Q&A: Toni Collette

Actor, Hostages and Enough Said

Since she charmed America in Muriel’s Wedding, Aussie actor Toni Collette has been engaging audiences in soulful roles, most often in small movies like Little Miss Sunshine and About A Boy. She can be seen in indie darling Nicole Holofcener’s Enough Said, opening this Friday.

But she also caused a sensation on TV. She played a woman with multiple personalities in United States Of Tara, and premieres tonight (Monday, September 23, 10 pm, on CBS) in the mini-series Hostages, playing a doctor who has to choose between killing the president of the United States and allowing terrorists to kill her own family.

During TIFF, she talked to NOW about TV versus movies, her unusual screen presence and more.

Now that you’ve had such huge success in television, has it become your preferred medium?

I don’t care what size the screen is. Specifically with Hostages, I’ve never worked in that kind of genre. When the script was sent to me, I couldn’t put it down. I found the construct interesting, and the action happens over two weeks. This is a psychological thriller, something I’m drawn to when it’s done well, but it’s often done very badly.

You’ve had success making off-centre characters human and relatable. Do you apply that skill to your character in Hostages?

Absolutely. We’re so blasé about violent material. I wanted to infuse this intense, extreme, horrible scenario with something real that will make it even harder to watch.

What’s the biggest difference between making movies and TV?

When you make a film, the script is pretty much concrete, and that’s what you’re working with. When you do TV, you’re working with an ever-evolving storyline. That can be exciting and petrifying at the same time. It’s a large leap of faith.

Surely, the writers of Hostages, given the premise, know how it’s going to end.

Not necessarily. They’ve only got ideas of certain kinds of very key moments. It has to be kept exciting for the writers, too, as it rolls along.

What about the pace? I understand TV shows are shot much more quickly.

[Laughing] Most of the films I work on are low-budget, so the pace is quick anyway. I love that. I hate sitting around labouring over things. I love just getting into it.

You’ve played all kinds of roles, but your part in Enough Said – friend to the female lead – tends to be a thankless one. How do you make it your own?

When I look at a character, I never look at the size of the role. I always look at the whole person, no matter how much they’re featured in the movie.

You don’t look like the average female movie star. Has that been a problem for you when it comes to getting cast?

I think being the conventional beauty is limiting, so I’m glad I’m not that. If I looked different I wouldn’t have the great opportunities I’ve had. I have the ability to look really ugly and at other times I can look okay [laughing], so that helps in the variety of roles I can play.

That’s what I want. I want variety. I want versatility. Otherwise, I’m wasting the opportunity of being an actor, which is all about variation and change.

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