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What if women were more powerful than men? Toni Collette finds out.

A portrait of Toni Collette, wavy long hair flowing over her shoulders.
Toni Collette stars in “The Power,” a series that poses the question: What if women didn’t ever have to be afraid anymore?
(Brandon M Young / For The Times)
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Toni Collette has been on a tear. Touching down in Los Angeles briefly to discuss her role in “The Power,” she has been doing little other than “working, traveling with my kids and being perpetually jet-lagged everywhere.” She hopes at some point to find the time to finish watching the first season of the Prime Video sci-fi series, in which she stars as Seattle Mayor Margot Cleary-Lopez, and to read the novel by Naomi Alderman upon which it’s based. “It says so much that’s so relevant that I’m eager to read it.”

“The Power” posits the simplest of questions: What if women didn’t ever have to be afraid anymore? As Margot says in the opening moments, “We never dared to imagine it. A world that was built for us.” It starts with a spark, created from an organ called a skein that previously lay dormant, that gives girls, and then women, the power to electrocute at will. With that power comes liberation and vengeance, revolution and chaos.

“The Power” branches out in stories around the world, as “electric organ discharge,” allows females to rise up against their oppressors everywhere from Saudi Arabia to Alabama. In Seattle, Margot fights for the rights of the newly empowered, against the efforts of a hostile governor (Josh Charles) to remove them from society. The fight finds its way to her own home as well, as her husband, Rob (John Leguizamo), reels from her political machinations, and son Matty (Gerrison Machado) finds solace with online conspiracy theorists. Her daughter Jos (Auli’i Cravalho) passes the power to her but has trouble handling it herself.

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Collette is direct and straightforward, eager to discuss “The Power’s” themes. “It’s really interesting how in the show and in life, somebody else coming into their power becomes a threat to particularly men and their power. But surely if we empower each other, it’s a better world. It’s not about domination, it’s about balance.”

Toni Collette sits at a desk, her hand hooked up to a machine in "The Power.".
Toni Collette stars in “The Power” on Prime Video.
(Katie Yu/Prime Video)

The discussion of women’s bodily autonomy is eerily timely. During a political debate, Margot notes that since women gained the power, reported rapes have gone down 75% and domestic violence 61%. As Collette notes, “The idea of that ideal, of that actually being possible, is really contributing to the conversation. Even though it’s a fantasy sci-fi, it is so grounded in reality, it’s incredible timing.” She’s found discussions about the show “contentious and exciting. Everyone’s really passionate about it.”

That’s why she took the job, even though she had almost no time for it. Most of the series had been shot long before Collette came on. Margot was initially played by Leslie Mann, but the filming schedule was interrupted by the pandemic, and Mann couldn’t return to shoot pickups, so the role was recast. Collette was filming “Mafia Mamma” in Rome when she received the offer last summer and was shown a rough cut of the first few episodes. “That never happens. And it was really impressive. That was a big piece of the puzzle that persuaded me to do it.”

So right after going into prep on yet another project, Bong Joon Ho’s “Mickey 17,” Collette headed to Vancouver for five weeks to shoot her part of eight episodes. “I felt so welcomed and very supported, but it was like shooting several movies in five weeks,” she recalls. “It was bonkers, like driving a bus full of people who are depending on you to get there, and the steering wheel keeps coming out.”

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She used that overwhelmed feeling to relate to her character. “I was like, ‘Well, this is how Margot would feel, so run with it, girl.’ I don’t need to feel like I’ve got it all, I just need to feel like I managed to bring truth to each moment.”

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“The Power” is part sprawling epic, part intimate drama. And in Margot’s case, both. “Toni has to hold a lot of the center of the show together,” executive producer Naomi De Pear notes, by phone from London. “She’s the character that most explicitly talks about the themes of the show, and that’s a big responsibility. Also to have to hold that authority of being a mayor, and also be the sci-fi lens of the show, the woman who’s going, ‘Hang on a minute, I think I’m onto something here, what’s going on?’ So she had to wear a lot of hats, and she wears them all so brilliantly. She ties it all together and makes it all feel raw and real.”

Collette says that the cast and crew held her together, shouting out Edwina Findley, who plays Margot’s aide Helen. “She was my wing woman; I did a lot of grabbing her arm.” And she calls Leguizamo “so open and present and fun, and he’s frank and he’ll speak his mind. I loved, loved, loved working with him.”

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As for the finale, in which Margot lights up a debate with the governor, “It was an accident. He was really provoking her,” she says, laughing.

What happens when you go from fighting the power to being the power? If the show gets a second season, it’s certain to ramp up the voltage.

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