Playback: Toni Collette on ‘Hereditary’ and Memories of ‘The Sixth Sense’

Welcome to “Playback,” a Variety / iHeartRadio podcast bringing you exclusive conversations with the talents behind many of today’s hottest films.

Actress Toni Collette already left jaws agape at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year with her acclaimed performance in Ari Aster’s directorial debut “Hereditary.” With the film set for release on June 8, more audiences will be invited into the penetrating breed of terror she and Aster conjure. Collette goes to some dark places with her work in the film and, unsurprisingly, it was an emotional roller-coaster getting there.

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“Usually when you start a movie, the first few days, at least, there are lighter scenes with less dialogue, if any dialogue at all,” Collette says. “And I turned up and had to go straight into some of the most intensely emotional stuff I’ve ever had to do with loads of dialogue at crazy hours of the day and night. I think it was just a matter of accepting that this was what it was. I just had to show up and do it. It always helps when the script is brilliant, and it really, really was, but it’s an actor’s job to make something truthful, and as you see it is as I read it. You’re only ever as good as the opportunity you’re given.”

The discussion veers into Collette’s background in the profession and why she does what she does. She hates answering “actor” questions, queries about her process, etc., but it has very personal roots for her.

“To be honest I think it started because I didn’t know how to express myself very well and I felt pretty overwhelmed by my emotions,” she says. “I was a teenager. My grandmother had just died and I did ‘Godspell’ at school, so I got to hang out with the guys in the school next door, I got to sing and I got to emote. It was expected of me. It became an outlet, and I think for a while I kind of used it as such.”

Meanwhile, it’s been nearly 20 years since Collette scored her first (and, to date, only) Oscar nomination, for M. Night Shyamalan’s “The Sixth Sense.” She’ll be due another for her shattering portrayal here, but she also sees interesting parallels between these two filmmakers she collaborated with at similar stages in their careers.

“Not dissimilarly to Ari, he was pretty new at the time,” Collette says of Shyamalan. “They both created a story which is very dramatic and stands as a classic drama on its own, and without simplifying it too much, there’s a bit of a twist. I love that both films take their time rhythmically. They’re very brave filmmakers and I find that so admirable, that they know themselves enough and have strength within. Sometimes people are bullied when they’re at that point in their career. There are certain expectations. You’ve got to tow this line, connect with this audience, that audience, and things become watered down and neutralized and there’s no voice in it. But they maintained their voices. And at the time, in both films, it did feel like there was something special about it.”

For more, including discussion of Collette’s work in films like “Hearts Beat Loud” and the upcoming “Velvet Buzzsaw,” from “Nightcrawler” director Dan Gilroy, listen to the latest episode of “Playback” via the streaming link above.

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Toni Collette photographed exclusively for the Variety Playback Podcast.
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