Toni Collette loves her character’s identity crises, writes Darren Devlyn
TONI Collette has had her difficulties negotiating the slippery course between celebrity and anonymity.
Collette has a reputation for an earthiness that transcends the imageobsessed world of showbiz, but there’s no doubt intense protection of her privacy has made it difficult to ascertain what makes her tick in her life at and away from her work.
Some in the media will tell you Collette would rather endure anaesthetic-free root-canal surgery than subject herself to the prying questions of the press.
Collette, however, seems at ease talking about her Emmy-nominated role in United States of Tara — which could go down as one of the small screen’s all-time greats — and combining work with being mum to 16-month-old daughter Sage.
Diving into the role of Tara Gregson, who suffers from dissociative identity disorder (formerly known as multiple personality disorder), came only three months after Collette and her husband, musician Dave Galafassi, welcomed Sage into the world.
In the show’s opening episode, Collette was called on to strut her stuff in a G-string and midriff top as wayward teenage alter-ego T.
‘‘I love this show but, yeah, it was bloody hard work,’’ Collette, 36, says.
‘‘I had to wear that gear three months after giving birth. You shoot an episode every five days and during the first season I was breastfeeding.
‘‘I was absolutely petrified, not knowing how it (combining acting and motherhood) was going to work. It was all new to me, even though I’ve been acting for years. I felt really vulnerable.
‘‘But in the end it could not have been a more positive experience because the production embraced my whole family and my situation.’’
In a career spanning 20 years, Collette has displayed an extraordinary set of acting tools.
An actor of rare depth, she has delivered knockout performances in movies including Muriel’s Wedding, The Sixth Sense, Black Balloon and Little Miss Sunshine.
That gift has never been on better display than in United States of Tara because she swings from one alter ego to the next in the course of a single episode.
As Tara, she’s dealing with being wife to a man (John Corbett) who is doing all in his power to support her as she adjusts to life without her medication. She’s also mum to two high-maintenance teenagers who do not know which of Tara’s alter egos will emerge from one hour to the next.
There’s trouble-seeking teen T, tough-talking Vietnam vet Buck (who says he had his manhood blown off in Vietnam) and 1950s-style housewife Alice. More alter egos will be introduced as the show evolves.
Collette revels in the show, having the talent to project warmth, humanity and humour in a range of distinctly different characters. So convincing is she in each guise in United States of Tara that you never sense effort in the performance.
Initially, Collette says, she was dismissive of the idea of a series role.
‘‘I got a phone call from my agent saying, ‘I know you don’t want to do TV, but this (Tara) is a really exciting project’,’’ she says.
‘‘From my agent’s excitement, I drove straight in and read it immediately in the car and just knew I had to be part of it.’’
COLLETTE, who soon returns to set to film a second season, has signed a contract that could keep her tied to the show for seven years. That seems a mighty leap of faith for an actor who until recently had shied away from TV.
Collette can rest assured she’s in good creative hands. The show lists Hollywood heavyweight Steven Spielberg as executive producer and Diablo Cody (Juno) as creator.
‘‘I’ve signed for seven years and each year they (producers) decide whether they’re going to pick it up or not,’’ Collette says. ‘‘I’m about to go back to LA to shoot the second season.
‘‘It’s such an exciting thing to be part of. I just wanted to make it as truthful as possible. If you’d heard about this show you might think it’s as intense as Sybil (Sally Field) or a slapstick comedy, but it’s neither.
‘‘The tone of it drew me in because it’s incredibly relatable and funny. It goes so far beyond being a show about mental illness.’’
Of her Emmy nomination, Collette adds: ‘‘I’m thrilled and honoured to represent United States of Tara in this way. I really hope this helps to widen the audience for our show.’’
Toni award: (above) Toni Collette has been nominated for an Emmy for her television role. Picture: AFP
Phase book: (left) Collette’s characters in United States of Tara.