My journey from Trainspotting to Tinseltown

Merida, voiced by Kelly Macdonald, in a scene from "Brave."
Merida, voiced by Kelly Macdonald, in a scene from "Brave."
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She’s the five-foot-three-inches powerhouse who’s making waves in America. Film critic Tony Earnshaw meets Kelly McDonald.

IT’S hard to believe that Kelly Macdonald has been on our screens for almost 20 years.

Kelly Macdonald

Kelly Macdonald

The timeless Scot, now 36, was just 19 when she made her movie debut in a controversial role. Although she was on screen for just a short time, it was long enough to make a big impact as she played Ewan McGregor’s underage schoolgirl lover in Trainspotting in 1996.

Since then it’s been hard work all the way, resulting in Ms Macdonald becoming the darling of some of the most notable directors in the business. She’s won some seriously impressive roles and worked for some of the best directors working in recent years – not least Robert Altman on Gosford Park and the Coen brothers on No Country for Old Men.

She rarely gets the lead but she shone in Boardwalk Empire, landing consecutive Golden Globe nominations as best supporting actress for her performance as widow-turned-gangster’s moll Margaret Schroeder.

The show is into its third season and still going strong – as is McDonald.

Now, taking the lead in the Disney/Pixar adventure Brave as the feisty princess with a flair for archery, she’s really arrived.

Macdonald was still a teenager when she answered an advert for open auditions for Trainspotting. The film was released on her 20th birthday. With no formal acting training she has grown up on the movie screen. And, bizarrely, making Brave took her back to her youth.

Before she landed the role she had to be approved by “the big boss man”, Toy Story creator John Lasseter. With that box ticked, she was off and running.

“I’m an emotional actor,” she says. “I don’t know about my physicality, but I always like to use my face so that was a real challenge at the beginning. I found Merida’s voice really easily, like I was able to blink and be into my teenage self again, which is kinda horrifying.”

She laughs. “I would have no idea what was going to come out of my mouth. That was the other thing. It was always a surprise. I would act it out, as well – you have to be sort of physical.

“I know a couple of other actors that have been involved in Pixar movies (such as) Steve Buscemi, who I work with all the time (on Boardwalk Empire). He’s in Monsters Inc. It made me feel better because he was uncomfortable with them.”

A natural talent, Macdonald has mastered a variety of American accents, the Irish accent and English. So it’s a treat when a major Hollywood production allows her to slip back into her native tongue. It’s not Glaswegian – where she was born in 1976 – but it’s not far off.

Unlike her homeland co-stars Robbie Coltrane and Kevin McKidd – the latter a fellow alumnus of Trainspotting – she had no worries that Hollywoodising a part of Old Scotland would bring on an attack of the Brigadoons ....

“I was a latecomer to the whole project so it was all very clear what the film was going to be by the time I arrived. Robbie and Kevin ... they were all involved for years and years. It’s funny – all my stuff has been done last.

“So I can relax in a certain way when it’s my own accent. It takes the pressure off.

“I just felt very lucky to be Scottish and, you know, that’s why I’m in the film.

“If it had been an American story think of all the American actresses out there who be vying for the role.

“There’s not as many Scottish actresses. I think I lucked out.”

Talk of Scotland brings with it, inevitably, talk of Trainspotting. Rumours abound of a sequel – they’ve always been around, but we’re hearing them again. Macdonald claims to have no knowledge of the project but admits her character, Diane, does appear in Irvine Welsh’s follow-up book, Porno.

“Trainspotting was a great experience. It was the first thing I ever did so it kinda made this all possible. I’m not a cool person but I’m somehow in this really cool film that was really important.

“At the time the whole Brit scene was just massive, and then I started moving into that.

“It was a good group of people to be associated with. It makes me quite scared [to think of it because] it was a long time ago. You think about Pixar being around forever and yet Trainspotting was released at the same time that Pixar’s first film came out.

“I was offered a lot of similar parts after Trainspotting and I didn’t go that down that route. I never have been typecast. I think I’ve managed to play different people in different times and in really different projects. Everything is very markedly different. Like this is. And I’d say that Merida is by far the most animated.”

Macdonald will next be seen opposite Keira Knightley and Aaron Johnson in Joe (Atonement) Wright’s Anna Karenina. There are tentative plans for a fourth season of Boardwalk Empire but she observes pragmatically “We go episode to episode. Cast-wise, we’re all afraid for our lives so, who knows? I hope so.”

Brave (PG) is on saturation release from Monday (AUG 13).