The Scottish princess keeping it real
Since Danny Boyle plucked her out of a crowd to star in Trainspotting, Kelly Macdonald’s career has taken her around the world via several high-profile film and TV projects. But doing the voice of Merida in Pixar’s Brave has brought her closer to her native Glasgow, where her heart still belongs, she tells TARA BRADY
IT’S A BLUSTERY summer day in the Scottish capital and Kelly Macdonald’s white, pussycat-bow blouse and elaborate pogo-stilt heels seem to brighten the room as she walks into Edinburgh’s stately Balmoral Hotel. She can’t have noticed the weather before she came out.
“I’m only wearing this because I’m talking to the press today,” she says with a roll of the eyes. “I don’t even know where it comes from. I’m rubbish at shopping. I have to get someone to do it for me. I checked the shoes earlier but the labelly bit on the inside had worn off.” She points at the top. “This is Lublu. I think. I don’t know. I haven’t a clue.”
Can it really be true? Kelly Macdonald – the star of Brave and Disney’s newest princess – needs to delegate her wardrobe decisions? Apparently.
“I went to a fancy dress party a few years ago as Calamity Jane,” she mutters apologetically. “And I didn’t have to buy a single thing. It’s really embarrassing. It was all there in my wardrobe.”
You can take the girl out of Scotland. You can easily picture Kelly Macdonald mucking about with her mates in an unfortunate fringed jacket. The Glaswegian actor has worked with Martin Scorsese, the Coen Brothers and the late Robert Altman yet has singularly failed to acquire any Hollywood airs or graces.
“I try to keep my Glasgow friends up to speed with everything,” she tells me. “But it still seems to come as a surprise. ‘What? What are you doing in a Disney film?’” Her wee jingling voice retains the musicality of her native dialect. She speaks cautiously and haltingly with just a glint of Scottish steeliness and determination.
Whither received pronunciation? “I’ve noticed that a lot of Welsh and English people lose their accent when they move to London,” she observes. “Maybe it’s because they’re geographically closer. I wouldn’t know how to go about losing mine.”
Macdonald is a natural actor in the way that certain footballers are natural strikers. In keeping with her wee voice, she works in deft, wee movements. Her performances within the larger ensembles of Gosford Park and No Country for Old Men are ingeniously unaffected; she’s seldom broad or ostentatious, even as Peter Pan in Finding Neverland or as Helena Ravenclaw in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.
She insists there’s no chicanery involved: “I’m not interested in preparing,” she shrugs. “I’ll learn my lines. But I like things to happen in an organic way on the day. Boardwalk Empire suits me because the scripts are kind of written as they go. They have an idea where they are headed but they change along the way. I’ve gotten really used to working like that.”
Boardwalk Empire is a big deal for Macdonald, who has hitherto negotiated hit movies, blockbuster TV series and almost 10 years of marriage to Travis’s Dougie Payne without attracting the dubious honour of celebrity.
“The show hadn’t started over here but it had been on in the States when I got on a plane in Glasgow and these Americans recognised me. It has brought me to a wider audience than I’ve ever had before, I think. People call me Margaret in New York now.”