EntertainmentPatti Cake$ star Danielle Macdonald finally has real Skin in the game
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She may have had to leave Sydney behind in order to launch her acting career in LA, but for her role in Skin, Danielle Macdonald didn't have far to travel at all. The people who made the film were her neighbours.
"I knew them socially through a friend," says Macdonald, who grew up on Sydney's northern beaches but relocated to Los Angeles when she was 19 in frustration at her inability to land auditions, let alone parts. "Actually, I met their dog before I met them."
"She was babysitting my dog when we went away, and my wife and I babysat her dog when she went away," expands Guy Nattiv, the Israeli-born writer-director of the feature film Skin and the short film of the same name, both of which star Macdonald. "We knew her before Patti Cake$. I was like, 'Huh – do you want to do the short?'"
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A hit at Sundance in 2017, Patti Cake$ was Macdonald's breakthrough role. To prepare for the part of a New Jersey girl who dreams of becoming a hip-hop star, she famously spent a year learning how to rap, including practicing in her closet "because the sound was best in there".
Nattiv's short, which screens at the St Kilda Film Festival later this month, is a tense 20-minute journey into the heart of neo-Nazi racism in contemporary America. Conceived as a "proof-of-concept" for his more ambitious feature of the same name, the film exceeded all expectations by winning the Academy Award for best live-action short in February.
In both the short and the feature, which screens at the Sydney Film Festival this weekend, Macdonald plays the love interest of a racist skinhead. This time around, though, she didn't prepare by doing a deep-dive into the culture.
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"I'm obviously not going to live that life, because it's horrifying," she says.
But she did read a lot, and watched documentaries and talked online to people who had experience of the scene. "I tried to understand how people get into this life, but I definitely didn't immerse myself in the sense of living in it. It was hard enough to go into that head space on screen."
Skin is based on the true story of Bryon Widner, a reformed white supremacist with a face (and body) covered in tattoos (later removed, painfully and over several years, by laser surgery). He is played in the feature by Jamie Bell, the English actor who starred in Billy Elliot and can now be seen in Rocketman as Elton John's song-writing partner Bernie Taupin.
"Jamie told me that part of him signing on was me choosing Danielle, because that felt real, not like a fantasy," says Nattiv.
"I believe in real women, not the fantasy, and I think Danielle Macdonald is sexy, she's gorgeous. Everything a woman should have, she has. She's amazing. I would love to keep working with her."
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So, it seems, would plenty of others. Macdonald's dance card is chock-full of choice roles at the moment – indicative not just of her immense talent, but also of the growing willingness to cast more diversely.
"I think the industry is changing," says Macdonald. "The more different kinds of people are getting roles in every aspect, the more diverse kinds of stories are being told, and that's really cool for the entire world. I'm just one of many who get to be a part of that, which is amazing – but I feel like I also get to be myself."
And in the forthcoming Helen Reddy biopic I Am Woman, in which she plays pioneering rock journalist Lillian Roxon, she'll even get to use her own accent for once.
"It's my first Australian film ever, and my first time playing an Australian," she says excitedly. "It was so cool to be able to come back and do something Australian. That was a really special moment for me actually.
"Usually people start out here and then go over there, and I'm kind of a little in reverse, which is kinda funny," she adds.
"If I'd stayed here who knows what would have happened. I can't really think about it like that. It's just cool that now I get to do both."
The feature and the short version of Skin screen at the Sydney Film Festival this weekend. Details:. The short version of Skin and Guy Nattiv's Offside will screen at the St Kilda Film Festival, June 21-30. Details:
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Patti Cake$ star Danielle Macdonald finally has real Skin in the game
She may have had to leave Sydney behind in order to launch her acting career in LA, but for her role in Skin, Danielle Macdonald didn't have far to travel at all.