The Cast Of Patti Cake$ Tells R29 What's On Their Characters' Playlists

Photo: Courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox.
It's a testament to the magic of Patti Cake$ that I left the theater wanting to embark on a rap career — for like half a second, but still. Danielle Macdonald — who, you heard it here first, is bound for major stardom —  is so convincing as Patti Dumbrowski, an aspiring rapper desperate to get out of her downtrodden New Jersey town, that you can't help but believe.
Patti's fame aspirations under the alias Killa-P are challenged daily by the more earthly elements in her life — namely her mom, Barb (Bridget Everett), who bears the scars of her own thwarted ambitions of stardom. And then there's the fact that she can't shake her middle school nickname: "Dumbo," a cruel reminder that, for the outside world, at least, size matters.
It's no coincidence that we first meet Patti smack dab in the middle of a dream. She's a dreamer, filling notebooks with lyrics as she works menial jobs to help pay her grandmother's medical bills. She writes to forget her mom's drinking and disapproval, the hot guy at the pizza parlor who called her fat, and her beloved Nana, who's wheelchair-bound after undergoing hip surgery. She writes to earn the approval of her idol, rapper OZ, whose signature green aura colors her every fantasy.
Eventually, she finds her tribe. There's Nana, of course, played by the wonderfully acerbic Cathy Moriarty, who believes her "superstar" will get there one day. Completing the ensemble is Patti's best friend — and biggest fan — Hareesh (Siddharth Dhananjay), aka Jheri, and a Black metalhead known as Bastard The Antichrist (Mamoudou Athie).
Whether she's battling boneheads in a dimly lit parking lot or hustling for minimum-wage, Patti's journey is one of hope and infectious enthusiasm. This is a movie that'll get you cry-laughing, clapping, and busting out those headphones ASAP.
With that in mind, I caught up Danielle Macdonald and Bridget Everett at the Refinery29 offices to talk strong female characters, body positivity, and New Jersey accents.
Danielle, you play the lead. What was it like to get that call that you were gonna be the lead in this movie?
Danielle McDonald: "It was kind of a weird way that I got into it. Geremy [Jasper], our director, got selected to do the Sundance Director’s Lab. So, he actually called me and invited me to just workshop five scenes from the movie. I didn’t think that I would be doing the movie. I thought I was just there to workshop it. Then, when we were at the labs and workshopping these scenes, we really kind of figured out who Patti is. I was working with Bridget and Sid, who plays Jheri, and we all kind of got it. We became like a family and we started to figure out the script together. Then, I ended up doing the movie. It was a normal process or audition. I never got a call to do the film it was just like ‘Oh, okay. Now, it’s getting made, which is great’"
Had you ever rapped before?
DM: "No!"
How did you learn?
DM: "A lot of practice. I listened to a lot of music. A lot of different songs, different styles, different artists. I practiced all of them. Some I was terrible at, some I got a little bit better. And kind of just figured out where my natural ability lay with rapping. Yeah, just practice. Not giving up even though it was difficult, I guess."
Did either of you have playlists for your characters since you both sing in the movie?
Bridget Everett: "I was listening to a lot of Heart because that’s what I sing in the movie, but I listened to like anything sort of just like '80s rocker, hard living, time of your life, kind of '80s good time gal music."
DM: "There was a lot of Biggie because after I practiced, he was the one I found helped me find Patti the most. He was just cool and laid back and confident. And I was like ‘That’s what I’m struggling with.’ So I listened to him to try and, like, feel cool a little bit."
BE: "He always sounds like he has to blow his nose a little bit, doesn’t he? But I like it. He’s one of my favorites, too."
Photo: Nicholas Bloise.
Neither of you are from Jersey, so what’s the most important thing to remember when you’re doing a Jersey accent?
BE: "Well, we had a dialect coach who was the best."
DM: "We loved him."
BE: "He works with all the major movie stars and then us."
Did he give you any tips?
BE: "I had lots of little tapes and stuff and I would listen to those tapes probably more than music when I trying to get ready. Danielle studied for a really long time. I just had one or two lessons."
DM: "No, I only got three sessions."
BE: "Oh, my God."
DM: "He was the best because Geremy, our director, wrote all the lyrics to the film. He would be rewriting the night before and he’d be like ‘New lyrics. Go’ and I was like ‘I’ve never said that word before with a Jersey accent.’ So, I would email Tim at like 3 AM and he would just record it and send it right on back to me – that word that I couldn’t figure out. He was amazing. Even once we were done, he would always help out if I needed anything."
One of the things I love about this movie is that it focuses on three generations of women. So, how would you describe the similarities and differences between them?
BE: "They’re complicated relationships, but the truth is, they all love each other. Cathy Moriarty, who plays the matriarch or the grandmother, is very loving towards Danielle, Patti Cakes, but sort of missed the boat with Barb, her own daughter. So, Barb sort of takes that out on Patti. They all love each other, it’s just where they’re able to show it is the issue, I guess you could say."
DM: "I would agree with that. That’s the thing that really holds the whole thing together. They have so much love for each other and they’d do anything for their family, even though it’s a really messed up kind of dynamic a little bit between us. But, at the same time, Barb stayed around. Patti’s dad didn’t even though she had all the dreams and that kind of love Patti figures out throughout the film. Then, Nana is the glue that holds it all together."
BE: "I was trying to think of what other movies that I’ve seen where its three generations of women that are the heart of the film. I can’t think of a lot. I know that they exist, they’re just not coming to my head right now. That’s why I love the movie so much. I fell in love with Danielle as a person and felt really confident working with her and Cathy is a legend. It’s just cool to get to explore those kinds of relationships. It’s a reflection of what most people’s families are like. They’re complicated. You love but you want to kill them or want to sabotage them in some way sometimes. Then, you ultimately feel bad and love them and everybody wants to die happy together."
That’s the thing, they’re such unusual characters, but they’re also so relatable as people.
DM: "I read the script and I was like ‘What? I’m so different than this person,’ but I understood her heart instantly. Even though we grew up in such different places, such different worlds, and have such different interests, I understand her on such a deep level and that’s really what connected me to film. I can relate to all the characters, even though they’re a little odd. Like, we have Bastard, the anti-Christ, but he’s relatable in his own way."
Another thing that struck me in the movie is how body-positive it is. I kept expecting a scene where Patti feels bad about her weight, even though people taunt her about it. It never really happens.
DM: "No, it was kind of a cool script because I read it and I was like ‘Oh, this isn’t about her weight.’ You know how a lot of the times, you get roles and it’s like ‘Oh, right. It’s about that.’ This movie was not about that it just was. It just normalizes people of all shapes and sizes and ages, which is really cool. I think that if you normalize it in a way it’s a non-issue. It’s like ‘Oh yeah, this is a story of real people."
BE: "Because it should be a non-issue."
DM: "Exactly."
BE: "What’s important in this movie is that Patti is a dream and everybody loves a dream and what you have to do and what you find within yourself. Sometimes that’s a reflection of who you are on the outside, but really what’s most important is how you wake up feeling inside of yourself and if you can stick to your dreams, fall of the cliff, and fly."
Photo: Courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox.
Do you think we’re making progress in showing complex plus-sized females on screen?
DM: "Yeah. I think we are. I think there’s still a long way to go, but movies like this, I think, really help. I was excited to get to do a movie like this. It’s not often you come by a lead character of a film that is plus-sized and it’s not about her weight. I don’t actually know if I’ve necessarily seen that. That was so cool to me. I met with Geremy, our director, and he was like ‘No, these are just the women I grew up with. This is normal. It wasn’t about anything other than these are who I pictured in my head.’"
BE: "Also, Danielle/Patti Cakes has a lot of swagger. You wanna look like her and be her and rap like her. She’s an inspiration."
DM: "Aw, Bridget. Not in real life."
BE: "That’s my girl."
I don’t want to give away too many spoilers, but it does take a woman for Patti to find her voice after she’s shut down by a man.What do you think this says about the need for women of influence and power, not just in rap, but across the board?
DM: "I think it’s important. Everyone wants to feel represented. I think that’s a really big thing. I think the more women we see in positions of power, the more young girls feel like they can do that. I know that that was me growing up. And I know that it relates to women and different body shapes and everything like that. You wanna feel like there is room for you in a place where you didn’t necessarily think there was. I wanted to be an actor and I didn’t necessarily see many people that looked like me growing up. It’s cool to be able to see these stories, see these people on screen and feel like ‘Oh, I can do that, too’ and it goes for all kinds of women."
Its like the Wonder Woman effect.
DM: "Exactly, everyone’s obsessed with it for a reason."
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