Toni Collette: Double Take
If you saw Muriel's Wedding, you're in for a fun surprise. Toni Collette, the zaftig actress who played Muriel, is not what she seemed.
"My God." I shriek, "you are so gorgeous!" Everyone in the restaurant is staring. But Toni Collette, the gorgeous woman in question, doesn't seem to notice.
"You think?" she asks in her Australian accent.
"Definitely" I assure her. Her skin is clear and flawless: her lips are luscious: her hair is perfect. Even in baggy overalls and clunky boots, this girl is a knockout.
Now, it shouldn't be a surprise when a 23-year-old actress is strikingly pretty, but when it's the same young actress who played Muriel in last year's Muriel's Wedding, well, you'd be surprised, too. Muriel's Wedding was an ugly-duckling tale about an overweight, slightly unhinged girl whose whole life revolved around ABBA songs and a desire to be different. Collette was wonderful as Muriel--spunky, funny, heartbreakingly sad. But gorgeous? Muriel was the singularly most unattractive young woman to grace the screen in a long time. When she appeared dressed in white polyester bell-bottoms, I finally understood the term "thunder-thighs."
"So how'd you do it?" I ask, waving my arm to include her entire body.
"You mean for Muriel's Wedding? I got this dietitian to help me, but I'm not sure there's a healthy way to gain 40 pounds in seven weeks. I just ate and ate and ate. I was bursting out of my clothes. And then afterwards I just exercised and ate good things. People are so freaked out by it, but it wasn't really such a big deal."
"Did you ever see the movie Georgy Girl?"
"No." she says, "but everyone says Muriel's Wedding reminds them of it."
"I was just thinking that Lynn Redgrave was perfect as Georgy, but it typecast her and she never did anything nearly that good. And then, a few years ago, she became a shill for Weight Watchers, and it seemed to be the perfect follow-up."
Collette throws back her head and laughs, a deep, throaty kind of howl. Everyone around us begins to laugh, too.
"Hopefully," she says, "my career will be different. I've just finished three films. The first was The Pallbearer. I have a small role, as the wife of David Schwimmer's best friend, and the best part of it was that I had to have a really thick New York accent."
"Like mine?" I ask.
"No, an educated New York accent."
My jaw drops.
"I mean more restrained, more..."
"Forget it. Toni, you'll just dig yourself in deeper."
"I didn't mean harm," she pleads, moving on to the next subject. "And then I did Cosi, which is a very wonderful story about a guy who goes to a mental institution and wants to put on an opera. I play a heroin addict. And then I did Emma with Gwyneth Paltrow, and that was just a hoot."
"It's so funny, because now everyone is going to think that Emma is a remake of Clueless."
"Isn't that sad?" Collette says.
"I loved Jane Austen in school, but I have to admit that I tried to read Emma and I couldn't get through it."
Collette nods. "Everyone says how much they love her work, but I couldn't read it, either. Boring, boring, boring. But the movie is really funny, and it's a great role. I play Harriet, and Gwyneth's character takes me under her wing and transforms me."
"Where'd you get the scar on your lip?" I ask having searched her face for the slightest flaw.
"You can see it?" she gasps. "Nobody has ever noticed before. I got it when I was three, in a fall. But I'll tell you, I think scars are the sexiest thing. I was drunk and I locked myself out of my friend's apartment and I was jumping up to try and open the window, and now I have these really deep scars all over my legs."
"I sometimes think that scars are the new jewelry."
"It's so weird, but I used to wear jewelry on every single finger, and I had holes going all the way up my ears, and I would wear leather ties on my wrist and on my throat. I had my belly button pierced, and it just kept going."
"Where else?" I ask.
Collette laughs. "No," she says. "I didn't have my clit pierced. But apparently, it really does stimulate you."
"I agree," she says. "Which is why I didn't have it done. One day I woke up and just didn't put any of the jewelry on, and now it's a big deal if I wear one little ring."
"What kind of music do you listen to?"
"Everything from Doris Day to Mozart I'm in love with Jeff Buckley. I think he's definitely an angel. He's this male person who's so emotionally open..."
"At least he sounds emotionally open. I mean. Mick Jagger sounds emotionally open on his records."
"Go ahead," she says, "break my heart. Not that I have a chance of meeting a man who's emotionally open. All the good men seem to be taken. You know the place, though? It's London. I love London anyway, but if you check out all of the courier guys on bikes, every single one of them is gorgeous. And their bodies are amazing, because they're just peddling around all day. And they usually have dreadlocks and clear skin. Even though they're surrounded by smoke and diesel fumes. I think I'm going to end up living in London. I think I've had past lives there."
"It's already too crowded in London," I say, "for all the people who had past lives there to go back."
"Honey." she says with that laugh. "if it's going to be a place I can meet a guy, they can all shove over."
And with that, we pick up our things and head out into the insanity that is New York.
Martha Frankel interviewed Samantha Mathis for the March '96 issue of Movieline.