Written By: DaVette See
The title character in the movie Patti Cake$ wants to be a rapper. This despite being a White lower-middle class, overweight, blonde girl from New Jersey. During the course of the film, against the odds, she bravely refuses to give up in pursuit of that dream.
The actress who breathes life into the character Patti Dumbrowski, sketched by writer/director Geremy Jasper, is Danielle Macdonald, who resembles Patti not only in form but in attitude. If you haven’t read a lot about her until recently, don’t worry, you will. Danielle has been quietly impressing the critics for a few years. Patti Cake$ is just the star turn that has everyone sitting up and taking notice of this talented young woman.
Her big break might have come sooner when she was cast in the ABC sitcom, Huge, but we’ll never know since she wasn’t able to begin filming due to a Visa snafu. Still, maybe that was fate because the show tanked and, at the tender age of eighteen, Danielle moved to Los Angeles anyway. Immediately, she started getting cast in small roles on shows like Glee and Pretty Little Liars and in various films. She also scored a top place on the 2014 list of Australian actors on the rise.
But it was her performance in 2015’s Every Secret Thing that made critics, and casting directors, really sit up and take notice of Danielle. Despite the star power of Dakota Fanning, Diane Lane, and Elizabeth Banks, it was Danielle’s performance that drew the most praise. Tom Long of The Detroit News said, “It’s Macdonald’s sad turn as Alice that eats away at your soul.”
Now, two years after Every Secret Thing, Danielle is once again raising eyebrows in Patti Cake$. The notoriously critical audiences at Sundance were charmed by the film, which owes much to its charismatic star, and a bidding war for the picture erupted with Fox Searchlight coming out on top. Now Patti Cake$ is finally making its debut in selected theaters this weekend. Time will tell if the film will be embraced by audiences, but Danielle’s career seems to be solidly on the rise with four more films on her roster in the next year, including Dumplin’, in which she co-stars with Jennifer Aniston.
Still, other than her resume, not much popped up about Danielle when I googled her in preparation for my interview (that has changed in the last few days). So, when I had a chance for a quick phone chat with her a few minutes before she boarded a plane last week, after suggesting she update her IMDB bio, I set out to find out a little more about this up-and-coming actress.
DaVette See, BGN: You’ve been living in Los Angeles now for seven years. What do you miss most about Australia? And what do you like most about Los Angeles?
Danielle Macdonald: I miss the view from my house. There’s this rock that we have in our garden, just this random huge rock, and I used to sit on it and look out on the water. We live on a peninsula so we could see the water from our house. Just the sunsets on that side were amazing. I don’t know, it was just that it was my calming place, where I would go when I needed my own time, so I miss that. I miss just being able to walk out of my house and go to that place. I don’t have that here.
About LA, I don’t know. It’s funny, it took me a while to warm up to LA. I think it takes you a little while to settle in here. It’s not too different but different enough that it is a little jarring. And just the way the city is laid out is different than where I grew up. And I miss rain. I miss rain so much! (laughs) But I love the views here. I feel like I can rise above whatever is going on in my head when I am looking out at a view, it makes me very calm. It’s not the one I grew up with but it is really awesome. It took me a while to discover them and took me a while to warm up to LA, but once I did, well, I love it now.
DS: Switching to your experience filming Patti Cake$, you had to learn to rap from scratch, so what was the hardest part about learning to rap?
DM: There were so many technical things involved and that took time, but eventually you get hold of it. It’s a tongue twister and constant practice and listening. But the hardest thing was letting go of the technical stuff that I had learned and just having the confidence to do it. Trusting that I knew the technical and then just feeling it. Confidence is just the main thing you have to have as a rapper and that was the one thing I really struggled to have, because it was really hard to have confidence in a skill that you don’t have, you know? It’s a new skill I’m trying to learn. That was really difficult for me.
DS: Like driving a stick. Once you learn how, you have to stop thinking about the technical parts, you have to relax and just do it.
DM: Exactly! If you’re over-thinking things, in anything, you can tell. You’re not going to do your best. Yeah, that’s the hard part, just to let go!
DS: Did you listen to rap before you were cast? Do you listen to it now and, if so, do you have a favorite artist?
DM: I listened to it if I heard it on the radio and if I liked it I put it on my iPod, so I liked it, but I wasn’t a huge fan and my knowledge was limited. Now my playlists include a lot of artists I didn’t even know existed before this process and that’s really cool. And a lot of songs I didn’t know because I didn’t hear them and those are some of the best songs. I gained a huge appreciation for rap as an art form that is incredibly difficult, and I have such respect for people who do it.
My favorite, the person who helped me get into character because when I was listening to him I felt kind of like Patti, and I have such a love for him for helping me find that, is Biggie.
DS: Okay, now for the tough question. You play a white, blond girl from Australia who plays a rapper. There is a white blond girl from Australia who was a rapper and caught a lot of flak for cultural appropriation. There was a powerful moment in the film where the subject comes up in a devastating way for Patti. I’ve seen comments about the film and the filmmaker, so I know it has come up. But have you faced anything like that personally yet?
DM: Well, it’s funny because I am an actor and I’m not a rapper in real life, and I couldn’t be. But for me, it was Geremy’s life story and what he grew up with and that’s how I connected to it. But I don’t think I’ve necessarily faced any flak for it, and I’ve definitely had questions brought up about how I felt about it and where I think society is with it now. Hip-hop, that’s what people listen to. People of all different cultures love it. And they look up to the rappers and they are their heroes, you know? That’s it. I don’t think any of these kids are trying to take away the culture. It’s what they love and they look up to it, they love it and they respect it. And the heart of rap is really when you are in a difficult situation, it is a way of expressing yourself and letting out your anger and using it and fueling you to break out of it. In a sense Patti does find the heart of that through being told that she was a culture vulture at some point because she didn’t realize. She loved it. She wrote rhymes, but she didn’t understand her truth, and that was really finding her heart and her way to express herself. I think that is the best way to reflect the culture of rap and how it originated is finding your truth and using rap to express yourself as an art form.
DS: That seemed to be the big lesson of the film: being true to your authentic self.
DM: Exactly, she wasn’t trying to jump on the culture and be like, “Oh this is me.” It’s not her situation. She had to find her truth and she used the art form to express her truth. Obviously different circumstances, but she found her truth and her respect for it, which I think is so important. It is so much about respecting and understanding how it originated and where it came from.
DS: There’s been a lot of attention lately given to casting actresses of more realistic body types. But it is still Hollywood, so have you ever been told that you were too heavy for a role, or has it been suggested that you lose weight for a role?
DM: You generally don’t get people to say, “I would like you to lose weight for the role,”. They just won’t give you the role. Usually there’s not that kind of time or turnaround. Have I lost roles for that? Definitely. Or that’s what I’ve been told I have, at least. They try to get around it and say, “She’s just not quite what we’re looking for” or “She’s just doesn’t quite fit the type” or “We went another direction.” But sometime people are straightforward and say, “She’s too heavy for what we’re looking for.” And it’s like okay, then, I’m just not right for what it is and it is as simple as that.
There’s a lot of rejection in this industry. You can’t ever take it personally because it’s not. It’s whether you are right for that role at that time. So if someone doesn’t think I’m right for a role, that’s okay. But it’s funny because all of a sudden people are kind of seeing roles differently and changing them to fit me. It just started happening and it’s kind of really incredible. I like to see that the industry is considering other options now. Definitely cool for me and for anyone that isn’t what Hollywood typically puts out because it goes against the stereotype. I think that Hollywood is starting to finally include more diversity in every aspect: gender, age, race, body type, and it’s about time. Now I think that it may be more calculated (laughs)–
DS: Everything is calculated in Hollywood.
DM: Sure calculated, but if audiences see themselves represented, in more people, then I’m okay with it. At least there is something happening whether it starts out for the right reason, it is reaching the right audiences. I’m glad to see that. I want to see what I see in the world in the movies.
DS: Since you are an Aussie, who is your favorite Aussie actor?
DM: Who’s my favorite? That’s hard. There are a lot of really great ones! I love Cate Blanchett and…oh, Joel Edgerton!
DS: I’m not familiar with him.
DM: He’s been out here working for years but I think in probably in the past few years he’s had more recent success. He’s been in a ton of things. Check him out on IMDB and you’ll probably be like, “Oh yeah, that guy!”
DS: Will do. [I did. Turns out that I have seen some of his films, including Star War III: Revenge of the Sith]
DS: I’m with Black Girl Nerds and we always want to know what people geek out about? What kind of nerd are you?
DM: Harry Potter. I’m not going to lie, I’m totally a Harry Potter fan. Like a huge Harry Potter fan. I definitely geek out over that.
DS: What’s your house?
DM: Oh I’m a Ravenclaw. I’ve always identified as a Ravenclaw. Then I took the test, all the tests you can possibly take, and the one on the official site, and it confirmed I am a Ravenclaw. But I remember when JK Rowling said (like I said I’m a true geek), when she said that people can be a bit of two houses and that’s very true, so it is kind of what you choose and also your most dominant one. Most people have traits of at least two and I would say my other one is Hufflepuff because there have been a few times where I’ve like gone in and taken some non-official ones, “Like, oh Hufflepuff!” The majority say Ravenclaw but I think that I do have some Hufflepuff traits which I don’t think is a bad thing!
DS: That is geeky, I love that!
DM: True geek, true fan! I used to line up at the bookstore to get the book and stay up all night reading because I didn’t want anyone to spoil it at school the next day.
DS: Last question. You get asked a lot of the same questions a lot of the time. Is there something you wish reporters would ask that you’d like me to ask?
DM: Oh. Hmm. You know what? Yes. Ask me about my shoes. That sounds ridiculous, but ask me.
DS: Okay. Danielle, I’m dying to know about your shoes.
DM: For the film, Geremy had Sidd (Siddharth Dhananjay) who plays Jheri and myself go in character to buy my Timberlands for the film. I wasn’t sure how to move as Patti. I had to learn how to walk differently and talk differently, rap all these things. And I put on these shoes and all the sudden I did walk differently. It could be the way they’re built, but on top of that, it was just, I don’t know, it gave me some confidence. I was like, I see how Patti walks now and I feel this vibe. So, anytime we were like, “Okay outfit, what shoes?” I was like, “The Timberlands, the Tims, obviously, the Tims.” They were kind of like my magical shoes to get me in character as Patti and I love them and I still have them.
DS: Thanks so much for taking the time out to talk with me! Congratulations on the film and have a wonderful premiere, and I’m looking forward to seeing your future films.
DM: Thanks for asking me about my shoes!
Patti Cake$ is in Theaters August 18.
Watch the Trailer:
From the Producers:
Fox Searchlight Pictures
In a coming-of-age story straight out of Jersey, an unlikely rapper finds her voice as a one-of-a-kind hip-hop legend in the making in PATTI CAKE$, the first feature film from acclaimed commercial and music-video director Geremy Jasper. Set in gritty strip-mall suburbia, PATTI CAKE$ chronicles an underdog’s quest for fame and glory with humor, raw energy and some unforgettable beats.
Directed by: Geremy Jasper
Screenplay by: Geremy Jasper
Produced by: Michael Gottwald, Noah Stahl, Rodrigo Teixeira, Dan Janvey, Daniela Taplin Lundberg and Chris Columbus
Cast: Danielle Macdonald, Bridget Everett, Cathy Moriarty, Siddharth Dhananjay, Mamoudou Athie, McCaul Lombardi, Sahr Ngaujah, Wass Stevens, MC Lyte
About DaVette See:
DaVette lives in Inglewood, CA with her husband, Rob, her mother, and her seven (yikes) kitties. She has a BA in English and Theater and a Law degree. When not writing, reporting and editing for BGN, she operates Running Lady Studios and producing animated shorts. She loves books, plays, movies, and more than anything, she loves telling stories