Toni thinks big
She’s a true celluloid chameleon, but when her director asked her to put on 19kg for her latest movie role, Toni Collette thought more than twice, she tells Sharon Krum.
Toni Collette vowed she would never do it again. She wouldn’t capitulate. “And then the director said, now Toni, would you … ,” she recalls, her eyes widening, her face breaking into a guilty smile. Would you put on weight again, was what he asked. It can sound a simple request. Yet of all the forbidden territory one should never cross with a woman, this was the Sahara. “Ile wanted 19kg, which is what I put on for Muriel’s Wedding,” Toni says of her conversation with director Curtis Hanson after landing the lead opposite Cameron Diaz in her new movie, in Her Shoes. “And I said. I can’t do it. Not again. It’s dangerous to put on and lose weight. But then 1 realised, this is Rose’s story (her character] and for her journey I’ll do what it needs.”
So out the food came and down it went -doughnuts, chocolate shakes, hamburgers and fries. “I put on 12.7kg,” Toni, 32, says of her effort to fatten up for the second time. Twelve years ago, when she gained weight for Muriel’s Wedding, the film that would launch her career globally, she battled bulimia in the attempt to take it off. Then the whirlwind of fame gave rise to debilitating panic attacks at 25. No one imagined in those heady days that the girl from the Sydney suburb of Blacktown was quietly unravelling. Today, though, that Toni Collette is nowhere in sight. The acclaimed actor and wife of musician Dave Galafassi, 27, is so palpably comfortable in her own skin, it glows. “I do believe people are capable of change,” she responds. “I’m in such a different place now.” It’s fitting that The Weekly meets with Toni in Hollywood, rather than in Australia, because it’s Tinscitown that throws her up in sharp relief. In a city where big breasts, large lips and cosmetic surgery are the norm, Toni appears so jarringly, endearingly real and, refreshingly, she doesn’t say what she thinks you want to hear, but what she feels. “You know, somebody said to me recently, you should just gee a little botox here and here,” she says touching her face. “And I said. I would never consider injecting myself. cutting myself, removing anything, planting anything in my body. I find it sad and unhealthy. It has nothing to do with the way I want to live my lift. I’ve never based my career on my looks. If there is anything I worry about. it’s how a story is responded to.” The answer to that question can be found in Toni’s Oscar nomination for The Sixth Sense. Golden Globe nomination forArtie/1s Wedding, Tony nomination for The Wild Parry and four AFI Awards – Muriel’s Wedding Japanese Story, The Boys, Lillian’s Story. Since she began working at 17, after dropping out of NIDA to take a part in Uncle Vanya with the Sydney Theatre Company, Toni has made 30 films, cementing her reputation as a true celluloid chameleon. Yet what really separates Toni from her peers is her embrace of parts that you know some actors might ma a mile from, the kind that require you to leave your vanity at the door.
“When I go to the movies, I like to see real women with real emotional lives up there on screen,” says Toni. “That’s what I look for in a part.” Like the role she plays in in Her Shoes, Rose, an overweight attorney with low self-esteem who has spent her life mothering her beautiful yet highly irresponsible sister, Maggie (Cameron Diaz). After Maggie sleeps with Rose’s boyfriend, forcing the sisters to part ways, both are pushed to reevaluate their lives. Rose loses weight (filming was stopped for 14 days for Toni to shed kilos fast on a diet of high protein shakes), loosens up, lets love in and finds herself. “What I saw in Rose was a woman who always played the caretaker,” Toni says. “I don’t think you can take responsibility for anyone else, you can only be responsible for your own life. What I loved was watching her figure out who she really is.” I tell Toni that, as well as receiving a medal for agreeing to gain weight, she should receive a second for working with Cameron Diaz. The object of many a male fantasy, most women would rather be shot at dawn than share a screen with her. Toni brushes the thought aside. “Yes. Cameron is naturally thin and gorgeous, but she is not her image.” she says. “What I see is a good person who has a huge heart and is the most un-Hollywood of all the stars I’ve met. “Honestly, I loved working with her. We both burp a lot, arc kind of crass and we’re little boys on the inside.” She bursts into laughter. There was a time after Toni’s career shot into the stratosphere when she was working non-stop, a study in perpetual motion. It was a deliberate attempt, she says now, to “fill in all the gaps. I didn’t like to be alone. Now I welcome the gaps.” She is grateful. she says, that the panic attacks warned her to slow down. “I got to the point where my priorities fell into a good place and I realised work wasn’t as fulfilling as it had been. I needed to change the way I approached things.”
She bought a house in Sydney’s eastern suburbs, then took some quality time out. “It can be intoxicating to be on the merry-go-round. but 1 had to get off I think if I hadn’t I wouldn’t have met Dave. I needed to slow down to let him in.” Toni married the former drummer of the band Gelbison (he is now working on independent projects) in 2003, and says without hesitation marriage has been the making of her. “Love is very powerful and being in a loving relationship does change you for the positive. I have supportive people in my life” – father Bob, mother Judy, and brothers Christopher, 29. and Ben, 25, are all very close – “but with my husband there’s a safety.” The separations while she is overseas are tough, but Dave visits her often. She is the gregarious one in the relationship, she says, and Dave the mellow one. She emphasises that theirs is a marriage of creative equals. that Dave never feels like “Mr Collette”. “Dave has a strong sense of self and is very clear and grounded. He sees fame for what it is and doesn’t buy into the hype,” she says. “To be honest, I think there is a sick amount of credence given to celebrity and I don’t quite understand it. I’m hoping someone will burst the bubble soon.” Does she enjoy her fame? “I’m more comfortable with it now, but I still think its weird. The lack of anonymity was a big adjustment, but I won’t let fame change my life. I go out, I do everything I want to do. I need a sense of community, to relate to the world around me.” One thing that keeps her grounded. she reveals, is yoga and meditation. “I don’t put pressure on myself to meditate every day. but 1 do it whenever I can.” Though not a practising Buddhist, she does cite Buddhism as an influence in her life. It is the most compassionate, forgiving religion there is, and I do take elements from it. Like meditation, which has been incredibly helpful.”
When you hear what Toni has on her plate for the coming 12 months, you realise it’s a good thing she does meditate. otherwise she may be in danger of spinning off the edge of the planet. With her production company Figurehead Films. she is producing two films, Isabel the Navigator and Razor. And early next year, she will release her first CD. Beautifid Awkward Pictures, which she wrote. “Because of my history in musical theatre, I have been singing other people’s songs for so long and I really wanted to sing my own,” she says. The record, a mix of rock and ballads, was recorded last January. Dave played drums. “It’s such a relief to get it out because it was a need and a passion for so many years.” She also has three more movies coming out: the thriller The Night Listener with Robin Williams; the crime drama Like Minds: and Little Miss Sunshine, about a family who drive their daughter across the country to enter a beauty pageant. “I’ve never had a game plan. I do what interests me, but yes, I would very much appreciate a romantic comedy right about now. What do you think? I think so.”
In Her Shoes is released in Australia on October 13.