In the role of Merida, heroine of Disney-Pixar’s new animated epic, Brave, actress Kelly Macdonald’s voice is one the most recognisable elements of a film which seeks to bring girl power to 10th Century Scotland.
Coming to the film after production had begun thanks to the departure of American actress Reese Witherspoon from the role of Merida, Macdonald brings the energetic and untamed Scottish princess to life as she seeks to change her fate after her mother, Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson), insists she follow tradition.
It begs the obvious question of whether the young Kelly Macdonald was anything like Merida?
“It’s definitely going against type, which was a challenge and also really fun once I got into it. She’s the teenager I definitely wasn’t so it was good to relive that again. Merida’s much more gung-ho than I ever was. I wasn’t that little girl dressing up and being a princess all the time. I wasn’t Merida, out playfighting. I did have a pretend horse I used to ride around all the time. I was more Calamity Jane.
“I was shy, though not overly shy. I had friends, but whenever I was in a group of people I would be one of the quieter ones. [Playing Merida] was really good fun. She’s so wrong in many ways, she’s got that teenage thing of thinking you’ve reached your full adult height and you’re an adult now, but you’ve got to learn an awful lot.”
Was becoming an actress always an ambition?
“I’ve always wanted to do this but it was a fantasy of mine. I’d watch Hollywood films and be so furious with my parents for not moving to the States when I was a baby because they all had American accents and I didn’t. Luckily Trainspotting happened and I’ve managed to do other accents and be part of different worlds.”
When I mention that 1996’s Trainspotting was recently voted best British film in a poll celebrating the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, the actress smiles. “I think that’s really great, it’s a good film. I don’t know if it’s the best film ever but that was nice.”
At one point Merida quotes the rather anachronistic phrase of ‘jings, crivvens, help ma boab’ – did Macdonald have any say over the way the dialogue was spoken in Brave?
“I was watching the film with Robbie [Coltrane] yesterday and he leaned over and said ‘was that you?’ and I said ‘yeah’,” she confirms. “You would get sections of the script at a time and, because they’re American, it would be an Americanised version so they wanted us to make it more us and more Scottish. It was quite fun, when a line could come up and we’d have a ten minute brainstorm and try to think of better words. ‘Manky’ was another word that they really liked.
“There were certain words I would roll my ‘r’ a bit more than they felt would be understandable to an American audience, but I would imagine the others would have to tone it down more than I did.”
What was it like in the recording studio? Did she interact with Emma Thompson?
“It doesn’t work that way. I had no idea because I’d never done this before. You’re on your own. The first time I went in to read for them it was a studio in LA and I’m used to ADR studios, where you’re kind of in a box and the sound person is on the other side and it’s very intimate. When I went in it was really daunting, Billy Connolly had been in before me.
“I was a latecomer to the party and all the other actors had been involved for quite a long time and so Billy was in doing one of his sessions. The room was enormous and the sound booth was at one end. Mark Andrews [co-director], Steve Purcell [co-director] and Katherine Sarafian [producer] were sitting at a desk in front of the microphone and it was the opposite of claustrophobia. It took me a while to find my voice, let alone Merida’s voice.”
Was there ever an opportunity to see or hear what her co-stars were looking and sounding like?
“I got to see a bit of what Emma had been recording with a bit of the animation, so I got to hear her voice and knew I was in the right ballpark,” says Macdonald. “When you record you don’t see anything, it’s very one-sided. Mark would read with me. It’s all your voice and it’s really intense. A scene would be described to me and I’d just have to picture it in my mind.
“There are a lot of noises I never thought I’d have to make, ever,” she laughs. “I did a lot of falling, climbing, grunting and a lot of screaming. I spoke to Steve Buscemi, who did Monsters Inc and now Monsters University and he found it tricky doing the noises. He actually said ‘can someone else do these bits?'”
What did Macdonald think when she saw the final film?
“I saw a rough version of the film a few months ago and I couldn’t remember anything about it. It was nice to watch it yesterday and I got carried along with it. It’s hard to watch myself, but it’s not me but my voice, and Merida is so compelling. I’m looking forward to meeting the animators.”
What’s next for the actress?
“Last year I directed Anna Karenina for Jo Wright, Keira Knightley is in that. We started out thinking it was a traditional costume drama but he’s turned it on its head and its now set in a theatre and different parts of the theatre are different households. It’s Anna Karenina with a twist.”
Would she like to film more in Scotland?
“I’m looking out the window at that rain! I think filming here is problematic for exterior shots. I was really lucky I got to do a movie a few years ago here and it felt really odd everyone leaving and going different directions afterwards. I like filming here a lot, it just has to be the right script.”
Brave is now in Scottish cinemas and opens in the rest of the UK on 17 August.