Tuesday, July 23

Aussie star of ‘Muriel’s Wedding’ doesn’t hear real-life wedding bells


Aussie star of ‘Muriel’s Wedding’ doesn’t hear real-life wedding
bells

Actress plays part with perfection despite personal views on
marriage

By Lael Loewenstein

Daily Bruin Staff

Toni Collette doesn’t believe in marriage.

That in itself is unremarkable: Why shouldn’t any 22-year-old
woman question the logic of spending the rest of her life legally
bonded to another person when the divorce rate suggests that only
50 percent of marriages will last.

What is remarkable, however, is that Collette is earning raves
for her convincing performance as Muriel Heslop, the love-starved
heroine of Muriel’s Wedding who spends her afternoons clipping the
pages of bridal magazines, visiting bridal salons and watching
reruns of Charles and Diana’s wedding.

"It’s an archaic tradition," Collette says of marriage. "It’s
hypocritical if you look at the divorce rate and I don’t believe in
the religious entanglements."

That is not to say she is against committed relationships. "I
believe in people being together, but I think being married today
is not as potent a decision as it used to be," says the native
Australian, speaking at the Four Seasons Hotel on a Muriel’s
Wedding promotional tour.

Despite her personal stand on marriage, Collette understood
Muriel and believed she was destined to play the part. "When I read
the script I knew I would be doing it," she says. "It was the most
beautiful and extraordinary story."

Collette auditioned on the first day of casting and immediately
impressed writer-director P.J. Hogan, but she had to wait several
weeks before learning the part was hers.

"I thought Toni was wonderful, but we had convinced ourselves
that it was going to take a long time to find the perfect person. I
thought there was no way we could find her this easily," Hogan
says.

But Collette got the role thanks to her keen understanding of
Muriel’s predicament. She speaks of the character as if discussing
a close friend.

"I love Muriel, I do. She is not judgmental of anyone but
herself. She is not a typical screen heroine because she’s so
imperfect. But she is so open, and no matter what is flung at her,
no matter how her dreams are being thwarted and no matter how
oppressed she feels, Muriel just has this great spirit and this
sense of hope to pick herself up and keep pushing on."

That said, however, Collette admits that Muriel could also be
perceived as a very unethical, self-obsessed character. Muriel
steals money from her parents to finance a vacation so she can
impress her bitchy friends. She lies whenever it suits her and she
goes to great lengths to further her own agenda.

"I was really worried at first because if you look at it
objectively, she could appear to be a really awful person," says
Collette. "She lies and cheats and steals and she treats the people
who love her the most really badly because she’s so self-absorbed
in trying to be accepted and liked."

Collette knew that in order to make Muriel a sympathetic
character, she would have to show that her actions were coming from
a place of insecurity.

"It’s only because she’s trying to impress people and gain
adoration. That’s why she’s so obsessed with getting married, it’s
her very specific addiction. It’s a way of becoming somebody else,
because she loathes who she is, she’s dying to be anyone but
herself."

That is especially clear in the film’s hilarious sequence when
Muriel visits dozens of bridal boutiques, telling the saleswomen
that she is engaged so they let her try on the wedding gowns. "She
doesn’t see it as telling lies, she sees it as escaping into this
fantastical comfort zone," Collette explains. "It’s the same with
ABBA. Listening to it elates her."

ABBA is another of Muriel’s "very specific addictions." At one
point Muriel and her friend Rhonda (Rachel Griffiths) have started
a new life in Sydney, far away from her family’s dismal home in
Porpoise Spit. Without a trace of irony, Muriel tells Rhonda,
"Since we’ve lived here my life is as good as an ABBA song. It’s as
good as ‘Dancing Queen.’"

"I read that line and I thought, how the fuck am I going to say
that," Collette recalls, laughing.

Playing the part meant not only putting on Muriel’s naive
outlook, it also meant putting on over 40 pounds, which she has
recently shed. "It only took two months to put on, but it’s scary
how hard it has been to take off," she says.

Collette admits that she is intrigued by western culture’s
obsession with weight. Wherever she goes to discuss the film,
people are shocked by her physical transformation.

"It was interesting to observe the way I was being treated by
strangers when I was heavy. People were so condescending, but
that’s not who a person is. The weight is like a cocoon and you’re
still the same person inside."

Apart from their physical and philosophical differences,
Collette was always extroverted, whereas Muriel is painfully
shy.

"In high school, I was very showy." As further proof of that
flamboyance, she reveals, "I used to shave my head just to be
outrageous."

Collette’s self-confidence exuded when she got her the lead in a
high school musical. Next came a part in "Burger Brain: the Fast
Food musical," a spectacle commissioned to commemorate Australia’s
bicentennial performed by the Australian Theatre for Young People.
At that point, knowing she was destined for acting, she left school
and began to study professionally at the National Institute of
Dramatic Art.

She soon landed a part in her first film, Spotswood, with
Anthony Hopkins. She and Mark Joffer, the director, have reunited
for Cosi, currently shooting in Australia. And she is fielding
offers from directors. "A lot of doors have opened for me," she
says.

Muriel’s Wedding has changed her life. But beyond the
professional success, her work with the film reinforced her
feelings about marriage. "Doing the film satisfied any little
fetish I may have ever harbored about marriage and put me off it
for life."

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