For Scottish actress Kelly MacDonald, convincing Joel and Ethan Coen that she could excise her soft Glaswegian brogue and affect the West Texas lilt of trailer wife Carla Jean for “No Country for Old Men” was one thing. Acting opposite Lone Star native Tommy Lee Jones, however, was something else.
“That was worrying,” admits MacDonald, “but from the very first syllable I made as Carla Jean in rehearsals, he was completely positive. He was very flattering behind my back, so that was nice.”
While she kept a dialect coach/friend in the U.K. on call by phone, nailing the accent was less a technical matter than trusting the dialogue, much of it straight from Cormac McCarthy’s captivating novel.
“The writing is quite specific,” MacDonald says. “I found that I could hear the voices in my head.”
The diminutive, dark-haired beauty, who first got noticed in “Trainspotting” and recently won an Emmy for the HBO movie “The Girl in the Cafe,” sparked to playing Carla Jean — who spends most of the film in fear of a husband (Josh Brolin) who’s in mysterious trouble — because she’s far from some wanly conceived, dutiful Southern spouse.
“She’s no pushover,” says the 31-year-old actress. “There’s a lot of love and respect there. It was a lovely thing to read, a real relationship.”
For someone who admits she can “totally fade into the background” when she’s in scenes with lots of characters, the fact that her “No Country” role was mostly two-handers with Brolin, Jones and Javier Bardem was especially rewarding.
“It was nice being put in a position where it was one on one,” she says. “You just had to get to the set and play lovely, lovely dialogue.”
Her schedule for the New Mexico shoot was a punishing rhythm, though.
“I would be in for a day, off for two weeks, then in for two days, then off for another week,” she says, laughing. “But I got to do a lot of exploring. I’m a big fan of everything country, and the landscape was just phenomenal. I’d never been to the Southwest, so it was ridiculously new for me.”
Favorite film: “‘The Apartment.’ It’s pretty much perfect.”
Young actor you admire: “I saw ‘Control,’ and thought Sam Riley and Samantha Morton were tremendous. I was transfixed.”
What you want in a director: (laughing) “What does a director want in me, that’s my question.”
Vice: “I can be quite a lazy person, and sometimes I need people to push me a little bit.”