In the easygoing summer comedy Fun Mom Dinner (now in select theaters and on demand), Toni Collette plays a mother of four young boys who’s totally over the idea of having “mom friends” — until, of course, a memorable night of misbehavior with some fellow preschool moms (played by Molly Shannon, Kate Aselton, and Bridget Everett) changes her mind. Collette, who has two children, has no such qualms about befriending other moms. But she does have a problem with being pigeonholed as an actress who plays moms.
“In the past, I’ve done interviews where they just start the interview saying, ‘So you play a mom,’” the Australian actress told Yahoo Movies. “And I’m like, ‘I play a really f***ing complex human who also has a relationship with a couple of kids she’s pushed out.’” Indeed, few actresses on earth boast résumés so full of diverse, emotionally complex roles, from the social-outcast title character in her breakout film Muriel’s Wedding, to her Oscar-nominated performance as Haley Joel Osment’s desperate mother in The Sixth Sense, to the woman trying to keep her family together without losing her mind in Little Miss Sunshine. What drew Collette to Fun Mom Dinner — besides the promise of working with other talented, funny women — is that the story isn’t about being a good or bad mother, but about how motherhood changes a person’s identity, even when the kids are asleep.
During Fun Mom Dinner’s New York City press day, Yahoo Movies chatted with Collette about bonding with her co-stars, exercising with a post-childbirth bladder (as her character does in the film), getting recognized on the subway, and juggling an astounding variety of film and TV projects.
So are you having a whirlwind day in New York?
It’s been very busy. I just flew in very late from London last night and I think I’ve had maybe three and a half hours sleep! Anyway, it has been a long day, but it’s so, so wonderful to see all these amazing women that I worked with on the film last year, and to be able to hang out and talk about the experience we had and celebrate it together. It’s a good thing.
Ten years ago, you had two films released; in 2017, the website IMDb says you have 11 projects.
Wow, that’s a lot then!
So do you have a secret identical twin? How does that work?
Cardboard cutouts, and I live in my trailer. [Laughs] No, it’s funny because I’m playing this character [in Fun Mom Dinner], and we’re a bunch of women who have kids, everybody’s been talking about “How do you balance work and life and kids and all of that stuff?” You know, sometimes I really struggle with it, because I love working, and I obviously also love my children. And they’re the most important thing to me. But I do love working, and if I don’t do it I think I am not quite myself, you know? Because it’s a big part of me and I get a lot out of it. What you need to know is, not every film is three months long. For instance, this one was three weeks. So it may say there’s a lot of films there, but none of them too extensive in terms of the time I have to commit to it.
I watched a screener of the spy thriller Unlocked (in theaters Sept. 1) the same week I saw Fun Mom Dinner — in that one, you have a buzzcut and use a machine gun. It was a funny contrast.
I like doing lots of different things. I think that’s one of the best parts of my job. And I really try to push myself and not be repetitive. After Muriel’s Wedding, I remember being offered a character that was kind of similar, and there was just something in my gut that knew not to do it. And I’m so glad, because if I’d have done that, I think it’s so easy to be categorized. And I somehow have managed to dodge that bullet.
It seems like a major challenge for actors to escape that kind of rut. Your career is amazing in that sense – I have absolutely no idea what you’ll do next.
Me too, that’s the best part about it! [Laughs]
So my favorite thing you do in this whole movie is putting on your son’s pull-up to do a trampoline workout.
Omigod, I forgot about that scene! That’s so funny! Ha! Yep. Well let me tell you, I can really relate to that. [Laughs] I mean, having had two kids, exercising becomes an issue. Actually I probably needed that little — I call it them nappy, what do you call it, a diaper? — to be able to do it. But yeah, what a weird type of exercise! It’s a real thing people do.
I had never seen it, but I’m guessing if I lived in L.A. I’d have already taken a class by now.
People really get into it out there, I’ve heard. Someone told me what it was called — I can’t remember what it is now, it’s a really weird name — and I was like, what’s that? And they described it and I was like, oh yeah, I did that in a movie! [Laughs] But I don’t know if I could do it for an hour. God, that would kill me.
You’ve played a lot of mothers — a lot of very different mothers —
Thank you for pointing that out! I love a lot of things about this movie, but one thing I love is that it celebrates who these women are beyond the children in their lives. And in the past, I’ve done interviews where they just start the interview saying, “So you play a mom.” And I’m like, “I play a really f***ing complex human who also has a relationship with a couple of kids she’s pushed out.” You know? It doesn’t define a person. It’s a huge part of any parent’s life, but it doesn’t define you. And I think that’s one of the things that these women celebrate on their night out in this movie. And I often have said, you don’t go into an interview with Jon Hamm and say, “Oh, so Don Draper — you play a father.” It’s just such a really sh***y imbalance. And I’m glad that it’s addressed in this movie, and that it’s about, yes, they are wonderful moms, but they go out and they really connect, not only with each other but with themselves in a way that might have been missing for a long time. It’s good to remember who you are, beyond your first and biggest responsibility.
I also enjoyed your character’s knee-jerk reaction against making “mom friends.” Not sure I’ve ever seen that said outright in a film before.
I loved that she was so upfront about it, that she’s not backwards and coming forwards — she just tells it like it is. I have two kids and they’re both pretty young, so I don’t entirely feel the same way, but I love that she’s so frank about it. I love that she’s like that about pretty much everything in her life. She lives with a lot of male energy, and I think it’s rubbed off.
The karaoke song in the film — “99 Luftballons,” in German! — was that your pick?
No, they chose it, but I was very happy about it because I love that song, too. Singing it in German was a slight challenge. I kind of learned it at the last minute. But karaoke can be a bit sloppy anyway. Although I do think Katie and I kind of nailed the German. We’ll have to see what a German audience thinks of that!
We talked about the wide variety of roles you’ve played. When fans approach you, what’s the role they most often mention?
It depends where I am. A lot of people love Muriel. The character of Muriel is very dear to a lot of people still, which is so amazing to me. And it’s kind of beautiful, you know? I think it goes to show that most people do feel like that on the inside, that they related so intensely to that character. Sometimes if I’m on the subway in New York, it will be Shaft. If I wear my hair a certain way, it will be The Sixth Sense. I lot of people do recognize me from Little Miss Sunshine. Everyone’s so lovely about it, too, I have to say.
I’m a big fan of United States of Tara [the Showtime comedy on which Collette played a woman with multiple identities].
Aww, I loved that show so much.
I felt like with that show, you proved you could literally play anything. Do you feel like that role opened things up for you in film?
I really don’t know. That show just in and of itself was such an amazing opportunity for me, or for any actor to have gotten a chance to do that. And I don’t think it will ever happen again. It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. And not only that, everyone involved was just so lovely, and it was such a positive experience on so many levels. You know, I’ve had a lot of really, really good jobs and I really only try to work on projects I believe in, but that particular one was, it was right up there for me. So — but did it open up things after that? After we shot Season 3, I had my son. And yes, to be honest, I haven’t stopped working since then, when I think about it! [Laughs] So maybe you’re right in pointing that out. I never put two and two together. I don’t know if it came from that show or what, but that’s what has, that’s what tends to have happened now that I look at it, yeah.
It must feel good to have those opportunities just keep increasing exponentially. Maybe it doesn’t feel like that, but it looks like that on paper.
I still feel really lucky to get the jobs that I’m offered, I really do, because I know it’s a tough industry. I have actor friends who don’t get to work that often, or don’t get to work on things that they really believe in, and 99 percent of the time I do get to do that. And I just really, really honestly feel so grateful. I still enjoy it and it still challenges me. I still try to work on stuff that pushes me a little bit, because you need to keep growing, you know?
Is there any role that’s still on your wish list? A Bond villain, something like that?
I’m never good at this question, because really, things are sent to me and it either makes sense or it doesn’t. I just think characters are more complex than that, and it’s hard to say, “I want to play a character like that.” However, last summer I did play a manipulative bitch and I’ve never done that before, and it was really fun! There was so much to play with. And recently, I filmed a movie that really was the hardest job of my life, this [horror] film called Hereditary with a writer-director called Ari Aster. Gabriel Byrne played my husband, and it’s an intense one. It surprised me every day. I think if I’d really contemplated it any more before I started, I might have just run the other way, because every day was just so much more full-on than I even anticipated. So I just had to take it one step at a time. But in a perverse way it was really satisfying, even though it was like twisting myself inside out.
And now we have to bring that around to Fun Mom Dinner! So in comparison, Fun Mom Dinner was like…
It was the most gleeful, joyous, buoyant, satisfying in a completely different way, experience, with like-minded, very creative, smart, savvy, sassy, generous, communicative women. It was just what I needed. I read it, I wanted to have fun, and it couldn’t have been more so.
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