In Showtime’s 2009-2011 series, “United States of Tara,” Toni Collette memorably played the title character, a woman with multiple personalities, who stopped taking the meds that suppressed her other selves because they deadened her creativity and her sex drive. Unlike Tara, Joy Richards, the character Collette plays in “Wanderlust,” a Netflix series bowing Oct. 19, doesn’t have any problems with her libido. In fact, Collette claimed she was the first woman to have an orgasm on BBC One, when the series aired in the U.K.
Joy and her husband, Alan (Steven Mackintosh), are in bed when we first see them — in the missionary position. Their sex life has been flagging since Joy was hit by a car in a biking accident; she’s not as lissom as she was before. “If you just use technique to get in that way,” Joy coaches. “Technique?” Alan says indignantly. “You know what I mean,” she says. “No actually, I don’t. You’re the one with the problem, Joy, so don’t try to needle away at my craft.” “I’m sorry, skilled woodsman,'” Joy says, trying to bring levity to an awkward situation. Alan isn’t amused: “I think you’ve been using your injury as an excuse for months. I don’t think you want to have sex with me, Joy.”
“The idea is of a struggling sex life as the entry point to the show, but it becomes so much more profound and moving,” says Collette. “It’s moving to the point of tears and laughter. It has such a beautiful and unusual tone. I don’t think I’ve ever had so much fun.”
The six-part drama by award-winning playwright Nick Payne, gives Joy and Alan, who love each other but don’t necessarily want to have sex with one another, an option besides divorce. Alan sleeps with his colleague, Claire (Zawe Ashton) after they smoke a joint in her apartment. Joy brings Marvin (William Ash), a man she met at her hydrotherapy sessions, to her home office in back of the house, where they have a quickie.
Joy and Alan’s “sextracurricular” activities raise feelings of jealousy at first. The night Alan admits to Joy that he slept with Claire, he apologizes profusely. That is, until Joy admits that she also had sex with someone, and Alan waxes judgmental. “The potential for a double standard is there,” Collette says. “But they quickly join forces in figuring out a way to keep their marriage alive and sustainable. Actually, they’re not only existing, but enjoying their lives together. They’re stepping outside of what society expects. They quickly learn that with polyamory there’s so much variation. We’re, all of us, such moving pieces. In every relationship, when you’re inviting others into your sphere, it’s going to get a little messier.””
As a therapist, Joy doesn’t have all the answers. “We expect so much from our therapists,” Collette says. “We expect them to help solve our problems and heal people. I love that Joy and Alan have three kids. The kids have their s–t more together than the adults. Life is messy and if you continue to grow, life is kind of thrust upon you. I love that the story is in no way thwarted. Joy is incredibly professional and can see other people’s problems. Many of her clients have issues that reflect her own life and she learns from them. Most people have a little bit of a blind spot. What the entire story is about is an awakening.”
Joy’s wardrobe serves as a code for the character’s state of mind. “On the initial dates my character went on she was a little more girly,” Collette said, referring to flower-print blouses and peasant dresses. “The more comfortable she becomes, the more she gets into her own style. This is her time and she’s figuring this out. She’s not shying away from the changes she’s going through. From the beginning, she is quite sexual.
“I used to be embarrassed to say I was interested in fashion. It’s a real art form and it really represents you. I live in Ulla Johnson,” says Collette, who also cited Zimmermann, Roksanda, Elie Saab, the Vampires Wife, Chloé, Stella McCartney and Valentino as her favorite brands.
Collette has another Netflix project under her belt, the upcoming series, “Unbelievable,” based on the Pulitzer prize-winning article by the Marshall Project and ProPublica about the true story of Marie, a teenager who was charged with lying about having been raped. Collette plays one of two detectives — Merritt Weaver plays the other — who follow the twisted path to the truth. “The girl was very intimidated by the cops, so she retracted her statement,” Collette said. “Several years later, we try to find the rapist and realize he’s a bit of a serialist,” Collette said.