'Patti Cake$' Stars Danielle Macdonald & Bridget Everett on Rapping, Karaoke and Crying at Cannes (Exclusive)
By John Boone
Lars Niki/Getty Images for Museum of Modern Art, Department of Film
Sitting down to interview Bridget Everett and Danielle Macdonald, it would have been too easy to forget to turn on the recorder. Everett, an icon on the New York City alt-cabaret scene and protégée of sorts to Amy Schumer, arrives first and asks if it would be OK to let Poppy, her Pomeranian and an Instagram star in her own right, out of her carrier during our time. (Everett's necklace says "Poppy" in gold cursive.) We're deep into sharing our rescue dogs' obsessive-compulsive behaviors when Macdonald, an Aussie actress who's had bit roles on American Horror Story and Glee, sidles up.
The 26-year-old is still wearing her high heels after many hours of press junketing at Hotel Polomar in West Hollywood, which Everett commends her for. (She'd already swapped her own for a pair of pink flip-flops.) Talk of heels turns to talk of drag and, before long, Macdonald and I realize we both played in the same kickball league. (She no longer has the time.) It takes a conscious effort to hit record and turn talk to their movie: Patti Cake$, out now, a charming underdog story about Patricia Dombrowski aka Killer P aka Patti Cake$ (Macdonald), who dreams of escaping New Jersey for rap stardom.
ET: Where were you in life when this project came to you?
Danielle Macdonald: I'd been living in America for four years at that point. Done a couple of films, but never done, like, a title character where I'm in every scene. That sounded really scary. I don't know... Living in L.A. Playing kickball in VGL. [Laughs.] Legitimately, though, I was at that time. Just auditioning and trying to work whenever I could. Then the Sundance Directors Lab happened and Geremy [Jasper, writer-director of Patti Cake$] invited me to come and do it. And I went, 'cause I'm insane. I think we both kind of had the same reaction--
Bridget Everett: Uh-huh.
DM: Because I read the script and I was like, "I can't play this! Because I can't literally do what is required, so I can't do it, unfortunately." And [Geremy] was like, "No, no, no. Just come out. You can do it."
What makes you take that leap of faith?
DM: I want to be an actor and I loved the script and I'm going to say no to an opportunity? That sounds ridiculous to me. Also, like, doing things that terrify me also makes me happy. That was the reason. But it definitely terrified me. I was stressed every single day on set, because it's really hard to have confidence in a skill that you have never done before and don't know...
Bridget, what was going on with you?
BE: I was doing a lot of cabaret stuff and some small touring. I'd done a couple bit parts in movies, but I was still waiting tables. I wasn't doing too much. [Laughs.] But I still almost didn't do it, because I read it and I was like, "I'm not a dramatic actor." But I met and talked with Geremy and he's like a Moonie or something. He could sell ice to Eskimos, really. He's like, "C'mon, it's no big. Take the pressure off yourself, just come and whatever." And so that's why I went. Well that and I wanted to see Robert Redford in some little hot pants. [Laughs.]
Usually with these hot scripts out of Sundance, you have to fight for the role. But it sounds like both of you were fighting against it and had to be convinced to do it by Geremy.
DM: It wasn't like, a hot script yet, because it was so in the beginning stages. And even if it was a hot script, Geremy is kind of amazing, where he wants what he wants and he's not going to do it unless he gets what he wants. And for some random reason, he wanted us. After we did the Sundance Labs to the point where we started filming, I was definitely worried about getting replaced. I just assumed it would happen, realistically, to get funding for a film. I was like, You're going to need a lead, a name. And that is not me. And then I know that Bridget thought she was going to be replaced by someone specific.
BE: Yeah, Kathy Bates. [Laughs.] I heard Lewis Black give this talk a couple years ago at this comedy festival and he did, like, this whole rant about someone writing a show for him -- I think it must have been Harry's Law -- and he ended up getting replaced by Kathy Bates. So, I was like, That's what's going to happen... And she would be f**king great! But you know what? She can't f**king sing! So...
So, you've been having a years-long feud with Kathy Bates in your head?
BE: I love her! I'm such a big fan of hers. That's why, like, she's the one. The truth is, if Sundance didn't exist, if we didn't have the opportunity to work with the characters and work with Geremy and they went straight out, they'd have to get a star. It's because we got an opportunity to put some stuff on camera that they saw and liked. That's I think why we got to stick with it.
DM: And all the advisers were there, like, Bob Redford and everyone. They were all there. I can't believe I just called him Bob.
BE: You called him Bob Redford! [Laughs.]
DM: I know!
BE: I was like, Whooooooooooa! Dani goes Hollywood!
DM: I just realized that! When I said that, I was like, "I can't call him that!" No! Geremy calls him that, so I just hear it a lot. But I'm like, No, I know him as Robert Redford. I met him once, very briefly.
In the next interview, she's going to be like, "So, me and Bobby…"
BE: "You guys, he's coming to VGL next week."
DM: [Laughs.] No! But like, these people had a chance to see us in the roles and they were really supportive of Geremy using us, which was amazing. They weren't like, Now replace them with names. That was really cool. And I just remember one of the reasons it was easy to go to the Labs was because Geremy makes it feel really safe to fail.
BE: Yeah, that's 100 percent true.
DM: And there was some failure along the way. But you never felt bad about getting back up and trying again. Because he was OK with it.
Danielle, had you ever rapped before? Even just in your car or the shower?
DM: Nope. [Laughs.] Just, nope.
You never, like, sang along to a Nicki Minaj verse?
DM: Of course! I've definitely sung along to songs in the car, but I've never, like, known all the lyrics. I'm like, "Oh, I know these five sentences, let me do it!" Then you just kind of mute your voice a little while the rest of the song continues, and then go into the chorus. That's what I did.
What kind of conversations did you need to have with both Geremy and with yourself to be like, "I know I can do this."
DM: Well, I didn't think, I can do this. That never happened! [Laughs.] Honestly, the entire time we were on set, I didn't really have the faith that I was pulling this off. Ever. The very last rap that we did, which was Sid [Dhananjay, who plays Patti's best friend, Jheri] and I on the car and is ironically the first rap in the movie -- that was the last rap that we filmed and that was also the first scene that we ever filmed at the Sundance Labs. Completely different song, completely different dialogue, but that was the idea of the scene. I think at that point I was like, Wow, I feel kind of comfortable with this in a weird way. And I was like, OK, maybe I can. A little bit late that I feel comfortable now, on, like, the second to last day of shooting. But with Geremy, he was like, "Just learn it like you would a song on the radio and come and try it. And I did. I brought a song to the Labs and it was rough. It was rough, but apparently I had some kind of rhythm, so he was like, "We can make it work."
After that, was it just practice? Or did you go through a boot camp of sorts? Did you just research rap? What is rap research like?
DM: It's a lot of Googling the history of rap and different artists and people's opinions on artists -- which I'm not really into other people's opinions on artists, but I was curious to kind of see who people thought were, like, the godfathers of rap. That kind of stuff.
And who are the godfathers of rap?
DM: Everyone kind of goes back to Biggie-Tupac, you know what I mean? That kind of era, but then there are so many.
Where do you fall on Biggie-Tupac?
DM: Oh, man. I'm about to get a lot of hate from the West Coast, considering I live on the West Coast, but I'm Biggie. He made me feel like partying. I would listen to him and all of a sudden, like, my shoulders would relax and I suddenly felt a little bit more cool than I generally do in my real life. And that's when I was like, Biggie is my guy that I need to listen to to get in that headspace. And I did.
You talked about your last day of rapping on set, what was it like on the first day you had to rap on set?
DM: Oh, I remember very clearly. There was a real rapper in front of me, because we had Kirk Knight in the movie. He's a great rapper in Brooklyn. And then Anthony Ramos, who was in Hamilton, they're sitting in front of me and Geremy's like, "OK, go rap." And I'd had [the song] for maybe a few days, because Geremy liked to do the songs last minute and always change them. I was like, "OK," and then I'm also having a panic attack at the same time. It's when I get high, and so I did originally do a rap and then kind of freak out. But it can't even be good, because I'm freaking out and I'm short of breath because I'm purposely puffing. It was slightly a mess and I was feeling very stressed and nervous and anxious, and Geremy was like, "It's fine. If it's bad, we'll cut it." He cut it. It didn't go well.
Then the second rap I did went a little bit better. But it also got cut. It didn't go great. And then the third one survived and I was like, There we go. It's just practice, and after a while I got used to the fact that people on set were going to see me make a fool of myself and that was OK. There were many things I had to do on set which were very embarrassing. Luckily, some of those things got cut.
Bridget, you'd done so much cabaret before shooting this, so which is it more nerve-wracking: performing live in front of a crowd or singing on set in front of a camera?
BE: On set in front of a camera. It's not a skill set that I'm used to! Even, like -- my character, Barb, sings karaoke drunk in a bar and I'm like, I've done this literally 5,000 times. But I was nervous doing that for some reason! Being on a stage, live, is different, because I can have a couple of glasses of wine before I go up, and I know how to dominate that space. But this is not that.
How did you move past those nerves? Did you ever get to a point where you felt comfortable singing on set?
BE: Um, yeah. It's just a different animal. I felt really comfortable with Danielle and Geremy, so that really helped. In the movie, when I'm singing "These Dreams," the karaoke moment--
DM: Which we heard, by the way, when we got off the plane today! It was [playing] in the airport and I was like, "Bridget! The song!" I've legitimately not heard that song since you've sang it. Anyways--
BE: But I would be nervous and I would look over at Danielle and it helped to ground me.
I also want to talk about that final performance scene, because it's such an emotional scene and on top of it, you have to rap, you have to sing. What do you remember from the days filming that final number?
DM:She grounded me. Like, I'm freaking out because I'm performing live, and she comes in and I know she has to sing and I just lock eyes with her. She's walking towards me, crying, and she was my guiding light saving me. I was like, I can ignore every single other person in this world right now, because she's walking towards me and we're locking eyes and I can get through it. [Turning to Bridget.] I'm not kidding, you kept me together because I was borderline anxiety attack that whole day. Quite honestly, I went to the bathroom before, definitely cried -- stress cried -- because it was really terrifying! And I remember when we started, Geremy's like, "Ehh, it just feels off." And I'm like, I know! It does! Oh my god! Then you get more in your head about it, and so Bridget coming in was like this grounding force that really helped me get through it. And we did it again and again and I was like, OK, we got this! At least I don't have to hit an incredibly high note.
BE: Oh yeah. [Laughs.]
DM: Which you killed!
BE: On my end, it was emotional. First of all, in the script, [when] that happens, that she uses her mother's hook in light of how she's been treated by her, it would just overwhelm me every time. Then I would walk in and see Danielle having this movie moment and knowing how hard she worked and seeing how beautiful she looked, it was just overwhelming. And I cried every time. [That song] is really high on my voice, and then to be crying and singing, that's not something I'm used to. But those are the moments in movies that I live for. I love, like, Rocky and Rudy and all that sh*t. Like, the moment where it all comes together and the dreams are coming true, however big or small they are. Also, it's really exciting to be a part of one of those moments with someone you really care about.
DM: You're making me tear up! I'm not kidding.
Bridget, in your cabaret act, "Gynecological Wonder," you have a number about how wonderful a mother you would be if you ever carried a pregnancy to term. Between Patti Cake$ and Fun Mom Dinner, was it easy tapping into your maternal side?
BE: Yeah, but because it was Danielle. I don't know that I could just do it, you know what I mean? I'm not skilled enough to do that. It really had to be that I cared about her, and you meet Danielle and you just immediately love her.
For everybody else, you would just visualize Poppy.
BE: That's true! I did that on Fun Mom Dinner. And there's a scene in the movie where Cathy [Moriarty, who plays Patti's Nana] dies or whatever, and they're just like, Action! You just have to start thinking about something to sort of get you over the self-consciousness of whatever the thing is, and I thought of some Poppy sh*t that [snaps fingers] got me f**king right there. And then you have to, you know, live in the moment, but it helps you--
DM: Get into that headspace. Oh my god, I totally thought of my dog. I'm not kidding.
Danielle, you are formally trained in acting, right? You studied in Australia?
DM: When you say "formally," it's like, there's Mamoudou [Athie, who plays Patti's love interest, Basterd the Antichrist] who's a Yale graduate. [Laughs.] Like, no. He's formally trained. I'm trained, but differently. I did afterschool classes and I did an hour of improv every week and I did onscreen camera classes and I did workshops. I took any kind of class and every class I could, and I took what worked for me from each of these classes. But I didn't go to school-school for it.
Bridget, had you taken any acting classes before?
BE: No, I've never taken an acting class. I'm more, like, street trained. Just in the clubs, you know? And karaoke bars, honestly, just as a way to access rage and joy and things like that. But I've never taken an acting class. I'd love to! I want to.
What is the learning curve like, then, when you arrive on a set?
BE: Like, I still don't really know how to read a call sheet. I don't know, like, what a grip is. And I ask every single time! But really, just asking questions and letting people know that I rely on the actors around me to help me and guide me. I do this show called Lady Dynamite now and I'm like, Am I too big? Too small? I'm trying to be me... And to have people tell you, "Just get the eff-- Get out of your head and just do it! You're fine!"
DM: A lot of the time, you're your own worst enemy. It's just getting out of your head, honestly, and that goes for everyone. And also, I did take a lot of classes and I didn't know how to be on a set. It's a whole other thing. Acting class is nothing like being on a set. And auditioning is nothing like being on a set. It's a completely different ball game. I remember my first film, I didn't know anything. Luckily, I was with actors who had done a lot of work and they would be like, "That was action. You speak." That genuinely happened once, because [the director] was far away and I couldn't hear, so I didn't know to go! You feel embarrassed when you're doing that, but everyone has to learn somewhere!
DM: And I still don't know necessarily what everyone's jobs are either! [Laughs.] I'm like, I see these words and I know what they kind of do, but I don't know what they do at the same time.
BE: Danielle's the kind of person that's going around like, "Hey Steve, how's your mom? Oh, Renée, your birthday! I sent you some cookies! John, can you believe it? Oh my god! Anyway, I'm going to go back over here with Ralph and-- It's tacos! Yeah, we're doing tacos! Anyway, you guys have a great day!"
DM: OK, calm down.
BE: She knows everybody's name, whereas I'm like, I'm gonna go take a nap and Facetime Poppy.
DM: No, you're the person that, like, gets your P.A. and sits on his face.
BE: Oh...there's that.
DM: That happened! It was one of my favorite moments ever, in history. Let's put it that way.
Patti Cake$ is about following your dreams, no matter how big or improbable they seem. Do you remember a specific time when you didn't think this would happen for you? And what was that moment or who was that person who helped convinced you it could?
DM: I'm very stubborn, so-- [Laughs.] I don't know. There's definitely been many, many moments of doubt, and I've definitely had a lot of people not really believe in me. There have also been a number of people who have, so not discounting any of that, but you generally tend to hang on to the negative more than the positive. We like to do that, I guess, as people. So, any of those times, it gets me a little bit, but then I'm like, Well, how do I know if I don't try? Also, I'm very stubborn, so I'm like, I'm gonna do it. Even with this, I was like, I don't know that I can do this, but I'm gonna do it.
BE: Yeah, there's been many of those along the way. A couple years ago, my friend Murray Hill, who's this great downtown New York performer, he was like, "You need to start your band. You need to do your own thing." I did and my whole life changed. It was just many years of just, like, never believing in myself and sometimes working with toxic people that don't fully lift you up. And when I met Murray and then Amy Schumer and Michael Patrick King and all these people that selflessly want to lift you up for no other reason than because they believe in you-- I hadn't been working with people like that. So, it just changed everything.
After having such a wonderful reception at Sundance and then at Cannes, I feel I can objectively say you are both having a moment. Do you feel like you are? What does a "moment" feel like?
BE: I would say Danielle's having a moment. [Laughs.]
DM: Calm down, you!
BE: I wouldn't know a moment if it came up and kissed me with its big, fat, wet tongue. I'm just happy to like, get to go on an airplane and go to a new city and talk about a movie that we made.
DM: I definitely remember crying at Cannes, which was weird. We also really hadn't slept, because we'd been doing a lot of press and just really living the Cannes experience. I think I was just very mentally exhausted and I look over and Cathy's just bawling her eyes out and then I started crying a little bit. It was just-- It was crazy! Sundance was kind of the same way. I think there was so much anxiety about, Oh my god, what do they think?! This is the first time that anyone has seen this. And I was hiding in Bridget's boob the entire time. I'm not kidding.
BE: She's really not.
DM: And it was really scary and then when people clap, you're like, OK. OK. They're not booing. That's my immediate reaction, my immediate go-to. As for a "moment," I'm just taking it a day at a time.
DM: [Laughs.] It's funny because no one knows who I am in Australia. So, it's not really a thing, the tall poppy thing. It's like, Who is that? Which I'm really glad about, because I love being able to go home and it has nothing to do with work. It's just home. I just went back for the Sydney Film Festival for Patti Cake$ and that was actually kind of weird, because I was all of a sudden doing some work stuff in my hometown. It was strange.
Bridget, you recently Instagrammed a #TBT of a conservative, very prim and proper headshot. It's amazing, but it doesn't feel like you. Throughout the years you've been working, have you been asked or expected to change who you are to fit into the mold of Hollywood?
BE: That was me, like, trying to be an equity actor or whatever. And then I was like, Nooope! And I found karaoke and the downtown performance scene, and I was like, Bras coming off. Roots are coming in. I'm doing it my way. [Laughs.]
In that same mindset, is there one way each of you hopes the industry changes or you are able to change the industry moving forward?
DM: I just like seeing different stories, different people in different roles, not pigeonholing people. That'd be awesome.
BE: I want people to just feel f**king great in their own skin and not have so many f**king hang-ups.