Col­lette’s syn­drome

Toni Col­lette loves her char­ac­ter’s iden­tity crises, writes Dar­ren Devlyn

Herald Sun - Switched On - - Front Page -

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.

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