Danielle Macdonald WW

Danielle Macdonald is changing the cultural landscape for young actors. 

In the wide-ranging ZBS & Backstage Present Wonder Women of Hollywood event hosted by master acting teachers Zak Barnett and Martha Gehman, the former ZBS Student, Mentor and breakout star discusses body image, speaking up for herself with directors, sharing the big screen with Jennifer Aniston, John Malkovich, and Sandra Bullock; and how she continues to develop her Whole Self.  Here are the bits we know you won’t want to miss.

Danielle Macdonald


Danielle Macdonald was born and raised in Sydney Australia. After moving to the United States in mid 2010, she made her feature film debut in THE EAST, also starring Ellen Page, Brit Marling and Alexander Skarsgard. Shortly after she appeared in the film TRUST ME directed by Clark Gregg, before booking a lead role in EVERY SECRET THING, which premiered at the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival, where her costars include Diane Lane, Dakota Fanning and Elizabeth Banks. She also has had several guest appearances on shows such as Glee, Pretty Little Liars, 2 Broke Girls, The Middle, and most recently American Horror Story: Roanoke.

Her film credits include Fox Searchlight film PATTI CAKE$, which she originated at the 2014 Sundance Labs. The film premiered at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival before continuing on to SXSW, New Directors New Films, and Cannes Film Festival, earning rave reviews. The title role in DUMPLIN’ opposite Jennifer Aniston, based on the New York Times bestselling novel.  And she recently wrapped filming on the post-apocalyptic thriller, BIRD BOX, starring Sandra Bullock and John Malkovich for Netflix.


Zak Barnett recounts that moment. He was in the audience at the Sundance Film Festival after Danielle’s independent film Patti Cake$ premiered. “It was clear that something significant had just happened,” he explains.  “It was kind of like ‘a star is born moment.” He says with a reassuring proud smile reserved for dedicated teachers recounting the standing ovation the cast received. He asks Danielle if she has reflected on that moment. 

DANIELLE: (Shyly) It’s a hard one to answer. It was a crazy moment and I think because we {the cast} were all in it together…it was as if no one else existed in a way. So, yes and no, because you zone it out in a really strange way. Sundance in general was magical. 

Zak confirms that the so-called ‘magic’ of the festival landed Danielle representation at CAA and consistent work with some incredible co-stars and ensemble casts ever since. Dumplin’ (Jennifer Aniston plays her mother).  Bird Box (opposite Sandra Bullock, John Malkovich, and ZBS Alum Rosa Salazar). 


Frances McDormand produced a movie that I did years ago and she gave me amazing advice for my first lead role. I was nervous and she just spoke to me about her experiences and that honestly was amazing and helped me. I ‘ve never forgotten what she said to me and I’ve carried that with me.


I booked a series regular, but then I was not able to do it because I could not get my VISA on time. But the network helped me and there was a really good reason for it. When Zak inquires if “that” was the moment when she thought it wouldn’t happen, Danielle counters with a laugh. “Well, that was my first audition, so if I had given up then…that would have been pretty pathetic.”

I got a co-star job every year after that.  I worked the Sundance labs for Patti Cake$ and then I didn’t work for a year at all. And I had more auditions than ever that year and I didn’t book any jobs. I remember thinking wow, am I getting worse? That kind of sucks. It didn’t make me want to give up, but it was a hard moment. 


Martha Gehman recounts some of the scenes in Patti Cake$, shifting to the topic of Body Image and asks Danielle to share a story about her character “Patti” in the rap battle scene in which she is tormented and called “Dumbo.”

DANIELLE: That was a funny scene to film because the vibe on set is not what it is in the movie. The other actor who is calling me all these names is a total sweetheart and was struggling to act and say these things. And our director (writer-director Geremy Jasper) was telling him to go for it. I had to coax him into being cruel because he couldn’t do it. We had a nice dynamic because after every take we would hug. No words. Just a hug and then keep going. That was our thing and how we dealt with it.

I feel that you have to let things affect you to be able to be in that moment. But because it was a safe situation I never felt personally victimized. 

ZAK: You talk about the character not being victimized, I never thought of her as a joke and I feel like a lot of times that is how plus sized actresses get treated. And the fact that you were so relatable and brought us in with the work you do and do it fully –it is a role that can transform culture.

He asks if her new film Dumplin’ tackles body image. 

DANIELLE: It is a beautiful coming of age story. Very body positive.  It has a great message and it had a great group of people behind it that really believe the message and I think that is really important to make a film feel really genuine and real.


I actually had a really interesting experience on a film recently because I read the script and I knew that they were interested in me for a role…The lead role was written as a 30-year-old and I know that they had cast a 50-year-old for that role. And I loved that and she is an amazing female actress. And then for her love interest, they cast a 27-year-old guy. And I loved that. 

My character was written as a petit little breakable kind of girl and I was like – ok cool – probably not going to get this and they wanted a social media following and I thought, I’m probably not going to get that role. And then we had an incredible female director who cast who she wanted.

And we need more people like that who want their creative vision on screen told and that was a really incredible experience for me for that reason. 


I am still trying to figure out. I am still shy and scared at times in life and this year I kind of had a lot change and happen. One of the things that I learned most about myself is to not shy away or be scared to talk about my own experiences because that can actually help other people. That isn’t something that I thought was all that valuable. But taking the time to stop and talk to someone can actually help and you just never think of your experiences as something that can do that. 

I’ve gotten to meet a lot of people and get involved in a lot of organizations. I now sponsor a child which is very exciting. And I’ve still trying to figure it out and grown and learn. I’m not scared to talk to directors so much anymore. Now I realize I have an opinion and how women are portrayed and real perspectives and not just perspectives from maybe a guy who hasn’t experienced what you have. Speaking up has been a big thing for me. 

For more on Danielle Macdonald and more incredible Wonder Women of Hollywood, click here to watch the entire panel discussion. 

ZBS Video by Austin Heemstra

Photos by Austin Heemstra and Cullyn Doerfler

Photo Source: Margaux Quayle Cannon

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