'Dumplin'' Star Danielle Macdonald on Filming That "Scary" Swimsuit Competition Scene
The star of Netflix's pageant film, which also stars Jennifer Aniston, talks body inclusivity in Hollywood, so young girls can "feel a little less alien."
Actress Danielle Macdonald truly experienced what her character was going through when modeling swimsuits in a beauty pageant for Netflix's Dumplin'.
The dramedy, released Friday and adapted from the Julie Murphy novel of the same name, centers on Willowdean Dickson (Macdonald), a Texas high schooler who is too insecure about her body to enter the town beauty pageant that her obsessed mother (Jennifer Aniston) oversees every year. Inspired by her late, beloved aunt (Hilliary Begley), a trio of local drag queens and her idol Dolly Parton — who contributed the original song "Girl in the Movies" that scored a Golden Globe nomination on Thursday — Willowdean decides to vie for the title of Miss Teen Blue Bonnet to prove that everyone has a beauty queen body.
While filming a swimsuit competition scene, Macdonald really did wear her statement-making one piece in front of a 200-person crowd. "It felt like we were doing it for real, because we were," Macdonald told The Hollywood Reporter at the St. Jude and Brooks Brothers holiday party on Sunday. "At the same time, we're like grinning and smiling. We're like, 'This is so weird but we did it!' ... We felt empowered after."
She also experienced Willowdean's struggles firsthand while wearing six-inch heels that gave her blisters and a sultry red gown that she kept tripping in. "I ripped the dress. Many times," she laughed.
Up next for Macdonald: Bird Box with Sandra Bullock and Sarah Paulson (out Dec. 21) and Paradise Hills (2019) with Awkwafina and Emma Roberts. Here, the young star talks with THR about how she'd like to see representation in Hollywood change for plus-size women "to feel a little more represented, a little less alien."
What drew you to be a part of the project?
I read the book. I fell in love with the book. So it was just a no-brainer for me. I was like, "I want to be a part of this so badly," because I wish that I could have seen this movie 10 years ago when I was growing up and trying to figure it all out. I'm glad that there is a movie out there for kids now.
If you saw it 10 years ago, how would it have changed your perspective?
I think it would have helped me realize that other people feel this way, too. You're not alone. Just to feel a little more represented, a little less alien. I feel like we all went through that phase, but it's nice when you see yourself in a movie. You're like, "Oh, it's not just me."
Was there a particular part of the story that you related to?
The majority of it. It's hard to pinpoint one thing. It's a lot of just the feelings and emotions and trying to come to terms with who you are and that you can be living your life. You don't have to be scared of what other people are thinking. You don't need to feel judged by other people.
What was the audition process like?
It was more meetings. I didn't technically audition the traditional way. I just had a film come out and the producers and director saw it, so they met with me and we spoke about the character. And then I met with Jen to see our chemistry. So it was kind of that process more, but it took a good month of meeting with people and having no idea if it was going to go my way or not.
What kinds of roles would you like to see more of for actresses of various shapes and sizes?
I would love for there just to be more inclusivity in general. I would love the film industry to reflect the world around us. I think if you look around in this room right now, I see so many different types of people immediately. And I just want to see that on film. It would be great if it could become less just strategic, and it was just, "Hey, it's a person. It's a character," and it's not, like, specified to how someone looks. People are just people.
Do you think that the films that specifically talk about size are helping?
I think so, for sure, because it is an issue. But at the same time, I hope we can get to a point where it's not even an issue in the future. But yes we have to address things to be able to get to that point.
What was your favorite memory on set?
The last scene. Literally all of us are together, and we're all dancing in this random bar in the middle of Atlanta or outside of Atlanta. And we just kept playing the same song and everyone just ended up screaming singing it. We were dancing and we were so tired, because we were just dancing for like an hour straight. It was also at the end, so it just felt like summing it all up nicely for us. It was Jen's last day; it was a bunch of people's last days. There were only, like, three of us that stayed on after that. So it felt really special.
What happened on Jennifer Aniston's last day?
There was crying and tears. It was really special for her, and her best friend [Kristin Hahn] wrote the script, so it just felt like family for everyone. I think it felt really special to all of us because it touched us in a way that projects don't often do. So it's the one I'll never forget for sure.
What was the biggest challenge for you on Dumplin'?
Honestly just walking in heels and a dress. So glad I got through that, genuinely. I tripped. I fell on my face. I ripped the dress. Many times. The red one. When I'm walking to the car, literally just me walking to the car, took 10 takes. I ripped the bottom of the dress. You couldn't tell.
Why was it particularly tough?
It was a long dress and like six-inch heels, so it was difficult. And so many blisters. And I was like, "I can do this." I'm also just very clumsy. When we got it, it was like, I don't know why, it felt like such a relief. I was like, "We got there!" But a lot of things felt that way. Like Odeya [Rush, who plays Willodean's best friend, Ellen] and I going out with the bathing suits. That was scary, because there were 200 people. When we all did that, we felt empowered after like, "Yeah we just did that. We just got through that and that felt kind of cool."
It was. It felt like we were doing it for real, because we were. There was a full audience. But at the same time, we're like grinning and smiling. We're like, "This is so weird but we did it!"
As you make your way around Hollywood, have you had any starstruck moments yet?
Emma Watson was a super-starstruck moment. She called me over at the Golden Globes party earlier this year I think. I was like "How do you know I exist?" I've still never met Octavia Spencer, and I'm a huge fan so that would probably be really cool.