New Jersey-set rap movie ‘Patti Cake$’ sees Danielle Macdonald hustle to chase her dream

“Killa P” lacks cash, street cred and major bling.

Blanchett, Kidman and Watts better watch out. There’s a new Aussie actress stealing American hearts. Danielle Macdonald plays an incredibly charismatic aspiring rapper in “Patti Cake$.” The film sparked a bidding war at the Sundance Film Festival in January and hits theaters Friday.

Patti just wants to get out of her low-income New Jersey town, but “Killa P” lacks cash, street cred and major bling. What she does have is enough talent and hustle to chase her dream in this touching rags-to-riches story.

Danielle Macdonald spoke to amNewYork about what it was like crafting her unique swagger and her impressions on New York’s neighbor across the Hudson.

What were your first impressions of New Jersey?

I actually went when it was winter and it was snowing, so I was really excited. It was cool because I got to explore it while it was covered in white frost. It felt really different from where I grew up. I grew up in as different a looking place as you can get but at the same time, it had that same kind of homey vibe. It felt like you knew the people and that was so cool because I was easily able to connect. I didn’t necessarily expect that.

They say the East Coast is the hardest accent to get through. Was it hard to nail down?

[Laughs] Yeah! It was but since I’m Australian, I have to do accents all the time. I usually always play Americans so I’m used to hearing accents anyway, but it was definitely a hard one to do. I was like, “I really don’t want to screw this up.” I didn’t want it to be a caricature either, so we found the exact accent that [director] Geremy [Jasper] wanted.

The film may focus on rap, but at the end of the day this is a universal story about perseverance. I think that’s why people are tapping into this story.

Yeah. At first, I said, “I can’t do this. I can’t rap.” And Geremy said he really wanted an actor who could learn how to rap because at its heart it’s not about the rapping. It’s her passion and how she expresses herself, but it’s this character’s story and the relationships that are the most important part. That’s why I went after it. It’s just a product of what she wants to do.

Rap is a performative art even offstage. There was a certain swagger to your performance that your character wove in and out. How were you able to lock that down?

I don’t know! I honestly never felt comfortable with that. It was really hard because I’m so not like that. I’m really clumsy and not cool, in my own opinion. So, getting that was the most difficult part. Part of it was just being in costume because I felt way cooler when I was wearing those clothes. My Timberlands were my magical red ruby slippers. It changes the way you walk, physically which was really interesting. I put some Biggie on, and as I walked down the street, I was like, “OK!” It changed the way I held my shoulders, and it felt more natural. Once you overthink it, it looks very rehearsed.

The language of rap is very specific, the technicalities behind rhyming take talent. Did you have experience with it before?

I had no experience with it before. I’m really not a musical person but you grow up listening to music and you learn your favorite songs on the radio. That’s kind of how I had to approach it at first. I didn’t even know how to breathe. I would print out the lyrics and put little lines when I had to take a breath. That was how I initially taught myself technically. It was about not giving up even when it wasn’t happening.

Niki Cruz