The impossibly picturesque Scottish village of Luss, resting on the leafy western banks of Loch Lomond, may only be a 45-minute drive from the heart of Glasgow, but you’d easily believe that you were nestled in the bosom of the Highlands.
And so it goes that Danielle Macdonald – the Los Angeles-based, Australian-born star of Patti Cake$ – found herself awestruck by its sun-dappled shores while shooting Polish-Australian writer/director Ben Lewin’s sweet-natured comedy Falling for Figaro.
“Honestly, there was one scene in there where I’m sitting by the lake and I’m wearing this orange jacket. I remember it because it was the most breathtaking sight I’ve ever seen,” Macdonald, with her traditional Scottish surname, recalls. “It looks amazing in the film, but there’s no way they could capture on camera just how breathtaking it was in person.”
Indeed, while her back was to the Loch as an incredible backdrop to a scene in which her former hedge fund manager turned aspiring opera singer Millie has a heart-to-heart with fellow hopeful Max (Fleabag star Hugh Skinner), she couldn’t wait for Lewin to call cut. “Every chance I got, I just kept turning around,” she says. “Wow. It’s a very beautiful place, Scotland.”
An American import, Millie leaves the boardrooms of London and her boyfriend Charlie (Star Trek: Discovery’s Shazad Latif) behind to convince Absolutely Fabulous grandee Joanna Lumley, as imperiously cranky opera coach Meghan, to teach her a thing or two. The grand goal is to compete in career-making competition, Singer of Renown. Which at first puts her in the bad books with Max, who feels she’s treading on his toes. Both of them are subject to a near-continual barrage of colourful insults courtesy of Meghan’s silvered, sharp-edged tongue.
Working with living legend Lumley was a dream come true for Macdonald, a fan. “It’s still crazy to me, honestly, but she’s very warm and welcoming, and so instantly, you just feel connected to her because she brings you in.”
A country mile away from the bullying tactics of her character Meghan, Lumley does, however, share her pointed wit. “She’s so funny and so sharp,” Macdonald says. “Sometimes Hugh and I would sit and just wonder ‘How is she so good?’ She’s never not good. And I was mesmerised by her.”
Being musically gifted is a refrain that runs through several of Macdonald’s movies, from her breakthrough hit playing a New Jersey rapper in Geremy Jasper’s 2017 hit Patti Cake$, to stepping into the leather boots of revered rock journo Lillian Roxon in Unjoo Moon’s Helen Reddy biopic I Am Woman. Apparently it’s accidental.
“I do love music, so anytime something like that comes along, I want to say yes, because it really influences me in my life,” Macdonald says. “I have very eclectic tastes, but I’m not musical myself, so it’s kinda crazy.”
All of which meant a lot of hard graft to get the look of opera singing right, even if the actual vocals for her performance were recorded back home by Opera Australia luminary and Australian-Mauritian soprano Stacey Alleaume.
“I practised every single day in LA and while shooting another movie in Canada before I came to Scotland, and then every single day when I got there,” she says. “My voice didn’t sound good, but you have to do it technically right, like the breathing, the notes, the saying of words the right way, because they’re all in different languages. If I hadn’t done that, there is no way that I ever would have been able to make it seem like I could.”
It was particularly terrifying, Macdonald notes, performing in front of the many legit Scottish opera singers who appear as extras in the Singer of Renown scenes, including one young student who helped coach her on set. “That was really amazing, but also very intimidating, and very cool to be in the vibe of it and really feel it around you.”
Lewin was thoroughly lovely to work with, Macdonald says. “He always has a smile on his face and he never lets pressure get to him to a point where he would snap. He has such good energy, and that is hard in high-pressure situations like [shooting a film] but he’s really great.”
Macdonald is hoping a temporarily paused top secret project with everyone’s favourite lockdown musical creator Bo Burnham – billed as a high school romp in which two students don superhero costumes to turn the table on their bullies – will kick back into gear soon. She also relished shooting darkly comic thriller The Tourist alongside Belfast lead Jamie Dornan, in the majestic surrounds of South Australia’s Flinders Ranges. The Ranges provided plenty more opportunity for between-takes wowing.
“I absolutely adored filming The Tourist,” Macdonald raves. “It was so nice to be back in Australia for such a long period of time and to be in the outback. There’s just nothing like it in the world. The scenery is unbelievable. And so it was just like summer camp, shooting this crazy wild show. I will never forget that ever.”
Falling for Figaro is in cinemas now.
Follow the author @SARussellwords