Toni's Sixth Sense for Quirky Roles
Muriel’s Wedding star’s Edinburgh Film Festival double bill
AUSSIE star Toni Collette has always been a great actress – and she has the appendix scar to prove it.
Years before she was nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her part as Haley Joel Osment’s mother in The Sixth Sense, Toni gave one of her most convincing performances by faking the symptoms of appendicitis
Doctors were convinced that Toni’s appendix was about to burst, and rushed her to an emergency operation.
Toni was just pretending – but she still went under the knife.
“I used to do things to get attention, as most actors do,” says the actress. “I pretended to have appendicitis. I was 11, and just did it to get out of going to school.”
Toni has few reasons to be embarrassed now though, as the actress has overcome bulimia, self-doubt and a punishing workload to become one of Hollywood’s best actresses.
In 1994, Toni shot to fame in Muriel’s Wedding as the wannabe bride who planned her wedding long before she found her groom
Twelve years and more than 20 films later, her two new movies are gearing up for an appearance at the Edinburgh Film Festival.
In the comedy Little Miss Sunshine, she plays a mum who goes on a lunatic road trip to attend her daughter’s beauty pageant.
Also showing is The Night Listener, which is being talked about as this year’s Sixth Sense. The film follows a friendship between a radio show writer and 14-year-old boy who is dying of AIDS.
The movie also stars Robin Williams and Rory Culkin.
It’s a low-key role for Williams – and if anything, it’s Toni’s character who gets to play things close to the edge.
“He was very caring,” she says of the funnyman.
Toni will also appear in the BBC TV project Aftermath, and will play a Jewish- Australian mom in the film, Hey, Hey, It’s Esther Blueburger.
With such a packed schedule, it’s no surprise that Toni’s thinking about cutting back on work. The 33-year-old actress says she and husband, Dave Galafassi would like to have kids at some point, which means taking a little time off.
Since her performance as the chunky wedding-chasing bride in Muriel’s Wedding, it’s a surprise to meet an actress who is carefully groomed, with a curtain of glossy blonde hair. Neither of her new movies offer many opportunities for designer wardrobes and makeup, but Toni says she’s given up hoping for glamour in her films.
“I’m not depending on my looks. I find it strange that actors are on the covers of magazines. When I watch a movie, someone’s beauty isn’t what engages me, it’s what’s going on internally.”
When she does get to dress up for a role, she thinks there’s an element of fun. Past roles include a rock chick in Velvet Goldmine and a woman who poses as a drag queen in Connie and Carla.
But Toni’s down to earth attitude means she’s scooped some of the best roles going, because she will go to great lengths to dull down her real-life prettiness.
When she was 20, Toni put on more than three stone in order to play Muriel – but back then, with her youthful metabolism, she took the weight of fast. But she found it far harder to perform the same trick for In Her Shoes last year when she played Cameron Diaz’s plainer sister.
“I’ll never do that again. It takes a long time for your body to recover,” she says.
Toni grew up in Sydney, Australia and remains close to her parents and two brothers. Aged 16, she enrolled in a three-year course at Sydney’s National Institute of Dramatic Arts, and walked out 18 months later to star in the film Spotswood with Anthony Hopkins and Russell Crowe.
Muriel’s Wedding catapulted her into the limelight, but Toni looks back at the whirlwind of work that followed with mixed feelings
“When Muriel’s Wedding was released I was 22, and for the next six years I was going crazy.”
The craziness included a bout of bulimia and panic attacks, and a series of failed relationships including a year long engagement to her Velvet Goldmine co-star Jonathan Rhys-Meyers. At 24, she found herself in hospital after a severe panic attack.
“I thought I was dying,” she says.
However, she found it hard to escape the movie treadmill. She was so desperate to drop out of sight that she shaved off her hair so she wouldn’t b e able to work.
She also admits she missed out on some films because of other commitments. While making a small film called Wild Party, her agent asked if she might be finished in time to fit in the lead role in a Bridget Jones’ Diary. But Toni was too busy to take on the role and now says she has no regrets.
“I flew home instead and ended up meeting my now-husband Dave. I think things in life happen for a good reason.”
Dave and Toni now live in Sydney with their dog, sharing their love of music.
It turns out that the actress listens to music everywhere – and she’s a woman of forceful musical tastes. She recently startled a couple in a traffic jam when she chucked the new Coldplay album on to their seat.
Now Toni is set to release an album of her own later this year.
“It’s just something I’ve always wanted to do.”
So later this autumn, Toni will b e touring Australia with her band, Tony Collette and the Finish, with husband David on the drums.
“I’m sure people will have their fingers in their ears,” she grins.
Little Miss Sunshine will be shown at Cineworld, Edinburgh, on August 20. The Night Listener will be shown at Cineworld on August 25.