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Rhys Wakefield

Toni Collette Biography


Home > Actresses > C > Collette, Toni > Biography


Birth Name: Toni Collette
Born: 11/01/1972
Birth Place: Blacktown, New South Wales, AU


Antonia "Toni" Collette was born on Nov. 1, 1972, and raised in Blacktown, a suburb of Sydney, Australia. As a girl, she loved to sing and first did so publicly in a production of "Godspell" when she was 14 years old. Two years later, she left school to study musical theater full time with the Australian Theatre for Young People. She spent a year and a half attending college at the prestigious National Institute of Dramatic Art, but dropped out when she got the opportunity to go pro with a major role in a Sydney stage production of "Uncle Vanya." Collette expanded into guest appearances on Aussie TV shows and landed her first film role as a tomboyish factory worker in the comedy "Spotswood" (1992) when she was 20 years old. Not long afterward, she auditioned for writer-director P.J. Hogan and declared "I AM Muriel!" When Hogan resisted casting her because she was too thin, the determined newcomer gained 40 pounds, landed the role, and gave an internationally renowned breakout performance as a post-adolescent ugly duckling who conquers her insecurities with the help of a firecracker best friend (Rachel Griffiths). In addition to earning Collette an Australian Film Institute Best Actress Award, "Muriel's Wedding" enjoyed a sizeable stateside audience and transformed the young actress into a hot commodity on the international scene.

Collette stayed close to home for her follow-up features, offering a moving interpretation of a young woman confined to an institution by her cruel father in "Lilian's Story" (1995), and playing suitably tough as an incarcerated drug addict with a sweet singing voice in the comedy "Cosi" (1996). She answered Hollywood's call and made her American film debut in a forgettable "girlfriend" role in the David Schwimmer vehicle "The Pallbearer" (1996) before traveling to England to undertake the role of Harriet Smith, the sympathetic protégé of Jane Austen's "Emma" (1996), in Douglas McGrath's winning screen adaptation. The following year, indie film audiences enjoyed Collette's portrayal of a timid temp in the ensemble send-up of corporate life, "Clockwatchers" (1997). She turned around to play a British detective trailing jewel thieves in "The James Gang" (1997), and in one of her oddest roles, played an Australian named Diana Spencer who identifies with the British princess of the same name in "Diana and Me" (1997).

Further exploring the territory of women grappling with their own identity, Collette was captivating in the role of an American wife of a glam rock singer who recreates herself as a British party girl in Todd Haynes' "Velvet Goldmine" (1998). Collette bravely threw herself into the part and delivered a layered and complex portrait of a woman who loses a part of herself when her husband's career comes to an abrupt end. Yet another unconventional role followed, as she was cast as a nun who works in a brothel in "8 1/2 Women" (1999), from celebrated director Peter Greenaway. The chameleon-like actress whose short career had showcased a wide offering of accents, energies and personal styles, hit it big with her first American blockbuster, "The Sixth Sense" (1999). Her richly nuanced portrayal of a struggling single mother of a psychic child (Haley Joel Osment) successfully conveyed both the character's nonjudgmental stance, as well as her feelings of inadequacy, garnering her a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination.

After a long absence from musical theater, Collette returned to the stage - Broadway no less - to star as Queenie, a 1920s vaudeville performer who throws "The Wild Party." Revealing her singing and dancing abilities, Collette was a revelation. The play went on to earn a Tony nomination for Best Musical. While she was lighting up the Great White Way, she was also seen in John Singleton's remake of "Shaft" (2000). By now, Collette was casually straddling the line between star, character actress and supporting player, which certainly deserved artistic praise but unfortunately worked against her when she auditioned for the screen adaptation of "Chicago" (2002), where her powerhouse audition was bypassed for the bigger name recognition of Renee Zellweger. Nonplussed, the steadily working actress had a memorable turn as a wife in the midst of a marital breakdown in the HBO telepic "Dinner With Friends" (2001), added some emotional support as Ben Affleck's long-suffering gal Friday in the hit "Changing Lanes" (2002), and was mesmerizing as a 1950s woman suffering with an inability to give birth in the highly acclaimed "The Hours" (2002).

The 2002 comedy "About a Boy," based on Nick Hornby's best-selling novel - which gave Collette her largest profile role since "Sixth Sense" - provided her to opportunity to knock it out of the park as a chronically depressed and single earth-mother struggling to raise a precocious but geeky son (Nicholas Hoult). Collette handled the unusual character - who teetered between confident self-righteousness and suicidal despair - with an expert blend of humor and insight. She went on receive glowing reviews and an Australia Film Institute Award for Best Leading Actress for playing a geologist who becomes entangled with an Asian businessman in the Aussie indie, "Japanese Story" (2003), and was a welcome presence in the underappreciated comedy "The Last Shot" (2004), playing opposite Matthew Broderick and Alec Baldwin. Nia Vardalos' "Connie & Carla" (2004) was a comedic misfire, but Collette fared much better when paired with co-star Cameron Diaz in director Curtis Hanson's dramedy, "In Her Shoes" (2005), which cast the actresses as tight-knit but polar opposite sisters. Collette played the responsible attorney with low self-esteem and Diaz the reckless, sexy party girl. For her work in the Hanson film, Collette walked off with an Australian Film Institute nod for Best Leading actress.

In 2006, Collette experienced the full run of Hollywood experiences with starring roles in both a failed big budget thriller and an indie-turned-sleeper hit. In "The Night Listener" (2006), a well-received but little seen psychological thriller starring Robin Williams as a late-night radio host, Collette played a mother who fakes ailments for attention. The $8 million dollar independent comedy "Little Miss Sunshine" (2006) was released with little fanfare after emerging from the 2006 Sundance Film Festival, and its even blend of quirk and heart went on to earn over $100 million dollars as the box office surprise of the year. The hilarious black comedy revolved around the cross-country shenanigans of a dysfunctional family driving their six-year-old daughter to a beauty pageant. Collette gave a Golden Globe-nominated performance as an out-of-her-wits wife and mother fed up with her husband's (Greg Kinnear) pipedreams of becoming a famous inspirational speaker, and her recently spurned, suicidal brother (Steve Carell), a gay Proust scholar.

Collette found herself double nominated at the Golden Globes the following year, with a second nod for her co-starring role as a levelheaded aid worker in "Tsunami, the Aftermath" (HBO, 2006), a heart-wrenching look at the 2004 devastating tidal wave that destroyed large portions of Thailand and South Asia. She was also recognized with her first Emmy award nomination for the TV film and further expanded her artistic offerings with the release of her first album, Beautiful Awkward Pictures (2006). Collette remained firmly planted in the independent film world that continued to offer such varied and creative opportunities, appearing in the Independent Spirit Award Best Picture nominee, "The Dead Girl" (2006), as a long-suffering caretaker of an elderly mother, and in the sentimental adaptation of Susan Minot's "Evening" (2007). In 2007, Collette was tapped by offbeat writer-director Alan Ball for a supporting role in "Towelhead," where she played neighbor and confidante to an Arab-American teen girl adjusting to a new life in Houston, TX.

The Australian actress returned to Australian cinema to play very different mums in a pair of well-received, teen-centered light dramas, "The Black Balloon" (2008) and "Hey Hey It's Esther Blueburger" (2008). Later that year, the Showtime original comedy series "The United States of Tara," about a woman with multiple personalities, proved to be the perfect small screen vehicle for a woman known for inhabiting wildly diverse characters. The highly anticipated series written by famed "Juno" (2008) scribe Diablo Cody and produced by Steven Spielberg, found Collette flip-flopping between an aggressive male biker, a promiscuous teenage girl, and a Martha Stewart-like homemaker, among other identities. Her darkly comic portrayal of a multi-personality mother earned Collette an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series, which she promptly won in 2009. "Wow, this is insanely confronting," said a beaming Collette before thanking series creator Diablo Cody. The following year, Collette was nominated for a second Emmy for her role in "Tara," as well as a Golden Globe nod for Best Performance by an Actress in a Television Series - Comedy or Musical. Unfortunately, the series was canceled in 2011 following its third season. Back on the big screen, she played the single mother of a socially inept son (Anton Yelchin) who becomes the target of a vampire (Colin Farrell) in the horror comedy "Fright Night" (2011). She was next cast in the highly anticipated biopic, "Hitchcock" (2012), which focused on the Master's (Anthony Hopkins) turbulent production of "Psycho" (1960). The film also starred Helen Mirren as Hitch's wife and collaborator Alma Reville, Scarlett Johansson as Janet Leigh and James D'Arcy as Anthony Perkins.