One of Sundance Film Festival‘s biggest revelations this year is Writer/Director Geremy Jasper‘s feature debut PATTI CAKE$. The 70-minute Rap-Comedy follows a New Jersey girl’s path to achieving the unlikely dream of becoming a famous Rapper. The Film won not only a standing ovation at the Festival, but raves critically too en route quickly to a distribution deal with Fox Searchlight.
While based somewhat on events that took place in Jasper‘s own life growing-up in New Jersey, the titular character was developed as a collaboration between its eventual star, promising Australian actress Danielle Macdonald and him, a musician in his own right who has directed Music Videos for the likes of Selena Gomez and Florence & The Machine.
Macdonald made it in to Toronto to promote her star-making performance in Patti Cake$ and we learn that the personable actress actually is quite different from the brash and outre young woman she portrays in the Film. Now based in L.A., she tells me she regrets she’s in Toronto only for less than 24 hours and while her next Film Lady Bird directed by Greta Gerwig, premieres in the City at TIFF next month, she unfortunately won’t be here for the fun. “It was very fun to shoot, but I was very unimportant in that Film”, she says to us fittingly at recording studio booked for the Press Day in the City’s east-end. “It was only one scene.”.
Macdonald tells us about being approached by Jasper to play the lead character in Patti Cake$. “He just knew. He told me, ‘You were exactly what I had envisioned in my head.'”. She adds, “It was just a feeling. He saw 10 minutes of something I had done and felt I could do this. He told me, ‘Yes you can! Come out and try!’. I warned him I’m very different and the role was a stretch and he said, ‘Well, if you are bad, then you’re bad!’.”.
I ask her about the process of crafting her character together with Jasper, something they did together at Sundance Lab. “He knew she was gonna be this girl who wanted to rap more than anything, but there’s this family dynamic happening in it. He used to sit in his room and write rhymes in his notebook. So much of this was things that were personal to him. You actually have to make that a person and that was the coolest part. You’ve got to ground her into a real person. He knew elements about her, but didn’t really know her. We got to bring his life, my life and our experiences together and find Patti in a whole new way – what drove her, what inspires her and what helps her.”.
Having been so involved with the crafting of her character, we ask Macdonald just how much of Patti actually is her. She states, “I understand her passion and drive, but we deal with things in very different ways. I understand her heart, her drive and it’s just about connecting with people. At the same time, there’s this mystery about her. I understand also the undying love she has for her family.”.
Admittedly having no experience as a rapper, we wonder how Macdonald transformed herself into Patti and she explains for us her process. “It was far too embarrassing to do in front of my roommate! I’d go into my closet where I felt alone in my own world, just able to focus on it and keep going till I got a good take, over and over again.”. “I did so many songs by different artists, different styles and flows of Rap. I’d then start practicing the original stuff right before production began.”.
With an actual Soundtrack for the Film due later this month, she tells us she appears in about 15 out of the 17 songs on the Album, although she still hasn’t heard or seen the final product. She jokes, “Actors are always the last to know!”.
What makes Patti Cake$ so heart-felt while equally enthralling is the dynamics of the dysfunctional relationships Patti has with her family, particularly her mother Barb (Bridget Everett) and Nana (Cathy Moriarty). “They’re both incredible people”, says Macdonald. “I met Bridget at Sundance Labs and she’s incredible. We did a very dramatic scene together early on and kept in touch over a year and nine months before production and then I found out she’s a Comedian! I felt very comfortable with her from the start and I felt great because we already had that relationship.”.
On veteran actress Moriarty, she says “I met Cathy two to three weeks before production. She gives you a giant warm hug and I’m like, ‘She’s family!’. She’s just an open book, she’s amazing. The three of us have text convos!”. “I’m sad they never had any scenes together nor do they say one word to each other, but it’s representative of their relationship.”.
We ask Macdonald what her most difficult challenge was in becoming Patti and she reveals that that it was more about the physical struggle. “Figuring out her outside was tough, as I had figured her out inside. Walking and talking different and learning how to rap and have swag was so difficult”. “You have to get to a point where you’re so comfortable that it’s second nature.”. “Geremy would be like, ‘Do a boob-grab!… now do a crotch-grab and I was like, ‘Geremy!!!’. It was fun and those moments we could all laugh at together and the crew was in on it!”.
While Patti Cake$ already has won several raves, we ask Macdonald what she would consider a success. “I’m already very happy how things have gone. So many opportunities have come-up since this and it’s been incredible. You do work and hope it will bring more work, but seeing people enjoying something you had so much fun making, it means a lot. We put our hearts and souls into this one.”.
On the Film being purchased right out of Sundance, she recalls “Fox Searchlight buying the Film was a very exciting moment. You make a movie and hope people will see it. You never know how it will do in a theatre, but it is so exciting it is going to be seen!”.
You too can see PATTI CAKE$ when Fox Searclight release it in theatres Friday, August 25, 2017 across Canada.