Interview: Australian actress Danielle Macdonald on becoming an opera fan for falling in love with Figaro, working with a legend and living her dream


At the start of the last decade, 30-year-old actress Danielle Macdonald packed her things and moved from her native Australia to Los Angeles in hopes of finding an acting job she wouldn’t find Down Under. She had a one-shot on “Glee”, was cast in the eco-terrorist drama starring Brit Marling Ballast, and has worked intermittently since then, doing small roles in everything from “Pretty Little Liars”, 2 Broke Girls “and” American Horror Story “to Clark Gregg Believe me and Amy Berg All the small things. Little did she know that in 2016, when musician-turned-writer-director Geremy Jasper picked her for the lead role in his first feature film. Patti Cake $, that her life as a virtual stranger would change. After more than a year of workshop and rewrite at the Sundance Directors Lab, Patti Cake $ (2017) became the story of a lonely but confident young New Jersey woman in her twenties whose dream is to become the next big hip-hop sensation.

Image courtesy of IFC Films

Later in 2017, she also appeared in Greta Gerwig’s ladybug, and soon she appears in several films a year, including Skin, Netflix hits Birdhouse and Dumplin ‘ (as well as the popular streamer series “Unbelievable” and “Easy”), The paradisiacal hills, I’m a woman, and last year French release.

In his latest work, Fall in love with Figaro, McDonald’s gets his first starring role since Patti Cake $ in the story of Millie, a brilliant young American fund manager living in the UK who leaves her unsatisfactory job and her longtime boyfriend to pursue her lifelong dream of becoming an opera singer in the Scottish Highlands. She begins intense vocal training classes with renowned but formidable vocal teacher and former opera diva Meghan Geoffrey-Bishop (Joanna Lumley). It was there that she met Max (Hugh Skinner), another of Meghan’s students who is also training for the upcoming “Singer of Renown” competition. What starts out as a brutal competition between Millie and Max slowly turns into something more, and while it feels like setting up a romantic comedy, instead, kinda like Patti Cake $ (as well as McDonald’s life), she’s more of a woman who shies away from caution and pursues her dreams while she still can. Directed by Ben Lewin, the film is light and airy, of course, but it’s also inspiring and very funny at times, thanks in no small part to Lumley and the great Scottish actor Gary Lewis.

I recently had the chance to chat with McDonald’s (our third time in years) about the movie, working opposite a legend like Lumley, and the movie’s message about chasing your dreams. Have fun…

When you first read the script or heard about this character, what attracted you about Millie that you thought “I can do something with that”?

Honestly, the dialogue in the script was quirky and unique, and I love a good romantic comedy. So I saw this funny romantic comedy, but making it bright and original but also having that British / Australian sensibility was really fun. Plus, I’m a huge Joanna Lumley fan, which made this a no-brainer.

Since you mentioned her, she’s a real icon, without a doubt. What do you learn from working so closely with her, on acting, on comedy, on being a human being?

She’s amazing and such a great human being. She is caring and kind to everyone. She’s incredibly smart and a really amazing woman, she really is, very compassionate too. Having someone like that around, someone who is also incredibly non-judgmental, she makes you want to be better. Her comedic timing and all of her essence leads you to believe that there is nothing she can do. She’s so into it all the time. She never needed a second take, she got it, but she didn’t. It’s amazing and inspiring to be with certain people, and she is definitely one of those people.

I’m going to take a risk and assume it wasn’t you who sang the opera in the movie.

[laughs] That’s right, yeah.

So what’s the hardest part about pretending to sing opera? I imagine you always have to match an opera singer’s breathing method. It seems to be tiring.

The hardest part is singing the opera badly, I would say. I had singing lessons and had to learn the songs, so I could do it well on set and be replaced on the job. It’s terrifying because you’re always up there playing, some days are easier than others for certain songs. For some songs, we could play the vocal track really loud while I was accompanying it, which is great. And sometimes we had to record it in silence, so people could hear me, and that part was terrifying, but honestly, it was so fun and challenging in a whole other way.

Were you a big opera lover before that, or did you become one as a result of it?

I was certainly not an opera enthusiast, but I have become more so now. If I see an opera playing in a city where I am, I say to myself “Oh, I should see this”, when before it would never have entered my brain. I have seen a couple live now and would love to go back when the world opens up again. I’ve watched a lot of YouTube clips for a lot of different songs and I have such a different appreciation for them now than before. I used to say to myself “Oh, that’s cool”. I didn’t really think about what was in it. And now, knowing what’s in it, I know what an amazing feat it is to sing like that. It’s a very beautiful art form, and I really appreciate it. I find the opera incredibly entertaining, honestly.

My dad was a huge opera fan, and the way he tried to convince me to try when I was younger was to point out that someone always dies in an opera. Your character says something similar to someone in this movie.

Literally always! Someone always dies at the opera; they are so dramatic.

I read somewhere that you could do something with Bo Burnham. Is it still a thing or is it a vicious rumor?

It was a real thing and it’s been put aside for now, and I don’t know if it’s going to become a real thing. Who knows what the future holds, but he’s on hiatus for now.

Based on this film, do you recommend everyone to take some time in their life, especially when they are young enough to do so, and pursue their dream that they may not be able to later in life? ?

It’s never that easy. I’m not saying you should move from London to the Scottish Highlands. I’m not saying quit your life, but definitely take a step in the direction of what you want to do, follow your passions for sure. Even if it’s a little baby step that you have to take at first because everything else seems too scary, take that step and see if it keeps growing and keep taking more steps. It is your happiness, you must follow it.

Danielle, it was great to see you again. Good luck with that. Thanks for speaking.

It was great to see you too. Thank you. Bye.

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Categories: Film, Interview, Screens

Tagged As: Amy Berg, Ben Lewin, Clark Gregg, Danielle Macdonald, Gary Lewis, Geremy Jasper, Greta Gerwig, Hugh Skinner, Joanna Lumley


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