A Long Way Down: Toni Collette on tea and suicide

Toni Collette and Pierce Brosnan. Pic: PA
Toni Collette and Pierce Brosnan. Pic: PA
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TONI Collette is tickled about her growing sense of Britishness. The Australian actress recently spent a stretch of time over here to shoot A Long Way Down and it’s clear the UK has left its impression on her.

“I became addicted to PG Tips when I was filming in the UK,” says Collette, laughing. She also admits that she finds the dreary weather “comforting”.

A Long Way Down is adapted from the Nick Hornby novel of the same name, in which the 41-year-old actress plays sweet-natured mother Maureen, who has a severely disabled son and forms unlikely friendships with three strangers (played by Pierce Brosnan, Breaking Bad actor Aaron Paul and Imogen Poots) who, like her, are contemplating ending their lives.

It didn’t take much for Collette, who is known for her breakthrough role in 1994’s Muriel’s Wedding and previously starred in About A Boy, another Hornby adaptation, to fall in love with the project.

“I thought the story was so beautiful and real and funny, and so heartbreaking. I loved all the characters,” she says.

“Maureen’s given up everything to have her son and I guess, out of all of them, her idea of leaving life is the most altruistic one, because she’s not sad or depressed, she just wants her son to be taken care of properly and doesn’t think she’s doing a good job.

“She has this unexpected journey with these people who completely change her life for the better.”

Despite the sad subject matter, Collette and her co-stars kept the atmosphere light on set, passing the time by “drinking tea, eating chocolate and making each other laugh”.

It is this grounded approach, coupled with her warm nature, that has made her a hit with film fans and colleagues alike.

Like the characters she has played, from marriage-obsessed Muriel to busy mum Sheryl in Little Miss Sunshine, Collette is relatable and honest about her own anxieties.

Going back on stage this spring - for the first time in 14 years - in a Broadway production of The Realistic Joneses, is something the mum-of-two finds “nerve-racking”.

And despite her years of acting experience, which began when she enrolled in Australia’s National Institute of Dramatic Art at 16, she still feels jittery about aspects of work.

“I get nervous on the first day of a film, just because it’s a new bunch of people and it’s the first time you’re really trying out a character,” says the star, who grew up near Sydney with her parents - Bob, a truck driver, and Judy, a customer service rep - and two younger brothers.

“All the thoughts you’ve had about a character suddenly have to become practical. Not only that, but everyone’s watching you and it has to be filmed.”

Nerves aside, Collette seems cool-headed and practical in her approach to life, insisting that balancing parenthood, work and her personal life is just about putting “one foot in front of the other”.

“How does anyone balance work with parenting? It’s just life, you get on with it and it’s all important to me,” she adds.

She currently lives in New York but will be leaving soon and going “wherever the wind takes me”, and although she clearly enjoys her work, she admits that she previously fell out of love with the industry.

“There was a time where I was like, ‘Uggh!’ and I wrestled with acting a bit,” says Collette. “But now it’s so much fun. It keeps me interested, open and awake, and makes me someone who continues to learn.

“You can’t be an actor and be shut down. You’ve got to be open. You’ve got to be in touch with your emotions and yourself. I appreciate that aspect of it.”

And the reaction to Muriel’s Wedding is one that’s stayed with her.

“When Muriel’s Wedding was made, I was so in love with the process that I didn’t even contemplate the fact there would be an audience,” she explains.

“So when I was at Cannes, it was quite overwhelming to stand there in front of a few thousand people, receiving their response.

“To be honest, that’s still what I take away from it. It’s the process and the experience of making it, and the people you work with and your character. Every film is very different because it’s different energy, different people.”

A Long Way Down is released in cinemas on Friday, March 21