Film & TV

TIFF: Toni Collette on ‘Enough Said,’ Playing Moms, & Dumbed Down Movies

Film & TV

TIFF: Toni Collette on ‘Enough Said,’ Playing Moms, & Dumbed Down Movies

Toni Collette in 'Lucky Them.'
Toni Collette in 'Enough Said.'

I wish Christopher Hitchens had lived to see Nicole Holofcener’s new romcom Enough Said, because it’s irrefutable proof that women are funny. The ensemble cast of LOL-inducing ladies includes Toni Collette, as well as Julia-Louis Dreyfus, Catherine Keener, Amy Landecker, and Tavi Gevinson. The late James Gandolfini and Ben Falcone provide humor and warmth, too. Louis-Dreyfus and Gandolfini’s budding courtship is complicated by the fact that massage therapist Louis-Dreyfus is, at first unknowingly, massaging her new boyfriend’s ex-wife, and hears about all of his flaws. Collette plays the best friend. As opposed to just being a plot device, Holofcener gives the character her own complexities and conflicts. She neurotically rearranges furniture, struggles with firing and re-hiring the maid, and bickers with her husband. Collette is at the Toronto International Film Festival doing double duty: On top of Enough Said, the Australian actress stars in Lucky Them as playing a rock journalist assigned to track down her ex-boyfriend. We sat down with her to discuss her many mom characters, why Don Draper pisses her off, and why it’s hard to find a good script these days.

How did you come across the script for Enough Said?
I was in LA and a meeting was set up for us. And I was told very specifically this is not about the film she is about the make, this is just a general meeting. And I was really kind of pissed off about that. I thought, Why can’t I be in the one she’s about the make? And then out of the blue, I did get a call soon after that, so someone was lying to me. She is so original in her storytelling, and I think there is such an accurate idiosyncratic, realistic nature to her writing and the characters she creates.

What did you think of your character?
I love my character. I think when you watch any movie there’s a real danger in trying to give the lead characters a reality, and then the rest just falls away. But Nicole has this ability to make all of the characters, no matter how big or small they, are feel very complex and whole. And playing Julia’s buddy in the film is just a dream. I guess my character serves as a sounding board or at least a contrast. All the other parents in the movie, their kids are flying the coop and mine are still quite young, and I’m involved in a different kind of chaos and it’s just showing where they are in the parenting landscape.

Some of my favorite roles you’ve played have been really interesting mother characters, About a Boy, Little Miss Sunshine. Sometimes mothers in films are such flat stereotypes, but these have all been complex mothers. And you’re a mother yourself. What draws you to these roles?
I played a lot of mothers before I even became a mother. And it wasn’t like I set out to be some sort of mother crusader. But I think you are right. Roles like that can tend to be very stereotypical and exist for a certain purpose in relation to another character. And I just try to breathe a sense of life into whatever character I play and it really frustrates me because no one would say Don Draper, he’s a father. That really pisses me off because I think these women have the wonderful experience of having a  profound relationship with someone they’ve created and given birth to.

So many good movies fall through the cracks and then so many awful scripts get made. Do you have any insight into why that happens?
I think the bigger-budgeted movies are seen as being safer, pleasing a wider audience. And that’s what it comes down to. Every time I make a movie, like most recently The Way Way Back, everyone was like, “Why don’t we make more movies like that?” And I was like, It’s really fucking obvious and really frustrating. People appreciate them and yearn to see them and yet they are still too afraid to make them.

Democratizing something shouldn’t mean dumbing it down.
Any sort of art form is a narcissistic venture. You go and really you want to see yourself. You want to feel and you want to learn and engage. And if it is watered down, it just becomes just shoving popcorn in your mouth in the dark with a lot of people. But to relate to something as a human being makes you feel alive. So it’s frustrating. But I have been so lucky. I do have opportunities to work on the type of movie that I’d like to see. Thank God those scripts still exist.

What else do you have coming up?
I’ve got little parts in a couple things. There’s one movie I did with Simon Pegg, Hector and the Search for Happiness, and he’s a psychologist who actually isn’t very happy. He goes on this journey looking into different cultures and revisiting people from his past trying to learn about what makes different people happy. Also, Ben Falcone, who plays my husband in Enough Said, he and his wife Melissa McCarthy wrote a great script called Tammy which she stars in and he directed. So they invited me to play a little part in that which was fun. And, I’m doing this TV show called Hostages at the moment.

What do you think about the opportunities in TV?
There’s great writing in TV at the moment. It’s been like that for several years now. It’s so obvious. The type of film that I like to make is actually happening more in TV, and people are loving it. They are staying at home having these box-set binges. So there is definitely a market for that kind of story, with intimacy and reality.

What TV shows are you addicted to?
I travel around too much to watch anything on TV and so I watch every thing on DVD. Recently, I just watched The Bridge, which I absolutely loved. The Danish version was amazing. I haven’t seen the American remake. And, I just finished watching the latest Mad Men.

Oh the one with where John Hamm plays that father.
Yeah, he plays a lot of fathers. I wonder what makes him play fathers all of the time?