Toni Collette is reason enough to see just about any film, TV show—or even Broadway play. She seems to imbue every part she takes on—no matter how thinly written or contrived—with a peculiar humanity that fleshes out damaged women, making them whole. It's one reason she gained a huge fanbase (many of them gay men) after her big break in Muriel's Wedding. It's certainly true for both of her current projects.
In Lucky Them (which is currently playing in select theaters in New York City and Los Angeles and available On Demand) she plays Ellie Klug, a once important rock journalist for a major magazine who's now struggling to find herself in midlife through the haze of alcohol and in a diminishing, thankless field. It's a minor film with great actors (including co-stars Oliver Platt and Thomas Haden Church), but Collette doesn't act that way. She gives it her all and comes out unscathed.
She's also one of the lynchpins in Will Eno's verbal play The Realistic Joneses, which was snubbed for Tony consideration but continues to pack seats with its stellar cast: Marisa Tomei, Michael C. Hall, Tracy Letts. So what drove her to tackle this latest project?
"Very simply, I love saying Will’s words every night," she explains, looking radiant on a swelterin summer day that she says has exacerbated her allergies. "Sometimes I need to move a lot. I need to move around a lot—and New York is a great city to be in for any great length of time. And with Will’s writing, the surprising thing is, it gets deeper and deeper every time. And I can feel alive with it and not robotic."
Collette shared a few more of her motivations with us—from how she chooses her roles, to why she can't stand her Australian accent—that will only make fans love her more.
On why gay men love her:
It’s been happening since Muriel’s Wedding. I don’t quite understand the correlation—but I certainly don’t mind it! I suppose, well I’m not going to go into some hypothetical theory, but it’s bloody brilliant!
On why she took the role of Ellie Klug:
First, I was surprised nobody was attached to it, for starters. I was like, how is this ending up in my lap? I felt so lucky; it’s just really important for everyone to see very human characters who are obviously flawed—because we all are, trying to deal with their lives in a way that we can relate to.
On why some people's yearnings can cause problems:
I think it’s important to have an appetite, no matter what you do in life. I think that when it comes to Ellie. she’s so self destructive, she’s basically dead where the story starts. She’s treading water, stuck, doesn’t want to face life at all. Any alcoholic, she’s a functioning alcoholic, but still an alcoholic, she’s repressing so much. She’s forced into a corner and has to look at all of her shit and all of her past. She’s brave enough to do it with this really unusual friend who supports her through it. The way Charlie’s making the documentary is kind of eye-opening for her. Because it’s happening on this funny platform. To be so damaged and so closed and to be forced to look at it all, she goes into it thinking that it’s going to be shit and then she completely opens from that. She’s dampening her appetite and then appreciates it and invests in life again.
On why she seems to play troubled women so often:
I have days where I feel like I have it together. But life is change, and my thoughts change, and when I’m working, it’s not necessarily about me. I can definitely relate to people who are struggling to land somehow. I’ve certainly done that. I still question everything; I think it’s a very healthy part of being alive. I think it’s much more realistic. The scripts that I’m interested have a tone that reflects reality. Certainly with Lucky Them, that's the case. I am interested in making movies that don’t make people feel bad about themselves: If they can see someone who is going through something that might be going through and they can relate, I think that’s important, ultimately that’s what any art is for. I'm not interested in films that create this fantastical life that makes people feel inferior because we don’t have it. They don’t really interest me.
Toni Collette, Michael C. Hall & Tracy Letts in 'The Realistic Joneses' | Photo by Joan Marcus
On why she's starring in Broadway in such an unusual, verbal play:
I don’t see it as strange and weird. I think there are a certain amount of productions on Broadway that are so much rehashing and retelling of the same story. Audiences are smart, and they want to be stretched and think. I mean, some people just want to get drunk on a Friday night and sleep through a few dance numbers, I don’t know. This particular play, [The Realistic Joneses], is about how we all deal with existing and how we know one day we will not exist. The play has moments of confrontation, but it’s so warm, so funny, and I like that it’s layered. I think if there were eight people sitting and watching, they would each take something different from it. I think Will Eno’s writing is so beautiful in that he caters for all of humanity in a way—even with the characters he’s created and how each of them are dealing with their funny little lives.
On why she decided to do theater after all her TV and film work:
For the first week of this production, I couldn’t even feel my hands. I was so nervous. You kind of move through that, and there’s a real relationship with the audience; the audience actually wouldn’t have a clue how they influence our rhythm each night. They actually are a part of what’s going on onstage. It’s great. It's constantly changing, things shuffle around, we even surprise ourselves and go, 'Wow, that was whatever it was.' I enjoy that. But I don’t have some great yearning to be, “Back in the theater!” It was this particular piece, this writing, what it said—and how Will embraces people. Just his perception to life.
On why she decided to work with Melissa McCarthy in Tammy:
I have a really little part. Melissa McCarthy, who plays Tammy, she’s married, and I play the “other woman,” I guess. Ben Falcone, who’s Melissa’s husband, played my husband in Nicole Holofcener’s film, Enough Said, and we just really enjoyed getting to know each other and working together. When they were making it, he asked me to do it. I would do anything with those guys. They are so talented, but they are such lovely people.
On the difference between playing American vs. Australian characters:
I would like to work more there. it’s kind of a small pond as far as the industry goes. It’s important for me to tell Australian stories. But I look for stories with a universal quality. Nicole [had me play Australian] in Enough Said. I love her movies, she’s so smart, just gorgeous. LA is a really transient city, I don’t see why not. Watching it, I’m so used to playing Americans, I was like, "Oh God! That’s so jarring." I sounded like I was gonna say something like, “That’s not a knife, this is a knife!” I felt so broad. it was easy and fun. yeah, I’ve had some really good ones, good experiences lately.
On what her next projects are going to be:
I have three films that are looming and that will all happen between the end of the year. One shoots here, in New York, I think we're going to film just as I finish the play. So I'll get to experience the New York summer as well as the winter. The other is with Veena Sud, she created The Killing; I love that show. She's such a smart grounded woman. The third is Miss You Already, with Catherine Hardwicke.
On working with men vs. women:
I've worked with men and women, humans. I agree, there’s a real imbalance on the number of women in the industry. But people ask: "Is it different working with women?" It’s just different working with anyone. They’re just different, that’s life. But I have loved working with the women—as well as, well, some of the men.
Lucky Them is playing in New York City and Los Angeles and available On Demand. Watch a clip below: