In the past few decades, Australian actress Toni Collette has proved herself as one of the country’s most versatile actresses and successful exports. Considered by some as a queen of accents, and with a sizeable, varied string of hits behind her, we’re here to celebrate some of her greatest hits for the week's release of A Long Way Down These are the essentials of These are the Essentials of Toni Collette’s career so far.
The twist may barely even be a secret to movie-goers anymore, but upon the film’s initial release, back when M Night Shyamalan still knew how to direct, it was a very real shock. This story of a boy plagued by visions of ghosts and Bruce Willis in a bid to help, also features Collette as the mother of Cody (Haley Joel Osment). Osment and Willis may have received the majority of praise upon the film’s initial release, but Collette showcased her immense talent in a beautiful scene in which her character, Lynn, and her son discuss her deceased mother. As Lynn breaks down in tears when Cody provides her with her mother’s answer to her question, “Do I make you proud?” (the answer is “Every day”), The Sixth Sense finds its emotional heart.
Toni Collette stars in Todd Haynes’ love letter to glam rock that is not at all a thinly-veiled David Bowie biopic - how dare you insinuate that! – as Mandy, the attention hungry but long-suffering wife of glam rock icon Brian Slade (Jonathan Rhys Meyers). As this film’s Angie Bowie, Collette gets the opportunity to showcase her extraordinary skill with accents, as she effortlessly takes up the pompous, glamorous English accent that masks her original American twang which still frequently slips through, subtly revealing what’s behind the mask and linking back to the theme of the whole story. And while much of her screen-time is spent in this charade, her greatest work comes when she plays the embittered ex-wife in the cold, grey world of 1984, recounting her tale with just as much affection as there is resentment.
Nat Faxon and Jim Rash’s coming-of-age tale was one of the smartest scripts of 2013, translating into a wonderful film. Collette appears as Pam, the mother of our protagonist Duncan (Liam James), as the pair embark on a summer holiday with Pam’s new boyfriend Trent (Steve Carell) and his daughter. Co-star Sam Rockwell gets the most fun role as Duncan’s mentor, but one can’t help but feel sympathy for Collette’s Pam, who is torn between her love for her son and her own desire to be loved, even if Trent is an abomination of a human being. Funny, touching, and clever, The Way Way Back is a must see.
This Australian made Claymation is one of the most emotionally poignant examples of the technique, and sees Collette share vocal duties with the late Philip Seymour Hoffman. Collette voices Mary, a young, poor, and bullied Australian girl, who strikes up an unlikely pen friendship with Max, a middle aged New Yorker with Asperger’s syndrome and excessive over-eating. We follow their friendship through two decades, as Mary grows up, marries, and becomes a psychologist, while Max finds a new lease of life through her letters. Collette shares the role of Mary with Bethany Whitmore, who plays Mary’s younger self, but it is Collette who voices some of Mary’s most difficult moments, touching on heartache, loss, and ultimately a life irrevocably changed by a stranger.
Earning herself a Screen Actor’s Guild Award, Collette plays Sheryl, the worn-out matriarch of the Hoover family, having to deal with her suicidal gay brother Frank (again, playing alongside Steve Carell), arrogant husband (Greg Kinnear), son, father-in-law, and daughter Olive, on a road trip that will see Olive compete in the Little Miss Sunshine pageant. Despite all her stresses, Sheryl is fiercely supportive of Olive, to the point where she allows her daughter to perform a burlesque routine to Super Freak, and, along with her family, defiantly joins her daughter on stage when the organisers become enraged.
TV BONUS: The United States of Tara
Toni Collette was the star of this comedy drama from the pen of Diablo Cody. She played protagonist Tara, a mother who was diagnosed with split personalities. While the storylining of the show was often hit and miss, Collette was flawless in taking on these myriad personalities, and in switching effortlessly between them, sometimes multiple times within the same scene.