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The many faces of Toni.

SHE SMOOCHED JULIANNE MOORE IN THE HOURS, supported her suicidal gay brother in Little Miss Sunshine, and pretended to be a drag queen in Connie and Carla. Now Toni Collette finds herself prowling "titty bars" as a suburban housewife with dissociative identity disorder (and a teenage gay son) in The United States of Tara, a Showtime original series created by Steven Spielberg with episodes written by Juno scribe Diablo Cody. But regardless of the role, the 36-year-old Oscar-nominated Aussie knows that gays will always adore her--and she knows that ABBA has a lot to do with it.

Q: In The United States of Tara, Tara suffers from a condition formerly known as multiple personality disorder. Do any of her personalities have lesbian tendencies? A: "T," the provocative 16-year-old girl, could probably go both ways. She's definitely the most overtly sexual of all of the alters.

Have you ever explored that side of your own personality? Um, I don't think this interview is about that. But thank you for asking, though!

Fair enough, but another one of Tara's alters, a male personality names "Buck," must've helped you get in touch with your butch side. Does anyone dismiss Buck as a big dyke? Most people around Tara understand what she's going through. All of her alters exist as extreme versions of feelings that are repressed within Tara, and Buck is considered the "angry protector." It's not that Tara's pretending to be a guy or dressing up as a guy. When she's Buck, Buck believes that he's Buck; therefore, people who know Tara treat him as a guy. He likes to go to titty bars and he flirts with girls. He's also homophobic, actually. Tara and her husband have a gay son, and Buck has a chip on his shoulder about that.

Tara writer Diablo Cody also knows her way around a titty bar. Did you hit the town with her? Diablo knows a lot of things. We hung out a little bit, but we were shooting a half hour [of final scenes] every five days, so there wasn't much time for socializing.

The subject of mental illness is a sensitive one. Because you're approaching dissociative identity disorder with a fairly light tone, are you concerned about offending that community? That was something I questioned before signing on to be a part of this show. It is a comedy, but it's also incredibly deep and moving. It questions the reality of DID and how it affects both Tara and her family. More than anything, I think it will shed some light on the DID community.

You haven't appeared on a New York stage since 2001, when you got a Tony nomination for playing Queenie in Michael John LaChiusa and George C. Wolfe's The Wild Party. Did your reportedly negative experience with costar Mandy patinkin turn you off Broadway forever? I'd love to return and do something that's a little more ... agreeable. [Laughs] If I can set the record straight, working on a new musical with those writers was a complete eye-opener and really satisfying, but there were just ... certain cast members who let down the morale of the other actors, which was a bit of a downer. That was very diplomatic of me, wasn't it?

You played a lesbian baton-twirler in the 1994 Australian short film This Marching Girl Thing. What was your earliest exposure to gay people? I danced when I was younger, and two of my best male friends from school--I'm still very close to them--were quite camp, and I kind of wondered. By the time we were 15, it was quite clear.

And when did you first realize that the gays adored you? I know I should say, "Do they? Oh, no, it can't be true," but I know it's an absolute fact. [Laughs] It was right after Muriel's Wedding. The combination of ABBA music and my playing outsider but who finds her groove was probably a small flag to the gay community.

I'll bet you had many gay people come up to you on the street and say, "You're terrible, Muriel." Still! For a while it drove me insane, but then I realized that to be involved with a film that had that kind of effect is really a wonderful thing.

So if you ever need an ego boost, you should just pop into a gay bar in your hometown of Sydney. [Laughs] Thank you! That's a good tip. In fact, when we were shooting Connie and Carla, we went to a local bar where they did drag shows. Hanging out with the drag queens on set was my favorite part of working on that movie. They have an innate acerbic wit and sense of irony that doesn't exist elsewhere. Being from Australia, which is a very dry place, I met my match with those guy-gals.

What advice would you give a drag queen who wanted to impersonate you? Oh, God, I probably wouldn't give any. I'd just sit back and laugh my head off.


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Title Annotation:SPECTATOR: A-List; Toni Collette
Author:Voss, Brandon
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Article Type:Interview
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 1, 2009
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