Patti Cake$ stars Danielle Macdonald as a plus-sized white girl from New Jersey who seeks to leave the bleak circumstances of her life behind to find success in a rap career | ELLE UK

Patti Cake$ - The Underdog Tale Smashing Hollywood's Stereotypes

It's been called the female answer to 8 Mile, but this indie film about a plus-size white girl rapper breaks everything you knew about 'traditional' protagonists into pieces. ELLE chats to Danielle Macdonald, AKA Patti, AKA the 'new' Jennifer Lawrence, to find out more.

'And then it dawned on me: I don't have swag'... at first, Danielle MacDonald was terrified about her role in Patti Cake$.

Playing an aspiring New Jersey rapper? No way. For a start, she couldn't rap (she wasn't musical in the slightest). Secondly, she hadn't ever been to Jersey. The Australian actress, who had previously appeared briefly on TV shows like American Horror Story and Pretty Little Liars, read the script and was convinced she wasn't the right person for the job.

ADVERTISEMENT - CONTINUE READING BELOW
ADVERTISEMENT - CONTINUE READING BELOW

'My immediate reaction was 'I can't do this,'' MacDonald says, calling from the States where she's about to begin production on Dumplin' alongside Jennifer Aniston. 'The very first scene – and it used to be a little bit different [than it is in the film] – was this girl onstage, rapping, super cool. I said, 'I don't know Jersey. I don't know how to rap.' And then it dawned on me: I don't have swag. And that was terrifying.'

Instead of backing away, MacDonald gave it some thought. And then agreed to take on the role of Patricia Dombrowski, a.k.a. Patti Cake$, a twentysomething girl from a poor suburb of New Jersey who dreams of making it big as a rapper in New York.

The result? Think 8 Mile, but starring a plus-sized white girl who spends her evenings slinging drinks in a dive bar to support her alcoholic mother.

The underdog story is a well-trodden path, but it's possible that we've never seen anyone like Patti on screen before. For a start, she doesn't care what anyone thinks about her – she's unabashedly herself, no matter what. She's also strong and vulnerable, which is not something Hollywood often allows its women to be simultaneously.

'She seems like a full human being,' MacDonald says, possibly referring to the stream of underdeveloped female characters we routinely see on the big-screen.

'She has dreams. She has so much love. She's scared, but ballsy at the same time. I think people feel the full spectrum of emotions. But I also love that she's more ballsy than me. She's calls out [bullshit] when she sees it. It was fun to go to a place where I could let myself be that ballsy. That was liberating.'

If you're an actress with an average-sized body in the notoriously weight-conscious film business, life can be tough. Just ask Gemma Arterton, who recently told The Guilty Feminist podcast she was bullied into losing weight for a film. Heck, even Carrie Fisher said in 2015 that she had been pressured to lose 35 pounds before appearing in Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

In Patti Cake$, however, it's not an issue. Patti's size and body image come into play in the story, but the film never makes a big deal about the fact its star is not a typical Hollywood stick figure.

MacDonald prefers that sort of representation to films that make everything about being plus-sized.

ADVERTISEMENT - CONTINUE READING BELOW

'Body image was a part of that story, but it was very much just a part of it,' she says, 'which is really cool. It's just 'This is who I am.' We're not trying to show you that everyone should be body positive; she just is. Why wouldn't she be? It's just without question.'

She continues: 'Yes, there is some bullying based off what she looks like because that's the easiest way to bully someone. Body image isn't a thing you talk about in your day to day life. It's funny to me onscreen that it can be all about that because it's really not. When you're a teenager you're definitely questioning your body and who you are a lot more, but Patti is past that. She's in her 20s and she knows who she is and she knows what she wants and she's not going to let anything stop her.'

The fact that Patti's friends come from different cultural and racial backgrounds was also never really discussed. As in day-to-day life, that's just how it is.

'Everyone went against stereotype,' MacDonald notes. 'Or, at least, against the industry stereotype. Everyone was who they were without any other reason.'

Patti's onscreen love interest is black, giving the audience a rarely seen biracial relationship. But, again, that wasn't done to make a point or raise a discussion. It's just meant as a sincere depiction of how life in New Jersey – and around the world – looks.

'It wasn't about 'Oh, let's do a biracial relationship because that is what we should do in the industry this year,' she explains. 'It was, 'This is reality and let's reflect it onscreen.' Which is so nice because we should see what exists in society onscreen. The idea was to show people of all different backgrounds and cultures and sizes and put them onscreen. It's what we see around so why can't we see it represented?'

In the film, Patti and her best friend Jheri (Siddharth Dhananjay) attempt to get her tracks into the spotlight, eventually enlisting the help of a metal-obsessed music producer named Basterd the Antichrist (Mamoudou Athie).

Patti is nothing like MacDonald herself, who had never been to New Jersey before being cast, but the actress eventually figured out how to embody the protagonist. It was all in the clothes.

'I wore these Timberlands and they were like my magical shoes,' she says. 'They made me walk differently and I felt more cool. I never felt cool doing it, but I'm glad that it comes across that way. That's kind of the point though. The coolest people don't know they're cool. Or they're aware, but they're not trying to be cool.'

MacDonald isn't convinced that she did a great job rapping in the film, despite the fact that Ne-Yo - purveyor of mid-noughties banger 'So Sick' - recently stopped her and complimented her performance.

Still, taking on something that initially terrifies you silly? We can all learn a valuable lesson here.

'I learned a lot about myself discovering Patti,' she says. 'There was so much doubt about whether I could even do it at the beginning, so I had to push myself past a point I didn't know I could go to find her. That automatically gives you a bit more self-confidence. I don't know if I ever felt 100 percent confident rapping, but the fact that I did it even though it terrified me made me stronger as a person.'

And her advice to people who are scared to try something?

'Do it anyway!' the actress insists. 'I think people want a secret or a fix to do something, but the only thing is to do it. And be aware that you might fail and if you fail you have to do it again. I did badly so many times. But you just do it again until you don't fail. It's doing it until you almost get desensitised to the failing and it doesn't overcome your whole life and drown you. It makes you want to go get it.'

Patti Cake$ is released in the UK on 1 September

More from ELLE UK: