Movies

Danielle Macdonald shines as the daughter of Jennifer Aniston’s pageant queen mum in Dumplin’

'I had to do this role for my teenage self'

By Cynthia Wang

Walking through a bookstore on the way to meet a friend, Danielle Macdonald saw a novel out of the corner of her eye. The book jacket featured a simple illustration ofa full-figured blonde woman in a red dress, striking a diva pose.

"I stopped and turned and was like, 'Why does that kind of look like me?'" Los Angeles-based Australian actress Danielle tells TV WEEK.

"And so I read the back cover and was like, 'Oh, yeah – I need to read this immediately.'"

Two years later, Danielle is the woman on the book cover. She plays body-positive but life-insecure Willowdean Dickson in Dumplin', the hotly anticipated Netflix musical comedy based on Julie Murphy's bestselling young-adult romance.

Willowdean can't seem to understand her mum's love for beauty agents.
Willowdean can't seem to understand her mum's love for beauty agents.

As Willowdean mourns the passing of her beloved, accepting Aunt Lucy (Hilliary Begley), the teenager struggles to relate to her mum, Rosie (Jennifer Aniston), an image-obsessed former beauty queen.

When she sees Rosie's focus turn more towards the upcoming Miss Teen Bluebonnet pageant and away from honouring Lucy's memory, Willowdean signs up as a contestant in protest. In turn, it fires up their little Texas community.

"I felt Will was a character everyone could relate to when they were in high school," Danielle, 27, says.

"That thing of just growing up and trying to figure out who you are, but not really having the foresight or the focus."

Danielle says she had been lucky with her career.
Danielle says she had been lucky with her career.

"And not that I would turn this role down anyway, but I was like, 'I have to do this for my teenage self.' I feel like this would be really cathartic for my teenage self, just because I went through something similar. But Will is more ballsy than me and I like that about her."

Raised in the suburb of Clareville on Sydney's northern fringe, the confessed good student and rule-follower grew up a television fan and a natural performer. She put on shows with her cousins and her sister that she charged her family to watch.

Laughing at the memory, Danielle says, "My parents always knew acting was the only thing I wanted to do. And in high school, I caught the acting bug and loved it. I'm very confident and real with the people I'm close with, but saying that to a stranger was hard for me."

Playing an aspiring rapper in *Patti Cake$*, with Siddharth Dhananjay.
Playing an aspiring rapper in Patti Cake$, with Siddharth Dhananjay.

Even so, Danielle committed to her career, moving to Los Angeles at 18 because she thought there would be more parts for her.

Working hard, she accumulated small roles in TV series such as Pretty Little Liars before landing her breakthrough turn as Patti Dombrowski, the aspiring New Jersey rapper in Geremy Jasper's 2017 indie film sensation Patti Cake$.

"It's incredibly exciting to know you're doing a lead in a movie, because it's not like this growing up," Danielle says.

"I never got to see that I could be the lead in my own life. Then I got to play a lead and I'm like,'Wait, OK, I can!'"

Danielle will take the spotlight in *Dumplin'*.
Danielle will take the spotlight in Dumplin'.

Not just one lead role, but two – as Danielle promoted Patti Cake$ and received glowing notices, she was already transitioning from a New Jersey accent to a Southern one for Dumplin'. She would then do scenes opposite Jennifer Aniston, also an executive producer.

"We met up a few times just to talk and develop our mother-daughter relationship," Danielle says of the Friends star. "She's really great to work with."

Danielle continues racking up the A-list connections. She'll next be seen in the horror thriller Bird Box with Sandra Bullock, and in 2019, the drama Skin with Jamie Bell, the fantasy movie Paradise Hills with Emma Roberts, and the based-on-a-true-story series Unbelievable with Toni Collette.

She's also home in Sydney now, shooting her latest movie. Marvelling at her rocketing career, Danielle says, "I've been really lucky."

Dumplin' will premiere on Netflix on the 7th of December.

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