The Australian actor on her role in Hereditary, the years scariest movie, the joy of Muriels Wedding fans, and her penchant for shaving her head
Toni Collette is starring in what’s being billed as the most terrifying horror film in years, and she doesn’t even like horror films. Or, rather, she doesn’t know whether she likes them, because she’s too scared to watch them.
We’re discussing how her new film, Hereditary, by first-time director Ari Aster, operates beyond the horror genre, bringing in other psychological dimensions, and I mention how The Shining, one of the major influences pumping through Hereditary (along with Rosemary’s Baby, The Exorcist, and The Babadook) wasn’t just about horror either, when Collette interjects: “I haven’t seen that.” I must have gaped, because she laughs and says: “I don’t like horror films.” She says she bought The Shining DVD years ago but it’s still got its wrapper on. “I’m just too petrified to watch horror films!” But you’re OK about starring in them? “I look for challenging work, and this was so complicated, layered, dense and honest. And unusual. It felt really original, even on the page. That’s what I hope for in life. And it rarely comes along.” Full of praise for Aster (who also wrote the script), Collette accepts that Hereditary is a horror film, “but it isn’t just a horror film. It’s this kind of beautiful fragile story about people living with huge amounts of emotional pain.”
In the film Collette plays Annie, an artist who makes macabre “real-world” doll’s houses, and who along with her family descends into a nightmare prompted by the death of her sinister mother. Also starring Gabriel Byrne, Ann Dowd, Alex Wolff, and Milly Shapiro, it premiered in January at midnight at the Sundance film festival to great acclaim, sparking instant Oscar-buzz for Collette, which seems long overdue. In what looks to be a huge year for her, she is also starring in the hotly tipped BBC/Netflix series Wanderlust this autumn, as a therapist who re-evaluates her life following a near-death experience.
Since grabbing international attention in only her second role, 1994’s enduringly charming Muriel’s Wedding, Collette has starred in a wide variety of films including 1999’s The Sixth Sense (another horror film that isn’t just a horror film), Little Miss Sunshine, About A Boy, Emma, Japanese Story, and Glassland, as well as television series including United States of Tara and Tsunami: The Aftermath. She has also appeared in Broadway musicals, including The Wild Party for which she was nominated for a Tony award. (Collette also sings with her band, Toni Collette & the Finish, featuring her husband Dave Galafassi on drums, though that’s stalled for the moment: “I’m too busy with my day job.”) However, despite garnering numerous prestigious awards and nominations, (including an Emmy and a Golden Globe for United States of Tara), there’s been no nod from the Academy since she was nominated for best supporting actress for The Sixth Sense.