By ANGELA DAWSON
Front Row Features
HOLLYWOOD—Toni Collette can transform into virtually any character, which makes her an in-demand actress. In her 25-year career, the Aussie actress has revealed a gift for delivering memorable performances, be they dramatic or comedic. Notably, she earned an Oscar nomination early on for her performance as the mother of a psychic young boy in M. Night Shyamalan’s “The Sixth Sense.” In recent years, she earned an Emmy for playing a mother struggling to care for her family while coping with dissociative identity disorder on the popular TV series “United States of Tara.” Most recently, she co-starred with Drew Barrymore in “Miss You Already,” as a woman diagnosed with breast cancer.
A mother in real life of two young children with her musician husband Dave Galafassi, Collette plays a mom again in the Christmas horror movie “Krampus,” by animator-turned-feature film director Michael Dougherty (who also wrote the upcoming “X-Men: Apocalypse,” arriving in theaters next year.)
Dressed in a black and white frilly dress with a whimsical black bow tie for an interview, the chameleon-like actress confesses she’s suffering a bit of jet lag, having just crossed the Pacific to promote her new film, based on an ancient German folktale, in the U.S.
Ancient folklore warns of Krampus, a mythical creature that has been traced throughout European cultures—a horned beast that captures disobedient children for Christmas. When his dysfunctional family clashes over the holidays, sensitive and thoughtful young Max Engel (Emjay Anthony) grows disillusioned and turns his back on Christmas. His action unleashes the wrath of Krampus, a demonic force of ancient retribution intent on punishing non-believers by stealing their soul. Collette plays Max’s mom, Sarah, who strives for perfection but can’t cope when her kin show up and turn the house upside down. As family members and neighbors begin to disappear and strange magical creatures wreak havoc in her beautiful suburban home, Sarah and her broken family must unite to fight the evil force or die trying.
The effects-laden horror dramedy was shot in Wellington, New Zealand, where “The Lord of the Rings” and “Hobbit” films were filmed, not too far from where Collette makes her home.
Q: Are you prepared for the holidays? Have you put your Christmas tree up yet?
Collette: I just did on Friday (Nov. 27). I have young kids. It’s not supposed to happen sooner than this.
Q: Do you do Black Friday or Cyber Monday?
Collette: Not Black Friday. It’s really easy to shop online, especially when you’re jet-lagged, which I am right now.
Q: How did this role in ‘Krampus” come about?
Collette: Like everything else, it just came out of the blue and landed on my lap. It was offered to me and it was coming up pretty quick. I’d never heard of Krampus. I hadn’t seen Mike’s other work, his other horror films. The thing that excited me was that it was unlike anything else I’d ever read. It was just very intriguing. When I started reading it, it felt like a dysfunctional, witty family Christmas comedy, with a touch of John Hughes, and then it kind of segues into something completely unexpected. I just love originality and to be surprised. That’s what this gave.
Q: The horror kind of sneaks up on you and surprises you.
Collette: But it’s still funny. It retains its sense of humor. It’s just a really interesting tone. Mike kept talking about films I’d also watched when I was growing up, like “Gremlins” and “Poltergeist.” He wanted to infuse a kind of giddy, kid-like excitement in the fear. And he really did that with all those creatures (in it). It was really exciting to watch it.
Q: Will your children see it?
Collette: No, they’re too young. I think 13 or 14 is appropriate.
Q: It’s interesting that it’s a horror Christmas tale.
Collette: But it has heart. And it’s about this family learning to reconnect and to remember what Christmas is about, and to appreciate and love each other. It’s just that they learn it in the most unfortunate way. Everything my character wants in her control-freak, perfect anal-retentive way, which fails dismally, is when she lets go.
Q: Are you anything like your character, Sarah? During the holidays, when people are coming over, does everything have to be just right?
Collette: I’m slightly anal-retentive, yeah. I need to have everything symmetrical and cleared away. Everything has its place. I am like that. I think your space reflects your mind.
Q: You and the other cast members spend a lot of time together in this. It’s almost like a play.
Collette: Yeah, we were all together, and it was mostly shot sequentially, which never happens. So there was a lot of hanging out on the couches in the living room. (She chuckles.)
Q: There were a lot of children in this, from babies to teenagers.
Collette: Yeah, and some of them had never acted before, although some of them had. They were all great and they were having a great time. It was so infectious. It was sweet.
Q: You’ve done the horror genre before and the comedy genre before. This is a hybrid. What was your dynamic with the cast?
Collette: Mostly Allison (Tolman), Adam (Scott), (David) Koechner and I hung out. I love David’s brain. He is one of the funniest people I’ve ever met. We hung out at work. We had dinner together. We hung out afterwards. Koechner was doing a lot of standup so we would go and watch him. We had a lot of meals together; we did a lot of hanging out. Because Australia’s so far away, I’m usually the one who has to travel in to location, and everyone else gets to sleep in their own beds. But when everyone’s on location, it’s like this real lovely, sense of sharing the whole experience together. We got to know Wellington and each other and they are very smart, funny people. We had a great time.
Q: Had you worked before in New Zealand?
Collette: No. This was the first time.
Q: Do they love you there? You’re almost a native daughter?
Collette: Oh my God, you can’t say that, actually! People are so low-key and so relaxed there, and so welcoming. The town is primed. (Director) Peter Jackson is basically the mayor of Wellington. He has the whole thing set up. It’s incredible. The (studio) facilities are amazing. I can understand why we shot the film there. It just made it so seamless, easy and convenient.
Q: Do you have certain traditions or holiday activities that you do at Christmas?
Collette: We swim in the ocean because it’s hot. It’s summer.
Q: Is that what you’re going to do this Christmas?
Collette: All day, every day. We eat cold food because it’s so hot. We drink an equal amount. It’s based on gift giving, being with family, a lot of prep and the feast, and then a lot of lying around and topping off the day with a swim.
Q: Do you cook a goose or a turkey?
Collette: We have chicken, fish, salad, oysters, prawns (a.k.a.) shrimp. It’s healthier, somehow.
Q: Have you spent a Christmas where it’s cold?
Collette: Yes, once when I was living in New York. It was between (filming) “Hostages” and “Glassland.” We didn’t actually have Christmas there. We got out and went to New Mexico for a while. But we were there in December and New York is such a beautiful place to celebrate that holiday. But it was two years ago in that crazy winter. People were saying to us, “It’s not normally like this.” We got back from New Mexico and it was minus 30. That’s not normal. It was just intense.
Q: When do you head back to Australia?
Collette: Before Christmas.
Q: Are you working on a film?
Collette: I just finished one last week.
Q: The Australian film “Jasper Jones?”
Collette: Yeah. They’re still shooting now but I finished last week.
Q: Do you miss “United States of Tara” and playing that character?
Collette: Yes. I loved that job so much. It was a dream job, and not because of what I was able to do, and not just the role—or roles, I should say—but it was all the people involved. There was honestly not one bad egg. It was the most brilliant experience.
Q: Anything coming up after the New Year?
Collette: Shooting no. “Glassland” is coming out in February and “Unlocked” is coming out at some point, and “Imperium” will come out late next year as will “Jasper Jones.”
Q: Last year, you returned to Broadway and starred opposite Michael C. Hall in “The Realistic Joneses,” in which you won a Drama Desk special award. How did you like returning to the stage? Was it an enjoyable experience?
Collette: It was great, a great experience. (Playwright) Will Eno is such an original voice. He’s such a brilliant writer. He just kind of gets life in a way like nobody else. The cast was just brilliant. I loved it.
Q: Theater is very demanding—eight performances a week. That’s a lot of work.
Collette: But you love it. It’s rewarding and satisfying. It’s the most wonderful challenge. Having worked in theater in the past, the more you do it, the more you numb yourself to it. You have to figure out ways in to be affected by what you’re doing to make it real. But I just found, with Will’s writing, it just kept opening up. I didn’t have to seek it out. That’s the first time it happened in a play for me. It was just alive on its own.