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Director P.J. Hogan and actress Toni Collette reunite for their latest feature film Mental. It’s been almost two decades since they made the rom-com-dram hit Muriel’s Wedding and Mental brings them back to Australia to tell the tale of yet another highly dysfunctional family. Film Pie talked to Toni Collette about the new film and her immediate rise to fame after Muriel.

When I was doing Muriel’s Wedding, I had no idea about how it might be received. I didn’t even contemplate the fact that there might be an audience and so when it became a massive hit, not only in Australia, I remember walking down the street in New York when I was doing press and these guys came up to me going “oh my god, it’s Muriel!” It left me thinking “woah, what is going on?

When we were shooting Muriel’s Wedding, P.J. had talked about this film Mental that he wanted to make and he’d given me a basic idea about this woman who had come into his life as an “unqualified nanny” to him. Over the years, he’s been telling me that he’s been working on a script and eventually he asked me to read it. I loved the script for what it is but I’m so flattered that PJ wanted me to be a part of telling this personal story. They’re autobiographical films for him.

Collette’s portrayal of the hapless Muriel Heslop made her a star and earned her a Golden Globe nomination. Watch a clip from Muriel’s Wedding when Muriel meets Rhonda [Rachel Griffiths], whose “whole life is one last fling after another”.

Both Muriel and Mental are stories based on Hogan’s upbringing. It seems hard to believe when watching the eccentric characters brought to life but as he said in a recent interview, “it all happened, it’s a true story.”

When I was twelve years old, living in Queensland, my mother had a complete nervous breakdown, and was institutionalized by my dad, who was the local mayor. At the time of my mother’s breakdown, he was running for re-election. He said to us, ‘Nobody votes for a guy whose wife is bonkers, and the official story is she’s on vacation.’ Unfortunately, every time somebody asked us where she was, we’d all give a different answer. Also, we were not the easiest kids. It wasn’t my dad’s fault that my mom ended up going crackers. Put it this way, when my mom was away, we took full advantage. We ordered in pizza, I started dying my hair, my sister pierced her own ears, and no clothes being washed, no beds being made. He didn’t know what to do with us. One day, he passed a hitchhiker, and he trusted her because she had a dog, and he gave her work. He hired her, and we found this strange woman sitting on our couch in the mess that we had made, and she was smoking what I thought was a cigarette that smelled really funny. She had a hunting knife sticking out of her boot. Her dog turned out to be even crazier than she was. It was this snarling, vicious canine. The first thing out of her mouth was ‘This is a bit of a mess, isn’t it?’ She sicked the dog on us and we started cleaning the house. It pretty much unfolded as it happened, and to this day, Shaz remains one of the most brilliant, inspiring, crazy people I’ve ever met in my life.

Collette’s Shaz, like Hogan describes the character based on a real situation in his family, is a foul-mouthed hitchhiker whom sort of becomes a Mary Poppins to the household.

Mental is now available on iTunes.

Muriel’s Wedding is available on DVD and Digital Download.

Watch more Muriel clips here.

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