NEW YORK, NEW YORK - APRIL 11: Toni Collette attends the "Mafia Mamma" New York screening at AMC Lin...
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Toni Collette Tells Her Kids There Are “No Rules” — But In A Good Way, Promise

Mafia Mamma star tells Romper the life advice she shares with her kids that you’ll want to use for yourself.

If there’s one thing Toni Collette wants her children — Sage, 15 and Arlo, 11 — and anyone else to know, it’s that the best thing you can do with other people’s expectations of you is to ignore them. “I just want them to know there are actually no rules, that they should listen to themselves and not feel bullied by society into making decisions,” she says wistfully over Zoom. “I’m always just saying, ‘first follow your joy and just follow what you are passionate about. Because if you’re passionate about it, you’ll never get sick of doing it and it won’t feel so much of a job.”

In her new movie, Mafia Mamma, Collette plays a suburbanite who learns to do just that — going from a fish-out-of-water failing upward to thriving... and, OK, yes, part of that evolution is learning to kill a hitman with a stiletto heel.

In Mafia Mamma, Kristin is a 40-something mom whose only child is headed off to college. Like many moms, Kristin has forgotten, or never learned, to make herself and her happiness a priority. From her sexist co-workers to her hapless husband, everyone else comes first. But around the same time she finds her husband having an affair, she receives a mysterious call from Italy informing her she must attend her estranged grandfather’s funeral. Her best friend convinces her to go — maybe this funeral can be a springboard for her to have her own personal Eat Pray Love (though she swaps “love” for “f-ck”). But within hours of her arrival, she discovers the real purpose of this invitation: her grandfather was the head of the Balbano crime family whose dying wish was for Kristin take over.

The movie itself is a fun, campy romp, but the experience, it seems, was something truly profound. Collette speaks of the weeks she and her children lived in Italy with a sense of glowing reverence. One need only look at her Instagram account over the past few months to get a sense of it: stunning cityscapes, bike rides through the country, food markets bursting with colors you can taste through your screen. “I’ve never wanted to go to Italy more than looking through your Insta,” I tell her.

“Right?! The Italian tourism department should hire me,” she jokes. “Rome [is] a place that I already loved. But being able to live in Rome was one of the best experiences of my life. It wasn’t just a job: I didn’t even know my soul needed it. It was just a profoundly joyous experience that I will never ever forget.”

And neither, apparently, will Sage and Arlo (whom you can actually see in the funeral procession scene early in the film).I was talking to my son the other day about this one day where a bunch of us hired a boat and we went out to Ponza, which is an island, and he just said, ‘Mom, it was literally the best day of my life,’” she recalls. “But actually, we all felt that way! It wasn’t just him. There was something really elevated about the time that we all shared. I mean, it was magical.”

When I ask Collette if she can see herself in her character — someone who had to learn to prioritize herself — she’s quick to answer that it’s something she dealt with “from a young age.”

“I think I’ve felt responsible for other people, feeling like I should put myself aside for other people to be able to shine,” she leans forwards and smiles. “But I’ve had therapy! I’ve figured it out!”

It’s a good first step... and sorting through that in therapy is definitely a healthier choice than figuring it out by becoming a mob boss. (But that’s a very different movie.)