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:: Spotlight :: Connie and Carla - Interview with Toni Collette

By: Catherine Naghten

From ‘Muriel’, to the distraught mum in the The Sixth Sense, to a woman dressed as a drag queen in her latest film, Toni Collette always impresses with her naturalness and versatility. In person too, she has natural charm and a great sense of humour. I spoke to her about the music and mayhem of Connie and Carla.

Q. How is it to be back in Australia?
A. It’s been great. I’ve actually been back for a couple of months now, having had the last couple of months off, so I’ve caught up with family, friends, got to sit on my couch again.

Q. You look great by the way. Any health and beauty tips for the readers?
A. Thankyou (laughs). Health and beauty tips? Ah, I think happiness really helps.

Q. You’ve been quite busy in the last twelve months…
A. Not the last couple of months, but last year I was. I shot a film called ‘The Last Shot’, then ‘Connie and Carla’ and then travelled around for the better part of the latter half of the year doing publicity and then left at the very beginning of this year – I didn’t get home until the middle of May – I did ‘In Her Shoes’. So I’m just taking a well-deserved big breather.

Q. Where do you call home?
A. I’ve always had a house in Sydney. I live there. I’d love to spend more time in Australia, if only I could work more constantly here and that just doesn’t seem to be the case. Regardless, I still live here though.

Q. What was the appeal of Connie and Carla?
A. I didn’t have to cry. (laughs)

Q. Were also attracted to the singing and dancing element of the film?
A. I grew up in a musical theatre world, well Blacktown, where I was always in dance classes and doing musicals at school and local productions and so on. I moved on from there and ended up on Broadway. I guess I’ve always felt a slight sense of shame being in the musical theatre world; it’s a bit embarrassing just because it’s not the kind of music I’m into. However, I think they can be quite powerful because if there’s a story that you connect to anyway, and you add music, which I think is the most immediate articulate art form there is, it can be quite spine tingling. Connie and Carla was perfect timing. This script came to me and I was just like “Oh yeah, just revel in it and go for it – don’t be so precious”. I was going to just to have to laugh at myself as I sing and dance and wear Tiaras and big lips.

Q. You’ve got a great voice. Do you hope to use it more in films?
A. Thanks. I don’t know. It really depends on what comes up.

Q. No fully-fledged musicals in the future then…
A. Not that I can see at this point. No (laughs)

Q. Tell us about working with Nia Vardalos
A. She’s the writer, executive producer and Connie, so I imagine she was very exhausted. She’s so full of ideas and is constantly trying to better the script, rewriting on the weekends and making it tighter and funnier. She’s a very positive person and I think she spent so much time waiting for the big break, that when My Big Fat Greek Wedding came, everything exploded all over the world. She really took the bull by the horns and that’s when she decided to bring Connie and Carla into it.

Q. And David Duchovny…
A. He is an adorable man. I have to say. He’s very dry, ironic, and laconic. He’s also bright, a gifted actor, and I think he’s immensely likeable in this film.

Q. Did he rope you into doing the new X Files Movie with him?
A. They’re doing another one? Oh wow…I didn’t know. He hasn’t called me up for it. No. (laughs). He did send me the script for his directorial debut (House of D). I later saw him when he was editing that film and said to him, “How was it? Did you love it?” Most actors want to be control freaks so they love the experience of directing, and most can’t wait to do it again, but David had a different answer. “Nup, hated it. I’d rather be an actor any day” he said. So I guess that’s why he’s going back to the X-Files.

Q. What about yourself?
A. I definitely want to direct. I’ve directed a video clip. I think it’s just a matter of time. It’s such a pleasure being an actor and being to explore a certain character, but I think I would rather oversee an entire film and have more control. I know directors are emotionally involved but I’d like to be slightly more objective. Instead of being a piece of jigsaw in the puzzle, I’d rather be the one putting the whole puzzle together. I’d really like to give it a shot.

Q. The message we get from Carla is to ‘love your body’ and really, none of your characters are ever vacuous or two-dimensional. Is it a conscious choice to do those kinds of parts?
A. Yeah. Films, or any type of art, reflect how we live, and we don’t live in a two dimensional world. I just try to make people real and create someone people can relate to. We go to the movies to be ourselves and to feel nurtured and to have faith in the world that we live in, because its familiar. Also to feel an array of emotions, have a laugh, whatever….I think its not just about people feeling comfortable in their bodies. I just wish people – and myself included – and society in all of its elements, should be held responsible. I think there should be less fear and more freedom. The world would be a very different place.

. People should be themselves more…
A. There’s a whole generation of people that sit on their feelings.I don’t think it’s healthy. We’ve got to express ourselves. It's part of who are.

Q. What do you make of being Australian in America?
A. It’s funny over there. The one thing I do admire about America is that it’s very encouraging. They want people to succeed. They really take pride in that. There’s such a false sense of being though. People are so polite there, and I know I’m generalising, and I hate doing that, but no one is ever that polite. I think there’s a blind sense of patriotism over there and there’s a greater sense of fear especially in the last few years. I’m sure the government loves it. It’s a sense of control for them. Hopefully we won’t follow suit.

Q. The Last Shot, is your next film. Tell us about that?
A. That’s coming out next year. Its great. It’s a dark comedy, which has a specific tone. It reminds me of early Woody Allen or Wes Anderson’s films. It’s based on a true story. Alec Baldwin plays this FBI agent who goes undercover as a movie producer and he gets Matthew Broderick to be his writer/director. They go about making this film, which the audience knows will never eventuate, and along the way Alec’s character falls in love with moviemaking. I play this bombshell narcissistic highly-sexed actress coming from rehab and the movie they’re supposedly making is supposed to be her comeback movie. It’s very funny. I look like a pornstar in it.

Q. The Opposite of Muriel then…
A. Yes, actors should be able to do anything.

Q. Did Muriel do wonders for your career?
A. Muriel changed everything. They’re pretty fascinated by the image thing probably in almost determinantal sick way which doesn’t do any favours for peoples self esteem. Most people, when they met me, were like ‘Oh my god, you’re so thin!…I can’t believe you played Muriel”.

Q. Has ‘Muriel’ haunted you to some extent?
A. Sometimes I feel that, but it gave me such wonderful opportunities that I never would’ve imagined. It gave me a career I wasn’t even expecting. I didn’t even know if I would have an audience, let alone a career that’s spanned ten years so far.

Q. What’s next for you?
A. I don’t know actually. I’m producing a couple of movies with my production company. I expect to do one or two movies in the second half of this year though.

Connie and Carla is showing on general release.