Toni Collette figured out a long time ago not to repeat herself.
“When I first came to LA on the back end of ‘Muriel’s Wedding,’ I was offered a role similar to Muriel,” she says. “I knew not to play a similar character. There are so many human beings around, why play the same one over and over again? I am open to anything.”
Many actors toss off statements like this one, but in Collette’s case it’s not an exaggeration. Since that breakout role, in 1994, the Australian actress has aced nearly every genre of moviemaking — ensemble comedies (“Little Miss Sunshine”), prestige drama (“The Hours”), horror (“The Sixth Sense” and “Hereditary”) and even an outrageous turn as Angela Bowie in the glam rock saga “Velvet Goldmine.” The perfect American accent no doubt helps her blend so seamlessly. On the small screen, she has tried her hand at a few series, winning an Emmy in 2009 for playing four separate roles on the Showtime series “The United States of Tara.”
Collette may have another winner in the Netflix series “Unbelievable.” She plays Grace Rasmussen, a gritty veteran of the Golden, Colo., police department who partners with a younger detective (two-time Emmy winner Merritt Wever) to catch a serial rapist so meticulous about cleaning up after his own crime scenes that the two women believe him to be a cop.
“I love these women. Our characters are an unlikely duo,” Collette says. “Obviously, Merritt is so talented. We got on like a house on fire. Much of this I owe to Merritt. On any film you have to be as honest as possible. It happened quite naturally.”
“Unbelievable” is based on a Pulitzer Prize-winning article in Pro Publica that connects the rape of Marie Adler, a teenager (Kaitlyn Dever) in foster care, to copycat crimes happening in distinct Colorado counties. The lack of physical evidence, signs of forced entry and the girl’s fuzzy recall prompt the male detectives to dismiss the case, but when Detective Grace Duvall (Wever) teams up with Rasmussen and a mostly female team of forensic professionals, they are able to isolate a prime suspect — a cop with a record of domestic violence.
‘There are so many human beings around, why play the same one over and over again?’
“When I read the script, it made my blood boil,” Collette says. “The [creators] are not trying to demonize the men who got it wrong in the beginning. The women cracked the case because they may have a deeper understanding and more empathy for other women.”
Created by Susannah Grant (“Erin Brockovich”), “Unbelievable” keeps things real and, well, believable, by hiring actresses who look like they could pass for cops; one even has wrinkles. We are a long way from the inane days of “CSI” and other franchises where women detectives showed up at crime scenes in stiletto heels and leggings.
Collette and the cast were helped by having a female cop on set who helped with such particulars as where to place badges and guns and how to stage a medical examination with a rape victim. “This is a piece that demands and deserves absolute transparency,” she says. “If there had been shiny casting and sensational moments, it would have been rude. This is not fiction.”
When she first came to Hollywood, Collette says, “People [in Hollywood] didn’t know what to do with me.” With her track record, she now receives scripts in all genres. How does she choose?
“The only thing I look for is material that I can’t deny,” she says.
One of those scripts was for the 2018 horror film “Hereditary,” which won Collette several film critics’ awards but failed to bring what many thought was an overdue Oscar nomination, her first since a Best Supporting Actress nod for “The Sixth Sense” in 2000. “That was fascinating,” she says. “To have so many people come forward in that manner, I felt so loved.”
Getting snubbed was no big deal, she stresses. “I didn’t experience any disappointment,” she says. “If I was hanging out chasing awards, I would have quit a long time ago.”
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