Will is an Audi-driving commitment-phobe whose only worry in life is where his next date is going to come from.Marcus is a bullied schoolboy who thinks all his problems will be solved if his suicidal single mum ceases to be single.

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Like The Sixth Sense before it, About a Boy sees her playing a hurting woman trying to bring up her little man.

In Stephen Daldry's forthcoming The Hours, the hurt is evident once more as she portrays Kitty, a woman whose life is destroyed by childlessness. I need to do a funny movie.'Is there an unhappiness in her life which has drawn her to these poignant roles?

Her father, Bob, was a truck driver while her mother, Judy, worked for a courier company.

When their headstrong only daughter decided, at the age of 16, that she was leaving school to become an actress, they had no option but to support her.

'If I hadn't had acting, I would probably have imploded,' she says.

'I come from a very close, grounded family but they are not the most communicative of people.Her hair is cut in a peroxide blonde crop, making her huge eyes seem even larger. 'Yep.' Feeling a little stressed by this blood-out-of-a-stone situation, I ask if she minds if I smoke. I'm a Scorpio so I'm a pretty intense person - it really has taken me a while to work out who I am and what I want from this life.'My 20s were totally bonkers.She may not be wearing Nepalese knits and Birkenstocks, but she is, none the less, in hippie mode. I was living out of a suitcase and burning the candle at both ends. I just want to find some inner peace and I think I'm getting there, slowly but surely.' Exhausted from her unexpected outburst, she sits back in her chair and stretches her arms above her head.My arrival at the Covent Garden Hotel has been greeted by not one, but two publicists - the first for About a Boy, the film I am here to discuss, and the second (and by far the most frightening) for Toni herself.'I just wanted to let you know that Toni is really tired,' she briefs me in her Californian whine.But despite the A-list star status, Collette has retained a dignified anonymity.