Reporter: Charles Wooley
Producer: Sandra Cleary
She's a chick from the 'burbs — a down-to-earth Aussie sheila who's risen to the top in Hollywood.
Toni Collette got her start in that wonderfully odd little Australian movie "Muriel's Wedding".
Her role as the dumpy, wedding-obsessed Muriel from Porpoise Spit set her on the road to international stardom.
Of course, it didn't hurt that she also happened to be blessed with bucket loads of talent.
In the 18 years since, Toni has won a Golden Globe and an Emmy as well as been nominated for an Oscar.
Now she's come full circle playing Shaz in the new Australian Film "Mental."
It's another quirky local comedy. And it's taken her back to the place she loves best — home.
STORY – CHARLES WOOLEY: You just attract attention everywhere you go. I’m embarrassed – why are these guys taking our pictures? Who are they?
TONI: They’re following you around!
CHARLES WOOLEY: Paparazzi - they’re following you. I wasn’t even there and I’ve never seen this woman before! Of course, we’ve all seen her before. She’s Toni Collette, one of Australia’s favourite daughters - a big fish in Hollywood, who chooses to live in a somewhat smaller pond.
TONI: Yeah, I’m pretty lucky that I get to - I’ve never really thought about moving. I mean, I just want to live here. I love Sydney. This is where I’m from - this is where my tribe is.
CHARLES WOOLEY: And what a beautiful day.
TONI: I know, it’s divine. Divine.
CHARLES WOOLEY: Toni Collette is a real actor. She never plays herself, able to transform into an endless ensemble of contrasting characters - from the eccentricity of “About a Boy”, to the effervescence of “Little Miss Sunshine”, and the earnestness of “The Sixth Sense”.
HALEY: You think I’m a freak?
TONI: I would never think that about you. Ever. I really try to play characters who I find interesting. The great luxury of being an actor is that you get to explore another person, how they see the world, how they exist in the world, everything about them, and I wouldn’t want to play someone close to me. I like to kind of go as far away as possible.
CHARLES WOOLEY: But you see, we all make the mistake - and I’m thinking you must be a little crazy to play crazy people so well.
TONI: I don’t know, maybe I’m not the one to judge.
CHARLES WOOLEY: Certainly there was nothing crazy or quirky about Toni’s childhood in Sydney’s working class suburb of Blacktown.
TONI: Mum, make Dad a cup of tea.
CHARLES WOOLEY: It was an ordinary upbringing, that prepared her for that defining breakthrough role.
GABBY: You’re terrible, Muriel.
CHARLES WOOLEY: Muriel Heslop - the star of “Muriel’s Wedding” - was at once funny, vulnerable, brave and loveable.
TONI: It’s a film so close to many people’s hearts - it’s a film they’ve used at school, it’s a film they’ve used in therapy, and it’s just a film that people still really enjoy and quote to me on a daily basis, which is a great reminder. And when we made the film, I was so stoked to have a job, you know, I wasn’t delivering pizzas anymore. I was doing what I was learning to love to do, and I was so excitable, and so excited, and so thankful and I still think I’m quite - I’m a really - it puts a skip in my step when I’m working. It really does it for me, you know.
CHARLES WOOLEY: Set in the quintessential east coast Australian town of Porpoise Spit, this low-budget film went on to make $90 million and was a hit around the world.
TONI: When is the last time you watched this?
PJ: I try never to watch my movies, after I’ve finished them.
CHARLES WOOLEY: Really? Watching it 18 years later with the star and her director, Australia’s PJ Hogan, I find it still holds up today. PJ, when she was a kid, you auditioned hundreds of kids - what was special about Toni Collette that made you want to - what were the qualities there?
PJ: Well, they’re all there on screen. Look, I saw Toni on day one, first day. Bad idea – never read for me on the first day, because I always expect everything to be hard, and I thought oh wow, she’s so great, if this is the level of talent that –
CHARLES WOOLEY: Oh right, you didn’t think this is the one,
PJ: And how long did I keep you waiting before you got the part?
TONI: Three months.
PJ: For another three months.
CHARLES WOOLEY: The reason for all this nostalgia is because they’re doing it all over again.
TONI: G’day. Sharon Thornbender, all the way from Tassie.
CHARLES WOOLEY: The Porpoise Spit from “Muriel’s” has now become Dolphin Heads - and with a local population even madder than before.
TONI: Look around, there’s no such thing as normal. There’s just different shades of mental.
CHARLES WOOLEY: Appropriately, the movie is called “Mental,” and Toni plays a dangerous psychotic drifter called Shaz.
TONI: If the moos don’t want jam-and-cream donuts they don’t get jam-and-cream donuts. My character Shaz talks about “there’s no such thing as normal”, and I really tend to agree with that.
CHARLES WOOLEY: I saw “Mental” last night.
TONI: God bless you.
CHARLES WOOLEY: My kids would say it’s –
TONI: You survived.
CHARLES WOOLEY: It’s mental.
TONI: It is mental. It’s all in the title. It’s bonkers.
CHARLES WOOLEY: I’ll have to see it again to know what it’s all about.
CHARLES WOOLEY: It’s a familiar landscape with familiar faces. Yes, that’s Rebecca Gibney, larger than life, playing the eccentric mother of five unhinged young girls, with Anthony LaPaglia as their bullying father.
ANTHONY: This wouldn’t be happening to me if I had a family of boys.
DAUGHTER: Boys have breakdowns, Dad.
CHARLES WOOLEY: And Toni’s character Shaz saves the Moochmore family from themselves.
DAUGHTER: That’s Michelle. She’s mental. We all are.
TONI: I’ll be the judge of that. I think Shaz has been around, so yeah, she’s as rough as guts really, and she sees these girls for what they are, and sees herself probably in the girls, and decides to save them in a way - to make them see that there’s a different way of living, that they have options in life, and to give them a sense of self.
CHARLES WOOLEY: I can’t help note that she’s from Tasmania.
TONI: Get that one in there.
CHARLES WOOLEY: Shaz from Tas.
TONI: Sharon Thornbender, all the way from Tassie, yeah, correct.
CHARLES WOOLEY: Did you go to Tasmania to get the accent right?
TONI: No. You think I needed to?
CHARLES WOOLEY: Playing the mentally disturbed does seem to come easily to Toni, but then she’s had plenty of practice with the American television series the “United States of Tara”.
TONI: Well I raided Tara’s wallet. We’re fully laminated, baby.
BRIE: T! This is why I love you the best out of all the alters!
CHARLES WOOLEY: In this case it’s about multiple personality disorder - a performance that won Toni an Emmy and a Golden Globe.
TONI: Wow, this is insanely confronting.
CHARLES WOOLEY: It was a terrific opportunity for you to showcase your character-acting talents.
TONI: It was one of the best jobs I’ve ever had in my life. It was satisfying on so many levels, and yeah, I’ll always be thankful for that. I miss it. I love –
CHARLES WOOLEY: You miss it, the characters?
TONI: I miss my characters, and I also miss people I was working with, and the story. I mean, it seemed as though it could have been unending to me - I mean the mind is fascinating - she’d experienced so much abuse that she’d shut down and created different people to manage her life. So yeah, I do miss it.
TONI: People die out in this country. Often.
CHARLES WOOLEY: For all her Hollywood success, Toni has made as many films at home as she has abroad. There’s no doubting her local star power, which was both affirmed and tested by her recent support for an Australian bank. Which bank was that? It was one role that didn’t win her so many accolades. Of course, doing a commercial for the Commonwealth Bank - you weren’t meant to do that?
TONI: Yeah, look, people are just living their lives, there’s no kind of grand scheme. Everyone has to make decisions day-in and day-out, and you try to do the best that you can, and it’s funny that you can be judged for it.
CHARLES WOOLEY: Well, it’s a minefield out there. I know that myself.
TONI: I honestly don’t entertain how things are going to go down, because that could really do your head in, I think, if you start to kind of anticipate how people are going to view your decisions. You’ve just go to be honest with yourself in life and hope for the best.
CHARLES WOOLEY: Life has been kind to Toni Collette. She and husband musician Dave Galafassi have two young kids, and live discreetly in a Sydney beachside suburb. Are they good kids?
TONI: They are extraordinary.
CHARLES WOOLEY: You’re pleased with them?
TONI: Oh my - are you kidding? I’m completely in love with them.
CHARLES WOOLEY: They’re your finest productions?
TONI: Yeah, they are. It’s just a real thing. It just puts everything in perspective, and they are eternally delightful.
CHARLES WOOLEY: That’s nice.
TONI: I mean I am really happy in term of work and family life. I mean I feel pretty content all round, but I mean, you’ve still got to have dreams and you’ve still got to challenge yourself, and I want to be able to do that.
CHARLES WOOLEY: Even at the tender age of 40, you could be considered a stayer.
TONI: You’re funny. Well that’s true, and it’s sad but true, good for me though.
CHARLES WOOLEY: Ever since PJ Hogan cast her for Muriel’s wedding -
PJ: Toni did the part brilliantly.
CHARLES WOOLEY: We’ve watched Toni Collette grow and mature onscreen. She’ll dress up or dress down.
TONI: Oh, he doesn’t like the smell of you.
CHARLES WOOLEY: And, as you will discover in “Mental”, nothing, absolutely nothing, is out of bounds.
TONI: Oh, I could tell you stories.
CHARLES WOOLEY: There is one extraordinary minute that you must have known I’d want to talk to you about.
TONI: Which minute?
CHARLES WOOLEY: Right near the end. Something I’ve never seen.
TONI: Oh, I can’t believe I did that.
CHARLES WOOLEY: I’ve never seen a woman do that on television - lighting your fart.
TONI: God, don’t give it away Charles.
CHARLES WOOLEY: Whose idea was that, Toni?
TONI: It’s all PJ - the whole film is PJ. It’s completely autobiographical. But that was always in the script, and I always kind of thought I just have to trust this man - he gave me my life, really.
CHARLES WOOLEY: Yes he did.
TONI: “Muriel” changed my life and opened a door that I didn’t even know existed.
CHARLES WOOLEY: So you’d do anything for that man including -
TONI: No, I won’t do anything for that man.
CHARLES WOOLEY: We’ll finish there.
PJ: Oh we never talked about you in your jumpsuit.
TONI: That’s fine. I think everyone’s seen it.