Collette's acting career began in the early 1990s with comedic roles in films such as Spotswood (1992) and Muriel's Wedding (1994), for which she was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for Best Actress. She achieved international recognition as a result of her Academy Award-nominated portrayal of Lynn Sear in The Sixth Sense (1999) and a year later made her Tony Award-nominated Broadway debut with the leading role in the musical The Wild Party. In the 2000s, she was noted for her roles in independent features including About a Boy (2002), for which she won several critics' awards and was nominated for a BAFTA Award, and Little Miss Sunshine (2006), which earned her a Screen Actors Guild Award as well as her second Golden Globe and BAFTA nominations.
From 2009 to 2011, she played the lead role in the critically acclaimed television series United States of Tara, for which she won the Primetime Emmy Award and the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress in a Comedy Series. Collette returned to Broadway in Will Eno's The Realistic Joneses, for which she earned a Drama Desk Special Award.
Toni Collett was born in Blacktown, a suburb in Western Sydney, the daughter of Judith (née Cook), a customer-service representative, and Bob Collett, a truck driver. She has two younger brothers, Ben and Christopher.
She was born under the surname "Collett", but added an "e" at the end for her stage name. Her biological paternal grandfather was an American serviceman whose name Toni does not know. From an early age, Collette showed a talent for acting. She faked an appendicitis when she was eleven, and was so convincing that doctors removed her appendix, although tests showed nothing wrong with it.
She attended Blacktown Girls' High School until the age of 16, and later attended both the Australian Theatre for Young People and National Institute of Dramatic Art. Her first acting role was onstage in the musical Godspell in Sydney in her early teens.
Collette made her television debut in 1990, in a guest appearance on the Seven Network drama series A Country Practice. In 1992, she made her feature film debut as part of the ensemble comedy-drama Spotswood (known in the U.S. as The Efficiency Expert), which starred Anthony Hopkins and which also featured Russell Crowe. Collette soon rocketed to international notice with her performance in the title role for Muriel's Wedding in 1994, a role for which she gained 18 kg (40 lb) in seven weeks. She won the Australian award for Best Actress as Muriel, her first of five Australian Film Institute awards. In 1996, she was part of the ensemble cast of the comedy, Così, and had a leading role in Emma as the naïve Harriet Smith. In 1998, she appeared in The Boys, based on a Sydney stage play of the same name.
She has also received broad acclaim on Broadway, starring as Queenie in Michael John LaChiusa's musical work, The Wild Party. For this role, Collette was nominated for the Tony Award for Best Leading Actress in a Musical.
Collette turned down the title role in Bridget Jones's Diary because she was committed to perform on Broadway at the time. In 1999, she was nominated for an Academy Award for her role as the mother of a troubled boy in the U.S. film The Sixth Sense, which also starred Bruce Willis and Haley Joel Osment.
In 2000, she was the voice of Meg Bluegum Bunyip's mother in The Magic Pudding based on the iconic children's book by Norman Lindsay.
In 2003, Collette played the lead role in Japanese Story as an Australian geologist traversing an arc of emotions in the course of an intense relationship with a visiting Japanese businessman, which she captured so powerfully that numerous reviewers made the point of welcoming her back to playing the lead for the first time since Muriel's Wedding and generally scored her performance as riveting. Collette won the Australian Film Institute award for Best Actress for her performance.
In 2004, Collette starred with Nia Vardalos and David Duchovny in the musical comedy Connie and Carla, released by Universal Studios. Collette's only film in 2005 was In Her Shoes, a comedy-drama about the relationship between two uncommon sisters and their estranged grandmother, co-starring Cameron Diaz and Shirley MacLaine. Based on the 2002 novel of the same name by Jennifer Weiner, the production received generally positive reviews from critics, and became a moderate independent success, earning a total of US$82.2 million worldwide. Collette was subsequently nominated for a Satellite Award for Best Actress for her performance of a successful-but-lonely lawyer with low self-esteem, which Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle noted the focus of the film: "As usual, Collette's face is a fine-tuned transmitter of her emotions, moment by moment, and she becomes the locus of audience feeling."
In 2006, Collette starred in Little Miss Sunshine, a comedy-drama-road movie about a family's trip to a children's beauty pageant. The film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2006, and its distribution rights were bought by Fox Searchlight Pictures for one of the biggest deals made in the history of the festival. Released in July 2006, the film received major critical acclaim, resulting in several accolades such as four Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture, whilst Collette herself earned her second BAFTA and Golden Globe nominations for her portrayal of the family's worn-out matriarch. A box office success, Little Miss Sunshine went on to gross US$100.5 million worldwide and became one of the most successful independent films of the mid-2000s.
Also in 2006, Collette played supporting roles in the thriller films Like Minds, The Night Listener and The Dead Girl. Although the latter was released to positive response during its limited North American run, none of these films fared generally well at the box office, with Robin Williams-featuring The Night Listener emerging as the biggest-selling production with global gross revenue of US$10.5 million. In her first television engagement in five years, the HBO-BBC joint miniseries Tsunami: The Aftermath (2006), Collette played an Australian government employee who tries to cope with the events following the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and the resulting tsunami in Thailand. Broadcast to controversial critics, her performance of an aid worker garnered Collette her first Primetime Emmy nomination and third Golden Globe nomination.
In 2008, Collette accepted the leading role in the Showtime comedy-drama series, United States of Tara. Created by Steven Spielberg and Juno screenwriter Diablo Cody, the show revolves around a wife and mother of two with dissociative identity disorder, coping with her seven alternate personalities. Originally planned for a twelve episode season, the series was picked up for a second and third season, broadcast in 2010 and 2011, respectively. Collette won both the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series and the Best Actress in a TV Comedy for her performance on the show.
In 2011 and 2012, Collette took on a slew of supporting roles in independent films, as well as the 2011 remake of Fright Night. She also appeared in, among others, Jesus Henry Christ and Mental, which reunited her with Muriel's Wedding director P. J. Hogan.
In 2013, Collette earned critical acclaim for her work in the acclaimed independent films The Way, Way Back as Pam, opposite Steve Carell and Sam Rockwell, and Enough Said as Sarah, with Julia Louis-Dreyfus and James Gandolfini in one of his final film roles. In particular, for her work in Way, Way Back, Collette received several glowing notices. Andrew O'Heir of Salon Magazine praised her "brilliant, understated performance"; Peter Travers of Rolling Stone dubbed her work "stellar"; James Berardinelli described Collette as a "chameleon" and said that she gives a performance far and above what the role requires; and Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times wrote that through Collette's performance, "Pam ... comes alive."
In the fall of 2013, Collette headlined the CBS event drama Hostages to solid reviews albeit weak ratings. RedEye described her performance as "fascinating", Newsday as "superb", and USA Today as "nuanced" and "grounded." The series aired fifteen episodes and, due to a combination of low ratings and a closed narrative, will not return for a second cycle.
Collette again had the lead role in the Joanne Woodward-produced Lucky Them, which debuted at the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival and was released theatrically on 30 May 2014. The film earned strong reviews, with Collette receiving the bulk of the praise. The Hollywood Reporter wrote that the movie was "centered by smart, soulful work by the wonderful Toni Collette" and that she plays her character, Ellie, "with warmth, realness and emotional transparency that make you stay with her even when she's pushing people away." Variety said that "it's Collette's show, and the actress fully conveys the brittle, hard-edged cynicism of someone who's been around the block a few times, jaded by years of exposure to the empty promises and broken dreams that proliferate on her chosen beat ... it generates a surprising degree of suspense as it barrels toward its final revelations, culminating in an unexpectedly emotional payoff played with piercing delicacy by Collette." The film played the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival, where Joe Bendel of Libertas Film Magazine ranked Collette's leading performance as the fourth-best of the festival. Upon release, Mike D'Angelo of The Dissolve wrote that "Toni Collette is capable of anything" and other raves came from The Village Voice, the New York Post and the Los Angeles Times. Lucky Them received a mixed response from publications such as The New York Times, Slant and PopMatters, though Collette's performance was consistently praised despite varied reactions to the movie. Overall, the film was designated "fresh" by Rotten Tomatoes with 76 percent of critics positively reviewing it, and it received a weighted score of 65 by Metacritic, equating to "generally positive reviews."
After a 14-year absence, Collette returned to Broadway in the spring of 2014, starring in Will Eno's play The Realistic Joneses. She co-starred with Michael C. Hall, Tracy Letts and Marisa Tomei in the production examining a couple who projects their insecurities and fears onto their next-door neighbors of the same last name. The play opened on 6 April to strong reviews, with Collette and the entire cast earning top notices. A rave from The New York Times included that "Ms. Collette exudes a touching, exasperated dignity as Jennifer." Variety called her work "terribly funny," while The Hollywood Reporter claimed that "Collette, whose naturalness can cut through even the very deliberate theatrical artifice of Eno's dialogue and scene construction, anchors the play with her somber restraint and deadpan delivery." The New York Post, more critical of the play, highlighted Collette's performance: "Collette does some heavy lifting to fill in Eno's blanks. You can read deep sadness in the wide planes of her expressive face, in her lost, unfocused eyes." Other strong reviews for the play and her performance came from USA Today, Newsday, the Chicago Tribune and the Economist. Collette won a Drama Desk Special Award along with her co-stars for Best Ensemble Performance.
In 2014, Collette starred in the negatively received tragi-comedy A Long Way Down, with Pierce Brosnan and Aaron Paul, had a cameo in the poorly received Melissa McCarthy vehicle Tammy, and appeared in Hector and the Search for Happiness opposite Simon Pegg.
In August 2015 she appeared in the SBS series Who Do You Think You Are? Her upcoming roles include the drama Miss You Already opposite Drew Barrymore and the drug drama Glassland with Will Poulter.
In September 2015, Collette joined the cast for the film adaption of Craig Silvey's Australian novel Jasper Jones, and performed the voice of the two emus Beryl and Cheryl in Blinky Bill the Movie.
In 2017, she formed a production company, Vocab Films, with Jen Turner and acquired the rights to Graeme Simsion's novel and screenplay The Best of Adam Sharp. In July 2017, it was announced that Vocab Films would team with RadicalMedia to develop Julia Dahl's novel Invisible City for Television
In October 2006, she began touring Australia to promote her first vocal album Beautiful Awkward Pictures, released on Hoola Hoop Records under the name Toni Collette & the Finish, a band for which her husband plays drums. Collette appeared on the Australian television show Cool Aid and performed the song "Look Up" from the album. In July 2007, Collette and the Finish were a headlining act at the Sydney show of Live Earth. She sang a cover of T. Rex's "Children of the Revolution" with The Finish.
Collette married musician Dave Galafassi on 11 January 2003. The couple have a daughter, Sage Florence, born on 9 January 2008, and a son, Arlo Robert, born on 22 April 2011.
She is a supporter of animal rights and PETA. She urged former Prime Minister John Howard to end the Australian sheep farming practice of mulesing, which many animal rights activists consider cruel. She later revised her position after doing her own research of the Australian wool industry.Beautiful Awkward Pictures (2006) – Toni Collette & The Finish