Toni Collette: The Actor’s Actor

July 6, 2018
Riding high from the box office smash Hereditary, and now starring in Birthmarked, we celebrate the fascinating career of Ms. Toni Collette…

“I can’t work on something that I don’t believe in,” Toni Collette once told FilmInk, and you can see it on her resume, which is pretty much blemish-free in terms of sub-par and uninspired material. “When I first read a script, it either speaks to me or it doesn’t. I get it or I don’t. I pretty much know immediately if I need or want to do it, as well as knowing how to do it. There’s not much work needed – just empathy and understanding.”

Dropping out of school to enroll in NIDA at just sixteen-years-of-age, acting has always been in Toni Collette’s bones. She made her big screen debut in 1992’s Spotswood alongside Anthony Hopkins, before landing the role that would change her career, playing the lonely, Abba-obsessed misfit in P.J. Hogan’s Muriel’s Wedding. It was a terrific breakout performance, but one that could have easily seen a lesser actress permanently typecast. “I’ve never seen Toni condescend to any character that she’s ever played,” P.J Hogan told FilmInk of what makes Toni Collette so special. “Sometimes you see actors winking at the audience in very subtle ways as if they’re saying, ‘I’m not really like that, folks!’ They peek out at you from behind the mask, but Toni never does that. She’s totally in the character, and making the case for her characters.”

Toni Collette in Muriel’s Wedding.

After the enormous success of Muriel’s Wedding, Collette went on to forge one of the most eclectic careers of any Australian actor, with an impressive resume that boasts not just consistently fascinating work, but also an Oscar nomination. “My life hasn’t really changed that much,” Collette told FilmInk of getting the nod for her stellar turn in M. Night Shyamalan’s smash hit supernatural thriller, The Sixth Sense. “I don’t know whether that nomination or my growing body of work allows me the luxury of not having to audition these days, but it all seems like a regular progression.”

Collette followed that international breakout hit with acclaimed turns in features including About A Boy, The Hours, Little Miss Sunshine, and a headlining television act with The United States Of Tara. “It was frustrating at times with The United States Of Tara,” Collette told FilmInk of the Diablo Cody-created comedy drama which screened on America’s Showtime cable network, “because I loved the show so much, and we all put so much into it, and there was a certain audience, but at the end of the day, there’s only so far you can reach with cable.”

Toni Collette in TV’s Hostages.

Collette reached a much larger audience with the US network TV thriller, Hostages, a rare foray into wholly commercial territory for the actress. “I’m interested in television as well now, because the quality of television has really become quite magnificent,” Collette says. “As long as the writing’s great and the story is compelling, I don’t care anymore about what size the screen is or what the budget is. It’s really more of a creative gut response.”

The grounded actress, who resides in Sydney, regularly works at home as well, and her local films – Japanese Story, Dirty Deeds, The Black Balloon and Mental – are just as impressive as those that she makes overseas. “I love working at home, and I would very much love to sleep in my own bed more often,” Collette laughed to FilmInk in 2013. “But there’s simply just not enough going on here. Even if I was in everything that was going on here, audiences would get very sick of me very quickly. I did the TV mini-series, Devil’s Playground, which I really loved working on. And it’s really important for me to work at home, so I do try to find opportunities to do that.” She’s continued that recently with roles in the Australian productions, Jasper Jones and on TV’s Blue Murder: Killer Cop.

Toni Collette and Matthew Goode in Birthmarked.

While intentionally avoiding Muriel-esque roles throughout her career, Collette has never lost that appealing vulnerability in her performances, which she has showcased in a disparate array of recent projects, which have included broad comedy (Fun Mom Dinner), black humour (Long Way Down), big budget action (xXx: Return Of Xander Cage), horror (Krampus, Fright Night, Hereditary), gritty drama (Glassland, Imperium, Miss You Already), animation (The Boxtrolls, Blinky Bill The Movie), and biopics (Hitchcock). She’s currently starring in the quirky, unconventional comedy, Birthmarked, which tackles the complex nature-versus-nurture argument. “What sets Toni apart is that she takes chances, and she takes a risk,” Collette’s Glassland director, Gerard Barrett, told FilmInk of what makes the actress so special.

For Toni Collette, however, there is not much rhyme or reason to the shape of her career. “I’ve never been an actor to have a ‘game plan’…though maybe I should be,” Collette laughed to FilmInk in 2013. “I fall in love with a script or I don’t. It’s that simple for me. There have been a few scripts in the past that I’ve loved, but that I felt were too similar to things that I’ve done in the past, so I didn’t do them. After Muriel’s Wedding especially, I was sent all these scripts about big girls overcoming hurdles, but something in me knew not to go down that road. One of the great luxuries of being an actor is that you can keep exploring, and you don’t need to repeat yourself.”

Birthmarked is Exclusively Available to Buy or Rent on Digital Platforms

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