Toni Collette on the Fated ‘Mafia Mamma’ Franchise and the ‘Slight Panic’ of Her Directing Debut

"The experience of making it was the most joyous of my career," the actress told IndieWire of leading "Mafia Mamma," which she hopes will spawn a series.
Collette at the "Mafia Mamma" premiere
Collette at the "Mafia Mamma" premiere
Getty Images

No one is having as much fun as Toni Collette.

The Golden Globe, SAG Award, and Emmy winner leads mob boss comedy “Mafia Mamma” from director Catherine Hardwicke, marking a reunion since their 2015 film “Miss You Already.” A spoof cross between “Under the Tuscan Sun” and “The Godfather” with a dash of an “In Her Shoes” makeover, “Mafia Mamma” puts Collette in the driver’s seat — not that she needed any permission.

“The experience of making it was the most joyous of my career,” Collette told IndieWire during a recent interview. “It was one of the best experiences of my life.”

The script was sent to Collette during the COVID lockdown, and she immediately thought of Hardwicke. “It just made me laugh so much. I just thought, ‘Man, if this can do this for me at this time, I want to bring this to life.’ I had such a special feeling about it from the beginning,” Collette said. “I felt so flattered [original story writer and producer] Amanda Sthers sent it to me. I just knew that I had to do it, I really did. I knew it was going to be a good time. I didn’t realize it would be this great of a time, but I knew it was going to be special.”

She added, “I also knew that there was no way in the world that I could make it without Cat [Hardwicke]. There’s nobody like her. She’s incredibly authentic. She thinks for herself in such an interesting way. She’s an incredible collaborator, and she’s just fun and inspiring and very creative.”

“Mafia Mamma” also has a unique balance of comedy and action, something “Twilight” director Hardwicke is well-versed in. The film follows Collette as a middle-aged American woman stuck in a dead-end job and dwindling marriage who learns she has inherited an organized crime syndicate from her grandfather.

Catherine Hardwicke and Toni Collette on the set of “Mafia Mamma”Fabrizio Di Giulio

“Tonally, it’s very unusual. Yes it’s funny, but there’s a lot of action. Her actual story is one that is very empowering and very moving which is quite internal,” Collette said. “It’s about a woman who’s been fucked over her whole life and coming into a sense of power. That alone I loved. But then for it to be in this context of a huge amount of fun and romance and the beauty and magic of Italy, it was just so many incredible things that made up this beautiful story. I’m just so happy that it came together the way that it did. It still blows me away that I got to do it.”

And working with Italian film star Monica Bellucci, who plays the family’s consigliere, only made “Mafia Mamma” feel even more unbelievable.

“She is an icon, my God,” Collette gushed of her co-star. “And to have her in a film in Italy, giving me a makeover, teaching me how to be strong, it was incredible! Are you kidding? We were so lucky to have gotten her. When I was first telling people about the movie and explaining what it was and then saying Monica Bellucci was going to be in it, jaws were dropping left and right. She’s the sweetest, most professional, dearest, most fun. …I loved making her laugh. So much of this story is outrageous, and just watching Monica giggle makes my day.”

Toni Collette and Monica Bellucci in "Mafia Mamma"
Toni Collette and Monica Bellucci in “Mafia Mamma”Fabrizio Di Giulio

Those laughs both on and off-screen are set to continue, according to Collette. “We’re hopefully working on a second one, so we’ll get to do it again. That’s the aim,” she said, nothing that the film will most likely stay rooted in its native nation. “Italy is such a huge part of the story: the culture, the beauty, and the history, and just their way of life. It contributes so much to the story culturally that I think we want to stay within Italy but potentially go to some different areas.”

In the meantime, Collette is starting production later in 2023 on her directorial debut, the novel adaptation of Lily King’s “Writers and Lovers.” Collette co-wrote the script with “Wanderlust” screenwriter Nick Payne, with  “Unbelievable” team Susannah Grant and Sarah Timberman behind the project. Casting is still under wraps for the feature that will follow an aspiring novelist who works as a waitress in ’90s-era Boston while navigating dating amid her mother’s sudden death.

“Weirdly, it was kind of around the same time when this project came to me. It was during COVID. I read the book, I flew to Toronto to start shooting ‘Nightmare Alley.’ This was in the beginning of 2020. We shut down production, I flew home,” she said. “I remember the date, it was like March 16, and I remember finishing the book on the plane and not being able to put it down. And then when I landed, I spoke to somebody who said, ‘You know, [producer] Susannah Grant’ — who I had worked with recently on ‘Unbelievable’ — ‘she’s really interested in “Writers and Lovers.”‘

Collette admits she went into “a slight panic” over the news. “I was like, ‘Oh my God, what?!’ And so I just contacted her directly and said, ‘I feel so passionately about this story. I’ve been looking for something to direct and I hear you’re interested in it. Would you consider joining forces?,'” she recalled. “And she and [executive producer] Sarah Timberman, who also worked on ‘Unbelievable,’ came back to me and said, ‘Yes, absolutely. We totally see you as the director, let’s do it.’ It blew me away that they had faith in me.”

The team is currently preparing to shoot within the next year, something Collette simply “cannot wait” to do.

And while Collette’s monumental 2023 is already planned out, the following year marks the 30th anniversary of her breakout role in “Muriel’s Wedding.” So will the ultimate “Mafia Mamma” mob boss celebrate with a cast reunion? “I have no plans, but I hope I get invited to a party!,” she said. Of course, Collette brings the party wherever she goes.

A Bleecker Street release, “Mafia Mamma” will hit theaters on Friday, April 14.

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