Kelly MacDonald is arguably one of the most under-rated actresses working in cinema today.
It’s not as though MacDonald has struggled to get work, as she has been directed by Robert Altman in “Gosford Park,” The Coen Brothers in “No Country For Old Men,” Martin Scorsese in the pilot for “Boardwalk Empire,” while she has been nominated for both a Golden Globe and Emmy.
It’s just that MacDonald has always possessed the quiet power and presence that would be perfect for leading a character-driven drama. “Puzzle” gives MacDonald this opportunity, and she shines as Agnes, a housewife with a husband, two kids and a seemingly happy life, who finds a whole new lease of life when she starts making puzzles with Irrfan Khan’s Robert.
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I recently had the chance to speak to Kelly MacDonald, who talked me through “Puzzle,” stealing from the set, and being fascinated by Irrfan Khan.
What attracted you to “Puzzle”?
It was the character really. I got sent the character and I started to read Agnes’ story and I just found it really compelling. I just wanted to know what happened. Her life is fine. It is a fine life. The film is called Puzzle, but it isn’t about puzzles, but it just happens to be a jigsaw puzzle that opens the door inside her. And once that is open there is no stopping her really, and she starts to question everything. She has never done that before. She has been busy as a home-maker and bringing her children up. And weirdly the jigsaw is the first thing she does for no good reason, actually. And it starts her on this journey, I just loved her quiet rebellion.
It really feels like a coming of age film.
Yeah it is, it is mostly the fact that her kids are growing and are about to go off and do whatever it is that they will do, and I think that is quite important for the timing of her coming of age finally. I think she sort of has the space to be the person she is on the inside. The person she has been hiding from everyone. Not hiding from everyone, but she has just been surrounded by family. She’s not really found out who she is. That usually happens in your teenage years, but, for her, it is delayed. She is entirely relatable. It is not just women, it is a human story.
What was your process for finding the character?
We had a rehearsal period, but we didn’t actually read a scene out loud. Which is kind of unusual when you have the time to do that. I think the way I work is quite distinctive, and on the day is when I do a lot of the work. I had a bit of her back-story, and she is a fragile person, who had, it is less part of the film now, but in the script she had had a bit of a breakdown after her father had died. So her husband had been trying to protect her from going to a dark place. And in doing that he had wrapped her up in cotton wool, and if you wrap someone up in cotton wool they are going to feel a bit smothered.
Have you seen the 2010 Argentinian film of the same name that it is based on?
I didn’t watch the film. I don’t know too much about it. It wasn’t something I was asked to do by Marc or the producers. I think it is quite a different story. But I honestly don’t know.
You have long perfected the American accent, have you always been good at doing them?
I think I have got an ear for accents. Definitely, growing up, I would copy the voices I heard in films and from the TV. I got a capacity for it. I still have to work hard. I can’t pull it out of my ass, as the Americans would say. I was invited to do a script reading, so that the director could hear the script and decide what changes needed to be made, and he asked if I would read a Spanish character. And I was like, ‘No. I will read the words. But she will be Scottish.’
You star opposite Irrfhan Khan in “Puzzle,” who is one of my favorite actors, what was it like to work with him?
We filmed all the family scenes for the first few weeks. Then they all wrapped, all the family wrapped, and I was very sad to see them go. But then Irrfhan arrived and brought new life into it. Because it was so different. It was almost as if doing two different movies. He brought such personality to that character. He is such a physical performer, as well as having the depth in the quiet moments. He is so fascinating. And it was a real pleasure to work with him.
What do you do to unwind?
I have to say puzzling has become that thing. I dabbled a few years ago, but making the film I was surrounded by puzzles, so I stole them from the set. I would finish filming, go back to my apartment, and then decompress by doing a puzzle. Which was ironic.
Much has been made of this being your first leading role, did this change your approach to the film?
It is not my first leading role. But I haven’t done it in a while. At the time I didn’t think about it too much. It is not like you act harder than you do normally. I did the same amount of preparation. It just felt the same, like I am part of a great ensemble. And I truly think that’s what this film is. It feels nice. I have worked hard for a number of years, and it feels nice to have the opportunity to stretch more muscles here.
“Puzzle” is released in New York on Friday July 27.