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In 'Patti Cake$,' An Aspiring Rap Artist Reaches For The Stars


For dreamers, there are few places on earth that beckon like New York City. And it's especially tempting for those on the other side of the Hudson River, in New Jersey. The tension between big dreams and daily doldrums is at the center of a new film called "Patti Cake$," which is out in theaters right now. The film stars Australian newcomer Danielle Macdonald as the title character, also known as Killa P or Patricia Dombrowski. Patti is a 23-year-old aspiring rapper trapped in a rundown home town, and she sees music as her ticket out of the Jersey suburbs. And just a heads-up for our listeners, her rhymes can get a little salty.


DANIELLE MACDONALD: (As Patti, rapping) Patti and Jerry (ph), we will be legendary from the bottom like [expletive], the game up missionary. I'm in my own trap as I flick the world the birdie. My verse is full of curses 'cause I'm stuck in dirty Jersey. Let's move to New York City. We'll make a couple millies (ph), split that [expletive] up 50/50. I'd give my left titty and a kidney just to cross a [expletive] river. Brooklyn tunnel, come on, Jerry, sing it with me.

BROWN: To hear more about the film, I'm joined by its director and writer, who seems to be chuckling after hearing that clip, Geremy Jasper, and lead actress Danielle Macdonald from WBEZ in Chicago. Geremy, Danielle, thanks for joining us, guys.

GEREMY JASPER: Thanks for having us.

MACDONALD: Thank you.

BROWN: Geremy, can you start off, just give us a sense of who is Patti Cake$, and and what is she up against in this film?

JASPER: Patti is a young lady who's - has a lot of talent and a very vivid internal world, who's fighting a very greedy reality. And she's someone who knows inside, in her heart, she has all this potential and all these things to say, but the world doesn't - or at least her neighborhood doesn't really want to hear.

BROWN: And she's in New Jersey, which is across the Hudson.

JASPER: That's where I'm from. And New York is like - it's Oz. It might as well be 3,000 miles away or the moon, but you can - you feel like you can reach out and touch it, but it seems impossible to get to.

BROWN: And, Danielle, we know you're not from Oz, but you're originally from Australia. And I understand you didn't have any particular connection either to rap music or Jersey when you first read the script. So what drew you to the part?

MACDONALD: The story. The character. I - I mean, first of all, it was like a amazing story about finding yourself, bit of an underdog story, which I always love. But it was done in a really interesting way. I think Geremy just had a very strong vision. I felt like the style was so cool. And I just kind of fell in love with who Patti was as a person.

BROWN: And, Geremy, give us a sense of how this story came to your mind as you wrote it down because this is your first time out as a film director, writer.

JASPER: It is. It's my first screenplay. And they always say, write what you know. Well, what I know is that I was a chubby little blond kid in the suburbs of New Jersey who was obsessed with hip-hop when I first heard it at 9 years old and filled endless secret notebooks full of songs and kind of harbored this dream to be a musician and then found myself at 23 living in my parents' basement taking care of my grandfather with a broken hip and just, you know, working dead-end jobs and not feeling like I was going to get out. And I felt like I was living inside a Bruce Springsteen song. And so when I did finally get out, I decided to channel that into this character Patti. And that's really her struggle.

BROWN: Well, let's play a clip from the film. This is from early on in the movie, when we are actually introduced to Patti's main partner in crime, Jerry. Jerry works a day job at a pharmacy. And when Patti walks in to visit him, he takes it upon himself to usher her arrival in style.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character, over loudspeaker) Lords and ladies of the royal court, bow down. The queen is in the building. Introducing Ms. Patricia Dombrowski, aka Patti Cake$, aka White Trish (ph), aka Juicy Luciano (ph), aka Marilyn Mansion (ph), aka Jane Doe (ph), aka Killa P.

MACDONALD: (As Patti, over loudspeaker) And introducing the ladies' choice, the voice that gets you moist. It's going to be an Indian Summer, y'all. Mr. Jerri Curls, aka Young Stamos, aka Dipac Shakur (ph) aka the Durag Davinci (ph), aka Rawdog Zillionaire, (ph) aka the Quiet Storm. Boys and girls, I give you my soulmate, my homie-o (ph), it's Jeromeo (ph).

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: (As character) This isn't "Showtime At The Apollo," OK? We have customers here. Play make-believe on your lunch break.

BROWN: So that's reality, right? You aspire to be one thing but reality slaps you in the face and reminds you that you're at work. This is not the place to do hip-hop. This is not the place...

JASPER: To become your superhero alter-ego.


BROWN: When you think about this, Danielle, you never rapped before. You've certainly never had the thick Jersey accent. Is it true that you even had a coach to help you with the rap?

MACDONALD: Oh, yeah. I kind of started off - just Geremy would send me a new song to learn each week. And I would try and figure out how on earth I was meant to learn it and record it and send it back to him. So I kind of had to figure out how to breathe, which was pretty difficult, and just kind of learn rhythm and flows. And I listened to a ton of different songs, different artists and different styles of rap to see what I could naturally do better than - and what I really was bad at as well.

And then, about a month before we started shooting, I got a rap coach and he was awesome. He's a local Brooklyn-based rapper named Skyzoo. And he's got a very different style than, like, Geremy for example. So it was really cool to figure out Patti with different influences. And he taught me how to get out of my head, how to move through my body. He helped me so much.

BROWN: Geremy, so much of the film is really about dreams deferred or unrealized. What has that meant for you to finally see this movie come together and go out into the world?

JASPER: You know, I've been making stuff and struggling to make stuff for over 20 years now. So the fact that all of that hard work, dreaming of being an artist since I was a little kid, and it took me 40 years to do it, but it feels like everything that I've been struggling to do - the writing, the music, filmmaking - has all come together. Now that the Patti's in the Jerry's out there in small towns can actually see this film, that's the most exciting thing for me.

BROWN: That's director Geremy Jasper and actress Danielle Macdonald. They spoke with us from member station WBEZ in Chicago. Their new film "Patti Cake$" is in theaters now. Geremy, Danielle, thanks for speaking with us.

JASPER: Thank you so much.

MACDONALD: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.