When asked what she loves about acting, Danielle Macdonald pauses for a moment. “I don’t think you can explain it,” she reflects. “It’s more a feeling. Whenever I’m on set, I’m really happy. It’s where I love being.”
For 24-year-old Macdonald, the desire to act has always been something innate within her. She took classes at the Australian Institute for Performing Arts in her hometown of Sydney while still in high school, and in year 10, she realised this was a definite career path. “I thought, ‘This is what I want to do for the rest of my life’. I wanted to make a career out of it, even though I didn’t know how that would be possible,” she says.
Through her classes at the institute, Macdonald attended a casting workshop in the United States where she was introduced to her current managers. Her team later secured her an audition for the American ABC drama series Huge, an experience Macdonald recalls as being terrifying. “That was my first professional audition,” she says, laughing, “but the casting directors were lovely. I think every audition is different but I’m glad that was my first experience.”
After scoring the role, Macdonald arranged to move to Los Angeles at 18 years of age. She says her “extremely close” family members were unwavering in their support for her decision. “They are very much in that belief that you need to be happy in what you do because that’s what will drive you,” she says.
However, the role in Huge was not to be, due to problems with visa paperwork. Looking back, Macdonald is contemplative of what could have been. “That job offer is what eventually got me my visa so I’m so grateful for it,” she says.
So, is the industry as cut-throat as we imagine? “It does happen but I haven’t really experienced too much of that,” she says. “One thing that people forget is that when you’re going up for a role, you might be up against someone who’s completely different. So, rejection happens all the time but you just have to deal with it.”
Her first role in the States was in a short film, The Thief, directed by Rachel Weisz and starring Joel Edgerton and Rosemarie DeWitt. She made her feature film debut in The East, also starring Ellen Page, Brit Marling and Alexander Skarsgård. Shortly after, she appeared in the film, Trust Me, directed by Clark Gregg, before scoring a lead role in Every Secret Thing, which premiered at the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival.
It was through her work in The East and Every Secret Thing that Macdonald came to the attention of the producers for her latest film, Patti Cake$. Debut director Geremy Jasper said she was “perfect” to play the role of Patti Cake. It tells the story of a New Jersey girl with big dreams of rap stardom. This coming-of-age film follows Patti’s journey as she deals with rap battles, life and relationships.
Macdonald said that despite the differences in her character’s life, she could identify with her. “It was kind of funny because we are so different but the one thing I understood about her was her heart and where she was coming from,” she says. “She wanted to achieve something in life she was passionate about and people told her it wasn’t going to happen. That was something I could definitely relate to.”
When it screened at last year’s Sundance Film Festival, it began a bidding war for distribution rights from studios. It was eventually acquired by Fox Searchlight for a reported $10.5 million.
Macdonald’s performance is being highly praised, and she has been referred to as the Next Big Thing in Hollywood. “I don’t know how to process that,” she says, laughing. “I’m really lucky that I now have more opportunity to work in such a hard industry.”
So, what’s on the horizon for this grounded young star? “I’ve been reading a lot of scripts. It’s been very overwhelming meeting a lot of people but it has also been so incredible. I just live in the moment and we’ll see what happens.”