It's a big summer for Australian actress Toni Collette: She has two new films, in which she plays two very different mothers.
In the zany comedy Little Miss Sunshine, Collette plays the harried but supremely practical and good-natured matriarch of the dysfunctional Hoover family. The film follows the family during a madcap road trip to their daughter's beauty pageant.
Fractured family is also at the center of Collette's other summer film. In The Night Listener, a movie in which people are rarely who or what they seem, Collete explores the spooky side of the maternal instinct.
Collette's character, Donna Logand, pursues a friendship over the phone with a popular New York radio host, played by Robin Williams. The two share a fondness for Donna's adopted teenage son (Rory Culkin), a street-smart boy with AIDS and a horrifying history of sexual abuse. Soon, Donna's story and her motives start to seem suspicious and, perhaps, pathological.
The Australian actress talks about how she's drawn to characters when she can identify with their emotional states, including the manipulative Donna.
"I used to do things to get attention, as most actors do," Collette says, recalling an incident when she was 11 and pretended to have appendicitis — to the point where doctors removed it.
"And this is the kind of thing that my character does," Collette says. "I think she had a really tough upbringing, and I think everyone deserves love and she didn't get it, and she goes out of her way to get it."
Toni Collette: A Selected Filmography
Little Miss Sunshine (2006), directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris
The Night Listener (2006), directed by Patrick Stettner
In Her Shoes (2005), directed by Curtis Hanson
About a Boy (2002), directed by Chris Weitz and Paul Weitz
Changing Lanes (2002), directed by Roger Michell
The Sixth Sense (1999), directed by M. Night Shyamalan