NY Mirror

"This place is very swishy," TONI COLLETTE said, surveying the burnt-umber-laden restaurant uptown at the Regency. "Why? Because I'm here?" I wondered, flapping my wrists around like an epileptic drag queen. "No," she explained. "In Australia, swishy means swanky." Oh, really? Well, in that case I'd better hurry down there with waxed eyebrows and a bowl of fruit on my head, and maybe I'll finally be considered high-class.

But enough about me— let's talk about Toni Collette. She likes me. She thinks I'm swishy. And she's a woman not only of taste, but of great range. Once her kid could see dead people, but now she has all-new weirdly talented spawn—in The Night Listener, a glum but fascinating thriller in which she's a maybe disabled possible caretaker of a could-be sick boy, and Little Miss Sunshine, the road comedy in which she's definitely more compassionate than your average mom of a wannabe beauty queen. The prodigious one has also played a lesbian, a female drag queen, and a glam-rock wife, but right now she was just being Toni—jet-lagged but still wryly spot-on about how she doesn't think in career terms, "It's just one long journey, man."

Actually, Toni did start out with a definite vision. Right after her breakout role in Muriel's Wedding, she decided to avoid playing other "overweight women with self-esteem issues and not enough spandex." She's purposely varied things up, with little quirks along the way—like getting About a Boy (about a mother) after EMMA THOMPSONpulled out and turning down Bridget Jones's Diary (about a bachelorette) because she was in Broadway's The Wild Party at the time, and it might have been a scheduling problem. "I can live with that," Toni told me, smiling. Especially the sequel. (Sidebar: What she couldn't live with, perhaps, was her manic Wild Party co-star MANDY PATINKIN. As she succinctly told me for Out, "I just hope he finds happiness one day." Yeah, hawking Crestor.)

Anyway, The Night Listener—based on ARMISTEAD MAUPIN's book—stars ROBIN WILLIAMS as a hairy-armed radio host who's dumped by the boyfriend and becomes desperately obsessed with Collette and her sick 14-year-old, mainly because they're fans. The kid is no slouch, having written a fabulous memoir about being sexually abused by his parents, though maybe he wasn't and maybe he didn't. Is his name JT LeRoy, by any chance?

In an easier line of questioning, did throbbin' Robin—just guessing here—cut up a lot on the set with his irrepressible motormouth? Yes, Toni said, "but he knows when he has to switch off because he's working. I think anyone who has that kind of extreme comedic prowess is going to have some kind of equal opposition, and the fact that he took this role is an indication of that intensity, that potential to be that vulnerable and dark." Well, all comics have scary dark sides, I sagely noted, which is why half of the SNL stars generally kill themselves. "I watched it on Saturday," Toni replied dryly. "I couldn't believe it." Pause. "That's all I'm not saying!"

To make sure she wouldn't off herself, Toni used her own defense mechanisms on the Listenerset. "Part of me blocked out what I was doing," she admitted. "I was doing it, but I wasn't feeling it. It's so sad and so extreme. And it was fucking freezing and I was numb on antibiotics, so things were quite dreamlike, to be honest."

Fucking wet, Tsunami is the upcoming HBO/BBC miniseries in which Toni's a missionary who helps—of course—the children. I smirkily asked her if this is another Poseidon and she said no; the weather effects come right away, and then it becomes a beautiful human drama about "coping or not coping." Damn! I love cheap exploitation!

I wrapped up our uptown soiree with the inevitable question about other international crises. "Like, do I want to slap Bush or do I want to slap Bush?" she responded, grinning. "I want to slap Bush!" That's my girl. She's so swishy.


STALK SOUP

The next night, I saw Toni again at the Little Miss Sunshine party, but I was tonsil deep in not very swishy fried chicken and way too embarrassed to say hello. Instead I greasily waddled over to GREG KINNEAR, who plays Toni's go-getter husband, and told him the film was appealing, but the bit with the corpse was rather reminiscent of National Lampoon's Vacation. "In a year where every other film is a remake," he replied, "when you finally try to do something original, they try to identify it with another movie it's not even like." Eek. Whoops. Yikes. I know. Aren't they horrible?

How to handle an old body came up again at the Hollywoodland premiere in the Hamptons, where host DOMINICK DUNNE told me about the controversially abandoned BROOKE ASTOR. "She's a wonderful person and a wonderful benefactor," he said, "and this rotten end of her life will now be the first line of her obituary." True, and the fact that it will give the Grey Gardens team a crack at a new musical somehow isn't consolation enough.

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