I met Danielle Macdonald almost three years ago at the Sundance Institute. We were working on first-time writer-director Geremy Jasper's film Patti Cake$, about a young woman in New Jersey who's on a quest to become a rapper. Initially, I turned down Geremy's invitation to help develop the role of Patti's mother, Barb — not because I wasn't grateful, but because I doubted myself as a dramatic actress. I'd spent years chasing my dream to be a singer and had finally found my confidence on the stage. I didn't want to fuck up his passion project. But he persisted, so I said, "Fuck it. At the very least, maybe I'll see Robert Redford walking around Park City in cutoffs." Next thing I know, I'm on the plane to Utah.
The first time I sat down with Geremy and Danielle to read through the script, I was stumbling over lines, messing everything up. It was exactly what I'd feared would happen: that I'd choke. I apologized profusely to both Danielle and Geremy; they simply smiled back at me and told me they weren't worried.
I was so caught up in my own insecurities that I never stopped to consider Danielle's. Danielle is Australian and had never rapped before. She was taking on a role that required her to learn a Jersey accent, how to rap, and then how to rap with an accent. She was working her ass off behind the scenes, and yet she was taking care of me. Helping me gain confidence. Helping me get out of my own way. And doing it all, quietly and confidently, by her own example.
Danielle is a quiet adventurer. She is the person you want to sit next to on your first day of school. She is the person you ride around town with in a Chevy, playing the Violent Femmes cranked up to a ten. She is the person you want to grab you by the hand and jump off the cliffs in Mazatlán. Danielle is effervescent. She is a singular talent whose heart is as warm as a strawberry moon.
Danielle may be eighteen years my junior, but she taught me to lighten up, take a chance on myself, and rise to any challenge. She's as rare as they come and a great reminder to keep your eyes open and let the angels in.
Bridget Everett: Where did you find the inspiration to take the leap and do Patti?
Danielle Macdonald: I wanted to be an actor — that's ultimately what I dreamed of doing. So this was an amazing opportunity to play a really incredible character in a story that I loved, a script that I couldn't put down. That's ultimately what made me want to do it, even though it scared the shit out of me.
BE: It's good to have things scare the shit out of you, though, right?
DM: Yeah. When I'm doing something that scares me and challenges me, I'm actually really happy. I work well under pressure, and it feels like I'm getting outside of myself and challenging myself. I like that feeling. I like the payoff.
By the end of the Sundance Institute, I was pretty much begging Geremy to let me do the film, even though I knew it was going to be a lot of work, that it may not happen. I was like, I just so badly want to be a part of this because these people are all amazing. It felt really real and authentic, and there was so much understanding and trust between all of us. [I felt] like it could really go somewhere special.
BE: How did you remain such an angel to work with every day? You're in every scene, you're working incredible hours, and yet you came to work with bright eyes and a bushy tail every day. I was like, When is Danielle going to turn into a bitch?
DM: Mamadou [who plays Patti's love interest, Basterd] would say the same thing. I would get in the car in the morning, and he would be like, "You're a morning person." And I'm like, "Are you kidding me? I'm a complete night owl. I can't sleep. I can't get up early." It was funny because I wasn't really sleeping a ton, but I genuinely loved what I was doing.
BE: Where did you find your confidence to rap?
DM: I don't know that I ever really did find it. I know I did it, but I never necessarily felt confident with it. It was always very intimidating to me. At the same time, you practice enough and you do it enough. Geremy was always very straight with me. If he didn't like something, he would tell me.
When I'm doing something that scares me and challenges me, I'm actually really happy.
BE: How did you not let that cripple you? Sometimes, when I'm doing something and people are like, "You're not doing it the right way," I'm like, "Oh, then I just can't do it." But you just keep moving forward.
DM: Yeah, I'm kind of good with rejection. It sounds weird, but you get rejected a lot in acting. That's part of it. I never take it personally. I'm just like, Oh, OK. I'm not right for it. That's OK. But when it [came to playing Patti], I'm like I am doing this role, I have to be right for it. So if it isn't working, please tell me. So when Geremy told me something wasn't working, I'm like, Let's figure it out. Then when he did say it was good, I knew he was being genuine. I didn't question it.
BE: That's one of my favorite things about you, is that you're always up for a challenge. And you're always down to try and fail and take the risk. It's really cool to watch. How do you persist through sizeism in Hollywood?
DM: It's that thing of: I'm an actor and I'm used to rejection. I have friends in LA that came out, and they are beautiful, beautiful girls. It's not that they have false expectations, but I think that sometimes when you're the prettiest girl in your hometown and then you come to LA and there's a lot of pretty girls, maybe you expect it to come a bit easier than it does.
I had some amazing, supportive people, like my family and coaches. But there were also the people that were like, "Maybe you shouldn't go out there. You don't really fit in." That was when I was like "No, I'm aware I don't. But I'm prepared, because there are roles. They're few and far between, but they exist, and I want to be a part of that."
Then I started to see that it was changing. There were more roles. People would be willing to see you for a role that wasn't described as you.
BE: Isn't it so satisfying to have worked hard to blaze your own trail and now people are like, "This wasn't written for Danielle's type, but we want her because she's so fucking awesome"?
DM: The first thing was actually 2 Broke Girls. So, thank you, Michael Patrick King. I went out for that and I wasn't exactly the right type. Then I booked it, and they changed the role to fit me. That was so cool.
BE: That's because you're the shit. You're so open, not just as an actor, but as a person. A major thing I learned from you is to let go and be excited and in the moment. I just felt really safe with you and Geremy. You guys taught me to be kind and that great things will come when you're around people that support you.
DM: When I spoke to Geremy about doing the Sundance class, he told me that he had reached out to you and you were really nervous about doing it and you weren't sure that you would come. I remember being really inspired by that, because it was really scaring me as well. This role was very different for me, and it was scary taking on something new. The fact that you came out and did it, you made me feel so at ease when I was overwhelmed and in my head.
I remember just feeling very safe around you. Even when we're watching the film, I would hide in your arm. I always felt protected by you. I was in my head during this dramatic scene, and you completely took yourself out of it to make me feel better. That was just really incredible to me. I was like, "Man, this is what it's about. It's about the connection with other people."
This interview has been condensed and edited.
Bridget Everett is a New York–based actress, singer, and cabaret performer.