Images by Jan-Willem Dikkers
Styling by Jordan Grossman
Makeup by Dina Gregg
Hair by Amber Duarte
Interview by Cathy Moriarty
Portrait by Albert Sanchez
“What I really liked about this movie is that it defied laws.
It made the abnormal normal, and it was never about
size or gender or race. No one is put in a box, and I love that.”
— Danielle Macdonald
Written and directed by Geremy Jasper, Patti Cake$ tells the story of aspiring Jersey rapper Patricia Dombrowski (Danielle Macdonald), a.k.a. Patti Cake$, as she defies all odds on the road to stardom. The award-winning film includes supporting actors Bridget Everett and Cathy Moriarty and premiered at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.
Danielle Macdonald is an Australian actress who has appeared in the TNT series Trust Me (2009) and films such as Every Secret Thing (2014) alongside Dakota Fanning, Diane Lane and Elizabeth Banks. She currently stars as a burgeoning rapper in Geremy Jasper’s film Patti Cake$ (2017).
Academy Award nominated actor Cathy Moriarty has been in film for nearly 40 years. Having grown up in The Bronx, Moriarty went on to appear in hits such as Raging Bull (1980), The Bounty Hunter (2010) and her newest film Patti Cake$ (2017).
From Hillsdale New Jersey, Geremy Jasper is an up-and-coming filmmaker and the former frontman of popular indie rock band The Fever. His award-winning debut feature film Patti Cake$, starring Danielle Macdonald, releases in theaters this summer.
In the debut film from Geremy Jasper, up-and-coming actor Danielle Macdonald stars in the titular role of Patti Cake$, a.k.a. Killa P, given name Patricia Dombrowski. Patti lives in a dead-end New Jersey town and dreams of becoming a rapper, though she’s stuck working at a dive bar where her single mother (Bridget Everett) goes to take shots and sing forlorn karaoke. The future looks admittedly bleak, but Patti has talent—her sharp lyrics win her a rap battle against a local who calls her “Dumbo” for her plus-size frame—and a misfit team begins to form around her.
Based on Jasper’s own experience growing up in Jersey, Patti Cake$ blends a reality of small-town claustrophobia and economic woes with big-dream idealism. The film was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, and Macdonald’s stunning performance has met with wide critical acclaim. Born and raised in Australia, Macdonald mastered a New Jersey accent and learned to rap in preparation for the film, but makes both look effortless.
Hollywood virtuoso Cathy Moriarty (Raging Bull, The Bounty Hunter) portrays Patti’s doting, wheelchair-bound grandmother in the film, and loves Macdonald just as much in real life. The two discuss Macdonald’s rap education, Jasper’s cinematic vision, and the making of the film, which stretched over three years from rehearsing at Sundance Labs to its current wide release.
Cathy Moriarty: I’m Cathy. I play Nana, your grandmother. You are my little angel, my superstar forever and ever and ever. I adore you. I love you. You know all of that. What’s going on? Are you excited?
Danielle Macdonald: Yeah.
CM: Are you overwhelmed?
CM: Are you exhausted?
CM: You got a lot on your plate, kiddo.
DM: All in a good way.
CM: The response to this movie is freaking overwhelming, to the point that I have heart palpitations myself. You are an amazing talent. You’re genuine, kind, beautiful and all of that stuff.
DM: Cathy, stop.
CM: Okay, I’m not going to embarrass you anymore. When did you first get involved in acting?
“I practiced rapping so much, just trying out
different songs, different styles,
finding out what I was best at and then
what I wasn’t necessarily great at.”
— Danielle Macdonald
DM: I did singing, acting and dancing, but I was rubbish at the singing. I used to hide in the back of the choir. I can make my voice match other people’s, but I could never sing solo.
CM: But you could carry a note, obviously.
DM: Yeah, it’s the moment that I have to go by myself that everything just goes off.
CM: Where did you learn how to rap?
DM: I learned for the movie. I practiced a lot. Geremy [Jasper, the director] would send me songs, and I would learn them all. It was really just a process of elimination. It’s funny because I went back over all of the raps I ever did, from the first all the way through to production, and it was horrifying to hear everything over again. I realized that I’ve actually come quite a long way. You don’t realize it until you’re just doing it over and over and over again.
CM: But how did you pick up on it so fast?
DM: I didn’t necessarily pick up on it that fast. I was working on it a good year before we started production—over a year, actually. I practiced rapping so much—just trying out different songs, different styles, finding out what I was best at and then what I wasn’t necessarily great at.
CM: Have you ever heard Geremy rap?
DM: Yeah, he would record all the songs, and I would listen to them. He would always put down a tape for me so I could see how the rhythm goes. Trust me, none of that was me. That was all Geremy. It was me rapping, but he did all the music.
CM: He’s the only person that’s touched the music in this movie?
DM: Well, all the original music, yeah. Being in the studio with him is incredible because he’s a creative genius at work. He sits in the corner, and he’s usually still writing lyrics while we’re in the studio. Then he puts it down [on tape] once. He does it instantly because he knows it in his head. Then he listens to it a few times, and then I’ll put it down. If he asked me to do that when we first started, I would’ve been like, “I need three weeks with this song.”
CM: Were you able to read off the piece of paper?
DM: Yeah, oh of course.
CM: You weren’t reading off a piece of paper when we were filming. I don’t know how the heck you did that.
DM: But in the studio, they’re not filming me so it was great. Some of the songs we prerecorded, so it was a lot less scary because if it sucks we’ve got another version. But the live stuff was scary.
CM: You kind of have to let your guard down and just trust yourself, which is hard to do with 100 people standing around you.
DM: So much of it is confidence.
“I always felt comfortable being uncomfortable.
When you feel safe and secure
with other actors, with the director and
the producers, it creates this incredible vibrancy,
and something amazing happens.”
— Danielle Macdonald
Founded in 1981 by Robert Redford, the Sundance Institute’s Lab Program fosters the budding independent film movement by providing resources and space for self-expression and creative community. Hosted at the Sundance Mountain Resort in Utah, labs include a Screenwriters Lab, Directors Lab, an Editing Intensive Lab and a Creative Producing Lab & Fellowship program.
CM: How did you get into Sundance and get involved with Geremy? I know about the Sundance Labs. How did the whole thing get started?
DM: It all started with Noah, one of our young producers. He wasn’t even a producer on the project yet because he was young. He had seen me do a movie called Aced, and showed my film to Geremy like, “This girl looks like what you described to me.”
CM: Explain to me what kind of commitment it is to go the Sundance Labs.
DM: They fly you up there to Sundance Mountain, which is maybe a half hour away from Park City, and it’s this beautiful oasis. It’s summertime and so far up in the mountains, so it’s the perfect weather. They put us up in these amazing houses in the hills. Everyday, everyone has breakfast, lunch and dinner together. It was exactly like camp. Everyone had so much fun. Honestly, it was one of the best things.
CM: And how long was it?
DM: I was there for almost four weeks. But I’d already been in contact with Geremy for ages at that point. Like we were already trying to make Patti Cake$ happen.
CM: You guys went through the whole entire process—
DM: For three years now.
CM: I’ve done 50 movies or so, and the experience on this movie is different than any other. I don’t know if it was the relationships between everybody or the material. I’m still trying to figure it out. It was just magical.
DM: I’ve never been a part of a film from the inception before. I think it was so magical because we really figured it out together.
CM: Step by step, kind of.
DM: The story came together day by day. I’ve never put so much of myself into something. The role was so different from myself that it required me to do so much more.
CM: First of all, you’re from Australia, and you have to nail a New Jersey accent. I don’t know how you did it. I couldn’t help you with that because I have a New York accent, and it’s completely different. Nobody was from Jersey except Geremy.
DM: And he doesn’t have an accent.
CM: What’s up with that?
Born and raised in India, breakout actor Siddharth Dhananjay studied philosophy and economics at Iowa’s Grinnell College where he and his friends made parodies of popular R&B songs on YouTube. Dhananjay currently appears in his first film Patti Cake$ (2017) and is set to appear in director Kenny Riches’ film A Name Without A Place (2019).
Yale graduate, Broadway star and Shakespeare Theatre Company actor Mamoudou Athie is perhaps best known for his portrayal of Grandmaster Flash in Netflix’ hit series The Get Down (2016-17). Athie recently starred alongside Emma Watson and Tom Hanks in James Ponsoldt’s The Circle (2017) and currently appears in Geremy Jasper’s debut film Patti Cake$ (2017).
DM: I don’t know. None of my friends from Jersey have accents. And the funny thing was Geremy was like, “A lot of people don’t, especially the younger generation, but this is set in a very small town, and I want a very specific accent.” So I was like, “Okay.”
It was amazing. It was so funny to have Sid [Dhananjay], who had never acted before, and Mamoudou [Athie], who graduated from Yale and was a theater actor. We were all from different places, which was so cool.
CM: Mamoudou, I think, is from Africa, Sid’s from India, you’re from Australia, Bridget’s from Kansas, I’m from the Bronx and Geremy is the only Jersey boy there. But we all were supposed to be from the same place in the film.
DM: The one connection that they have in the film, which is that they’re all from the same place, is the one thing we do not have in common in real life. We’re all from different corners of the world, and it was so incredible that we were all playing together. It was just like family instantly. What I really liked about this movie is that it defied laws. It made the abnormal normal, and it was never about size or gender or race. There were issues that the characters faced in the movie because of society, but it wasn’t about that. It was showing people from all different cultural backgrounds coming together and connecting in a way that’s not necessarily what we peg them to be in society. No one is put in a box in this movie, and I love that.
CM: Everybody fit perfectly.
DM: Well, it’s funny because everything I had to do for this movie felt so outside of my comfort zone, but everyone involved in the project was so incredible that I always felt comfortable being uncomfortable. When you feel safe and secure with other actors, with the director and the producers, it creates this incredible vibrancy, and something amazing happens.
CM: t’s not like we ran back to our trailers—oh, that’s right. We didn’t have any.
DM: That’s the best way, because we all connected.
CM: We laughed ourselves sick. Now, I have a personal question for you. I’ve met mom and dad and your sister and your roommates. What did they think of this for you?
DM: It was funny because some of my closest friends know me so well, and they thought it was hilarious and amazing that I was doing this movie. But they’re like also like, “How are you planning on doing it? Because this is not you.”
CM: Did you have to step back from your life?
“I’ve never put so much of myself into something.
The role was so different from myself
that it required me to do so much more.”
— Danielle Macdonald
DM: They all knew the character was so different for me, and they were basically worried that I was going to suck, but they never once told me. They were all super supportive. Then after they saw the movie, there was this incredible excitement and relief on their faces. They all came up to me like, “Oh my God, you actually did it.” I was like, “What does that mean?” And they were like, “I knew you could do it, but I didn’t know you could do it well.”
CM: I spent the night with your mom and dad the night of the party for Patti Cake$. They were gracious and lovely. They were like, “Wow, she really did good, didn’t she?” I was like, “Pretty freaking amazing, yeah.”
DM: It’s really funny because my mom and dad were like, “We actually liked it!” Honestly, I wasn’t sure. My mom is her early 60s, and my dad is in his 50s, and they don’t listen to a lot of rap. But they were very proud.
CM: What’s coming up for you?
DM: I’m doing a movie called Dumpling with Jennifer Aniston.
CM: And you’re playing her daughter, a 16 year old?
DM: Playing a high school student. The irony is that Patti Cake$ is the first time I haven’t played a teenager. I was playing my early 20s, so it’s not too far. I was in my early 20s when I started this process.
CM: You’re gonna love Jennifer Aniston. She’s absolutely lovely.
DM: Yeah, I loved the script, then I read the book and felt like it informed the script so truthfully. I would’ve wanted to see this movie growing up. Right now, I’m so excited to do things differently. I want to try everything. I want to do film, miniseries, drama.
CM: Do you have any plans to ever direct or produce?
DM: I’ve never thought about directing. I don’t know if I could. I barely slept as an actor on this project. Geremy must not have slept. There’s no other way he could’ve gotten through it all. You have to have such a vision of the entire scope of things. I have a vision of the character of the story, but I do not have that whole thing. Right now, I’m just trying to focus on the acting.
CM: All right, I love you to death, and you know that. I’m so proud of you, my little superstar.