Patti Cake$ breakout star Danielle Macdonald on working for Ryan Murphy, her gay role struggle and drag queens
Danielle Macdonald has something to slay. Of course, there’s her coming-of-age film Patti Cake$, which the 26-year-old Aussie actress crushes with credible virtuosity during her entire scenery-chewing run as an aspiring rapper, Killa P, working hard to beat the odds. The indie premiered to critical acclaim at Sundance and subsequently propelled the newcomer to Hollywood’s ones-to-watch list. But Macdonald, who earned minor screen cred for starring in Ryan Murphy property, such as Glee and American Horror Story, is busting out in a big, gay way.
Meet Macdonald here, and check out what she had to say about the message she hopes her new film conveys to the LGBT community and the drag queens who play a major role in her upcoming film with Jennifer Aniston, Dumplin’.
You’re credited as “Girl No. 1” on an episode of Glee. What was your experience being on that show?
It was my first-ever TV credit. It got me my SAG card! So, I’m super grateful for it. I’d done one short film before that, but aside from that, it was my first big set experience. It was a lot of fun, honestly. Everyone was really great and super welcoming.
Who’s everyone? Did you get to meet Ryan Murphy?
I did not get to meet Ryan Murphy, which is funny because I’ve done Glee and American Horror Story and I’ve not met him yet. I never do his episodes, apparently! (Laughs)
But the producers and the writers and whole crew were really great, but then I was also working with Dianna Agron, Cory Monteith and Ashley Fink. It was a really cool experience, actually. I had so much fun that day. It was in the episode “Born This Way.” I loved that episode. It was the only hour-and-a-half-long episode they ever did, and it was about loving yourself.
Similarly, Patti Cake$ is about embracing yourself. Does that message of authenticity resonate with you?
Definitely. I think you just have to own who you are and love who you are because, I mean, it’s your life. I think that a lot of people can relate to Patti who you wouldn’t necessarily think would. When I first read the script, I was like, “Oh my god, she is so different from me; this is gonna be so hard.” It was because I had to learn a lot of things to be able to become her, but after I looked deeper, I kind of stopped myself and said, “Let’s go through it again,” and I really do relate to her in a lot of ways. It’s a coming-of-age story, and about figuring out who you are, and that can be really hard for a lot of people.
Was it hard for you?
Yes and no. I think I’m quite a stubborn person, so that helps (laughs). I’ve always owned who I am and been fairly comfortable in my own skin, and it’s definitely gotten easier with age – that’s a shock. As a teenager you can’t help but have your insecurities – I mean, everyone has them – but I always had good people around me; that helps so much.
Were some of those people gay people?
It’s funny, because growing up, no! I don’t think there was anyone who was out in my year in high school, which is astounding to me because there were in other years, just not in my year. That was really kind of crazy. I know that that’s not the case anymore. I know that’s changed and some of the people I was friends with definitely have come out since.
Why do you think you didn’t have many gay friends? Australia seems progressive, aside from the fact that they’re still not on board with marriage equality.
Which is actually creepy because by far the majority of the population want it, which is the most insane thing. It absolutely blows my mind that it hasn’t happened yet. There’s been a lot of changes in government since I moved away. I moved away seven years ago and I think we’ve gone through five prime ministers or something. It’s been pretty crazy there, like topsy-turvy with that. And I think that has something to do with it. But it’s gotta happen.
It wasn’t a thing when I grew up. My parents had gay friends, so that was completely normal to me, always. The moment I moved to L.A., oh yeah, definitely. I was like, “Yeah, these are my people.” My best friends are gay, my managers are. They’re like family. I feel very at home and comfortable with them.
How often do gay men ask you if you personally know and have had tea with fellow Aussie Kylie Minogue?
I mean, the first time I met my manager – he didn’t ask me if I knew her, but he was like, “I love Kylie Minogue,” and I was like, “Of course you do. Kylie is awesome.” I haven’t actually been asked if I personally know her. I definitely do not personally know her; that would make me far too cool.
What was the most challenging part of inhabiting Patti?
I mean, when I first read her I didn’t understand the world she comes from because I grew up in a very different place. It was a different accent, a different culture. She was interested in different things than me, different relationships with her family, friends; just everything about her that she experienced was different. But then, I also was like, “OK, wait a minute; she’s a girl that is trying to fit into an industry that she doesn’t fit into.” Naturally, I can relate to that. I can relate to her passion and the drive and the love that she has for her friends and family. Those were all things I could relate to. But then I had to learn to walk differently and talk differently and rap and experience New Jersey – get that vibe – so that it felt second nature.
Did you have any female rappers in mind while playing her?
I definitely listened to a bunch. When I was going through the process of really trying to learn how to rap, I listened to so many people. I practiced everyone. Some of the female artists were Nicki Minaj, Missy Elliott and Leikeli47, and also a lot of up-and-coming female rappers that I found on YouTube. Sometimes friends would send me links, sometimes I would just Google “rap battles between female rappers” and it was really cool to watch those. But I tried a lot of different songs by a lot of different artists – both male and female – to see the kind of badass boss attitude that they have. I was like, “OK, yeah, they have this confidence that I don’t think I have.” When I was getting up on stage, I was like, I don’t know if I have the confidence to do this because also you have to be confident in a skill that you don’t know, which is really intimidating, but it was also very freeing.
In the film, Patti is empowered through daydreams she has of O-Z, her rap idol. What was your musical escapism growing up?
As a teenager, it was a lot of emo and punk rock. I listened to a lot of Blink 182, Green Day, Good Charlotte and Sum 41. The lyrics are very depressing, but it’s what you relate to as a teenager. As a teenager, you’re like, “They get me!”
Have you played a gay role yet?
I’ve auditioned for a bunch! I don’t think I have, though, which is kind of crazy. I don’t know why I never get them! (Laughs)
What about those roles spoke to you?
I mean, they’re just human beings with stories. I like seeing people with real stories, that is really what appeals to me. That’s what appealed to me about Patti Cake$ as well. I don’t feel like we see this story very often. And that’s generally how I feel. I don’t wanna see something that we always see – I wanna see a story about a real person and their real struggles.
You’ll be working with director Anne Fletcher and Jennifer Aniston on Dumplin’, another female-focused film. What does it mean to you to be a part of female-driven films?
I’m so excited about that. I’ve been fortunate to work with a lot of female filmmakers and really just a lot of strong women, which is amazing. And I’m really excited about Dumplin’ as well because these characters learn how to be strong through drag queens. It’s based on a book and they go to a bar and learn empowerment from these drag queens and how to get through this beauty pageant.
How are you feeling about going to makeshift drag bars when it comes time to shoot?
I’m so excited about that. I was like, “Yes! This is everything I want.” I’ve read the book and I relate to this so much. I feel like this is gonna be almost cathartic to me in a way because it’s something I would’ve really loved to see as a teenager growing up. It speaks to teenage me.
Going back to Patti Cake$, what do you hope LGBT people take away from the movie?
I hope that they take away self-empowerment. People will try to put you in a box, but do your own thing and people will love you for it.
As editor of Q Syndicate, the international LGBT wire service, Chris Azzopardi has interviewed a multitude of superstars, including Meryl Streep, Mariah Carey and Beyoncé. Reach him via his website at www.chris-azzopardi.com and on Twitter (@chrisazzopardi).