Aspiring New Jersey rapper Patricia Dumboski, aka Killa P, aka Patti Cake$ is the titular character of the heart-warming drama Patti Cake$, which is playing at the Revelation Perth International Film Festival this year. Starring in the role is Australian actress Danielle Macdonald, who spoke to DAVID O’CONNELL about what it was like to play a role that, at first glance, seemed a million miles away from her.
Macdonald might not seem like the obvious choice to play a New Jersey rapper. “I’ve never rapped before, I’m not musical, I don’t know how to do a Jersey accent! What on Earth makes them think I can do this?!” exclaimed Macdonald.
“The director (Geremy Jasper) just had faith that I was right for it,” she goes on to explain. “I loved the script. It’s cool and different. I just really wanted to be a part of it, so I learned how to do it.”
Despite the lack of accent and the rap experience, Macdonald was an ideal choice, as she understood who the character was. “I really understood her heart, her defiance, her drive, her passion,” she says. “She is a girl with big dreams. She wants to be a rapper and get out of town and she’s working out how to do that and deal with the relationships in her life (family, friends, first love). The rest of it I didn’t understand, but was willing to learn. It scared me in a way, which is a good thing when you’re looking at a character. You challenge yourself to open up. I learned a lot of things I never thought I would.”
And over the course of two years she did learn, both the accent, and the rap. Combining the two proved challenging. “Learning how to rap with an accent, that was the hardest part,” she says.
As an Australian actress in the US she’s always working with an American accent, so the that was relatively easy, but rapping was an entirely different skill set. Hence MacDonald found herself occasionally slipping back into her Australian accent as she was learning. “Rapping is a skill where you have to have confidence, and it was difficult for me to have confidence in a skill I’ve never done before.”
Subsequently she would often find herself in her closet, practising and recording. “It was the best sound. It was a secret practice getaway, where I wasn’t afraid to fail.”
The time spent on learning these skills, also allowed for character development. Jasper wrote and shaped the rhymes to suit Macdonald’s style as she developed, constantly refining and adapting them. “The trickiest was when he would change a few lines throughout. Your brain has already memorised something, and it would do what it already knew,” she says.
All this went to form the misfit crew of PBNJ, Patti’s band (and friends), that along with her family are at the heart of the film. It’s rather an eclectic mix of characters, that creates an interesting dynamic on screen. It allows Macdonald to stretch her character, bringing out different sides of Patti.
“Basterd (Mamoudou Athie) so quiet and withdrawn while Jheri (Siddharth Dhanajay) was bouncing off the walls,” Macdonald says. “Patti can be more withdrawn and insecure with Jheri as she knows he’ll lift her-up. With Basterd it brings out her confidence. It’s so cool to see how people bring out different sides of you. She is the glue that forms a misfit band.”
Without giving too much away, all this would eventually lead to Macdonald performing on stage in front of a large audience. Something she found confronting, despite her theatre experience. “I had a Patti moment. I went into the bathroom and had a little stress cry, then I just had to do it. It was terrifying.”
However it is the glimpses we get into Patti’s dream life that were Macdonald’s favourite part of the shoot. I mean who wouldn’t love to be dressed like a blinged out Egyptian mermaid in a spa? Especially after 12-13 hour shoot.
“I was just exhausted,” she laughs. “Plunged into this fantasy sequence and trying to keep straight-faced. Ridiculous but a lot of fun.”
Patti Cake$ is screening at the Luna Leederville on Friday 7th 6:30pm, and at the Luna SX on Saturday 15th 8.45pm.