toni collette

Toni Collette as Pam in ‘The Way, Way Back’

*Toni Collette stars in “The Way, Way Back,” one of the summer’s rich gems.

Sans the special effects, explosions, and high speed chases, “The Way, Way, Back” offers the weary moviegoer a quiet film that hits hard to the jugular with a plethora of emotions that resonate loudly to those interested in getting their money’s worth at the box office. Collette has been quite busy since I last spoke to her in Los Angeles, along with Sam Jackson, Jeffrey Wright, Christian Bale and John Singleton for “Shaft.”

In all these years, Collette’s affability has not been erased by her star power. In an exclusive interview with her, we covered many bases.

The last time I spoke to you was in 2000 for ‘Shaft.’
Oh my God, that’s a while ago.

It was a long time ago but I’ll never forget how in mid-stream of an answer to a question you stopped and with great interest asked me, ‘What are you doing?’ because I was adding water to my soda.

[Laughing] What did you say?
What Dr. Oz is saying ten years later about soda or any sugar-laden drink and that is to add water.

How are your parenting techniques different in this film?
All of the parents I’ve played have had immeasurable love for these kids. In this particular context it’s kind of fraught with tension because we’re both kind of thrown into a very unfamiliar world. It’s very unbalanced. We’re at Trench’s (husband Steve Carell) holiday house with all of his friends, all of his things, all of his rules and so we’re kind of tip toeing around reality.

And the bullying factor extends to Carell?
Certainly. In ‘The Sixth Sense’ Cole (Haley Joel Osment)  was bullied and called a freak because he had this ability to see other beings [dead people]. Here, this poor kid who is completely uncomfortable in his skin finally works his way from underneath his pseudo step father’s very controlling thumb and gains power within himself, and so doing, he kind of releases the same thing within his mom. They’re both kind of on a parallel journey and her son really helps her to grow and see the truth.

The one thing I really loved about this is that in life there’s this notion that adults are all knowing and we have to teach the kids who know nothing. But here is this really incredible kid who is so perceptive and just needs a little help to gain some strength and have the confidence to stand up to Carell, the person who is bringing him down. That’s completely inspirational to his mother.

Looking at these families in this movie, would you say dysfunction is the new normal?
Well I believe there is no such thing as normal. I think we all behave differently because we’re all individuals and there are many, many similarities. You can’t really generalize and believe the word normal should go away. There is no such thing when it comes to people. We’re so varied and that’s the wonderful thing about life and humanity.

Did she handle her cheating husband in the right way?
I think it’s something that happened to Pam before so she kind of smells a rat and it’s just a downward slope. When we were shooting I said, ‘Oh my goodness! People are going to find her so frustrating because she appears to be so inactive and so passive.’ but I think she’s just building up the guts to let go. She talks about how scared she is so I think it’s just a matter of being a little bit brave and letting go of this foolish notion that has nothing to do with how good her reality could be.

Ok, so what do you do when not on a set since we don’t read about you or see you on TV sneaking out some hotel in the wee hours of the morning?
[She laughs hysterically before gaining her composure] Well, I have two kids. I have a five-year-old daughter and a three-year-old son. It’s wonderful, it’s exhausting and it’s entertaining and it’s completely inspirational. So they take up a lot of my time gladly. I love music, art and catching up with my friends. Wish I could say I love to cook, but I don’t. My husband does all the cooking. So I guess I’m good with all the eating, all the pouring of the wine, and the gathering of the souls.

You worked with an icon, Eartha Kitt. What was that like?
Incredible! There are so many things about her I admire. She was so smart, so talented, so poised. The way she moved physically was phenomenal. I couldn’t stop watching her. She just was so comfortable and sexy in her body. She was very aware of herself and she carried herself so well. She was elegant. She was so polite, so generous and funny. When I had a bit of time I would hang out with her in her dressing room with her poodles and her assistant. There was a real sweetness about her.

I understand you’re headed for TV?
Yes, for the TV series ‘Hostages.’ I’m excited about it. I get to come back to New York again for a while.

Marie Moore is a syndicated veteran entertainment journalist who reports on film and TV from her New York City base. Contact her at [email protected]