Stylist is running its first ever feminist advent calendar in 2018, with a remarkable woman revealing who her feminist icon is every day until 25 December. Here, Toni Collette reveals why her grandmother is her ultimate feminist icon.
My grandmother is my feminist icon, as I recently did an episode of Who Do You Think You Are and I learned so much more about her than I ever had before. I loved her, she was one of my best friends. She died when I was in my early teens and the loss of her honestly affected my whole life.
So, on the show, I asked about her – and found out that, despite juggling motherhood and work in poverty-stricken times during the war and post-war in Australia, she somehow managed to retain this strong sense of self. She was so strong, and she had this secret affair, this secret relationship, which nobody ever knew about.
I think everybody needs to make space for themselves, but specifically women and specifically mothers. It is a position which demands that you be quite selfless because inherently you just have to take care of other people for a significant length of time (some might say forever!). But my grandmother refused, and carved out this space for herself, gave herself time to take care of herself, and none of us knew it until years after she was dead. It was kind of shocking and amazing – so much was expected of her and demanded of her, and I truly respect that she did that for herself. It has inspired me to do the same.
I don’t think you can be everything for everybody else unless you’re taking care of yourself, otherwise you have nothing really left to give – you’re just running on empty.
Even when it comes to work – when it came to my new film Hereditary, I said before the film, before I even knew about it, I had said to my agents that I’m not ready to do anything emotionally heavy, that I needed a break. Because all of that emotion was starting to feel like an accumulative heaviness.
People used to ask me: “Do you carry your character home with you, is it hard to separate from your work?” And I used to say: “No, it’s not me, that’s just work.” But then I realised I was still thinking about things a year and a half after filming them. So I was mindful of this on Hereditary. I was at work at Utah during the week, I flew home to my family at the weekends – I had solitary time in the week, and I was kind of selfish about it.
I had to run at the end of the day to get the gunky energy moving, so that I couldn’t feel it stagnating within me – and it worked. Usually at the end of a film I collapse in a heap and feel completely exhausted, but on this one, because I took care of myself throughout, that didn’t happen. And on this film, this particular film, it really could have.
On any film, you’re in it all the time. You have no life, you’re married to the job, it’s so demanding of your time – not only at work, but you have homework. It’s all consuming. So I’m happy I’ve finally learned how to find that balance – and that my grandmother was the one who helped me find it.
Hereditary is out now on DVD and Blu-ray.
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