United States of Tara - Toni Collette
Tara (Toni Collette) © Showtime

Toni Collette first gained international fame with the 1994 movie Muriel’s Wedding. She has gone on to star in many popular films including The Sixth Sense, Evening and Little Miss Sunshine.

She’s currently starring in Showtime’s dramedy United States of Tara, portraying Tara Gregson, a wife and mother who suffers from multiple personality disorder. Without warning, her ‘alters’ appear, taking over her body with their strong characteristics, including Buck, a male, beer-drinking Vietnam war vet with a mean temper, T, a wild teenager and Alice, a 1950s Betty Crocker housewife who bakes.

Now in its second season, Collette won the Emmy last year for her performance as Tara.

For people who don’t know the show, can you talk a little about Tara?

United States of Tara - John Corbett and Toni Collette
Max (John Corbett) and Tara (Toni Collette) © Showtime

Tara Gregson has a beautiful family; she has a very rich life. But, she also was someone who went through a lot of horrible things in her youth and subsequently lives with multiple personalities. That occurs within people who are abused, and in order to survive. It’s incredible – part of the brain shuts down and creates a whole other personality that comes forth.

I think the fantastic thing is that you can’t actually describe the show. I kind of gravitate towards things that you can’t fit in a box and I think this show is many things: it’s incredibly funny, it’s quite dark, it’s moving, it’s confronting, it’s outrageous … it’ll be eye opening, I think.

Looking back at the first year and into this second season, has playing all of these roles been tougher than you thought it was going to be when you first signed on?

United States of Tara - Toni Collette and John Corbett
Episode 2.07 - Tara (Toni Collette) and Max (John Corbett) © Showtime

I don’t know how I got through the first season. I was a new mother and breastfeeding and hormonally challenged. The second season seemed to be a little easier. I think as an actor you’re always looking for something original, something challenging, and this is all of those things. And we get to share it with great talented people. So it’s a great joy for me, personally. I hope we get to do it for many years.

Buck seems to be more raunchy this season. How has that been for you?

You know, another day at the office. I think the entire season is a little more raunchy, actually. Everybody kind of develops a little love interest here and there. I’m working with great actors so I’m not complaining.

Is there one of the alters that is the toughest for you to do? And which one might be the easiest for you to adopt that persona?

United States of Tara - Toni Collette
Episode 2.07 -Tara (Toni Collette) © Showtime

They’re all gradually becoming easier. There are a couple of new alters this season, so I think when they’re in that stage and fairly new, it feels a little more awkward. But they become a little more fluid as time goes by.

Can you talk about the new alter, Shoshanna, who I believe your character can see and act opposite.

There is a lot of acting with myself. So Shoshanna is someone who has a direct relationship with Tara, and so that was strange to have to do that, act with myself; act with nobody or act with a tennis ball. That was slightly odd.

Tara’s kids are very well-adjusted overall. Would kids in a real life situation like this be a little more screwed up?

I hate to generalize, but I think that these kids, this is all they’ve known. So that’s why they feel so at ease with what may seem a little crazy to you. And they’ve dealt with it in completely different ways. Kate is quite defiant and rebellious and puts herself out there, and Marshall is so caring and concerned, he’s straight and narrow in a way, maybe even a little more mature than Kate. So they’ve dealt with it in completely different ways as we all would. They’re all individuals

How surprised were you to win the Emmy last year, you seemed very teary-eyed?

I was just really nervous more than anything to have to speak in front of all those people. It’s a pretty petrifying experience for me personally. But I was happy for our show that we got some recognition. And perhaps we’ll get to do it a little bit longer.

Judy Sloane

Judy is Film Review Online's regular Los Angeles based reporter.