two months without him and I can’t wait to get home.”
Collette says “home with the relish and contentment of a Dorothy who’s finally clicked her red shoes and found there’s really no place like it. “There is something special about Australia,” the 32-year-old says, whimsically. “I guess in many ways the country is losing its innocence, but I still maintain all the romantic notions of the place where I grew up”. It was the tornado of success after her role in Muriel’s Wedding, which swept her from her working-class roots, in Sydney’s Blacktown, over the rainbow to the strange land of Tinseltovm stardom. “After Metiers Wedding, I spent most of my twenties working in London and New York, so I was basically living out of a suitcase,” she says. At various times Collette owned homes in London and Ireland. “I kept thinking that because I was working so far from home and I was making friends and living that lifestyle, I should live in the Northern Hemisphere”. It’s been an unusual ride for the daughter of a truck driver who left school at 16. She didn’t have any grand plan for success but was brimming with confidence. “I was always a bit of an extrovert, so I started doing musicals at school. By the time I was 16, I decided [acting was] what I was going to do without any thought that anything could go wrong,” she says. “I was completely positive”. Her first film role, at the age of 17, was in Spotswood, opposite Anthony Hopkins and Russell Crowe, and then she scored what would become an iconic role in Muriel Heslop. “When I did Muriel’s Wedding I didn’t even contemplate there’d be an audience, let alone the size of the audience,” she says. (She has worked constantly since, and received an Oscar nom for her role in the hit The Sixth Sense.)
But it wasn’t until she headed back to Sydney four years ago and bought a home that she finally found contentment. “I realised it wasn’t a case of tying to control your life, it’s more realising that you can’t and you go with the flow”. As I sit across from Collette, I am struck by her natural beauty, wearing no make-up and a sirnple, stunning Marc Jacobs dress, her large, luminescent eyes and charismatic smile are compelling. I find it even more surprising, perhaps, because as an actor she so often cheeses to bury her attractiveness beneath her characters. I wonder whether that’s been to her advantage or disadvantage in a Hollywood that relishes perfecdy airbrushed beauty. “I think I’ve somehow slipped through the net, basing my career on my talent and not on my looks. I’m not a vain person. If I like a script I will make myself look as bad or as fantastic as it requires. It’s never about me, it’s about the story.” In Collette’s next film. M Her Shoes (due for release in Australia in October), she co-stars with Hollywood favorite, Cameron Diaz. The two play sisters and, while it may seem like an odd combination, their differences are the essence of the story. Diaz plays the beauty-with-no-brains while Collette is the ugly duckling Ivy League-educated lawyer who has little time for preening herself and dating. Their common link is their fondness for expensive shoes.
To Collette’s character, Rose, shoes are something you can rely on – they’ll always fit, even when clothes don’t. Yet it’s her sister who makes more use of her expensive collection. For Rose, the shoes are more like museum pieces sitting m her cupboard. “Of course. I love shoes,” says Collette as she flashes a huge smile and waves her legs in front of me to show off a pair of pale Dries Van Notens. But just like Rose, I have a tonne of high heels in the cupboard that I’ll probably never wear”. For In Her Shoes, Collette again had to undergo a Muriel-like transformation, gaining 14kg. “They asked me to put on 20kg, which is what I did for Muriel,” she says. “But I told them I couldn’t possibly do that again – that was 10 years ago, so they told me to do what I could.” Fortunately for Collette, she was asked to gain weight over Christmas time in Australia.