Golden moments with Toni
Toni Collette is determined that her nascent singing career isn’t just another actor’s vanity project, writes Larissa Dubecki.
THE road to hell is paved with movie stars who thought it a good idea to share their music with the world.
The Oscars’ carpet this year was thick with singer-actor types – typically perennial party girls such as Hilary Duff, Jessica Simpson, Lindsay Lohan and Paris Hilton (if you stretch the definitions of both singing and acting). The male side of the equation, meanwhile, is populated by the self-important likes of Jared Leto, Keanu Reeves and our very own Russell Crowe, whose recent solo missive, My Hand, My Heart, failed to trouble the charts.
So what was usually level-headed Australian actress Toni Collette thinking when she entered this maligned place in popular culture with the release last week of her debut album, Beautiful Awkward Pictures?
Don’t think she hasn’t thought about the sniping that goes with the territory marked “crossover artist”.
“I have no doubt (the criticism) is already happening,” she says sunnily. “But you have to live your life. If I listened to the narrow-minded opinions around me I’d be treading water and I’d sink.”
Her debut album, released independently, has her publicist grappling for similes: “Adult contemporary with a real indie vibe … Like a female Nick Cave but not as dark as Nick Cave.”
It’s an adequate summation of 11 tracks of awkward, angsty girl-rock inhabiting a space somewhere between Deb Conway and Kate Bush and baring a soul far removed from the insecure fantasist of Muriel’s Wedding, the lonely single mother of The Sixth Sense and the “Miss Granola Suicide” of About a Boy.
The relationship-centric lyrics from her self-penned songs have the deliberately elliptical feel of teenage poetry. Take these lines from album opener This Moment is Golden: “Tremulous fingers/energy that lingers/I am aware/kiss truth or dare”.
It’s soul-baring stuff, but she has proven herself fearless countless times in an acting career spanning 12 years’ worth of unconventional roles. If the thigh-enhancing white satin flares for her break-out role in Muriel’s Wedding don’t impress, try her statement to reporters that BHP was “raping” the Earth after filming Japanese Story in the Pilbara.
Collette’s latest film, Little Miss Sunshine, was a typical leap into the unknown: “a good film with a lovely heart”, she says, which was made without studio backing.
Her excursion into music wasn’t entirely unexpected, given her husband is Dave Galafassi, drummer for Sydney band Gelbison whom she married in a typically unconventional 2003 Buddhist ceremony. Galafassi, along with Augie March’s Glenn Richards, Pete Farley and David Lane, is in her all-star indie band the Finish. The album was recorded this year in two weeks, in a wooden purpose-built studio.
But Collette’s musical bloodlines go still further back.
“I come from a long line of shower singers,” she says. “I realised I could sing at age six or so, then I was weaned on musical theatre as a teenager before I was lucky enough to get my break in movies.”
She has penned songs since her early teens. The oldest song on the album was written when she was 22. “I’m about to turn 34, so it’s been a long time coming.”
Collette reportedly gave a stunning audition for the role of Roxie Hart in the movie remake of Chicago, but her lack of profile meant the part went to the then-better-known Renee Zellweger. She sang on the big screen in Connie and Carla and trod the boards in the Broadway musical The Wild Party, for which she was nominated for a Tony award for best actress in a musical, but is circumspect about any revisiting of musical theatre whether on screen or stage.
“It depends on the piece . . . A lot of the time it is a presentation of an idea rather than something truthful.”
One suspects the 15 copies of My Hand, My Heart that Russell Crowe managed to offload went to members of the Gladiator appreciation society. A visit to Collette’s musical MySpace page reveals a similar lack of distinction in her fans’ minds between her music and film work, with plenty of gushing postings about what a fabulous actress she is.
But with the band about to hit the eastern states for a mini-tour, Collette says she’s seeing her nascent musical career not as the flash-in-the-pan vanity project typical of the modern A-list actress. A European tour is in the offing, along with more recording when the members of her band can find the time.
“I’m ready to do it again. This is a long-term thing,” she says. “I plan to keep recording and touring. In a way, I’m not hiding behind a character and that’s very satisfying.”
Toni Collette and the Finish play Ruby’s Lounge, Belgrave, on November 16, the Esplanade Hotel, St Kilda, on November 17 and the Northcote Social Club on November 18.