Co-stars had to watch out for Toni Collette

 

AS JONI Thrombey, the ebullient lifestyle guru with a Cali-girl drawl, Toni Collette is just one of the sprawling, epic ensemble of new murder mystery Knives Out.

She's not the main character: that would be Daniel Craig's Southern detective Benoit Blanc, nor is she the character with the most bombastic scenes.

We'll award that one a tie between Chris Evans, hilariously playing against type as a wayward trust fund type and Christopher Plummer, injecting his few scenes as Harlan Thrombey, the eccentric crime novelist whose untimely death leads to a murder investigation in which every one of his family members is a suspect.

Murder most foul, to be sure, but what Collette does, through her character in Knives Out, is a crime of a different nature - she steals every scene that she's in.

"Toni Collette is a treasure," Don Johnson, her Knives Out co-star tells news.com.au laconically. "She's an amazing actress, and if you're not careful, you will be forgotten in a scene. Because Toni is always working," Johnson adds. "She's like rust. She never sleeps."

As director Rian Johnson puts it: "She'll steal everything, man, even if she's not saying anything in the background of a scene you're watching Toni Collette.

"Obviously now I've edited the movie I've seen this stuff a hundred times, but I'll still watch her. Because every line she does, she's putting so much nuance into every little thing. She amazes me. I'm convinced she can do anything."

Toni Collette stars as Joni Thrombey in a scene from the movie Knives Out. Picture: Studiocanal
Toni Collette stars as Joni Thrombey in a scene from the movie Knives Out. Picture: Studiocanal

Both Collette's character Joni and Johnson's character Richard have married into the Thrombey family, Joni to her late husband and Richard to Linda (Jamie Lee Curtis), whose personal wealth greatly dwarfs his own. ("I've never played a kept man before," Johnson jokes. "And I liked it.")

By very definition, both Joni and Richard are on the outskirts of the Thrombey family, and they'll do just about anything to ensure that they stay within it. Maybe even kill.

This is the question at the heart of Knives Out, a good old-fashioned murder mystery that premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in September and will be in cinemas in Australia on November 28.

Don Johnson stars opposite Toni in Knives Out. Picture: Jon Kopaloff/Getty Images
Don Johnson stars opposite Toni in Knives Out. Picture: Jon Kopaloff/Getty Images

It's a whodunit of the Agatha Christie or Gosford Park variety, an all-star cast of odd characters assembled at a poky country mansion to bear witness to a horrific murder. When Craig's Benoit Blanc turns up on the scene, all cigar-smoking and smooth-talking, everything takes a twisted turn.

For Johnson, the appeal of Knives Out went beyond working with an extraordinary cast. (Lakeith Stanfield, Katherine Langford, Michael Shannon and Ana de Armas also co-star.) It was getting the chance to work on the kind of movie that Hollywood, courtesy of superhero mania, doesn't make that often anymore.

"There's not a lot of gimmicks, it's storytelling," Johnson explains. "Really good storytelling with all these great flawed characters."

That's not to say that he doesn't enjoy working with green screens, or on elaborate action sequences, as he did on Foxtel Showcase's new miniseries Watchmen.

"I enjoy all of it," Johnson says affably. Still, he adds: "Hollywood is a microcosm of the world, the pendulum swings very far one way and then it swings back the other way, and occasionally it finds a nice equilibrium in the middle where you get a mix of action pictures and dramas like Joker or great comedy suspense thrillers like Knives Out.

"I'm hopeful that we're entering that time where this pendulum isn't swinging so widely. The business is profit driven, and that's good. But it's also challenging."

The star-studded cast of the movie Knives Out. Picture: Studiocanal
The star-studded cast of the movie Knives Out. Picture: Studiocanal

Johnson, who started his career in the '70s before breaking big with television series Miami Vice and Nash Bridges, admits that Hollywood has changed phenomenally since he first began working. "Oh God, if it was today, I don't know if I would be in the business," Johnson muses.

Could he have done Miami Vice, could he have played Sonny Crockett, in the age of social media? "No," he laughs. "That would not have worked out."

The problem, Johnson explains, is that social media places an enormous expectation on actors - and people - without rules or boundaries. "It's kind of like the Wild West out there with the internet," adds Johnson. "We've hatched this thing … that really has no rules or boundaries.

"People will say anything, and it's a reflection of our behaviours, and not necessarily our better selves."

For Johnson, the answer is to live in a different way and to derive satisfaction and fulfilment from sources outside of his phone. "The ultimate happiness is to be of service," Johnson says.

"It's one of the beautiful things about being an actor, that you are being of service to people and you're being of service to yourself, because through the characters you get to explore your own character, and your own flaws, and your own shortcomings and fears and desires and wants and needs, and you're sharing that with an audience.

"They get to discover that through your eyes, so there's this wonderful exchange of humanity."

The cast and director at the premiere of Knives Out. Picture: Jon Kopaloff/Getty Images
The cast and director at the premiere of Knives Out. Picture: Jon Kopaloff/Getty Images

One of the places where this exchange of humanity takes place is in a cinema. You buy a ticket to the movies to see, say, Knives Out, and you're buying a ticket for a moment of human connection.

"I think (going to the cinema is) more valuable than it actually gets credit for," Johnson says. "A lot of people tend to think, 'Oh, it's just the movies.' But it's not just the movies. It's people sharing an experience together.

"So much, these days, we're disconnected. And any way that we can find ways to connect and share those thoughts and feelings with other people, that's a great moment. A great day."

Knives Out premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival and is in cinemas in Australia on 28 November, with sneak previews on 22-24 November.