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How ‘Patti Cake$’ taught an Aussie actress to rap with a Jersey accent

Danielle Macdonald in
Danielle Macdonald in "Patti Cake$."
Fox Searchlight Pictures

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Danielle MacDonald is the Australian actress who stars in the new movie "Patti Cake$," in which she plays a rapper from New Jersey. Her only challenge: learning to rap and learning a Jersey accent. If learning to rap is like learning to walk, Kendrick Lamar is Usain Bolt, according to Macdonald.

Other than that, the character's rocky road isn't unlike the path traveled by the actress herself:

"I had dreams of getting out of where I lived and being an actor in an industry that doesn't readily accept me. I'm not the norm. That was something I experienced in my life and that's something Patti is battling with."

"Patti Cake$" is about a young, poor, heavyset white girl in New Jersey whose life feels small, but whose dreams are huge. She works a couple of jobs to support her alcoholic mother and her grandmother, who uses a wheelchair and is waiting to die. 

Pattie Cake$ trailer

But in the privacy of her room, Patti becomes the rapper Killa P — belting out verbose, crude lyrics about her life with gusto. She’s an outsider who forms a band with her one friend and a loner she meets on the outskirts of town.

Interview Highlights

On having to learn a New Jersey accent for the film:

I am used to doing accents just because I've never professionally played an Austrailian, weirdly enough.

I didn't hear a Jersey accent at all growing up. That's always a scary thing, because accents come from being familiar with them. American is not scary to me, because I heard it all the time growing up, but Jersey was so particular.

I think you don't want to do an idea of a Jersey accent either. You want to find the truth of it and not overplay it. That was hard. There are general rules you have to follow, then you throw them out the door because rules are meant to be broken.

For me, I find the place in my mouth where it sits. Like for Australian it's very open, with American it's very pushed forward, with Jersey it's like this weird tunnel between the two. 

Siddharth Dhananjay and Danielle Macdonald star in the film
Siddharth Dhananjay and Danielle Macdonald star in the film "Patti Cake$."
Andrew Boyle, Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation/EPK TV

On relating to Patti Cake$:

The first time I read the script, I was so overwhelmed with how different I was from her because I knew that I would be going to play her — I'd read five pages and started laughing, thinking I can't do this, there is no way I can do this. Then I had to take a step back and reread it. That's when I tried to find the depth of Patti.

What's on the page is a very general sense, and you have to bring this to life. I'm seeing all these things that are different, but then I'm understanding the story and where she's coming from, then all of the sudden, I'm like Wait I connect to her... So I was like OK, we can relate there, only because we would react differently to things doesn't mean we haven't felt the same experiences at times.

On learning to rap for the movie:

I remember the first rap scene we filmed, it was not going well. I was so in my head. I was like Oh my god, how am I going to do this movie. I can't even get the first line right. But Geremy [Jasper] was really awesome. He's a great director. He was like, Don't worry. If it sucks, we'll cut it. And they cut it, so it was fine. The next one was a little better because I'd already kind of hit my lowest point with that, so the next one can't be as bad as that. It wasn't great — they cut that one too. But the third one, they kept.

Director Geremy Jasper and Danielle Macdonald on the set of
Director Geremy Jasper and Danielle Macdonald on the set of "Patti Cake$."
Fox Searchlight Pictures

I just started by listening to music. I had to just be very familiar with lots of different rappers and their styles and flows. So that was number one. Number two was practicing them. You sing along or rap along with them like you do to the radio. Then the next step would be figuring out how to breathe. That was hard when I first listened because I don't know what they're doing, because I'm not naturally musical. 

On creating a non-judgemental space for the characters in the film:

She's a human being with flaws. We all are. We have different interests. We have different ways of dealing with situations, but there are so many parts of Patti that I admire. I wish I could be more like her in certain ways.

I love that she has this best friend that builds her up. People around us who love us, who we trust, and who support us — they meant so much and they help us believe in ourselves.

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