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Almost Famous

The Woman From Glasgow May Not Want It, But Her Strong Performances Keep Pushing Her There

BLOODSPOTTING: Kelly MacDonald can see things only get worse from here.

By Cole Haddon | Posted 11/14/2007

No Country for Old Men

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"I don't want to be famous," Kelly Macdonald, part of the ensemble cast of the Coen Brothers' No Country for Old Men, says in her thick Glaswegian accent. "I don't think I'd be OK with that."

The 31-year-old Scottish actress, five months pregnant with her first child, is sitting on the edge of a couch in the sort of empty Beverly Hills Four Seasons suites actors are shuffled into and out of on press days. She's as shy and timid as just about every role she's taken on screen, from a neglected girlfriend in Tristram Shandy, to the politically conscious girl in HBO's The Girl in the Café, to her Texan wife of a man on the run in No Country. But as fragile as she appears while professing her disinterest in celebrity, she's also got one of the bubbliest, most infectious laughs you'll ever encounter. She laughs not only at herself but also at the absurdity of all the hoopla that surrounds her chosen vocation.

"Every so often, I'll be asked to be in a magazine, me at home," she says in this mild manner--not quite a whisper, but like she thinks she should be whispering. "People would like to see my wardrobe and things like that. I'm like, `Are you kidding?'"

Macdonald made her acting debut in Trainspotting more than a decade ago opposite Ewan McGregor; she landed the part during an open audition she only went to after her friends motivated her to go for it. She was about to apply to drama school but, after Trainspotting, never bothered. Much of Macdonald's career has worked out like this. Generally unmotivated, fortune has landed in her lap, and she, in turn, has exploited it with a smile and an oddly Zen-like attitude toward acting that has sustained her during ups and downs.

"The motivation can't come from me," she says of her career. "I just kind of get carried along with it or not. A lot of the time, work breeds work. Sometimes I do a job, though, and then there's nothing for a year and I can't do anything about it. I can't get more ambitious. You just have to roll with it."

That rolling has resulted in parts in Elizabeth, Gosford Park, Finding Neverland, and, by 2005, the titular role in The Girl in the Café, opposite Bill Nighy, for which she was nominated for a Golden Globe and won an Emmy. This year she's set to wow again with her small but emotionally vital role in No Country, which she only got after her agent convinced the movie's casting director to meet with her; nobody involved in the production could conceive a Glaswegian playing a Texan. After her audition, she met with the still-skeptical Coen Brothers and, quite to her surprise, got the part--her first American accent, except one she used onstage in a production of Hurlyburly. Oddly enough, this one role landed her three more parts as an American woman in movies premiering next year, including an adaptation of Chuck Palahniuk's Choke.

This means plenty more interviews, which aren't exactly Macdonald's favorite things in the world. She says it's just the ungainly press junket that freaks her out, but she clearly doesn't thrive under such circumstances. "When a film is coming out, you have to suddenly think about what you did," she says. "A lot of actors have all these different methods, and I kind of just turn up. I do the homework and everything, but it just kind of happens. It's only afterward, when you're doing press, that you go back and look at what you've done."

She is probably the least pretentious actress this journalist has ever interviewed; there is nothing affected about her, and you imagine any attempt at artifice would be obvious. Most of the time, she just looks worried she doesn't sound smart or interesting. This extends to her work, too.

"I'm always convinced I'm doing terribly, at least for the first couple weeks of shooting," she says, before adding with a laugh, "Which isn't really good if you're only on something for two weeks, which has happened a lot lately."

Much of this insecurity has to do with her lack of dramatic training; she has no method, except preparation. "It was fun to watch, on this job, Javier [Bardem], who has a real process," Macdonald says. "He questions a lot to get to what he's going to do." In other words, while Bardem was busy harassing the Coens with questions about sub-textual motivations, she was busy "cramming like a terrible student the night before."

This is probably why Macdonald says she's still convinced she's going to end up fired every time somebody hires her, though it's probably safe to say, by now, that's probably never going to happen--even if she gets her wish and never becomes famous.

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