Toni Collette is a star but doesn't act like one
Don’t expect Toni Collette to act like a movie star. The Australian-born actress is about as far as you can get from that. Ask her how she got that way, she shrugs and reckons it has something to do with the way she was brought up.
The star of such films as “Muriel’s Wedding,” “In Her Shoes,” “Little Miss Sunshine,” “The Night Listener,” “About a Boy” and now “Tsunami, the Aftermath,” premiering Dec. 10 on HBO, says she can’t cook but is a whiz with paper work — another part of her legacy.
She was a bright little girl, acing her history tests and — as she says — “all singing, all dancing, all annoying. I come from a very blue-collar, working class, grounded, no-BS kind of a family, which I’m very thankful for because I don’t buy into what I possibly could buy into. I was a little bit of a clown, always performing, putting on shows in the neighborhood. Also going through the bookworm phases.”
She started off dancing, a skill that led to musicals and then plays. She dropped out of school at 16 and quit acting school later. “I don’t think you can learn to act. I think you know how to do it or you don’t. I think you have to learn by doing it. It would be boring if you didn’t learn. Also as you experience life, just as a person, that’s going to affect your work.”
Her grandmother, with whom she was very close, died when Collette was 12. She says that loss changed her. “When anybody loses someone dear to them for the first time, that’s a big learning curve,” she says.
Although acting was always her passion, there was a time in her 20s when she considered chucking it. “I worked a lot and lived out of a suitcase in cities all over the world, and I think it really started to get to me that I didn’t have any kind of stability. But I found stability and created a grounded, normal life for myself in Sydney after trying everywhere else. As soon as I did that I didn’t feel the need to quit anymore.”
Almost four years ago she married drummer Dave Galafassi, whom she describes as “a beautiful, angelic man. He’s very clear and very centered and an amazing human being.”
Before they met at a gig that Galafassi was playing, she also discovered yoga and meditation, which are now part of her daily regimen. “It was just after we shot ‘The Sixth Sense,’ which I think was 1998, the beginning of ’99, I went to India and did a retreat for a few weeks, which brought a lot of clarity,” she says.
“I continue to meditate every day, and I think that’s the answer to my happiness and good sleep and amount of energy I have and the way I see things. It’s the healthiest thing I can do for myself, really,” she says.
“It helps you feel connected to yourself, and I think only when you have that kind of relationship can you really connect with anything else, so it’s enhancing in every way.”
It helped her cope with the conditions in Thailand where “Tsunami” was filmed. The heat was excruciating as the cast simulated the devastating days after the tsunami, which inundated the Andaman coast of Thailand two years ago. Part of Collette’s dialogue was in Thai, and though she had a coach, she says the mostly Thai crew also helped. In the miniseries (Part 2 airs on Dec. 17), Collette plays an empathetic rescue worker who constantly battles to succor the wounded and ill in spite of pressures from outside.
It’s neither glamorous nor ostentatious. In fact, it’s the kind of role that Collette seeks out. “I’ve never really had any plan when it comes to work. Things sort of flow very easily. I always gravitate toward scripts I like and have agents who understand me and what I want to do,” says Collette.
Your intentions are everything, she says. “If I wanted to jump into the middle of the hoopla, my career probably would’ve been over long ago. There are a lot of actors in the world, and if I wanted to just go for it and be some hot young thing — something that rises that fast is going to fall, and I feel I’ve had some steady experience.
“I’ve never looked at anything that way. When I take on a role it’s not just about a job, it becomes this whole life experience. I think I’m meant to have those experiences so I don’t feel upset about not getting something. I think you get what you are given for a reason.”