Let's Be Real: Toni Collette and Marisa Tomei Star in Will Eno's New Play The Realistic Joneses

By Stuart Miller
12 May 2014

Marisa Tomei
Marisa Tomei
Photo by Joan Marcus

Toni Collette and Marisa Tomei stop being polite and start getting real in Will Eno's new play about friends and neighbors, love and life, The Realistic Joneses.


An interview with Toni Collette and Marisa Tomei was somewhat like an evening at Will Eno's The Realistic Joneses, in which they're co-starring with Tracy Letts and Michael C. Hall: There was warmth and humor and an unusual connection that had them finishing each others' sentences even though they just met, but the conversation also skittered sideways into a curious dead-end or two, creating a sense of unknowing, of life as enigma.

Collette started by offering a cup of tea, a moment of bonding over distaste for our spouse's coffee habits and self-effacing jokes about the mess she keeps making with her own tea. During the interview about the show, she was vibrant and open... until she suddenly stopped.

While discussing being able to "go with the flow" she suddenly said, "I have a tattoo on my body because of this very subject."

"Because you went with the flow?" Tomei inquired.

"No, because I find it hard to go with the flow," Collette explained, adding that "At least I'm aware of it. It's..."

She paused, said, "Oh, why am I talking about my tattoo?" and withdrew briefly. Attention shifted to Tomei who deflected the notion of a potential tattoo on the subject with a burst of laughter.

The morning was filled with her effusive ebullience. Even after the interview, a reference to her brother's long ago high school misdeeds brought out more joking around. She turned serious, even secretive, however, when pressed about her acting.

Both women play neighbors with the last name Jones and with husbands facing the same rare, debilitating illness, but on the similarities and differences between her and her character Tomei said, "I don't like to think about those things, especially when we're in the soup, in the marination process."

Collette also prefers to just "let it happen" though after a role is done, she's comfortable making those connections. But Tomei said, "there's an overemphasis on how transformative you are and whether the character is like you or not."

Acting is magical, she said, and she's distrustful of critics and fans who deify actors for gaining 20 pounds or who, in this information age, overanalyze what makes a performance work. "Parsing it does a disservice that can harm my process," she said. "Sometimes I feel like saying, 'I don't know,' and let that be okay to protect the unconscious. Of course we have our craft, but it's a shamanic act."


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