Toni Collette

Mental, the new film from director PJ Hogan, is in Australian cinemas from October 4.  It’s a crazy black comedy that seems to be dividing audiences at preview screenings so far.  You can check out my review of the film by clicking here.  I was fortunate to speak with the Emmy Award winning star, Toni Collette.  Here’s what she had to say…


You can download the full audio extract by clicking here.

Matt:  I think about some of your great roles – The Sixth Sense, About A Boy and Little Miss Sunshine.  How quickly did your life change post Muriel’s Wedding?


Toni:  It was pretty quick.  I love acting and I still love doing it.  I love getting early and I never complain about getting up and going to work.  It’s something that really gets me going.


When I was doing Muriel’s Wedding, I had no idea about how it might be received.  I didn’t even contemplate the fact that there might be an audience and so when it became a massive hit, not only in Australia, I remember walking down the street in New York when I was doing press and these guys came up to me going “oh my god, it’s Muriel!”  It left me thinking “woah, what is going on?”


Matt:  With any Aussie actor who makes good, there’s always the lure of Hollywood but you’ve still found time to appear in many Australian films such as Mary & Max, The Black Balloon and Japanese Story which is a personal favourite of mine.  Is shooting in Australia something you take into consideration when choosing roles?


Toni:  To be honest, I’d work in Australia all the time if I could but the industry is somewhat limited.  It’s much smaller than Bollywood and Hollywood.  It’s not that I want to work in America but as I said, I like working and that’s where there is a lot of work.  Having said that, now that I have kids, I am eager to spend more time in Australia.


Matt:  You’ve finally paired up again with PJ Hogan but it’s been almost two decades since Muriel’s Wedding.  Were there plans to get together sooner?


Toni:  Back when we were shooting Muriel’s Wedding, PJ had talked about this film Mental that he wanted to make and he’d given me a basic idea about this woman who had come into his life as an “unqualified nanny” to him.  Over the years, he’s been telling me that he’s been working on a script and eventually he asked me to read it.


I loved the script for what it is but I’m so flattered that PJ wanted me to be a part of telling this personal story.  They’re autobiographical films for him.


Matt:  We all know the adage about not working with children or animals but here you’ve got 5 young girls you’re working alongside and a dog thrown in for good measure.  The girls are fantastic and it looks like you’re having so much fun on set.  Was it that easy?


Toni:  I loved all of them.  They were so different from each other and got along really well.  I had a lot of scenes with them and man, did they make me laugh!  They grew so much as actors.


People talk about not working with kids and not working with first time directors but when someone is new to something, they’re just so open about it.  I really appreciate that and it creates an atmosphere where there can be some natural, spontaneous moments.  I’m so proud of them in the movie because they all did such a brilliant job.


Matt:  Lily Sullivan is such a find as Coral.  I can’t believe she had no prior acting experience at all.


Toni:  Yeah, nothing at all.  I was at her audition and PJ really wanted her – he has such a great eye for casting.  To be honest, I was like “oh PJ, I really don’t know”.  We had two weeks of rehearsals and it kind of correlates with the story itself in that she became braver and she became more confident in herself and it was such a beautiful thing to be a part of.


Matt:  There’s some terrific humour in this film which is much darker than what we’ve seen in the past from PJ Hogan.  Is that always the way it was meant to play out from the first draft of the script?


Toni:  Yeah.  I think he’s really good at telling those stories.  He has such an original perspective and he’s obviously had some “extremities” in his life.  I think both Muriel’s Wedding and Mental are similarly dark and hilarious.  But yeah, that was always in the script.


It’s those types of films, those that you can’t categorise in a specific genre, are the ones that I tend to gravitate towards.  He does it so well and he writes female characters like no one else.


Matt:  The film touches on a theme that I believe strongly in and your character sums it up best when you say “there’s no such thing as normal, just different shades of mental”.  It reminded me a little of The United States of Tara and I’m guessing the subject matter was a big attraction to you with this film?


Toni:  I am often asked what it is that I’m drawn to in a movie and I try to figure out if there’s a specific theme that I keep coming back to.  Even if it’s not completely obvious, it is exactly that.  It’s the fact that there’s no such thing as normal.  I think even in Little Miss Sunshine, the tagline at the bottom of the poster is “everyone pretends to be normal” and I now realise that every film that I do is about appreciating individuality and seeing the special qualities in everyone.  We’re not just living in this homogenised, whitewash, boring world where everyone wears the same uniform.


Both Tara and Mental deal with mental illness but the characters I play are incredibly different and the context and the story are also different.


Matt:  It’s nice to see a film shot here in Queensland.  How was it shooting amongst the hustle and bustle of the Gold Coast?


Toni:  I loved it!  It’s the perfect backdrop for the story.  It’s a gorgeous, idyllic, Australian suburban type of lifestyle turned on its head.


Matt:  I must finish up by asking what have you got in the works?  What are we going to see you in next?


Toni:  I just finished shooting a film called Hitchcock and I worked with Anthony Hopkins again who I did my first film with when I was 17.  He plays Hitchcock and I play his long-time assistant, Peggy Robertson.  Helen Mirren plays his wife, Alma, and it’s about his relationship with all the women in his life during the making of Psycho.  I think that’s coming out at the end of the year.


I’m about to go to Massachusetts in America and make a film called The Way Back which has been written by the guys who adapted The Descendants.  They’re the two guys who went on stage and took the piss out of Angelina Jolie so I think I’m going to be in for a good time there.  I’m also working with Steve Carrel again which should be great fun.


I’ve got a couple more movies after that so it’s going to be a busy year but it’s also going to be a fun year.


Matt:  Well I better let you get to it and I hope Mental is a big hit at the box-office.  Thanks for talking with us this morning.