Danielle Macdonald had never laid down a rap in her life when she met with first-time feature director Geremy Jasper to play Patricia Dombrowski — aka Killa P, aka Patti Cake$ — an aspiring New Jersey rapper with swagger and sweet rhymes.
“I read the script and thought, ‘What has he seen that would make him think I could do this?'” says Macdonald, an Australian actress who caught Jasper’s eye in the tiny indies The East and Every Secret Thing. “It was terrifying.”
She spent three weeks with Jasper at the Sundance Labs in 2014 working on the script and character before taking another year to learn about hip-hop culture and how to rhyme. “I practiced rapping in my closet because the sound was best in there,” says Macdonald, who would spit out lyrics by Notorious B.I.G. and Nicki Minaj.
Now she’s poised for Sundance “It” girl status, with Patti Cake$ generating major buzz and Macdonald being courted by top U.S. talent agencies. It’s a six-year overnight-success story for Macdonald, who acted in high school then came to L.A. in 2010 for casting workshops and quickly landed a lead on ABC Family’s Huge. But her visa paperwork did not come through in time, so she lost the gig. “I’m almost glad I wasn’t able to do the show because how easy would that have been — getting a job after my first audition?” she says of her long road of guest-star parts and small movies. “I had to work at it — audition and fail, get things and lose others. If you really want something, you keep going.”
Big Break: 2013 indie thriller The East
Reps: Justice & Ponder, Felker Toczek
This story first appeared in the Jan. 27 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.