ENTERTAINMENT

If You See One Film About A Plus-Sized Aspiring Rapper From Jersey, Make It 'Patti Cake$'

Killa P's here, and she's about to make a big splash.

12/09/2017 9:31 PM AEST | Updated 12/09/2017 9:31 PM AEST
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"It seemed terrifying when I first read the script, she's so different than me in a lot of ways," Danielle Macdonald told HuffPost Australia of her 'Patti Cake$' character.

Sure, a lewd aspiring rapper from Jersey sounds like it couldn't be any further away from the charming Aussie actress playing her, but like Patti, Macdonald was ready to fight for fame and it's paying off.

Macdonald stars as the titular Patricia Dombrowski in 'Patti Cake$', the story of a plus sized white woman looking to break into the rap scene of New Jersey despite the world, and her mother, telling her she'll never make it.

It's a story with a lot of heart, and while it may have some predictable beats, Macdonald is exceptional, and the film has already been hailed a star maker.

Macdonald left Australia a month before her 19th birthday. A Northern Beaches native, Maconald told HuffPost how she got her drivers license the moment she turned 16 to avoid the two hour trips on the L90 bus.

She went to Hollywood after scoring a role in the ABC Family series 'Huge', but due to a visa mishap she had to pull out of the project. Heading into auditions, Macdonald had no SAG card, but on her third audition for 'Glee' things changed.

"They were always like 'Is she SAG yet? Call us when she's SAG'. On the third audition they were like, 'Fine we're just going to have to Taft-Hartley her,' and they gave me my SAG card which was really great."

From there, Macdonald played a series of smaller roles including one in the 2013 Brit Marling thriller 'The East'.

"I got a random call one day and later found out one of the producers had seen 'The East', my first film. He remembered me and put my photo in front of the director."

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The director in question being Geremy Jasper, a perfect pairing for Macdonald as this was his first major film. Previously Jasper had directed music videos and short films, but 'Patti Cake$' marked his debut at features.

"Geremy was like, 'that is what I had envisioned,' so he watched another movie I had done to see if I could act, which... is always helpful."

From there, Jasper invited her to the Sundance Director's Lab.

"I thought he was insane because I remember talking to him saying I can't rap, first of all, which should have been very obvious. Secondly I couldn't do a Jersey accent, but that was fine I could learn it. But thirdly, what on Earth had he seen that made him think I could do this because I didn't know that I could do it."

"I think I have a lot more Patti in me than I realised once I started to really get into it. On paper it's like, wow a tough Jersey girl that raps? That is the furthest thing from me in the world."

Only it really isn't. Patti, like Macdonald, is hungry for something bigger, she wants to shake off the shackles of mediocrity and see her dreams realised. Working behind a bar, constantly creating beats and rhymes, Patti is as consumed with rap as Macdonald is when she talks about her own work.

Macdonald wasn't after a career in music, but has somehow fallen into musical roles.

"I did performing arts classes back in Australia, the acting I loved, the dancing was fun but the singing I sucked at. They just put me in the back of the choir and never gave me a solo because I sucked."

The morning she spoke to HuffPost Australia it was announced Macdonald had been cast in the film 'Dumplin' alongside Jennifer Aniston. Starring as Willowdean Dickson, Macdonald will play a Dolly Parton-obsessed teenager who sets of a mini revolution of outcasts who sign up for the local beauty pageant.

So how does someone who stood in the back of the choir continue to step up to these musical roles?

"Willowdean isn't a singer. She's this girl who loves Dolly Parton and loves singing along with her firends but she's not a singer, she just does it because it's fun."

But Patti's drive isn't just about fun, she's striving to be the best. For the role, Macdonald learned to break down songs, understanding what makes up different styles of rap.

"I had never broken down a song before, let alone a rap, but once I did I had a whole new appreciation for the artists because it's absolutely incredible what they do."

There's a friction between Patti's desires to be a rapper and her identity as a plus-sized white woman from Jersey. The typical outcast's journey for acceptance isn't about gaining the respect of the community she so desperately wants to succeed in. There are other, more pressing parts of Patti's life she needs to triage in order for her to succeed.

"It's about finding the truth with rap, you know, it started as a way to share experiences through art and the struggle. Patti doesn't really do that in the beginning, she's showing what a rapper thinks they should be, which isn't her truth."

"I think her journey throughout the movie is about finding that, which felt truthful to the culture of rap and what it represents."

Macdonald's ease onscreen is only bolstered by her supporting cast, with cabaret performer, comedian and actress Bridget Everett playing her boozy, washed-up mother Barb.

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"Blood is thicker than Jäger," Barb hisses at her daughter before throwing back several shots of the German liquor. Barb isn't going to win any 'Mother of the year' awards any time soon, taking cheap shots and humiliating her own daughter, still chasing the spotlight for herself.

"I met Bridget and we instantly connected and I loved her as a human being. I think that relationship came so easily, sometimes you're really lucky and that's how it was with her."

"We were so open with each other that if something wasn't working we could just talk to each other and say we felt weird about something. There was one scene where we felt odd, went to Geremy and asked if we could try something else because it felt a little stiff and he gave us that freedom to do that."

Speaking to Jimmy Fallon on 'The Tonight Show', Everett said "I don't have a daughter but if I did it would be Patti".

Rounding out a trio of powerhouses, Cathy Moriarty plays the chain-smoking, wheelchair-bound Nana. It's as if the maternal bond skipped a generation, with Patti and Nana's tenderness leaving Barb on the outside, her only place of acceptance: a dive bar's karaoke stage.

The two Dombrowski women jostle throughout the film as they both attempt to rise above their own circumstances and reach their dreams but ultimately the battle isn't with the rap community, or the drunken karaoke punters, it's internal.

"I'm from a small town, I wanted to be an actor and had people tell me that wasn't going to happen so I understood her heart pretty immediately. I understood her drive and determination.

The Dombrowskis are women who refuse to be held back by anyone else's standards, for better or for worse. Patti's an underdog, she's a fighter, but more than anything she's a boss bitch and she can't wait for everyone else to find that out.

'Patti Cake$' opens in cinemas across Australia from September 14.

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