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Toni Collette on Awareness, Connectedness, and Action
BY PHOEBE DE CROISSET
Award-winning actress Toni Collette arrives straight from Canada, where she just wrapped up one film. She’s got two premiering at Sundance, and a third coming out in March. But the stereotype of egocentric Hollywood actress-on-the-go doesn’t quite fit this thoughtful, quirky soul. Toni is someone who is deeply aware of her relationship to nature, humanity, and to the planet itself. She talks to sbjct about the fact that nobody exists in a bubble; we are all connected, and we are all part of the human collective.
PHOEBE DE CROISSET Dominic MacSorley, the CEO of Concern Worldwide has said that if you weren’t “one of the world’s greatest actresses” you would make a fantastic aid worker because you are “compassionate, hard-working and driven to touch people’s lives.”
TONI COLLETTE Oh! I didn’t know that! That’s so sweet of him to say.
PC How did you get involved with Concern?
TC I don’t think I was really aware of Concern Worldwide until they reached out to me, which is so embarrassing because the work they do is just so incredible. But I do think I have always been somewhat empathetic, which is what actually drew me to acting. So when I was a little less selfish, that’s when I began to work with Concern. I also think having children actually put a lot of things into perspective. I had a great fear of death. It made me realize how we are a part of nature and the cycles of life and how we’re all connected. These are all things that I had contemplated before, but I suddenly felt them in a really serious and profound way. You get to a point, when you’ve lived on the planet for a certain number of years, where you just want to do more. And I think knowing that we’re all a drop in the ocean, but it’s the same ocean – that’s what makes it great to be able to help the people who need help.
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PC What does Concern do differently?
TC I think Concern goes above and beyond similar organizations. More than 90% of the money donated goes to the people who need it, and it’s given to them in a way that’s beneficial to their lives long term. Concern doesn’t just go in and put on a band-aid and leave. Their work is so thorough and so catered to the individual. They stay there with the people until they are back on their feet and have some kind of autonomy and can be self-sufficient. And that can be years. I was in Haiti following the earthquake – and Concern is still there today!
PC You became Concern’s first ever Global Ambassador in 2014. What does that title mean to you, and what does it entail?
TC It’s an honor to have that position. It’s very inspirational to me. It’s a humbling experience, and one that I wanted to be ongoing. It basically means that whenever and wherever I can, I get out and get amongst it and talk to people so that I have a real and true understanding of what they are going through so that when I talk about it, it’s not from the other side of the world. When you’re actually there, it really becomes another thing. Being able to talk about it personally and to shine a spotlight on it will raise more money, and that’s ultimately what they need to help them do what they do.
We’re all a drop in the ocean, but it’s the same ocean.
PC How do you choose which particular issue to focus your attention on?
TC It’s usually basic needs. Food. Education. But I will jump in wherever needed. The areas of concern are so broad. That’s the thing – it’s about whatever is needed. It’s not my decision.
PC I think that sometimes we, as people working and living far away, feel so detached from these issues that we find it hard to get engaged. In your opinion, what is the remedy for this detachment?
TC I would say to slow down. I think we’re all living at such a pace that just creates ignorance. I think until you have some space and some time and some silence, you don’t actually absorb the context of your life. And if you start to look at your existence, and you start to look at the world and the imbalance of the types of lives being lived and the types of experiences being had, you can’t help but want to help other people. I think it’s awareness. And I think we live in a time and in a society that is driven by things that really are not a priority, and the things that are important are often overlooked, and once you connect with those, it will ultimately give you a much richer life. And a deeper appreciation of what you have.
PC It’s so interesting that you bring up the idea of slowing down. That’s something we at sbjct think about a lot as members of this very fast-paced industry and time. It can be hard to find meaning when you’re so busy just trying to keep up.
TC The thing is, we’re all so influenced by images. We present our lives without really living in them. “This is my life, here I am, on Instagram.” It’s a confirmation of our own existence. I personally believe more in all the stuff you can’t see. All the energy that you feel and that feels so real. The stuff that’s unexplainable; that’s the magic of life. That’s what keeps us going, what keeps us hopeful. I think now is a time for going inward, closing your eyes, listening to yourself, seeing your own images and then putting those ones out there. Otherwise you’ll be treading water for years and suddenly, half of your life is gone. People sometimes call this a mid-life crisis, but I think it’s a mid-life reassessment. You’re searching for meaning, for more. You’ve been so focused on getting ahead in your career, but then you realize that money is not love. We’ve only got one life, as far as we know, and you want to utilize your time on this planet! And we’re so blind to it! It’s so crazy! How life can just keep rolling along.
PC I think the idea of a re-assessment can be very difficult.
TC Well, yes, because you actually have to think about how time is not limitless, and you are going to die, and being confronted by death is not something anyone particularly wants to do. It’s uncomfortable. Even for Buddhists. They contemplate it because they know it’s inevitable and to embrace it through life will hopefully make it easier – that’s their philosophy. I just think we’re so different in the West. The focus is crazy to me. It’s so shortsighted. I lost someone when I was 12 and I didn’t have the tools to do deal with it at the time and so it did plague me for a long time, and now, well I am still fucking petrified! We’re all such control freaks and that’s one thing we can’t control. Who knows what the fuck happens? So I am obviously not excited about it, but I think just accepting it a bit more helps me appreciate life, it puts life into context, and the time that you do have becomes more important, more valuable.
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PC I know you’re a huge fan of astrology. How does it help to put “life into context,” as you say?
TC I just find astrology so fascinating. I want to know more about physics and how the universe actually works and so when I have the time, I try to do a bit of reading. Astrology is kind of the cotton candy end of it. I am not interested in the broad strokes, the stuff at the back of the magazine, but when you actually know things about where you were born, the exact time you were born, it is incredibly thorough and uncannily accurate in terms of not just “Oh ,you’re going meet a tall dark handsome stranger”, but it’s more about deep patterns and different cycles. It goes hand in hand with how everything is connected and the fact that we’re not alone in a little bubble. Yes, we are on this big rock hurdling through space, but space goes forever and we all exist together. And the fact that there is actual proof that you can exist in two different places at the same time…
PC Wait – hold on a minute. What?
TC I read this book by Miranda Sawyer – she’s a journalist for The Guardian. She wrote this book called Out of Time – it was the most accessible book and made me feel a lot less alone in what I was going through. I can’t back this up myself, but there is proof now – she spoke to the experts! It’s just about connection. We don’t exist in a bubble, everything affects everything, which is why people need to be more aware of their thoughts and actions.
PC Right, and also not just person to person, but the effects that each of us has on the planet…
TC Yes, people think of themselves as different from nature. We are part of nature! We are animals who happen to have this crazy ability to think and feel at a very elevated level, but it blows my mind that we are so smart and yet so stupid. We sell ourselves short. I get so excited when I meet someone who is so authentically themselves because they haven’t been smashed by society and molded into something they think they should be. There are very few people like that, people who actually think for themselves and have a passion for something that comes from within. It’s that kind of person who can make a change and spark a thought in other people. And that’s why we’re all drawn to those people. This is it, people, wake up!! And speaking of the fear, look at who is in charge of the fucking country!!!
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Absolutely everything you see is energy! Harness it!!!
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PC On that note, did you march in the protests?
TC I was in Canada but I looked at the images and watched so many videos and it brought tears to my eyes to see so many women being vocal and determined and fearless and passionate. The one great thing that’s going to come out of this fucking bozo being in charge is that people are coming together in such an incredible way. The other thing I really love is that people are not contributing to the hate and the fear. They are choosing to stand firm in their love and in their compassion, and that’s what’s needed, because otherwise you’re just fueling the fire that he lit.
PC I completely agree. There’s just one more thing I wanted to ask you – what is homeopathy exactly and how does it play a role in your life?
TC I know homeopathy sounds like such voodoo, but it’s an energetic alternative to medicine, and I cannot tell you how effective it is. If you get the right practitioner, and you spend the (many) hours talking about your entire life, then they get you and figure out your remedy and it actually fucking works! And it makes sense because it’s energy and everything is energy. Absolutely everything you see is energy! Harness it!!!