Toni Collette: ‘Mafia Mamma’ Is ‘a Highlight of My Career’
Watching Mafia Mamma, a slapstick farce about a middle-aged American woman who abruptly inherits an Italian mob empire, you can imagine its star, Toni Collette, in an episode of The Sopranos. She’s got Carmela‘s icy-blonde look and, by the end of the movie, commands a room like Tony. But here, it’s all in the service of an unabashedly screwball story — and Collette shines with an all-out silliness you’ve never seen before.
“I literally had the time of my life!” Collette tells Rolling Stone of Mafia Mamma. “It was the best ever. I love Italy. I love Rome, I loved the entire experience. I cannot express how joyous it was every single day. It was, you know, a highlight of my career.”
The ecstatic shooting experience makes perfect sense: Mafia Mamma takes the cast-vacation-as-entertainment approach of White Lotus or an Adam Sandler/Jennifer Aniston Netflix vehicle. We meet Collette’s character, a suburban mom named Kristin, as she reaches a crisis point that more than justifies a getaway — she can’t get her male boss or co-workers to take her seriously, has to say goodbye to a college-bound son eager to be out of her shadow, and, on top of everything, catches her husband cheating.
How fortunate, then, is the next piece of bad news she receives: a grandfather she never knew has died in Italy, and she must travel there to settle his affairs. Which, of course, turn out to be criminal.
Encouraged by her friend to view the trip as an opportunity to “Eat, Pray, Fuck,” Kristin flies over anticipating a packed tourist agenda and perhaps a torrid romance with some Italian stallion. Instead, her grandpa’s funeral is attacked by gunmen on motorcycles, and she learns — from loyal consigliere Bianca (Monica Bellucci) — that she is the new don of a family at war. Understandably, she’s a bit frazzled by the responsibility, and Collette lets rip with a manic performance of a woman in way over her head, whose awkward energy becomes something of a strength. Nearly poisoned by a rival mafioso during what she believes is a sexual rendezvous, for example, she swaps their wine glasses, having judged hers too full. Minutes later, he’s the one who croaks, sending Kristin into an even greater panic.
Collette relished the chance to explore her goofier side — which may surprise viewers familiar with her from heavy fare like The Staircase or Hereditary. “Fuck yeah!” she says. “Who wouldn’t want to do that? It feels good.” She loves that Kristin is both “a complete fish out of water” and “one of those people who keeps falling upward.”
“It’s beautifully empowering, as well, you know, without being dogmatic,” she adds. “It is a mob movie, but it isn’t. Because it really is about a woman learning to be strong in herself.” Collette is hugely complimentary of the screenplay from Amanda Sthers, Michael J. Feldman, and Debbie Jhoon: “It’s properly wet-your-pants funny. When I read it, I just couldn’t believe that it was sent to me. I was like, are you kidding me? I get to do this?!” She first received the material during the Covid pandemic, which made it feel like “this pulsing beacon of light”— a light that she brings to every ridiculous scene.
Another source of joy was her co-star, Bellucci, who plays the elegant and graceful foil to her bumbling misfit. “Getting her to do it was just a total coup,” Collette says. “I mean, Jesus, it’s Monica Bellucci! She’s a total icon.” Their odd-couple chemistry provides many of the film’s best moments, as Bianca, with infinite patience, tutors Kristin in the ways of the underworld. Along the way, they decide to revive the family’s vineyard — a disused property used as a front for illegal business — and produce an actually drinkable product.
The pair’s offscreen relationship had a similar warmth to it. Bellucci is “much sweeter than you would think,” Collette says, and would giggle at the more outrageous gags. “I loved making her laugh. Her laugh gave me so much pleasure.” Bellucci noticed, too, how Collette thrived in the role while shooting in and around Rome: “She would walk up to me and say, ‘Yes, Toni, Italy is good for you.’ She could see that I was blossoming like my character.”
But could Collette take over a criminal enterprise in real life? “Yeah, I think I would actually,” she says, without hesitation. “I’m probably not very good with violence, but I’m very organized and quite strong and very clear. I’m a good communicator.” She concedes that she wouldn’t bring homemade muffins to a high-stakes mob sitdown, as Kristin does, because she doesn’t bake herself. “I’m sure I could figure out something else.”
If, by the time the whirlwind of Mafia Mamma is over, you find yourself wishing you could spend more time with Collette’s endlessly endearing heroine, there’s reason to hold out hope: discussions for a sequel are underway. “We’re gonna make three,” Collette says. “If there were three Godfathers, there’s gonna be three Mafia Mammas.” It does only seem fair that Kristin get to live out the rest of this saga now that she’s settled into her throne.
“I hope we get to do it,” Collette says, before signing off with a farewell she must have picked up on set: “Ciao!”