One of the most compelling actors of her generation, Toni Collette has enjoyed a career that can only be described as unpredictable. Moon-faced, cat-eyed, and possessing a presence that conveys both dignity and eccentricity, Collette had her breakthrough in P.J. Hogan's hit 1994 comedy Muriel's Wedding. As the film's title character, an overweight, ABBA-loving woman who is obsessed with getting married, the Australian actor earned both critical raves and audience recognition across the globe. She also earned plenty of opportunities to be typecast into similar roles -- particularly as she had gained over 18 kilos to play the part of Muriel -- but managed to skillfully avoid this by appearing in a variety of films that had nothing to do with ABBA, matrimony, or weight issues.
Born in Sydney, Australia, on November 1, 1972, Collette became interested in acting as a child. She made her stage debut at the age of 14 in a school production of Godspell, and went on to attend the National Institute of Dramatic Art. Quitting the prestigious school after less than two years in order to work with a talented stage director, she appeared in a number of plays and in 1991 made her screen debut in Spotswood, acting in the company of Anthony Hopkins and a then unheard-of Russell Crowe.
Three years later, Collette had her big break with Muriel's Wedding, a sleeper hit in both Australia and the U.S. Following the hoopla surrounding the film's success, the actor appeared in a number of small films, including the 1996 comedy Cosi and Clockwatchers (1997), a poignant office comedy that featured Collette, Lisa Kudrow, Parker Posey, and Alanna Ubach as dissatisfied temps.
Recognized by keen-eyed observers as Gwyneth Paltrow's shy friend Harriet in Douglas McGrath's 1996 adaptation of Emma, and as the Angie Bowie-esque wife of a glam rocker in Todd Haynes' much maligned Velvet Goldmined (1998), Collette found her biggest audience to date -- as well as some of her biggest raves -- in M. Night Shalyaman's The Sixth Sense (1999). Cast as the mother of a young boy (Haley Joel Osment) who sees dead people, Collette earned a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination for her performance. Unfortunately, she followed the film with Shaft (2000), more or less wasting her talents in the role of a woman who the titular private dick has to save from the bad guys.
Collette's talents were put to greater use in the made-for-TV movie Dinner With Friends (2001), which cast her as a woman who breaks up with her husband (Greg Kinnear) after 12 years of marriage. The movie, which also starred Andie MacDowell and Dennis Quaid, won warm reviews, particularly for the strong ensemble work of its four principle actors. Collette's subsequent workload reflected her growing popularity; in addition to Stephen Daldry's The Hours (2001), which she starred in alongside a cast that included Meryl Streep, Nicole Kidman, Julianne Moore, and Ed Harris, she also appeared opposite Hugh Grant in the 2002 adaptation of author Nick Hornby's About a Boy. Collette continued to take on small-scale projects like the Hollywood satire The Last Shot. She co-starred with Nia Vardelos in Connie & Carla, a film that came nowhere close to equaling the sleeper success of Vardelos' My Big Fat Greek Wedding, but did showcase Collette's fine singing voice. The next year Collette gave a strong performance opposite Cameron Diaz in the underappreciated In Her Shoes. 2006 found her stretching both her comedic and dramatic muscles by co-starring in the psychological thriller The Night Listener as well as the sleeper hit independent comedy Little Miss Sunshine opposite Steve Carell and Greg Kinnear.
The actress would go on to contiunue her reputation, consistently appearing in critically acclaimed films like The Night Listener, Jesus Henry Christ, The Black Balloon, and Towelhead, in addition to finding a suitable outlet for her talents on the small screen, playing a mother with multiple personalities in the Diablo Cody penned HBO series United States of Tara.