Their relationship goes all the way back to 1998, when ten-year-old John rented Clockwatchers from his local Nashville Blockbuster.
On the latest episode of the podcast, John tells Toni all about the origins of his boyhood fandom for her. Tears are shed, gifts are exchanged, Hereditary is hyped.
Speaker: Welcome to Episode 03 of the A24 podcast. Today we bring you a conversation between actress Toni Collette and actor and comedian John Early, best known for his role as Elliott on Search Party. Their relationship goes all the way back to 1998, when ten-year-old John rented Clockwatchers from his local Nashville Blockbuster. Cut to September 15th, 2001. Four days after 9/11, John launched his Toni Collette fansite on GeoCities, which he would run for the next two years. As soon as her upcoming movie Hereditary was picture locked, we arranged a screening for John and then floated the idea of doing a podcast with Toni. They had met once before on the set of a movie, but this would be John’s chance to tell Toni, and whoever listens to this episode, about the origin of his obsession and what her work meant to him as a shy middle schooler in search of his true self. Here’s John and Toni. We hope you enjoy this conversation as much as we did.
John: Hello and welcome.
Toni: That’s a little close, John Early.
John: [Laughs] I love this buttery register. So, Toni–
John: What an honor to be sitting across–
Toni: Hello, shut up. How are you, Mr. Early? Good to see you.
John: So good to see you. So, A24 has brilliantly paired us for this podcast.
Toni: That’s hilarious.
John: For those of you wondering why–
Toni: Yeah, let’s tell them. You tell them.
John: Yes I’ll start. I’ll make this about me.
Toni: As it should be.
John: Thank you, thank you. I have a kind of very public history, or a history that I’ve made public, with a true obsession and fandom for you.
Toni: It’s so weird.
John: I’m so sorry. It’s such a stupid position to put myself in for this, because it is hilarious as someone who is about to interview you to start with that information. However, it is why we’re here, and it does help kind of contextualize the rest of my questions.
Toni: Okay, let me say one thing.
Toni: I became aware of this after, let’s just face it, we worked together. You haven’t freaking told anybody that.
John: I know [laughs].
Toni: And you declined to tell me anything about this obsession.
John: I know.
Toni: Although, you had some kind of fan page–
John: I was too scared.
Toni: –and the only thing you said to me–all the other actors were like, “John’s a really big fan,” and I was like, “Aw, that’s so sweet.” You were totally at ease. I would never have known. The only thing you said to me was, "I named my cat Muriel." And I was like, "That’s sweet."
John: Okay so, we did this movie called Fun Mom Dinner together.
Toni: Yeah, a couple summers ago.
John: And basically it was like symbolically–the role was, like, given to me. The producer was like, “This is the scene with Toni Collette.” Like, she had heard.
Toni: Oh my God.
John: And I was like, “Okay, here we go.” My plan was, I’ll get comfortable and then I’ll find a way to tell you, “I literally had a website for you.” I’ve worked with like, not to brag, I’ve worked with like Sharon Stone, Salma Hayek. I’ve worked with people that I love, you know? And I’m always really good at kind of breaking the ice and being like, “Love your work.” I’m so glad you think I was at ease because I literally was like–also I was like twenty-eight, I was like, “Get your shit together, John.” I felt like I was rude.
Toni: You, rude? No, you weren’t rude. You were warm and your normal self, lovely.
John: I felt like I was doing that thing in middle school where it’s like you want to impress someone, so you’re kind of, like, cold.
Toni: Oh, I see. You were just very professional. You were warm, you were open, you did a fucking great job, and you made me laugh hysterically.
John: You angel.
Toni: Oh shut up.
John: Well you really–
Toni: But hang on, how did this even eventuate? What was it that made you even realize I existed on the planet?
John: Well, this is a great question. So I saw the movie Clockwatchers.
Toni: Oh wow, that was my first American film.
John: Really? I didn’t know that.
Toni: After Muriel’s Wedding, yes.
John: Wow, yeah that was, that was it. That was me–I was probably ten, eleven years old.
Toni: Wow, a baby and you watched that? What made you want to watch that at that age?
John: Well it was, you know that was of course pre-Netflix, so this was like Blockbuster in Nashville, Tennessee–
Toni: Is that where you’re from?
Toni: Oh my God! I’m doing a road trip this summer, and I’m spending some time there. I’m so excited to talk you after this.
John: I have to send you restaurants.
Toni: Please, please, please. I would love that.
John: It’s a great city.
Toni: Speak later.
John: So I, you know at that age, I was like a little, truly solitary gay kid, not knowing I was gay, but it was like, Something’s off. I spent so much time alone. I spent so much time watching movies, and my mom would drop me off at Blockbuster for like an hour and then go grocery shopping.
Toni: Wow, and you just perused the shelves.
Toni: Knowing everything about films.
John: And like memorize what I wanted to get. I always went to, of course, as a gay kid, I went to the Sundance recommends section.
John: Because I was like, “These are probably going to be a little more sensitive, a little more melancholy, a little bit–
John: –a little bit more liberal,” exactly. And I was always haunted by the Clockwatchers cover, because I was like, I love Parker Posey.
Toni: Me too, she was in my dream last night, which is very weird to be talking about her now.
John: That’s shocking
Toni: What was the cover? I can’t recall.
John: The cover, it’s so mismarketed. It’s so disgusting. It’s like, you guys in a photo booth, like cracking up.
Toni: Oh yes, coming back to me now.
John: So it looks like this gal-pal comedy. It’s like a deeply–it’s a very upsetting movie. It’s very, very sad, and very philosophical, very contemplative. But I rented it because I loved Romy Michele, I loved Lisa Kudrow. I was like, “Here we go.” And then I watched it at age ten, the credits rolled, and I could not stop crying.
Toni: Oh, baby.
John: I was like, “Oh God.” And I truly felt this shift. I felt this, like, we all have this–
Toni: “I’m awake now.”
John: I really was like Kate Chopin. It’s like the moment that we all kind of have at some point, and it’s not always this concentrated and specific. But like, we all have some point in our childhood where we have a moment where we're like, “Oh, okay, life isn’t fair.” There’s no guarantee. There’s no guarantee that at the end of your life you’ll still have your friendships, your loved ones, and you might never matter to anyone, you know?
Toni: Wow you were quite evolved at that age, Jesus.
John: Well, I don't know if I could articulate it.
Toni: I was jumping on the trampoline.
John: I don't know if I could articulate it at that age, but I felt that. I was like, something is like, “Oh God.”
Toni: Retrospectively you can recognize it?
John: Yes, and I think so much of it had to do with your character obviously, because your character goes through that journey. She's like this wallflower, Iris, who's a temp at this agency–a new temp at this office, and she's mousey and sweet and quiet, and she's kind of shapeless, in a way. And then these women–she becomes friends with Parker, Lisa, Alanna Ubach, the other temps.
John: True firecrackers.
John: I mean, such a good cast. By the way Bob Balaban, Debra Jo Rupp, I could go on.
Toni: Yeah, yeah.
John: Then by the end, you guys come together, and it's sweet, and you are starting to develop more of a brassier identity through these other women. And then these office thieveries create this paranoia in the office, and you guys kind of turn on each other.
Toni: Question each other, yeah.
John: Then it’s just like, everyone's gone in the end except you, it's like you're alone again, but you're a little more world-weary, a little bit tougher. It's, like, very good. It's very, very good, and there is a–and I'm going to wrap this up, and we’re going to talk, okay, I promise. There's a scene in the movie where you–with O-Lan Jones, who I recently worked with, she's a psychic.
Toni: Wow. Yes.
John: And she says to you, she's like, "You tip-toe through life, don't be afraid to make your mark." And so basically, I watched that movie, I became obsessed with you.
Toni: Have you got that statement tattooed on your body somewhere?
John: I should. I will.
Toni: I'm assuming that's what you're getting to, that that was the point of the movie for you.
Toni: Did you feel that you were tiptoeing, and you needed to–
John: I needed to make my mark, absolutely.
Toni: –start making your mark?
John: Then I rented Muriel's Wedding, obviously. I did the most basic Google search, or at that time, Altavista or Yahoo, or whatever the fuck. And I, of course, found Muriel's Wedding, and then I rented Muriel's Wedding. And then it was over. I think Muriel's Wedding is, like, the–first of all, it's such a great movie, but it's one of the greatest film performances of all time. I went to acting school with all these straight guys who were like, “Al Pacino, Scarface,” you know? And I was always like, “No, sorry, Toni Collette in Muriel's Wedding.”
Toni: That's very funny. Where did you go to acting school?
John: Yeah. And anyway, so I had this obsession with you in middle school, and then I got to–and I was so evangelical about you. I was trying to always force my 12-year-old peers to watch your movies.
Toni: “Oooh watch this!”
John: And I’d be like, “From the Sixth Sense!”
Toni: Those poor children [laughs].
John: I know, I know. They were like, "We want to watch cartoons." At some point I was like, "I need to find a way to productively channel this energy.” And I was like, “I'm going to make a website."
Toni: So what age are we talking here?
John: I think I would have started the website at like 13.
Toni: Far out.
John: Yeah. It was my job. I would go to school during the week, and then weekends, like 8:00 a.m. just like–and I wasn't good, I'm not a coder. I'm not smart with computers.
Toni: Me either, trust me.
John: I was like, "It's all for Toni." I named the website, and this is the most embarrassing part–
Toni: Oh Jesus, here we go. What was it?
John: It was such a bad title. I named the website, “Toni Collette, Making Her Mark.”
John: [Laughs] It's so sweet. So yeah. Then I had this website, and then I would say a year or two into having it, I was like, “I'm gay.” And I was like, “Oh no.”
Toni: Why, why on earth?
John: I was like, “I have a Toni Collette website on the internet." I wasn't out to anyone. It’s like, that's not the straightest thing one does. You know what I mean?
Toni: Oh I see, I see, I see.
John: Like I had told so many people I like girls.
Toni: You caught up with yourself, and then suddenly you were like, "This is somewhat revealing."
Toni: Oh I see. Okay. Can I ask you, it seems to be quite, kind of a general feeling that Muriel's Wedding has a massive gay following–
Toni: –and created an iconic kind of vibe.
Toni: But can you explain exactly why?
John: Yes. Well, I was going to ask you about that. I'm friends with a lot of funny women. You know who are–
Toni: Lucky you.
John: Thank you.
Toni: Me too [laughs].
John: And they’re often given the title “gay icon,” or they do have lots of gay followings, and sometimes I think they find it kind of diminishing or oppressive.
Toni: No, why the hell?
John: Most of the time I think they find it purely beautiful. But I just wanted to know–you felt that, right? When Muriel's Wedding was happening?
Toni: I remember, first of all it came out, I must have been doing press or something in New York, and I noticed–well A) people were stopping me on the street, which was very strange.
Toni: Because, I mean I grew up in the western suburbs of Sydney and, you know, nobody in my family had anything to do with entertainment industry.
Toni: And yeah, so I had done one other film, and then all of a sudden I was being noticed on the street. I did notice, in being recognized, that most of them were guys.
John: Yeah, yeah.
Toni: And they were really gushing about it.
Toni: There just seemed to be this general response in the male gay community towards Muriel.
John: Yes, Yes. Yeah, I mean first of all, I think it's the colors, just on an elementary level.
Toni: It's kind of a garish camp.
John: Yeah. Of that era too, I feel like there was such a–like early '90s independent film, Todd Solondz and the stuff that was coming from Australia. There was such a love of–
Toni: Well Priscilla Queen of The Desert, Strictly Boring, Muriel.
John: Yes, yes.
Toni: That kind of all came through in a bit of a–
John: –in a rush.
Toni: A rush, yeah.
John: And I think there's something about the way that some great filmmakers were putting these colors and characters that we normally associate with “trash.” He used quotes when he said that. These people in the dregs and the margins of society.
John: Putting them on-screen in a beautiful way, like framing them beautifully.
Toni: Giving them value.
John: And making them the heroes.
Toni: Making them the hero. Exactly yeah.
John: I think that's what it is. You feel seen and validated by that, by making that person the hero. She is, despite her flaws, despite her tendency to lie, she is so–
Toni: Generally kind of loveable.
John: Yeah, and obviously, so much of that is because of you. It’s such a funny performance, too. You have such dramatic chops, but like, you are such a skilled comedian!
Toni: Coming from you, that is a very nice compliment. Thank you.
John: Thank you. Thank you.
Toni: But I agree, it is very funny, but it's also quite dark. And I suppose the character is, in a way, finding herself, right?
John: Yeah, totally.
Toni: So there’s that kind of correlation.
John: And she really does arrive at a kind of poise by the end. She does start to take responsibility for her actions, and she's very tough with her dad, the great Bill Hunter. I don't know, there is something about that journey, the way she learns to take herself seriously. It’s like Clockwatchers too.
Toni: I mean ultimately there is a sense of acceptance, I guess.
John: Totally, totally. We are going to get to Hereditary.
Toni: No worries. Sorry I jumped ahead.
John: Whatever. I'm more looking at the A24 representative, promising her.
Toni: Sitting on the other side of the glass.
John: Okay, so then you come to America. It's an Australian sensation, then it becomes a sleeper hit here...or was it just huge here? I don't know.
Toni: I don't know either. It's hard to tell from where I was sitting, but Harvey Weinstein sent me on a very extensive press tour, and I suppose it was somewhat successful because it did become a little bit of a hit. And then I was nominated for a Golden Globe Award.
Toni: Once that all happened it changed my life completely, really. It really did.
John: You were like, I just can't–like I was so dumb when I was 22, 23. Like how did you?
Toni: You're meant to be dumb then.
John: Absolutely, for purposes of evolution, you're dumb. So you take risks, et cetera. But what did you, what was that like to suddenly have this international attention at that age?
Toni: It was both fun and petrifying. I feel like I have a certain sense of wanderlust, and I'm up for adventure.
Toni: And I'm open to life, but some of it was–you know, it's weird to suddenly have to formulate ideas about things. People are asking you questions, and then it's going to be written or shown somewhere.
John: Oh my God, yes.
Toni: And then suddenly, that's the statement you've made. I just found that very confronting, to have to suddenly know everything, you know? When you're still growing and essentially kind of a baby, and up until that point–and I still actually work very instinctively. So it's hard to talk about what other people were calling a process.
Toni: I didn't call it a process, I was just having the time of my life.
John: I know, it's beautiful. I kind of feel the same way. I feel like for me it's maybe more out of laziness.
John: I want to talk about Japanese Story–
John: –which is one of my favorite performances of yours, and one of my favorite movies. It's unfortunate it only had a big Australian release, it was barely seen here, but it is available on Amazon Prime.
Toni: Is it? Really that’s amazing.
John: You can stream it. I'm not going to give anything away, but there's a huge twist that happens midway through the movie where you have to react to something that is probably everyone's greatest nightmare. And then you spend the rest of movie–it's a very raw movie. It's just this kind of perfectly made container for you to just go there emotionally.
John: If I saw that in a script, that scene, and again, I won't tell you what it is, but just total nightmare. If I saw that in a script, I would quit the project. I would be so–
Toni: Why? Are you nervous about that?
John: –scared, yeah. So I guess what is your–do you get excited about that? Is it daunting to you?
Toni: It’s daunting.
John: To have to go to such an extreme place?
Toni: It's weird because I feel like I have to do it. I am the one who has to make this completely truthful.
Toni: And I don't know how I'm going to do it, but there’s this compulsion. You know there's that saying about–you hungry?
John: My stomach–
Toni: There's a saying that projects or films choose you, or whatever.
Toni: And it sounds really wanky, but I really feel that that does happen to a certain extent.
John: Totally. In that moment–which I feel like leads us very organically to Hereditary.
Toni: Oh my God.
John: Because Hereditary has so much of that–to me, best word to describe it is hurling, like you're hurling yourself into these states.
Toni: Do you say hurling for vomiting in this country?
John: I realized halfway through that, you probably associated that with vomiting.
Toni: [Laughs] Yes.
John: And whereas I don't. I associate it with great acting.
Toni: Have a hurl.
John: There is a sense that you're just throwing yourself into these very, very high stakes, and it feels very fearless. But it probably does not come without actual fears or insecurities, I don't know.
Toni: Okay, here's what happened.
Toni: I felt like I was doing too many heavy films. I think as I've gotten older they've become–people used to say, "How do you do it? How do you kind of walk away? Do you take the character home with you?" I'm always like, "Oh that's utter bullshit, who does that? That’s such wankery.”
John: I know, I feel that way too.
Toni: Then all of a sudden, I was doing these films that really got under my skin.
Toni: I found myself thinking about them like a year later, and I was like, "Shit, how do I–I have to figure out a way of letting go of these things, because clearly they are affecting me in a way that I don't quite understand because I don't understand what I'm doing most of the time."
Toni: And I actually don't want to, because I think it would ruin the outcome, but anyway. I had said to my team, “Hey guys and gals, I don't want to do any of these heavy emotional dramas anymore. I don't want to cry–
John: When was this?
Toni: –I want to laugh, I want to go to work, and I want to have fun."
Toni: That's when I ended up doing Fun Mom Dinner.
John: Fun Mom Dinner! Amazing, amazing.
Toni: After that, I don't know if you remember, I was desperately trying to lose weight because I had a nude scene in this French film, so I was going to Paris to shoot this film called Madame.
John: With Harvey Keitel?
Toni: That's right.
John: Yes, I can't wait to see that. Not the nude scene! [Laughter]
Toni: Well that too I don’t mind, I'm not embarrassed [laughs]. And so, I'm over there having a beautiful time. I kept pinching myself. Paris is obviously exquisite, and I was working with amazing people, and it was in no way heavy, and still very satisfying.
John: Yes so nice.
Toni: I tried doing other films which were not heavy, but it just became so dull that I wanted to smash my head up against the wall.
Toni: So I was like, "Oh, I’ve got to find a happy medium here." Anyway while I was shooting that, I got a message from one of my agents saying, "I know you said you just wanted to do comedies and make the whole world laugh, but I really think you need to read this," and kind of gave me a little spiel. I was like “Ugh, okay I'll read it.” And as I was reading it, I was already sucked in, and I called him and went, "Fuck you, how do I not do this now? There's just no way I can't do it. I have to do it."
Toni: And it is intense. But you know what? I think actors fucking ache for a job–
John: Of course.
Toni: –where they get to really go for it.
John: Totally, totally.
Toni: And in Hereditary, I really, really did. I mean Ari Aster, I have to say I think he's a living genius. I can't wait to watch all of his work from here on out.
John: Is this his first movie?
Toni: It's his first feature, and he's made some really great shorts.
John: He wrote and directed it?
Toni: Wrote and directed it.
Toni: So after reading it, I met with him here in LA, we had lunch together. He's so sweet and so kind, and he clearly had a handle on what he was doing, but then when we got to Utah I was so blown away. This guy was the most prepared director I've ever worked with.
Toni: I mean, it's a huge movie. It's a miracle that it got made in that amount of time for the money that it had.
John: Yeah, and it looked so good too.
Toni: I know all films cry poor, but he just knew every single shot, every single nuance that he wanted.
John: Yeah, amazing.
Toni: At the same time, was very collaborative. But personally, for me, I knew that it was intense, and this experience was like a process of resistance. I literally just held it away from myself until they called action, and then I went blah, blah, blah whatever I did, and then I distanced myself away.
John: Which makes sense to the character very beautifully.
Toni: How so?
John: I feel like she seems to be kind of resisting the truth of what's going or she feels something kind of bubbling up.
Toni: Exactly, yeah.
John: Before she knows it, she's fully out of her control.
Toni: In it.
John: Like, in it, yeah.
Toni: Yeah I’d never drawn that similarity. I think to a certain extent we're all kind of blind to ourselves.
Toni: I think we have to be, otherwise you'll go insane.
Toni: She's been so consumed by her mother's intentions her entire life, and she doesn't quite understand this very unsettled feeling, and I guess this story is an awakening in a way, but it's not a positive awakening, as we'd imagine. Because once she starts to discover the reality of her existence, it’s hopeless. There is literally no hope. Which is why I think it's horrific.
John: Oh my God. Yeah, totally. Exactly. She doesn't–well I don't want to give anything away.
Toni: I know, it's hard to talk about because there are certain things you can say which would reveal too much.
John: Well I think it is our greatest fear–we are all a product of our parent's flaws, you know, it's just biology.
Toni: To a certain extent. I think we have some free will and control.
John: Like agency and an ability to change through reflection or whatever.
Toni: This particular woman is so under the thumb. She doesn't even realize that her life, her entire life, from the beginning, has been orchestrated by her mother.
John: Yes, yes. This movie is an example of our worst nightmare. What happens when you just give in to those impulses, or whatever, these preordained things about you. That's so scary. I never even really thought that much about the psychology of the movie. It is a very elemental, like horror ride, which is what's so great about it.
Toni: What I love about it is it felt to me, when I first read it, like The Ice Storm, like this heavy kind of family drama.
John: Yes. Which I love.
Toni: And there's a certain amount of grief. It's all about the family dynamics and how they change when they're all having their own responses to something very, very sad. How you survive as a family, how you survive on your own, how you affect each other. You really get to know these people in a way that you care about them. I think Ari is so smart to have done this because once that care is established the film goes, "I'm going to just take a turn here."
John: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I mean honestly, kind of like Clockwatchers. You fall in love.
Toni: And Japanese Story. What the hell [laughs].
John: I know, it was this turn.
Toni: And the Sixth Sense. What the hell [laughs].
John: Yes, yes. By the way, I am friends with Haley Joel Osment.
Toni: Oh, you are? Please give him my love! How is he?
John: I will. He's great. He's killing it.
Toni: Aw. He was so amazing. He was so professional and so aware of what he was doing at such a young age. I loved working with him.
John: It's a shocking performance. And also your performance. It's one of my favorite Toni performances, which I know is not a controversial thing to say because people really remember you for that, but it is–you were like 29 when you did that.
Toni: No. I turned 25 during the shoot actually. I remember because–
John: Are you fucking kidding me?
Toni: –there was a surprise party thrown for me in New York. Yeah, I remember that, yeah. It's one thing I remember.
John: Did you have kids at that point or one kid?
Toni: I didn't have any kids until I was 35! I had so many kids on-screen before I had my own kids.
John: My mind is being blown. There's such a true maternity there, in that role. She’s so protective. You also feel the way the world judges her and makes assumptions about her because of the way she dresses, her nails, her big hair, her life.
Toni: It's so funny because all those things that you just mentioned–the heads of departments, hair, they had a blonde wig made–
Toni: –and the costumes, I was trying on all these costumes, and I thought, "I'm just going to go down to the local market in Philly and buy a few things that I think might be right." They were doing a test on one of the, I don’t know, one of the other characters, and I came in to say hi to everyone. I was like, "Let's try that old wig on that they sent," and so the wig I wear is actually the wig I wore in Velvet Goldmine just done completely differently.
John: No. This is too much information for me right now. I have to go.
Toni: [Laughs] And then I explained, I guess, what my vision was, which is how the character eventuated and how she looks in the movie, but it was completely different to what had been imagined.
John: I can't imagine her looking any other way.
Toni: Oh that's good.
John: I’m, like, offended.
Toni: Me either, obviously
Toni: It's so funny that there was this other intention. It was very collaborative, and they really listened to me. I was only a baby. I was 24, and I was like, "Maybe we should try this."
John: Oh my God, I loved that you–like did you have the Velvet Goldmine wig?
Toni: Well, the guy who was making the new wig had made all the ones for Velvet Goldmine.
John: Oh okay, okay.
Toni: So I guess he sent some over just to play with. I can't quite remember the details but it seemed to be hanging around so I thought, "Let's pop that on."
John: Okay, sorry next round of questions. Did you you love working with Todd Haynes? Fine if you say no.
John: Okay, amazing because I'm a huge fan.
Toni: Yeah, man. He's incredible.
John: So good.
Toni: You know what age I was then? I think I was 24 then, and I wanted it so badly. I remember meeting him in a hotel room in London and doing an audition and just feeling petrified. There was something in me that just knew. It's that feeling of, "I have to do this. If I don't do this, I will die.”
Toni: I actually have to remember that now, because there are certain jobs that come up, and I'm like, "Eh, I can see how that could be good,” but unless you have that feeling of, "Oh this is it."
Toni: I think one should really step aside. Let somebody else to do it who does have that feeling.
John: Yeah, but that’s part of what's confusing about getting older, kind of the mellowing out. Like I'm experiencing that right now in my creative work and my writing. The clarity used to be, in my early 20s, it was insane. I was like, “I have to do this. I have to dare myself to do this, and I'm going to dare everyone to watch it.”
Toni: [Laughs] I love it.
John: And that became my marker for all the stuff that I was going to make.
Toni: Quite fearless. Do you think as you get older you just become more aware of what could go wrong and then the fear creeps in–“What the hell?”
John: I think there’s some of that, but I also think there's something kind of healthy too, about like–
Toni: Seeing it from all perspectives?
John: Yeah, and I think so much of that drive too, is about wanting to be seen. You're wanting the world to acknowledge this thing in you, and you're like, “I know I can do this,” and then you get to a point where you are seen, like you have made these movies. And I’ve done some stuff. And that's kind of satisfied, and then you're a little calmer, and you're like, “What do I want to make now?” You’ve kind of lost your typical guidepost or whatever.
Toni: Well, I suppose also when you do satisfy a certain urge or a need to express something, then it's done, and you have to keep growing.
Toni: So you have to develop new ideas and needs. There needs to be a gestation period for that, I suppose.
Toni: Before it can erupt.
John: So what do you want to do now? Given that, where are you now? How are you listening to the world with these projects? What do you crave for your next thing? After Hereditary, which is a true plunge into darkness.
Toni: I really want to work with people that I find inspiring.
John: Yeah, me too.
Toni: Yeah, really it comes to that. Because the outcome is not the point, it's the experience that you have.
Toni: That's kind of the main credential, really. I’ve got a small list of people, but I'm really open. I've never had a plan of “I should do this kind of movie and then that kind of movie.”
John: Right, right.
Toni: Whatever comes in, I really feel like things are meant to be. And, in a way, whatever's going on in me, somehow, oddly, there'll always be something that runs parallel to what's happening in a film that I'm offered or a character that I'm playing. Or maybe I just seek that out to make it real for myself, I don't know.
John: It's like, you can't help but bring your current experience to something, and also the things being written because it's coming out of the culture. It’s coming out of whatever's happening culturally. You are in that culture, so there is this feeling of divine.
Toni: Energetic, magnetic, kind of.
John: Yeah, it’s crazy.
Toni: Yeah, I like that it's kind of a mystery.
John: Me too. Wait so who do you want to work with? Sorry.
Toni: Oh no. That's embarrassing. I'll write a letter.
John: I’m dying to know.
Toni: I’ve started to write. I used to write a lot when I was younger, and I have just had no time. Whenever I find the time now, that's a real priority for me.
John: Writing music? Writing scripts?
Toni: I've been writing some music, not so much. Scripts, yes. Just different ideas. I've been adapting some stuff and starting to produce a little more.
Toni: When my kids are older I want to direct.
Toni: I’m already kind of–it takes over, when I'm working. I imagine it’ll be even more so when I do direct.
Toni: I just want my kids to–I want to spend some more time with them before I head off and do that.
John: Good for you.
Toni: What about you? It sounds like you do a lot of different things.
John: I'm trying to write a TV show.
Toni: You are? That's exciting.
John: We’ve had some major–me and my best friend Kate Berlant–
Toni: Is that who I met in that restaurant that time?
John: Yes, yes.
Toni: Okay, yeah, yeah. Do you still do the show on Tuesday nights?
John: Yes. Second Tuesday of every month.
Toni: Okay. I'm going to try to be there. I really would love to come.
John: No pressure whatsoever.
Toni: No, I don't feel any pressure. But I would like to come.
John: Well I'm pressuring you. So you should feel pressure.
Toni: See you soon!
John: But she and I, we wrote a pilot. We made a pilot. It's the best thing we've ever made. And we're so proud of it.
John: It’s very sweet and positive. It's more tender than anything we've made in the past.
John: We're just obsessed with it because it is, I do think it's the perfect thing for this moment culturally. I think people need sweet, thoughtful escapism, and that's what it is. It's like wartime entertainment, it’s like Rodgers and Hammerstein.
Toni: War time entertainment. “Give us a break” entertainment.
John: Yes, exactly. We've covered honestly most of it, but I do–okay, this is a very hard question, and you don't have to answer it obviously.
Toni: Okay. Hit me. Not nervous.
John: Do you have a film you're most proud of? I guess a better question, a more specific question, is there a film that you feel like hasn't gotten the credit it deserves?
Toni: Look, I mean I’m so excited about Hereditary because it's actually going to have an audience.
John: I know.
Toni: I have made so many films where the distribution just fumbles and drops.
John: It's crazy. The preview is in every movie I see right now, the trailer.
Toni: Oh really? Oh that's good. People need to be aware of the fucking thing, otherwise who's going to know to go and see it?
Toni: In the past, that's happened several times where, everyone gives obviously 100% and then, honestly it’s a miracle that anything ever gets made, let alone seen. There are so many elements that need to line up in filmmaking. I can't even remember all the jobs I’ve done.
John: Well, I actually talked to the Sprechers–
John: Because I wrote a paper about–
Toni: Both of them, Jill and Karen?
John: Yeah, Jill and Karen.
Toni: How are they, where are they? What are they up to?
John: They’re in LA. But I think they’re trying to work on TV pilots and stuff too.
Toni: Are you friends with them?
John: So I wrote a paper about Clockwatchers in college, because they were like, write about an artist who’s living that you can interview, and I wrote–Jill was an alum of NYU, so I went to the alumni department and talked to her. I mean it's historic again. A lifetime of Toni Collette.
Toni: You are amazing [laughs].
John: Yeah so I interviewed her then. And then five years later I was in LA, and she was like, "We should get lunch." I was like [chuckles]. Then we recently again–another five years later, I was like, “I just watched Clockwatchers again. It's still perfect. It's not my imagination. It's so underrated.” And we had lunch and–
Toni: I should watch it.
John: It’s so–here’s what I’m trying to do. I'm trying to host a screening in LA.
Toni: You are? Oh yes, I know that you do that.
Toni: Okay, okay.
John: I really want to get Jill and Karen there. I want to get whoever's in the cast that's in LA there.
John: But anyway, we were talking about Clockwatchers, and it was so funny because in my memory I was like, Well, it’s a hit. Just because it was at Blockbuster.
Toni: Because it was so big to you.
John: Yes, it was huge to me.
Toni: Personal kind of revelation.
John: She was like, “No.” She was like, "Sweetie, no. We basically had to beg for distribution." She was telling me the studio was like, "Can you please re-cut the ending so that they're all friends in the end?"
Toni: Oh, Jesus.
John: She was like, "We don't have footage of that. We don't have footage of them being friends. We have footage of Alanna Ubach pressing a staple into her bloody thumb."
Toni: Into her finger.
John: To them, it's just kind of disappeared, that movie. They were obviously shocked that I knew so much about it, but yeah, it is just such a shame.
Toni: Well they loved it one way or the other.
John: I hope they loved it.
Toni: I had no idea that happened. I remember that was the first time I went to Sundance. I think it was 1997, because I was about to go and shoot Velvet Goldmine straight from there.
John: Oh my God.
Toni: That's the only reason I remember that. But it was such a high being there. The whole cast was there, and it was–I had no idea that was the outcome for that film.
John: Yeah, it’s brutal. They told me that Lisa Kudrow, by the way, I don't know if you already know this, but she was wanting to do some indies in her breaks from Friends.
John: Apparently, the reason she did Clockwatchers is because she just generally told her agent, she was like, "I want to do something with Toni Collette.”
Toni: Oh my God, you're kidding me.
John: No [laughs].
Toni: Aww. That makes me feel bad because before that I turned down Romy and Michele's High School Reunion.
John: For which role?
Toni: The one that Mira Sorvino played, I guess.
Toni: Yes. So maybe Lisa had pushed for that.
John: That created the desire in her.
Toni: Yes, wow [laughs].
John: That’s so funny. Wow, I mean also one of my fave movies.
Toni: Yeah, you mentioned it earlier. I was going to say it, and I was like, “Oh, that’s too–”
John: “Don't break his heart.”
John: Well thank God we have Mira Sorvino’s performance in that.
Toni: I haven't actually seen it.
John: Okay how old is your daughter?
Toni: She’s ten.
John: Get her to that movie.
Toni: Really, now?
John: It's such a beautiful movie about female friendship.
Toni: Is it?
John: It's, like, the sweetest movie. I highly recommend it. It's very colorful and sweet and deeply funny.
Toni: There’s so much to watch. I’ll put it on a list.
John: Yes, a list.
Toni: [But then won’t] around to it. And Alan Cumming is in that too.
John: Oh my God, are you friends with Alan Cumming?
Toni: I am. He was in Emma, we did Emma when I was, I think I was 22, so I've known him for a long–I mean I don't see him all the time, but we get together every once in a while.
John: He’s so good.
Toni: He's pretty fantastic.
John: Truly, you've worked with so many incredible people.
Toni: I agree. I'm so lucky.
John: Okay, Toni. Here we go. So this is the–we've arrived at the end.
Toni: What's happening? What's going to happen here?
John: Here’s what’s happening.
Toni: Are you going to fire questions?
John: What’s happening is I have decided to present–
Toni: Ahh, I hate this shit.
John: Well, I do want to fire two questions. Favorite LA restaurant?
Toni: Gjelina in Venice.
John: I love Gjelina.
Toni: Love it.
John: Favorite New York restaurant?
Toni: ABC Kitchen. How do you feel about that?
Toni: I also like ABC Vegan as well, and the Cocina.
John: I haven’t been to that. You have good taste in food.
Toni: Thank you, thank you.
John: What I have here–I'm giving you a present.
Toni: Holy moly.
John: To end this podcast.
Toni: I’m going to tell people what it is. There is a red folder, which looks like there's a bunch of, perhaps clippings and musings gathered. Oh, there's a whole bunch of stuff in there. What is that?
John: You were almost right. It’s full of one relic that's very hastily made and has deteriorated over the years.
Toni: Isn’t that the basis of your fan club? Is it? What is this?
John: This is something I made when I was like–hold on.
Toni: You’re giving it to me, and you made it a long time ago, and you've had it this long, and you’re sure you want to give it to me?
John: I made it for you because I didn’t–and then I got too scared to send it.
Toni: Oh, you are so sweet.
John: It's a testament to my deep reserves of control that I'm not, like, weeping on the floor right now.
Toni: What star sign are you? You’re very controlled.
John: Aquarius. Aquarius/Capricorn.
Toni: I’m Scorpio/Capricorn. Well, Capricorn rising.
John: So then is a Capricorn the January side of who I am?
Toni: That’s right, yes.
John: Okay, okay, okay. This is a collage that I made for your birthday–
John: –when I was maybe 12 years old.
Toni: Oh my God.
John: First of all, it’s hid-eo-so. I do think I’m talented, but visual art is not my strength, okay?
Toni: Let’s not judge ourselves.
John: Thank you, thank you. So I made this collage for you. It really makes no sense. Oh my God, I really can’t believe it.
John: And so much of it has fallen apart over the years. Like you did something–
Toni: I can’t believe you still have it.
John: I know.
John: I remember making this for you and then asking my mom, "Find her manager’s address,” or whatever, and she found it online. We packaged it up, and then I was like, “Don’t send it.” There’s just something so earnest and embarrassing about it, I was like, “I can’t, I can’t.” It was just that age.
Toni: It was meant to be this way. Clearly.
John: I clearly had a feeling.
Toni: You knew.
John: I knew.
Toni: You’re psychic, dude!
John: Yes, so this is my–this is the collage. I want to just point out what I did. It’s so funny.
Toni: I think I kind of see a bit of it.
John: Okay, ready?
Toni: Oh my God.
John: There is a picture of me on there. So it says, “Happy Birthday, Toni.”
Toni: Oh, I’m going to cry.
Toni: John, that is so sweet.
John: This is so cheesy, it goes “Happy B-Day Toni. Thank you so much. You’ve had such a big impact on my life.”
Toni: Oh, John! This is so amazing. It’s making me cry. Pass it over here.
John: I’m so touched. Okay, here it is.
Toni: Look at this picture of you.
John: I know.
Toni: You don’t even look like yourself.
John: I do have kind of an uncanny–my childhood pictures do not look like me.
Toni: At all.
John: At all. It’s very weird.
Toni: That’s so bizarre. Aw, you’re very cute though.
John: Thank you.
Toni: Look at you in your little button down, your little plaid shirt.
John: I know. My name is on the bottom, and I wrote–
Toni: Is this your address written in between your name?
John: Oh God, I hope to God not.
Toni: What does it say? It says “Nashville, Tennessee.”
John: Oh I think that’s probably just me being like, "I’m from Nashville." And I think the funniest detail on it is that I literally wrote above my name, “pesto pasta.”
Toni: This is quite something.
John: I mean it’s literally so ratty, it’s like a piece of cardboard that’s wrapped in tissue paper.
Toni: There’s a lot of tissue paper and then everything is stuck on it.
John: Yeah, and then there’s a piece of cloth, kind of purple tie-dyed cloth that’s creating a frame.
Toni: Oh, it is. Like a tie-dye, “I’m cool, I’m just hanging out with the hippies” kind of vibe. “I’m not going to stalk you” situation.
John: Yes, yes. I was appealing to the–oh, one final detail and then we’ll go. I was appealing to the part of you that the Sprechers told me about, which is–they said she interviewed you. You guys had a meeting.
John: Because they only wanted you.
John: Speaking of lists that only you were on. She was like, “We had this meeting, and then she went and backpacked with Rachel Griffiths for like three months before we shot the movie.” And I was like–
Toni: Oh my God. Is that when we went to Ireland?
John: I think...
Toni: We did this thing where we–I got a map of Ireland.
Toni: And I drew a heart over it, and then we followed that map, the line of a heart.
John: Oh my God. I’m going to sob.
Toni: When I was, I guess I was like 21 or something? 21, 22, yes.
John: But so you and Rachel Griffiths, like post-Muriel’s Wedding–
Toni: Yeah we did.
John: –hiked the world.
Toni: Yeah. Well we did a lot of–it was really good to have someone to go through all of that with.
John: Yeah. Oh, yeah.
Toni: She really understood because we were both kind of being flung around the place.
Toni: Doing all the same kind of things.
John: Right. That’s so nice.
Toni: Yes. It was great, and it was fun.
John: Well, Toni please enjoy your collage. It’s kind of inconvenient. It’s like falling apart.
Toni: I’m going to take it, and I’m going to cherish it.
John: You should take it just for the sheer–just so I can now rest in peace.
Toni: Can I keep it in there so I don't ruin it?
Toni: Pass me that folder.
John: And then I wrote your name “Toni” on this.
Toni: Put that in too.
John: People need to know. I’m going to have to read it.
Toni: Do it. Oh my God, there’s an actual note.
John: Look, look, look. “Toni Collette.”
John: “Dear Toni. I just want to”–oh my God–“I just want to say thank you and happy birthday.”
Toni: Aw, thank you.
John: "Your work has totally changed my life.” Oh my God. “Clockwatchers and”–oh my God, this is so devastating. “Clockwatchers and Muriel's Wedding gave me this awareness in my life.”
John: “I can’t explain it but it just happened to me. It’s like”–oh my God–“its like I do things that will make me happy knowing that I have a limited amount of time here on earth."
Toni: There you go. Far out.
John: Yes, it’s very groovy. "I’m so happy and confident now." Yeah right!
Toni: Wow, well I’m sure you were.
John: I was trying to be. "I’m in seventh grade.” This is hilarious. “I just do what I want, and I don’t care what others think." Yeah right.
Toni: Ballsy, brave little dude.
John: I know. “It drives me crazy that I can’t put the feeling into words exactly how I want it to sound, but all I really want you to know is that you have truly touched me.”
Toni: Fucking hell.
John: Not like that [laughs].
Toni: Oh my gosh.
John: "I love to perform just like you." This is amazing. “And I was upset that I never got to see The Wild Party.”
Toni: Aww. Did you never see it?
John: No, I’m in Nashville.
Toni: Yeah, I guess it’s an expensive ticket [laughs]
John: “Keep working hard.” This is shocking. "Keep working hard and happy 28th."
Toni: I was 28? Saturn Return. 28.
John: But also that would’ve been such a cool, sweet thing from a kid as a 28-year-old.
Toni: Yeah, I wish you’d sent it!
John: I should’ve sent it, but also now you get it now.
Toni: This is amazing at any age to receive.
Toni: And you know what? You kind of make films in a bit of a vacuum.
Toni: You have an experience with everyone on set. You don't really follow the life of it all. You kind of hope that it speaks to someone, but to be sitting here with you now years later and knowing how it affected your life in a somewhat positive way, in a deep way.
John: It really did. It really, really did.
Toni: That makes me feel pretty good.
John: Okay, anyway please take the collage.
Toni: John Early.
John: I want to reiterate it's falling apart.
Toni: I have a feeling that this meeting today, and this conversation, is long overdue.
John: It really is.
Toni: You are beautiful.
John: Oh my God.
Toni: Thank you so much.
John: You are beautiful too, Toni. This is a true dream come true. Thank you A24 for putting this together, and everyone see Hereditary or burn in hell.
Toni: I mean, do what you must. But yeah, go see it.
John: Thank you, Toni.
Toni: Thank you, Mr. Early.
Speaker: Thank you, John for that endorsement. Hereditary comes out June 8th. We encourage you to follow his instructions. Look out for Episode 04 next month, and as always, send thoughts and feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org. The A24 podcast is produced by us, A24. Special thanks to Doug and Aaron at Robot Repair who composed our theme.