Sometimes when I’m lying alone in the dark, I know with absolute certainty that Toni Collette, possessed by Paimon (Prince of Hell) is hovering above me, waiting to saw her head off with a piano wire. Collette, who built her fame with comedies (Muriel’s Wedding), low-budget cult classics (Velvet Goldmine, Connie and Carla), iconic gay roles (The Hours) and prestige mainstream films (Little Miss Sunshine), has been dabbling in the world of horror since her Oscar-nominated turn in The Sixth Sense. But in the past few years, Collette has become one of the contemporary scream queens, haunting our nightmares through films like Krampus and last year’s incendiary Hereditary.
Now Collette is starring in Velvet Buzzsaw, Netflix’s spooky parody of the LA art world. Collette plays Gretchen, a brutally ambitious art expert who jumps ship from a museum to a private collector and will do anything to keep her client happy — spoiler alert: it doesn’t end well. Out caught up with Collette to talk about what draws her to horror, how the genre has become elevated in recent years, and whether she gets scared by her own films.
Toni, I would like you to know that since watching Hereditary, you are the subject of 90% of my nightmares, which I imagine you hear a lot?
Oh yeah? Sorry about that. I actually do get that a lot. I’m hoping it’s a sign I did something right in that film?! But I apologize, nonetheless.
Over the past few years, you’ve done a lot of horror. Was that intentional, or were you just getting these scripts and responding to them?
I’ve done five horror films in total. Not many. And not intentional. Nothing is ever intended, career wise. I’m more of a go with the flow kinda gal.
Horror as a genre is famously regarded as kind of lowbrow, but over the past few years we’ve seen it elevated and start to gain mainstream critical attention. Why do you think that is?
I think it’s context. As well as the individual filmmakers themselves. Get Out was necessary because racism is alive and well, but should be obsolete. Or better than that, nonexistent. Jordan Peele had something very real to say. If a filmmaker has a burning, inevitable thing to express, it will come out. Their talent will determine its success or lack thereof. [Hereditary director] Ari Aster had something real to say about family and grief. [Velvet Buzzsaw director] Dan Gilroy has something to say about art, and money, and power.
What first drew you to Velvet Buzzsaw?
I had never read anything like it.
Was the art world one you were familiar with, and was it a fun world to play in?
It was definitely fun. I know very little about the art world but I love art. I love the different ways people express themselves.
When you’re shooting something intense or scary, does it ever feel ridiculous? Or are you fully invested in the moment?
Sometimes it does feel ridiculous. More often than not the circumstances are very unfamiliar to my own. Horror deals with extremes. But I push past it. You have to find the truth somewhere in it to make it work. Actually, you have to do that with every film. So maybe it’s no different?
Do you get scared by your own films?
Not really. Although, at one point I jumped when watching Hereditary with an audience for the first time even though I knew what was coming. Ridiculous.
What was it like working with Jake Gyllenhaal who, not sure if you noticed, is incredibly hot?
Ha! Jake is a generous actor. He’s funnier than I thought he’d be. And he’s extremely dedicated and passionate about his job.
How does it feel to be one of the reigning contemporary scream queens?
I didn’t know this was the case. I love the term scream queen. It’s pulpy and kitsch and camp. I’ll take it.
Are you aware of any of your memes, and if so what’s your favorite?
One was shown to me this week. It was funny. But I haven’t seen others.
What’s next for you? We need more Toni! Please, my family is starving!
I am about to shoot three films back to back. Only Stowaway has been announced. I love them all and they are all completely different to each other. I just want to work with interesting minds.