×

Kelly Macdonald on Her Sundance Star Turn in ‘Puzzle’ and Hollywood Harassment

Kelly Macdonald is driving and talking on the phone. It sounds dangerous, but with her trademark burr, the Scottish actress assures a worried Variety reporter that she can juggle both tasks. She will, however, periodically stop mid-sentence to say she needs to concentrate on the road.

The subject at hand is “Puzzle,” a low-budget drama about a housewife and mother named Agnes who discovers she is something of a savant when it comes to assembling puzzles. The film premieres at this year’s Sundance Film Festival and offers the 41-year-old Macdonald a chance to step toward center stage after decades of supporting turns in everything from “Trainspotting” to “Boardwalk Empire.”

“I’m rarely ever offered the female lead in anything,” Macdonald admits. “So that appealed to me. And there was something about Agnes that intrigued me. She was a bit of an enigma.”

Discovering her gift helps draw Agnes out of a shell she’s constructed for herself, one that finds her sublimating her own identity while doting on her two sons and clueless husband. It’s a family that takes advantage of Agnes’ generosity, expecting much from her and offering little in return.

After she teams up with Robert (Irrfan Khan) on puzzle competitions, Agnes begins to realize that she is not fulfilled by her life in a blue-collar section of Connecticut. All the while, Agnes keeps her partnership with Robert and her newfound interest in games from her loved ones.

Popular on Variety

“She’s from a small place, the kind of town where everybody knows everybody’s business, and she has no friends and is just kind of alone,” Macdonald said. “She’s a bit of a child-woman who is used to being given instructions and is smothered and never really grew up.”

With small gestures, showing Agnes staring longingly out the window of a Metro North train or furtively glancing down at her cell phone for a text from Robert, Macdonald and director Marc Turtletaub build a portrait of a woman living a “life of quiet desperation.” Macdonald also delicately shows Agnes’ rising confidence as she begins to acknowledge that the road she took in life may have been the wrong one. Agnes is the kind of person you might pass on the street or at the supermarket without realizing the depths she contains. The raging turmoil inside Agnes’ placid facade was something that attracted Macdonald to the part.

“You don’t have to move mountains to be interesting,” she said. “This wasn’t about a film about some superhero with puzzles.”

“Puzzle” also helped Macdonald rediscover her own love of puzzles, sometimes to the detriment of the low-budget film’s tight shooting schedule.

“I’d done a lot of them in my twenties, but I’d forgotten how much I enjoyed puzzles,” Macdonald said. “I was surrounded by puzzles on the set and I became this nut. I’d do them all over the place — when I was on the hair and makeup chair or in between takes. They’d be ready for me on set, but I’d have run off somewhere to work on a puzzle.”

Agnes’ story of self-realization is being released at Sundance at a time when women are speaking out about abuse of power and sexual harassment in Hollywood. It’s a conversation that was touched off after allegations broke in October that producer Harvey Weinstein had harassed or assaulted dozens of women. Since then, scores of actors, directors, and media figures have found themselves accused of misconduct.

“It’s been a long time coming,” Macdonald said. “I’m quite pleased to see all these women standing up, and there are a lot of men in the industry who are questioning their own histories and behavior right now. We’re shining a light on something that was a dark secret. I hope things can finally change for the better.”

One thing Macdonald isn’t looking forward to is sitting in a darkened theater and seeing her work in “Puzzle.”

“It’s so hard to watch,” she said. “I’m used to being in great ensemble pieces, and I always get irked every time I pop up on screen.”

More Film

  • Delete History

    'Delete History': Film Review

    If you’ve ever felt frustrated when a website asks you to select photos of traffic lights in order to prove that you’re not a robot, or struggled for a way to keep all your internet passwords straight, then digital-age satire “Delete History” was made with you in mind. Like the spam folder on your Google [...]

  • Whiplash

    Cutting Edge Group Acquires Soundtrack Label Lakeshore Records (EXCLUSIVE)

    Cutting Edge Group, a leading music financier and services provider for film, TV and advertising, has acquired Lakeshore Records, a top independent soundtrack label. Their partnership will provide Cutting Edge with an in-house label, while Lakeshore will continue to operate as an independent, doing albums for such high-profile projects as “Marriage Story,” “Moonlight,” “Stranger Things” [...]

  • Sakamoto

    Ryuichi Sakamoto to be Honored by Locarno Festival

    Japanese composer Ryuichi Sakamoto, who has worked with David Bowie in various guises and scored movies by greats such as Bernardo Bertolucci, Pedro Almodovar, and Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, will be honored by the Locarno Film Festival. Sakamoto, an electronic music pioneer whose Yellow Magic Orchestra, formed in 1978, anticipated both techno and rap music debuted [...]

  • The Reason I Jump

    Picturehouse Takes U.K. Rights to Jerry Rothwell's 'The Reason I Jump'

    Picturehouse Entertainment has picked up U.K. distribution rights for the Sundance prize-winning documentary “The Reason I Jump” from MetFilm Sales. Picturehouse’s Clare Binns and Paul Ridd and MetFilm’s Vesna Cudic negotiated the deal following the film’s world premiere at last month’s Sundance Film Festival, where it won the World Cinema Documentary Audience Award. Directed by [...]

  • Jason Segel

    Jason Segel on his AMC Series 'Dispatches' and Working Outside Studio Model

    “How I Met Your Mother” and “Sex Tape” actor Jason Segel has said it was a “magical midlife crisis” that inspired his new AMC series “Dispatches From Elsewhere,” in which the actor was able to take creative control and work outside of studio constraints. Segel, who was speaking Monday as part of a keynote address [...]

  • Sylvester Stallone Variety Cover story

    Sylvester Stallone's 'Little America' Is Pre-Sales Hit for AGC International

    “Little America,” an upcoming Sylvester Stallone-starring sci-fi-action thriller, has proven to be a strong attraction for sales powerhouse AGC International. With Rowan Athale writing and directing, the project was introduced earlier this week at the Berlin Film Festival’s European Film Market. Athale (“Wasteland,” “Outside the Wire,” “Way Down”) was in Berlin and met with distributors. [...]

  • Aum group logo

    'Fruitvale Station' Producer Co-Creates Multicultural Film Fund AUM Group

    “Fruitvale Station” producer Nina Bongiovi is teaming up with prominent figures in the film and tech industries to launch AUM Group, a fund dedicated to acquiring and developing IP and financing multicultural movies.  Among AUM’s (pronounced “om”) other co-founders are Gold House chairman Bing Chen, Twitch co-founder Kevin Lin and Bongiovi’s Significant Productions partner Michael [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content