Toni Collette: You both have to want to make it work
In Netflix’s hit new drama Wanderlust, Toni plays a therapist looking for ways to keep her longstanding marriage afloat. Here, she sits down with TV Week to discuss all things family.
What was the first thing that made you want to play therapist Joy Richards, a woman searching for something to spark her marriage with Alan (played by Steven Mackintosh)?
I like the idea of someone having a real sense of autonomy, making decisions about who they want to be and how they want to spend their lives. I really found that inspirational.
As astute and perceptive as Joy is, with an ability to help people heal, she has a blind spot and can’t see certain things within herself.
This is her learning to look at those dark places, to learn from them and accept them. And, ultimately, I think the story is about extricating oneself from past experiences that inform current behaviour.
Do you believe in therapy yourself?
Yes. It’s probably a difficult path to figure out who you are, what your existence means and how you really want to use your time on planet Earth. It’s brief and it’s all we have, and therapy is a great way of learning about yourself.
What’s been the reaction from people who have seen Wanderlust?
It’s been varied. I think people have latched onto the idea of the sex and being about an open marriage, but that really isn’t what the series is about. It’s about two people trying to sustain a marriage, because they still love each other and want to make it work. They’re just trying to figure out a way that works for them and not be influenced by everything the world tells them.
After 15 years of marriage to musician Dave Galafassi, once the drummer for Sydney indie band Gelbison, what you have learned?
That you need to grow together, to keep communicating and stay open to each other, support each other and have each other’s backs. And be open to the adventure. It is what it is.
Did the subject of Wanderlust spark conversation with your husband?
I think it’s normal to think about these things in general. Life is long and long-term relationships can be challenging. Not everyone grows at the same time. It’s certainly full of ups and downs. Talking to older married couples when I was younger, they’d say: ‘The secret to staying married is staying married.’ Now I understand and think it’s kind of true! You both have to want to make it work. This [having an open relationship] isn’t something I would ever entertain in my own marriage, but my husband has seen the entire show and his one comment was, that even though it was a little confronting at times, he was adamant it was the best work I’ve ever done, which I found so moving.
It sounds like he does have your back ― but could he have had a very different response after watching this show?
He could have had a very different reaction.
So why do you think your marriage works and keeps going? How has yours survived so long in the entertainment business?
You’re going to make me cry. [Starts to cry]. My husband is such a good person. He’s so patient. He’s amazing with our kids [Sage, 10, and Arlo, seven] and he’s so loving, caring and supportive. He puts everybody else first. I’m the luckiest woman, I really am.
Has having Arlo and Sage made you more relaxed about your life and given you a fresh perspective on everything?
Having their perspective of the world and their experiences, I really do look at how they take something in, and it’s moving. In a way, you want to protect them and you can’t: they need to have their own experiences and they have to go through whatever life throws at them. You just support and guide them the best you can. They’re the lights of my life. I couldn’t imagine existing without them. And I never could have concocted them before they popped into the world. Now they’re here, it teaches me how deeply I could love. I didn’t know.
Do they know what you do? They obviously aren’t watching this series!
Actually, they can’t watch much of what I do! They’ll have to take it all in when they’re older and maybe they’ll be more forgiving of my hours. But I’m lucky to have a job where they can come to work with me and I don’t have to leave them completely. It’s such a forgiving position to be in as an actor. They’re very welcome on most sets – it depends what’s going on. We travel together and I learn so much from them. They’re incredible.
How would you describe your style of parenting?
We’re both very hands-on. I think more than anything, whether we’re in agreement about certain things or not, that’s what matters.
So are you expecting to have different conversations with people who come up to you in the supermarket now?
I don’t know – maybe. You never know what people are going to want to talk about and what projects they feel invested in or are attracted to. But I’ve read several letters from people who’ve been struggling in their relationships and have watched the show and it’s been healing for them. They’ve been able to have sex with their partner when they hadn’t been able to connect in that way for a long time. So, it just depends what you’re open to and where you’re at.
In which parts of your own life have you experienced wanderlust?
There are so many ways to learn; so much you can learn from travelling and just being out there and putting yourself in uncomfortable situations. Staying complacent and safe leads to a very boring life. Being open to the adventure and having some wanderlust on your pinky finger will actually make your life more fruitful and all the richer.
Isn’t wanderlust in the Australian DNA?
I do think it has to do with geography. We’re so far away that once you leave, you may as well just keep going, because it’s really on its own down there! So yes, it’s a country that has created a great slew of travellers and people who are open to adventure.
How do you view your own journey ― and what would you say to the young actress you were when you did Muriel’s Wedding in 1994 if you could go back and talk to her today?
Yes, it’s a long time; it’s been a long road. There have been a lot of changes and opportunities. I’d say I enjoy it more. You know when you’re young and unsure of things and you worry unnecessarily? I think I’d probably say to my younger self to just relax and enjoy it more.
What was the most difficult thing?
There’s nothing, like, overtly difficult. I’m really thankful for this career. There’s no way I could ever have invented what I’ve experienced in my life. I still get excited by the Hollywood sign (the landmark cultural icon in the hills overlooking Hollywood). I still pinch myself, and I still feel so very lucky.