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 THOMPSON pulled 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.)

She's so swishy: Collette
photo: Leslie Van Stelten
She's so swishy: Collette

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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 Listener set. "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.

But back to movies about wacko families: Quinceañera is the sweet indie about a preggers girl, her gay cousin, and the lovable old coot who takes them in. At the Crobar party for the New York International Latino Film Festival, I asked the film's comely JESSE GARCIA and EMILY RIOS if there are any unattractive Latin stars being wrangled for movies. "That's a hard question to ask a Latino," said Garcia, blushing. The actor described his character as "a gay cholo"—which is fine with me, as long as his chinos don't cover his chorizo. "By the way," I asked the duo, "did you know that the producer of your film also puts out wildly irresponsible gay barebacking porn?" If you want to catch their answer, they're probably still standing at Crobar with their jaws to the ground.

Another not-ugly Latin—Miss Universe—came up at a party celebrating the new citizenship of Valentino VP JUNE HAYNES. In between awkwardly joining in on patriotic songs in order to guarantee a piece of cake, I quizzed celebrity photog PATRICK MCMULLAN about his having judged the pageant. "Miss Puerto Rico was my first choice from the very beginning," he related. "She radiated. And she made eye contact with me." And she collapsed. "It was very hot in there," explained McMullan, "because the air- conditioning wasn't working. Plus they tell you not to drink because you can't go to the bathroom. And all those TV lights were on her as she was being interviewed." Honey, that's how I'd like to faint. In fact, that's how I'd like to die.

The liquids flowed at the Le Cirque party for WOODY ALLEN's Scoop, and thankfully a toilet awaited—though unlike MADONNA's on tour, it didn't seem freshly unwrapped. Did I slap any Bush? Nope. Did I get any, you know, scoop? Well, yeah—at one table, director JAMES TOBACK told WWD's JACOB BERNSTEIN that he has a great face for acting, "and in fact, I'm putting you in my next picture." My next mission? Destroy him!


MIXED SALAD WITH CAESAR'S UNDRESSING

In clubland, it's been one long journey, man, all heading toward the girl with the hairy armpits at Happy Valley. But first came a drop-in at the Cock's weekly Slurp event, where the Roman-orgy-themed Satyricum party had a body-painted guy magically peeing wine into a golden trough (Miss Universe should have thought of that) as half the crowd ran for the hills while the other half stuck their tongues out. There was a literary orgy at the neighborhood garden Le Petit Versailles' "Arouse Is Arouse Is Arouse"—a Gertrude Stein tribute where Gertie's books were laid across the impromptu stage and everyone was invited to grab one and read a passage aloud. No one did. Then the organizers put some "Alice B. Toklas brownies" on the snack table. Everyone did.

And finally, foodies have been getting high off the updating touches Asian restaurants have been serving in lieu of (mis-) fortune cookies. For example, the airily kitschy Chinatown Brasserie offers not only the usual slabs of Peking duck, but that old Asian favorite, St. Louis ribs. What a wonderful set of options. Bring on the fresh toilet! Oh, and now that LANCE BASS has finally come out, what about the other four?


musto@villagevoice.com

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