I recently reviewed The Way Way Back, which has a very rich cast including one of my faves, Toni Collette, who first burst onto American screens in Muriel’s Wedding, one of my favorite movies ever to hit the screen. She most recently starred in The United States of Tara and has appeared in well-known Hollywood films such as Hitchcock, Little Miss Sunshine, The Sixth Sense, About a Boy and In Her Shoes.
In the film by writer/director team Sam Nash and Nat Faxon (the team behind The Descendants), she comes forward to show her acting talents to American audiences once again. It’s a small film that piles high on emotions as it tells a coming of age story about a teenager grappling with intense feelings about his parent’s divorce. As his mom, Collette quietly suffers as she discovers her boyfriend’s (played by Steve Carell) betrayal and sexism. After years of being a single mother, she’s clearly in need of his love and affection, and it takes time for her to see the truth.
At a recent press conference in NYC, Collette spoke about how she got into the head and heart of her complex character. Interestingly enough, she didn’t mention the fact that she, herself, is a mom. She has two children with musician Dave Galafassi. (But she does here.) Her focus was on the material and the cast:
I just started with this wonderful material. It was so clear, so rich, and so complex, and enjoyable. I’m not one of those people that draw on previous experiences. Everyone was so receptive to the material, and it was such a wonderful atmosphere to work in. I think that did create a very open vibe and it allowed something very relaxed and natural and special to evolve.
Collette’s character is an incredibly passive character. The film builds up her tension slowly and it takes her son to really make her aware of her boyfriend’s infidelity. About managing to have a connection without drifting away from the audience, she said:
You have much more of an explosive experience because you’re reveling in this new world, but from my point of view, I thought ‘Oh my God, the audience is going to find her so frustrating. She’s so passive and so inactive.’ What I loved about it is that there’s so much going on. She knows the truth. She’s lying to herself. She’s trying to provide something for her son with the wrong person. There are a lot of wheels turning without so much being expressed for a very long time. I think there’s so much you can express without words, so I kind of enjoyed that.
She also enjoyed reminiscing about one of her most special summers:
Australia is just one big beach so it’s all oceanic and salty. It’s mixed feelings of freedom. Summer is my favorite time of year – I absolutely come to life and love it. There’s this one holiday that I had that wasn’t planned at all. I had a fight with my parents on Boxing Day and they went to visit my aunt in the city. I ran to say goodbye to a friend who was going on a road trip, and she said, “Why don’t you just come? There’s a spare seat in the car!” And I literally just grabbed a s–t load of things, put it in a duffel bag, grabbed my guitar, and ran out. I didn’t know where I was going. We just drove up the coast and I slept on beaches, got kicked off beaches by rangers, and joined drum circles. I had the time of my f—ing life!!!
Collette’s role is a radical departure from some of her prior roles (a suicidal mom in About a Boy and Cameron Diaz’s dumpy sister in In Her Shoes, for example) and one that will bring her one step closer to American audiences before her TV debut this fall on CBS’ Hostages.