In the new comedy Mafia Mamma, out this week, Toni Collette vamps it up and brings the laughs as an American woman who is forced to take over the family crime business in Italy after her estranged grandfather dies. She wastes no time confirming that filming on location in the Eternal City was as glorious as it looks on screen. “Just being in Rome was the be all and end all. I've traveled to Italy many times, but being able to live in Rome and have a focus and a purpose and experience living in the city day to day—it was like a gift from the gods,” says the Aussie actress. “Honestly, it was so much fun! It wasn't just a highlight of my career; it was a serious highlight of my life.”
Ahead, Collette spills to Condé Nast Traveler about a few of her favorite Italian tastes and sounds, as well as what she packs, why she needs to vacation near water, and which southeast Asian city she’d return to again and again.
On sightseeing (and eating) with her Italian costars and crew:
We found a few holes in walls, and I introduced them to a few as well! I'm very good at researching. It was carciofi [artichoke] season, so I was seeking them out at pretty much every meal. Carciofi alla Romana, not the fried kind. It was like finding gold every time towards the end of the shoot, because it was coming towards the end of the season. They took me to this keyhole where you look through this tiny hole and see the Vatican in the far distance. It's just perfectly framed. I went there at night, and it was the most incredible thing. I also never realized the Borghese Gardens were actually in the shape of a heart. Did you know that? So beautiful! Different gardens, restaurants, museums, secret little churches. There's so many churches there. I'm not religious, but I always go into them and sit there and soak up the energy. When I'm in other cities now and I hear the bells, I stop and I close my eyes and it feels like Rome.
The side trips she took during filming:
We went down [near] Naples for a weekend, a two-hour drive south of Rome, to a completely idyllic seaside resort. It was freaking magnificent. We also went to Ponza, which is really more for locals. Not many tourists were there. That was an incredible experience. We took the boat out for the day and just explored the island and swam and oh, heaven.
Her travel pet peeves:
Just being loud is so obnoxious. Well, did you know we’re all sharing a space, and it's quite small? Come on. What about the farters! That's just horrifying. That's where masks actually help because it acts like a filter, but it's like, what the fuck? Go to the bathroom, dude.
What’s in her carry-on bag: