Choose a career. Choose acting

In Trainspotting, Kelly Macdonald snared Ewan McGregor. In Cousin Bette, Jessica Lange stroked her hair. So why did The Matrix resist her charm?

"All the stuff that's happened over the last couple of years is completely bonkers," laughs Kelly Macdonald about her new-found film career. "I was sitting in the cab coming here thinking about it; smiling to myself about how strange it all is when the driver turned around and he said to me: `Cheer up love! It might never happen'."

For Macdonald it all happened four years ago, when the 19-year-old barmaid auditioned for a new film called Trainspotting. A poster girl for one of the best British movies of the decade, she was soon winning roles opposite everyone from James Bolam to Jessica Lange. Lady-in-waiting to Cate Blanchett's Elizabeth last year, Macdonald now looks set to become the crowned queen of British cinema with six new features.

Riding such a wave of success, you might forgive Macdonald for playing the prima donna but there's no hint of vanity or self-indulgence. Instead she's modest and matey. Too down to earth to pose dreamily for the photographer, she squirms self-consciously in an old jumper. When she raises her voice above a soft Scottish murmur, she worries that the other patrons of Soho House might think she's showing off. (This being a see-and-be-seen private members mecca for soap stars, media types and other professional show offs, the fresh-faced film star has nothing to worry about).

Brought up on a council estate by her mum, Macdonald didn't enjoy school much. English and art were all right, but she was always getting report cards saying: ``Kelly doesn't try unless she's interested, and she must get used to the fact that she can't always be working on something she enjoys."

"Well I am now," she says, with a gurgle of gleeful laughter. Macdonald had her first taste of acting at 16, when she appeared in a local am-dram production. "We did this terrible Greek play," she remembers. "There were five of us on stage and about ten in the audience. None of us had a clue what it was about."

Although she "got a buzz" from being on stage, Macdonald still was not sure what she wanted to do when she left school. "All my friends were going to art college. Part of me felt as though that's where I was supposed to go too. The only trouble was, I was never very good at it." Macdonald moved into a flat with six art students and she began working behind the college bar. "It was fine for a while, but it started really getting to me. I just thought, `This is wrong! I'm not doing what I want to be doing, and I don't know what I want to be doing!'."

Procrastinating in the pub, Macdonald had just got round to "applying for application forms" for drama school when she landed the part of Diane in Trainspotting. Hit on by Ewan McGregor's junkie Renton in a nightclub, Diane drags him home, has her wicked way with him, then waves him off the next morning - wearing her school uniform. Under-age and over-sexed, Macdonald is magnificent, but offscreen she didn't share Diane's cool confidence about jumping into bed with McGregor.

"I was really nervous. Absolutely dreading that scene but I knew that I just had to go for it, as, if I didn't get it right, I was going to have to - I was going to say `bang away at it' - but maybe that's not the best choice of words. Ewan's used to doing sex scenes so he really helped. Then again," she muses, "all he had to do was lie there." Macdonald does not keep in touch with McGregor - "The last time I saw him, I was wandering around lost in Soho and he told me how to get to a pub" - but she has become firm friends with her other co-star, Ewen Bremner, who played the gormless Spud.

"He took me under his wing. I didn't know London. I didn't know anybody down here. So wherever he went, I went." Later, he introduced Kelly to his agent, who agreed to represent her. "The Trainspotting hype was incredible. It lasted for quite a while but I didn't think anything else was going to come of it." At first Kelly was bombarded only with "druggy, clubby" scripts, but soon other roles came trickling in, such as the plush costume drama, Cousin Bette.

"It was really terrifying working with Jessica Lange. The first day of filming was awful. I had this scene with her where I've got my head in her lap and she's wrapping my ringlets ready for bed. I knew all my lines but I just kept fluffing and forgetting, and going blank. Then I kept apologising to her which I think was doing her head in after a while because she was like - gritted teeth, brittle voice, hand on hair beginning to stroke a little harder - `It's fine!' If we had just been walking down a corridor together, or something, it might have been all right, but to be lying, there looking at her upside-down, was a bit bizarre."

It's strange to hear Macdonald talk about nerves when her screen image is so strong. After her tough performance in Trainspotting, Diane's punchy persona lives on, not only in her film roles but in a new commercial that sees Kelly strolling around a boxing gym, recommending a new anti-perspirant as "strong as a woman". "This is about as energetic as I get," says Kelly, "sitting around talking and drinking coffee. When I was asked to do the advert I thought, `Oh dear, I hope they don't want anything too athletic'."

Some time before, Macdonald's confidence had taken a beating at an audition for the sci-fi movie, The Matrix. "I walked into the room and they had a punchbag hanging there and the cameras set up and I thought, `Oh My God!'. I got really self-conscious. And of course they said to me, `We just want to see what you can do because the character's quite feisty, quite energetic.

"They asked me to run up to this bag, and punch it and kick it. But, because it was a small room, I had to run at it in a curve [mimes a crab- like, comedy run up] and the first time I hit the bag I apologised."

Generally, says Macdonald, casting directors mask their feelings well, but this time it was different. "The look on her face was so obvious. Everyone else in the room was silent. This poor actor who was reading with me didn't know where to look. I left thinking, `I don't want to do this anymore. It's a stupid job'."

Happily, Macdonald climbed straight back into the ring. Along with the Tube Tales, a feature-length collection of short films set on London's Underground (which gets its first screening on Sky Premier tomorrow night), forthcoming films include the Welsh bingo comedy, House!, and a screen adaptation of the Royal Court's Some Voices. Next week she's off to start work on Strictly Sinatra, a new drama from writer-director Peter Capaldi about a casino cigarette girl and a "really crappy" pub singer, who is played by Ian Hart.

"Work's been mad this year," she smiles. "But in a good way. I pinch myself every now and then to make sure it's all real."

`Tube Tales', Sky Premier, tomorrow, at 9pm

Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Hewer is to leave The Apprentice after 10 years

TV review Nick Hewer, the man whose eyebrows speak a thousand words, is set to leave The Apprentice

Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
    The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

    The 12 ways of Christmas

    We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
    Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

    The male exhibits strange behaviour

    A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
    Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

    Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

    Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

    The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'