entertainment

This is what it's like to interview an A-Lister.

thewaywayback

By ROSIE WATERLAND

Not long ago, Mamamia editor Jamila called me on my day off and asked if I’d be happy to interview Toni Collette about her new film, The Way Way Back.

After I stopped screaming and picked up the phone I’d just dropped, I accepted without a second thought, only to hang up and immediately have one million second thoughts.

What the frig do I know about interviewing a celebrity? Nothing. I know nothing.

But, for the sake of a possible life-long friendship between me and Toni, I decided to do what any hard-hitting journalist would: fake it.

First, I’m sent to see the film in a private screening room. Already I feel ridiculously important. The film is, honestly, fantastic. Written by Oscar-winning screenwriting team Nat Faxon and Jim Rash (of the The Descendants fame), The Way Way Back follows Duncan, a shy 14-year-old boy, as he goes on vacation with his mother Pam (Toni Collette) and her overbearing boyfriend (Steve Carell). Having trouble fitting in, Duncan befriends the manager of the local water park (Sam Rockwell). The film is the perfect combination of hilarious and uplifting – definitely one of my favourites this year.

A few days after the screening (and after telling approximately 379 people I was interviewing Toni Collette), I’m sitting in the lobby of a very fancy hotel waiting to talk to my new BFF. It’s only then that I realise I may be a touch out of my league.

First of all, I brought a backpack with me. A backpack. It’s just what I carry to work everyday because it fits my laptop, but when going to visit an A-Lister… TAKE A FANCY CLUTCH ROSIE. And just as I’m cursing my bag-related idiocy (and trying to figure out if there’s somewhere I can stash it before I go in to see Toni), in walks Angela Bishop. Glamazon of celebrity journalism glamazons. She looks glorious as she strides over to the front desk in her 25-inch heels. I glance down at my Converse sneakers. Crap.

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Toni Collette and Steve Carrell in The Way Way Back.

A publicist comes to escort me to the hotel room Toni is waiting in. First we wait outside an elevator. Then in a hallway. Then another. I can feel myself getting closer and closer to her inner sanctum. Finally I’m outside the door. Then… TONI.

I am actually standing in a hotel room with Toni freaking Collette. I’m beaming like an idiot. She stands up to shake my hand as her publicist says: “Toni, this Rosie from Mamamia.”

“Hi Rosie,” she says. “I’m Toni.”

“Hi,” I say. “I’m Rosie.”

Oh god.

I admit that this is my fist ever interview and she’s nothing but lovely about it. “Really? Oh my god – I’m popping your interview cherry!” she laughs. “I’m so excited!”

She says she likes my hair (OMG!) and we start chatting. The publicist leaves us alone, obviously having noticed I’m a professional and can take it from here. That, or she spotted my backpack and deduced I wouldn’t be asking the hard questions.

I’m now in a room by myself with Toni Collette. Okay Rosie, keep it together – she’s not your bestie. Focus. Talk about the film. Tell her it was fabulous. Compliment her! STOP STARING. DO SOMETHING!

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I ask what attracted her to the project (movie people say ‘project’ right?).

“It was just written so beautifully and all the characters seemed so clear and so whole,” she says. “And they all want to implement these changes in their lives and they’re all struggling and they’re all flawed and they don’t know how to do it.

“And I also loved that it’s about this uncomfortable teenage boy going on a family holiday with his mum – his dad’s no longer in the picture – and his mum’s relatively new boyfriend and his daughter and they’re just trying to figure out if they might be able to work as a family.”

I smile and nod and try to follow along, but seriously, I’m relieved that I’m recording because all I heard throughout that entire answer was the voice in my head screaming “THAT’S TONI F—CKING COLLETTE!”

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From left: Nat Faxon, Sam Rockwell, Liam James and Maya Rudolph

She appears to be finished speaking. Oh, right, this is the part where I ask another question. Of course I’ve forgotten every possible question I could ever ask any person, ever.

I desperately want to look down at my notes but that feels rude – her eye contact is really good and I don’t want to seem unprepared.

Shit. While I’ve been thinking all of this through an awkward silence has descended over the room, and the bizarre beam/smile/seeming look of pain on my face is only making things worse.

Open your mouth and speak, you idiot!

Somehow, I manage a pretty legitimate sounding question about all the mothers she’s played. I think we’re both relieved she can now take charge of the talking.

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“In a lot of movies when I was growing up I just felt like mothers were two-dimensional and misrepresented in a way,” she says. “So in all the mothers that I’ve played I’ve just attempted to make them a) individuals and not just some kind of repeated version of a parental figure and b) I want to show the complexities of trying to wear so many hats and trying to balance all those different aspects in a life.”

Ooh! Here’s where I can try a sneaky segue move! I think I can swing this into more personal territory. Unfortunately, the smoothest transition I can manage is:

“So, speaking of motherhood…”

Ugh. I know it sucks even as I’m saying it. But I have to push on. Basically I ask how she plans to handle the movie star thing as her kids get older.

“To be honest, I don’t even notice it,” she says. “The fame thing doesn’t even come into our lives.”

All of a sudden I realise this is the moment. The moment I get to ask the one question I’m desperate to ask. It’s now or never, Rosie:

Toni at the Sydney premiere for The Way Way Back
Toni at the Sydney premiere for The Way Way Back

(Deep breath.)

“Do people in Australia still come up to you and ask you if ‘you’re terrible’?”

Thank god she laughs.

“I think people will be coming up to me until I’m 80 saying ‘You’re terrible Muriel!’” she says.

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I cannot believe I just got Toni Collette to say “You’re terrible Muriel.” I’ll take my Walkley now thanks.

I feel like I’ve hit my stride by this point, so I mention the ‘incident’ with Melissa George getting a tad upset over Aussies constantly linking her back to the character she played on Home and Away. Does Toni feel the same way about Muriel?

She’s completely shocked at the suggestion.

“Oh my god I love Muriel! I loved making that movie. I’m still friends with people that I worked with on that movie. It opened my life in ways I never could have imagined and gave me so many different opportunities. I’m just completely thankful to that movie. People fixating on it just means that, you know, you struck a chord with them and when you make a movie that’s what you want.”

Perfect answer. She’s a pro (at least there’s one of us in the room). The publicist tells me I have one last question, and in my smartest move of the day I go for something broad in an attempt to draw this thing out.

“So,” I say. “How do you manage… Everything?” (Question well crafted, Rosie.)

“I think it’s pretty much one foot I front of the other,” she says, laughing. “Well, work is work. I love my work, but I love my family more, so it’s just a matter of balancing all that. At the moment my kids are really young so we travel together and I’m never away from them for too long.

“Inevitably there’ll be a week here or a week there but generally we kind of move as a unit, because I don’t want to miss out on their lives. I had them because I wanted to live with them and be with them and give as much as I can to them and learn from them. And the ground will always keep shifting – people change and situations change and I think you’ve just got to be adaptable and put one foot in front of the other and be logical and be passionate.”

“I hope that wasn’t too scary!” she says, skillfully wrapping things up for me.

“No!” I reply, about to wet my pants. “It was great! Thank you so much.”

Everyone told me I should ask for a photo, and I know this is probably the time, but I chicken out. I’m actually in such a rush to get out of there and breathe that as I’m making a beeline for the door my worst fear is realised.

“Rosie?” asks the publicist from behind me. “Is this your… backpack?

WHY ME, WORLD? WHY?

You don’t know shame until you’ve walked past Toni Collette to take your backpack from a smirking publicist.

The Way Way Back opens nationally in cinemas today.

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