Things I’ve Learned as a Moviemaker: Toni Collette

The everywoman faced with the extraordinary—that’s Toni Collette in a nutshell.

From a geologist navigating an unexpected passion in the Australian outback in Japanese Story, to a single mom trying to understand her supernaturally talented child in The Sixth Sense, to a Kansas City housewife with alternate personalities in The United States of Tara, the Oscar-nominated actress has a knack for grasping the real and relatable in any situation. Couple that with a gift for accents and spot-on comedic timing, and you’ve got a perennially underrated star whose presence improves any film.

Her latest endeavor: Fun Mom Dinner, the Sundance-premiering first feature by fellow Aussie Alethea Jones. The comedy sees Collette as a wisecracking suburban mother reluctantly roped by three other women into a night of bad-parent hijinks. Below, Collette shares her particularly grounded brand of wisdom—including, yes, some tips for actors on managing bodily functions. – K.L.

Bridget Everett, Molly Shannon, Katie Aselton and Toni Collette in Fun Mom Dinner. Courtesy of Momentum Pictures

1. Listen to your gut. Always. There are lots of other opinions, but that’s all they are—opinions. You know yourself best. Have enough courage to back yourself up.

2. Try to only work on films you believe in. Yes, acting is a job and one must pay the bills. But it’s a job where you use your body, mind and soul. If you don’t believe in it, don’t waste or exhaust these parts of yourself.

3. Always know why you are taking a job. That way you can’t let yourself down. If you’re on the fence about a project, do not do it. It’s a resounding “yes” or nothing.

4. Work with interesting and authentic people who actually have a vision. You’d be surprised how many directors don’t realize they are steering the ship.

5. No matter how educated, talented, rich or cool you think you are, how you treat people ultimately tells all. Integrity is everything.

6. Only talk about the work and rehearse up to a point. If you flog the horse, sometimes there will be nothing real left to give on the day you shoot.

7. Ask for another take if you know you have further to go or feel you can do better. You cannot get the moment back. This is it.

8. If it’s not on the page it won’t be on the screen. This has only been disproved once to me.

9. Welcome the accidental moments. Mistakes are often very real and special. Directors tend to keep them in for authenticity. There is no need for perfection, just truth.

10. Once a scene is done, let it go. Don’t keep thinking about it. Otherwise, it will do your head in. Accept that it was just one moment in time.

11. Be prepared before you walk on set because once there, everything will distract you: the camera in your face, the actor opposite you not reading the lines like your brother did when you rehearsed at home, someone breathing, a pencil dropping. The micro becomes macro. If you’re underprepared you’re wasting everyone’s time.

12. All manner of crazy conversations and behavior occur during night shoots. Learn to observe rather than contribute. You’ll have fewer regrets in the morning.

13. Drink more water than wine.

14. Be brave and generous.

15. Remain present and open.

16. Do whatever you have to do to get to the right emotional place before a take. And protect that space without being an arsehole. Who cares if it’s embarrassing? What’s more embarrassing is the world watching your bad performance if you don’t nail it.

17. You are part of the whole. Be humble and know your crew. They’re the ones who catch you when you are free falling.

18. If you don’t understand something ask questions.

19. Allow yourself to be vulnerable. In fact, just allow.

20. The way you look doesn’t matter. (The way your character looks does.) Pretty, skinny, cool… these things don’t mean shit. It’s the internal world that people will relate to.

21. Speaking of internal worlds, eat you vegetables and try to shit before they call action in the morning. You’ll be much more comfortable!

22. Be prepared to connect with your colleagues quickly and deeply and then move on. It’s just the nature of the beast. You remain friends with a few, but this world is very transient and doesn’t suit everyone.

23. Be polite when shooing away smokers. Yes, they can kill themselves elsewhere, but you still need to be nice or comical while asking them to do so.

24. Every minute counts. That’s why call times are so strangely militant. 5:42 a.m.?! 8:36 p.m.! Tick tock. Don’t be late.

25. Lastly, be open to adventure. That’s what it really is: a life of adventure. None of us know what the future holds, and working in film seems to be a heightened metaphor for that. You never know where you’ll be, what kind of story you’ll help tell or whom you’ll be working with. It very much teaches you to go with the flow. Have fun with it! MM

Fun Mom Dinner opens in theaters August 4, 2017, courtesy of Momentum Pictures. Photograph by Christian Högstedt.

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