Published Date: 24/08/2017
In a coming-of-age story straight out of Jersey, an unlikely rapper finds her voice as one-of-a-kind hip-hop legend Patti Cake$.
The film has its roots in writer and director Geremy Jasper’s post-college years, a time when he was living in his parents’ home, helping to care for an ailing grandparent and scraping by on a series of demoralising jobs. His own sense that life was speeding past him informs the story of Patti Cake$, an aspiring rapper trapped in a small New Jersey town filled with the low-end shopping centres, fast food restaurants, and highway on-ramps that stand between her and her dreams of big-city stardom.
Hip hop was Jasper’s first musical love and he has written all of the songs in the film. At nine years old, he heard his first RunDMC track and was hooked. He began writing his own raps with a friend and performing at local talent shows. “In some ways, this movie was an excuse for me to write rap music again,” he says. “I didn’t have an outlet for that for years until the idea of Patricia Dombrowski, aka Patti Cake$ blossomed in my brain. Then I thought ‘Ah! I have all this material. I can actually channel it into something.’”
Jasper’s interest in filmmaking was sparked by friend and fellow Wesleyan alumnus Benh Zeitlin, who made the Oscar nominated hit Beasts of the Southern Wild. With Zeitlin’s encouragement, Jasper banged out the first draft of his first screenplay in 19 feverish days and submitted it to the prestigious Sundance Screenwriters Lab. To his surprise, he was selected to work with mentors including Quentin Tarantino and Joan Tewkesbury, and his script began to take shape, relying less on fantasy and more on character development.
To play the one-of-a-kind title role, the filmmakers knew they needed to find an actress with a particular look and the ability to bring the character’s vulnerability and grit to the screen. “Patti is rock-hard on the outside and she curses like a sailor, but, underneath it all, she’s just protecting herself,” Jasper adds. “She really has a poet’s sensitivity. She has something to express that her situation is preventing her from sharing.”
The director knew he was not looking for a typical starlet or for anyone the audience might be familiar with. “I had a very clear idea of who she was,” says Jasper. “There aren’t a lot of films that put a spotlight on someone like Patti. She might figure in as the funny best friend or some kind of comic relief, but here she carries the picture.”
Danielle Macdonald was not an obvious contender. First of all, she’s Australian and had never attempted a New Jersey accent before. Perhaps more importantly, she had no musical experience at all.
But Jasper says he knew instantly she was the right actress for the role. “I didn’t know if she could act,” the director recalls. “I didn’t know if she could rap. But that was the face that had been in my head the entire time. She looked like a young girl, but she also had this toughness to her. I knew that I wanted to watch that face.”
No one could have been more doubtful about the casting than Macdonald herself. “I read the script and thought, what on earth makes them think I can do this?” she says. “It was just so different from anything I’d ever done. It’s so different from who I am, but it sounded terrifying and really cool. I went to Utah for the Labs and we were able to figure out the character and hone the script. It was one of the most incredible experiences of my life.”
We are so excited to see this incredible experience on the big screens at Showcase Cinemas.
Patti Cake$ opens at Showcase on 1 September
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