Australian actress Toni Collette

The Oscar-nominated actress discusses her highly anticipated fall TV series, Hostages, and her film, The Way, Way Back.

Academy Award nominee Toni Collette has an impressive résumé spanning three continents. The Australian native's breakthrough turn came in Muriel's Wedding, for which she earned the Aussie equivalent of an Oscar, and she went on to portray a wide variety of characters. She earned a Tony nod for her role in Broadway's Queenie and a best actress Emmy for Showtime's United States of Tara. Collette dropped out of school to study drama and first performed on stage as a teen. She not only has a new film set for release this summer—the coming-of-age tale, The Way, Way Back—but also returns to the small screen this fall in the new CBS series, Hostages.

TRANSCRIPT

Tavis: (Laughter) Emmy winner and Oscar nominee Toni Collette excels at playing characters who are, to say the least, slightly off-kilter. She won her Emmy for playing a woman with disassociative identity disorder in “The United States of Tara,” and her Oscar nomination came for playing the mother of a child who sees dead people in “The Sixth Sense.”

This month she can be seen in a new movie, a coming-of-age comedy, in fact, called “The Way, Way Back.” The movie reunites her with “Little Miss Sunshine” costar Steve Carrel.

This fall, she’ll return to television in a new series for CBS titled “Hostages.” (Exhales)

Toni Collette: My God, I’m exhausted. (Laughter)

Tavis: Good Lord. You working like a Jamaican. (Laughter) Anyway, let’s take a look at a clip from “The Way, Way Back.”

[Clip]

Tavis: So not enough work, I see. (Laughter)

Collette: I’ve been really lucky. There’s been a lot of good material around, and I’ve been enjoying it the last 18 months or so, I think, I’ve been going at it.

Tavis: Since you said that, let me follow up on that right quick. Depending on what actor in this town you talk to, there’s an abundance of riches, or more often than not there’s a dearth and a paucity of good stuff. So why is all the good stuff coming to you?

Collette: (Laughs) Well, (makes noise) I don’t know what to say to that. (Laughter) I think everything goes in fits and starts. It’s cyclical and it happens in phases. After I finished with “The United States of Tara” I had my second child. I took some time off and then I was ready to go back to work again.

I didn’t think it would be so thick and fast, but it really depends on who’s out there, who’s writing, who manages to get their film kind of up and greenlit and ready to go. I’ve been really lucky.

Tavis: Yeah.

Collette: Yeah.

Tavis: I was reading to prepare for our conversation about this particular movie, and of course watching the movie as well. But I read somewhere where you said that part of what attracted you to this particular character – we’ll come back to your playing characters slightly off-kilter in a moment.

Collette: Great.

Tavis: But part of what I read, at least, that made you want to do this was that as you read it, at least, every character in this particular film either had an element of growth or growth potential, were trying to grow.

Collette: Yeah.

Tavis: Tell me what this growth thing was in these characters that drew you this time.

Collette: Well, I think the most interesting thing about any story is how people change. That’s usually a struggle, because change is pretty much an uncomfortable thing. We’re all really happy with what’s familiar. But what’s inevitable in life is change. That’s what life is.

With my particular character, she thinks she knows what she wants and she’s kind of going for this relationship with a guy who is really a bad person.

Tavis: This is Steve Carrel.

Collette: That’s right, yeah.

People are used to seeing him as a very funny man, and he’s certainly capable of doing that, but he’s not that in this movie. It’s quite a dark, manipulative, kind of shady dude. He treats my son really badly.

One thing that I loved about the story, it’s actually my son’s; it’s his story, really. He’s 14 years old and he’s dragged on this holiday with his mum and this relatively new relationship, and trying to see if they can make it as a family and it all kind of goes horribly wrong.

But he reveals to his mother – we have this idea about growing up knowing everything, and I think kids are so perceptive and so kind of unstained – and he just sees this guy for who he is, and he’s the one who kind of opens my eyes to it, and his change enables my change.

Tavis: What’s the takeaway for the audience going to be, seeing Carrel in a character not like we’re accustomed to seeing him in?

Collette: Well, I think it’s exciting to see actors do new things. But I think the feeling people take away from this movie, it has such a big heart and it ends on such a high.

Even me, I’m given a chance at the premiere to kind of go and have dinner and not watch the movie, but I want to watch it because it is so exciting to watch all the other actors do their work.

This journey you go on with this boy is just, it’s someone who’s completely uncomfortable in himself learning to be confident. It’s done in such a funny way, and there really is – it gives you a really great feeling. So it’s one of, what do they call it, feel-good movies. It actually is that. It’s so joyous.

Tavis: Is that typical for you, when you finish something you’re anxious to go to the premiere to see it, or is there usually -

Collette: No, not at all.

Tavis: Okay. (Laughter)

Collette: I don’t mind watching them.

Tavis: Right.

Collette: I like to see everybody’s work and if it paid off or not, and how it was sewn together, because you kind of have to let go and someone else continues the journey.

So I do like to see it, but I don’t like to repeatedly watch it. But I find this movie just so lovely (laughter) that if given the chance, I haven’t said no yet.

Tavis: I mentioned earlier in the introduction that you – and you kind of chuckled, so I assume I’m not too off-kilter myself in making the comment that you like playing characters that are a bit off-kilter. If I’m right about that, what is that attraction for you?

Collette: I think there are so many movies that represent this kind of idea of what it is to be human which is just so off the mark, and it’s kind of a glossy Hollywood version of what life is. I think there’s – first of all, I really think there’s no such thing as normal.

Tavis: Right.

Collette: So if you believe that, then everyone is a character and very much an individual. So I personally kind of yearn to play characters who are complex and who strike a truthful chord in me and who are challenged in some way and I guess who kind of move through those challenges.

Tavis: What are you learning about the complexity of our individual humanity, and how it is that – I’m asking this because I think we live in a world now where for whatever reason, not that we ever did, but I’m finding it more and more troubling for me that as humans we can’t revel in the humanity of each other, in the complexity of each other. This isn’t a Hollywood conversation now. I’m talking about you’re a mother.

Collette: Mm-hmm.

Tavis: So you have to raise kids in this world where they’re trying to develop their own identity, and yet in so many ways people, again, don’t revel in the humanity of the other. What do you make of that?

Collette: I really believe in a oneness. So if I’m looking at somebody else, it’s not in a narcissistic way, but you’re kind of seeing yourself. What I do affects others; what others do affects me. We’re all in this together.

As far as kids go, at an early age they have to develop a sense of individuality. It’s just something that everyone goes through. But I think the older I get, the more I appreciate the fact that we really are just so connected.

To me, there are so many different things to believe in, but I think ultimately we’re all energy and that energy keeps changing. But ultimately, it’s a connectedness. It’s strange, because it seems that society is kind of promoting or nurturing this kind of ostracized existence. People are kind of very much in their own little worlds.

I don’t know, it’s a funny time. But I’m sure in any time you live in you’d consider it funny, because as I say, life is change, and it’ll just keep doing that. It’s a matter of embracing it or not.

Tavis: You said something a moment ago about – this is a fascinating point; we could have a whole show just about this notion – that there are in the world today so many different things to believe in, which takes me back to the movie.

The movie in some ways is about that notion. You’re trying to raise this boy who’s trying to figure out what to believe in, trying to – does that make sense to you?

Collette: Yes, absolutely.

Tavis: So when you said that, it kind of took me back to the movie. With regard to your own children, how, in a world where there are, in fact, so many things to believe in, aside from your character, how do you direct and guide -

Collette: Your own children?

Tavis: Yeah.

Collette: I think as with everything in life you’ve got to follow your gut. If you believe it wholeheartedly, then it’s not going to feel like you’re kind of pasting on an idea.

So I just – first of all, I allow them to have their own ideas and nurture and foster that sense of following their own instincts. But as they get older – my kids are five and two, so the big questions do start to pop out every once in a while.

Tavis: Right.

Collette: I do know that my husband and I are like, one of us will answer and then kind of look to each other and go, “Is that okay?” (Laughter) But you’ve got fundamental beliefs, and I think it’s not a matter of sitting down and having a lecture.

Tavis: Right.

Collette: Eventually, it all infuses. We’re living as a unit. We love each other and we support each other, and that in itself is a great thing to feel solid in.

Tavis: Right.

Collette: Not everyone gets that in life.

Tavis: Yeah. Now that you have two young children -

Collette: Yes.

Tavis: – does that in any way factor into the choices and decisions you make about the work that you take now, that you know years from now they will be looking at?

Collette: I wonder if they got – years from now, and they looked at – if they knew that I started to kind of amend my ideas and choices, I think they would find that disappointing. I think if I’m true to myself and just – I’ve never been – I hear about actors who have, like, plans.

I’m going to do this type of movie, then I’m going to play this kind of character, and that’ll get me from A to B to E to – I’ve never done that. I honestly just follow my gut, and I don’t think you can go wrong with that. So I don’t know if it has changed.

I’ve never really been a fan of violence. Who is? But I haven’t really done many movies where – that just doesn’t really turn me on. I’m more into the character and their journey, and those kinds of movies don’t really allow for that. It’s a different focus.

Tavis: Yeah. Well, “The Way, Way Back,” the new one, is a movie about the journey of characters, a variety of characters, in fact, starting one Toni Collette. Once again, it’s called “The Way, Way Back,” and I think you’ll enjoy it. Toni Collette, I always enjoy having you on our program.

Collette: It’s so nice to see you.

Tavis: Good to see you again.

Collette: Thanks, Tavis.

Tavis: That’s our show for tonight. Good night from Los Angeles, thanks for watching, and as always, keep the faith.

“Announcer:” For more information on today’s show, visit Tavis Smiley at PBS.org.

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Last modified: September 4, 2013 at 9:51 pm