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MACDONALD, KELLY : Stella Does Tricks

MacDONALD’S MAGIC
At just 22, Glasgow native Kelly MacDonald is already making herself a name, with her fleeting but memorable appearance in Trainspotting, to rave reviews as a teenage prostitute in Stella Does Tricks; she will next be seen with Jessica Lange and Bob Hoskins in the anticipated Cousin Bette, and is currently filming alongside Australia's Cate Blanchett and Geoffrey Rush in Elizabeth I. Yet, as she concedes to PAUL FISCHER, acting was never a realistic aspiration in working-class Glasgow.

The thick Scottish accent is unmistakable amidst the peals of girlish enthusiasm emanating from Scotland's latest young movie star. "I haven't done an interview in so long, I hope I'm OK." MacDonald, who celebrated her 22nd birthday in February, is having the time of her life talking about a film that has changed her career, despite it not getting a release in the UK.

"It tends to be the stuff that everyone else has turned down"

"The BFI don't seem to know what to do with the film. I keep on trying to get answers about the film's release here, but I don't seem to be getting very far." While she modestly adds that "people here don't really know who I am", she's bemused by the attention she has received from Americans. "I do get a lot of scripts sent to me from the States, but it tends to be the stuff that everyone else has turned down", she says laughingly. Her newest film outing, the hard-edged Stella Does Tricks, is her second film, and one which she had to carry.

MacDonald (who played the gutsy Diane in Trainspotting) plays Stella, a Glasgow teenager who's first seen walking through a London park in a short dress and pigtails, and then calmly services a gent on a park bench while holding an ice cream cone with her other hand. Stella is a school-age prostitute, who can already turn tricks with the best of them but still enjoys a giggle about sex with her girlfriends, a young group run by oily, paternalistic pimp Mr. Peters (James Bolam) the man in the opening sequence.

"The producers were worried that I wouldn't be able to hack it"

According to flashbacks to her childhood in Glasgow, she's also a dreamer, who's moved south to the capital to escape her abusive father, a no-hope club performer (Ewan Stewart). When one of her friends is maltreated by small-time thug Fitz (Andy Serkis), Stella decides enough is enough. In company with Eddie (Hans Mathieson), a disaffected member of Fitz's gang, she first takes revenge on Fitz by blowing up his car and then prepares to get out of the game and start over.

Peters lets her go, but not before he has her gang-raped by his bodyguards. Stella still has a few more scores to settle before she bids her past goodbye. Travelling north to Glasgow with Eddie in tow, she first plays a prank on her dictatorial aunt and then visits her father backstage at one of his gigs, spraying lighter fuel on his pants and setting fire to his fly. Reluctantly drawn to Eddie, who has a drug habit, she sets up home in his apartment and finally starts what looks like a new life, working as a street-side florist. But the reappearance of Peters, and Eddie's burgeoning habit, remind her that the circle is not so easy to break.

"I'm the biggest woos imaginable, going to pieces in any emotional situation."

It was a risky proposition for director Coky Giedroyc to cast this relative unknown for such a tough and uncompromising part. "He was very keen for me to do it, but the producers were worried that I wouldn't be able to hack it, and before we started I was worried as well. Of course I didn't tell THEM that, and I think I convinced them that I certainly COULD do it."

While MacDonald may have found it tough to identify with Stella directly, she says that there was still a lot about her that she liked. "I really admired her feistiness and ability to look after herself after being kicked down. She picks herself up and carries on, and ultimately comes out on top. I'm not nearly as tough as she is; I'm the biggest woos imaginable, going to pieces in any emotional situation." Though playing a prostitute, MacDonald didn't feel it necessary to undertake much research on the subject. "Stella's a teenage prostitute and hasn't really been at it very long, so I didn't see the point of doing anything on it. To me, the prostitution side of things wasn't the main issue, but more about the character which takes over from everything else around her."

"It was always a fantasy thing, something I never took seriously."

It's a tough role for an actress to play, being a character that is at times sexually and emotionally abused, and MacDonald admits that "it was a character that would have scared a lot of people", including this actress. "Oh I was terrified, but once I was there on the set, one's feelings don't seem to matter. It's a job, and I had to get on with it."

Growing up in working-class Glasgow, MacDonald was always interested in acting, but never on a professional level. "They're not the sorts of aspirations you have coming from that environment. It was always a fantasy thing, something I never took seriously. I'd always assumed that I would go from job to job like so many other people my age." But the Scottish film industry began to take shape, and the young MacDonald was hired for the small but effective role in Trainspotting. While both films dealt with the harsher realities of urban Glasgow, MacDonald has since filmed the highly prestigious Cousin Bette.

"It was such an amazing experience doing that, and also rising to the challenge of doing a British accent."

Jessica Lange plays the title role as Cousin Bette, a poor and lonely seamstress, who, after the death of her prominent and wealthy sister, tries to ingratiate herself into lives of her brother-in-law, Baron Hulot (Hugh Laurie), and her niece, Hortense Hulot (MacDonald). Failing to do so, she instead finds solace and company in a handsome young sculptor (Aden Young) who she saves from starvation. But the aspiring artist soon finds love in the arms of Hortense, leaving Bette a bitter spinster. Bette plots to take revenge on the family who turned her away and stole her only love.

With the help of famed courtesan Jenny Cadine (Elisabeth Shue) she slowly destroys the lives of those who have scorned her. "It was such an amazing experience doing that, and also rising to the challenge of doing a British accent. I remember the first time we all got together, sitting in a circle, reading the script. Here I was, two seats away from Jessica Lange, and as we got closer to doing my first scene, I became more nervous, sweaty and my chest was heaving like crazy. It took me two weeks to get over that."

"We all went out for dinner one night in London, and Toni and I got along so well, we ignored poor Aden."

It worked out pretty well. She has since became close friends with Aden Young, who introduced her to a new friend, Toni Collette. "We all went out for dinner one night in London, and Toni and I got along so well, we ignored poor Aden." The actress's Aussie connection continues, playing a lady-in-waiting to Elizabeth I, played by Cate Blanchett. "I haven't a clue about that period of history, so I ended up reading like mad." After that, MacDonald says she "hasn't a clue" as to what's next. "I just hope this acting thing isn't a two year fad." After the glowing reviews she's receiving as Stella, it seems unlikely.

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