Toni Collette deserves success
To see Toni Collette in 1994’s Muriel’s Wedding was to fall in love with her. As the lonely, overweight, ABBA-obsessed girl who blossomed into a woman without giving up her ideals, Collette gave the ugly-duckling tale so much heart and humor, it didn’t matter one whit that the movie was pure formula.
The film became an international hit and gave the Australian actress, who was still a relative newcomer and had gained 40 pounds for the role, a huge career boost. But instead of capitalizing on her sudden fame, Collette decided to bide her time.
”It’s funny, because I was just having fun when we made Muriel’s Wedding,” she says. “I didn’t know what that film was going to do for me. But when the offers started coming in, they were all for characters in the same vein. And there was something in me that wanted to wait and play different roles instead.
”I left school when I was 16 because I wanted to act, and then I left drama school because I realized acting wasn’t something you could learn: You just had to jump in and start doing it,” she says. ‘And then to decide not to take any roles after Muriel’s Wedding even though I didn’t even have a career — I just look back at myself then and think `What a cheeky little upstart!’ I mean, how big were my balls?”
Obviously, Collette’s instincts proved right. In The Night Listener, which opens today, Collette adds to her growing roster of memorable screen characters by playing Donna, the adoptive mother of a 14-year-old boy who forms an unusual bond with a radio talk show host (played by Robin Williams).
Collette is also part of the ensemble cast of Little Miss Sunshine (opening Aug. 18), playing the mother of a little girl en route to a beauty pageant. Although both characters are mothers, they couldn’t be more drastically different, and the same goes for the rest of the roles Collette has played, be it Cameron Diaz’s envious sister in In Her Shoes, the geologist stranded in the Australian outback in Japanese Story, or the housewife who shares a sole, enigmatic kiss with Julianne Moore in The Hours.
”So many people have complimented me on that role from The Hours, and it’s so weird, because I’m only on screen for a few minutes,” Collette, 33, says. “But it doesn’t matter to me how big or small my part is. I just try to imbue every character I play with a sense of an entire life, beyond whatever number of lines they might have.”
Although she doesn’t command a Julia Roberts-sized salary, Collette has earned Hollywood’s respect while maintaining her home base in her native Sydney. Today, she says, most of the roles she plays are offered to her by directors eager to work with her, although directors don’t always get their way.
While appearing on Broadway’s The Wild Party in 2000, Collette says she got a visit from writer-director Rob Marshall, who was preparing to adapt the Bob Fosse musical Chicago for the screen.
‘He told me, `We’re doing this for you, so please don’t take any other roles because you have to do this.’ But when it came time to actually cast the film, they said, `We’re going to put you down on tape, but it’s just a formality.’
‘While I was doing Wild Party, I turned down Bridget Jones’ Diary, because I didn’t know when Wild Party was going to close. And that movie was a huge success for Renée Zellweger, and Harvey Weinstein was producing Chicago, and he was keen for her to do it. And that’s the way it went.” But Collette says she isn’t the slightest bit disgruntled about having lost the part.
“Because I wasn’t making the movie, I flew home after Wild Party closed and ended up meeting my now-husband [musician Dave Galafassi]. So I think your experiences in life happen for good reason. You get what you’re meant to have.”