“Rapping is her secret superpower, which we see when her fantasy life is up there on screen.” Director Geremy Jasper
Patti Cake$ is a coming-of-age story straight out of Jersey, in which an unlikely rapper finds her voice as a one-of-a-kind hip-hop legend in the making. It’s the first feature film from acclaimed commercial and music-video director Geremy Jasper and we were fortunate enough to have a chat with him on the phone about the upcoming release which will be screening at the Showroom Cinema from 1 September.
I’ve read that the story of Patti Cake$ has its roots in your post-college years, what made you choose a female rather than a male protagonist for the film?
Patti really just popped into my head and she just felt right. I felt like I could relate to her. I think if you polled the people in my life, they would say I probably have more feminine qualities than masculine. I never really thought, oh it’s a woman, I can’t write for a woman. She was a character I loved and she felt like family in a way. I was really interested in writing rhymes for her and there was something subversive about it that I liked. She’s just so unconventional in the hip-hop scene and the Jersey scene and she just doesn’t fit anywhere, and I can really relate to that.
What importance do you place on the portrayal of strong feminist characters like Patti Cake$ in contemporary film?
I definitely think the more strong female characters the better, although it feels like they’re hard to come by these days. I just want real and interesting characters. For me, with Patti, Barb and Nana, they were characters I knew from growing up that I hadn’t seen on screen before. It was much less about, ‘well Hollywood needs these women’, because this was such a small film that it would be absurd to think that. So I thought, I’m going to make my first film, who are the characters that I love and that I’d be interested in telling the stories of?
You were mentored by Quentin Tarantino when writing and developing the screenplay for Patti Cake$, what was the most valuable piece of advice that you took from that experience?
Two things. The first thing he said gave me the power to keep moving because it was my first screenplay and you lose confidence, I just didn’t know if I was cut out for it or if I was crazy for trying. So the first thing he said was, ‘You are the only guy who can tell this particular story.’ And that felt amazing. Although he wasn’t saying it was a good story, just that I was the only one who could tell it!
And the other big piece of advice he gave me was after he’d read the early draft of my screenplay. The first draft was really half-baked and it kind of went off the rails, I didn’t really have control over what I was doing. It was very elaborate and would have been very expensive to shoot. It had casinos in it and underground tunnels! I’d just let my imagination run wild, a little too wild, and Quentin said, “This is all interesting but it doesn’t really hold together as a script and no-one would ever give you the money to shoot this, so why are you going to spend all this time writing stuff that you’d never be able to make? This is going to be your first film, it’ll be an independent film, so make it a lot smaller and more intimate and figure out how to do it so you can actually make it.” So I took that practical advice to the next eight or nine drafts that I wrote, by just chipping away at it and placing the story in one town.
What were your reasons behind choosing a relative unknown, with an Australian accent and no musical experience for the part of Patti Cake$, rather than a seasoned Hollywood starlet?
Well, first off, the film is about discovering a new talent. Some audiences think, when they see Danielle’s performance, which is so impressive, that it’s almost like a documentary and I grew up with this girl or there’s a local female rapper in Jersey and I just decided to make a film about her, which is the opposite of the truth.
I had this image of Patti in my head – what she looked like, the way she felt, the way she moved and talked, and then my producer showed me a photograph of Danielle and she looked exactly how I imagined the character to look. Then I met Danielle and we got to go to the Sundance Directors Lab together. She has an unbelievable reservoir of emotions, talents and skill, and when you’re working with that foundation it means you can do so much more with the character.
This was really my first time directing actors but I come from a music background so I felt comfortable bringing her into the studio and teaching her how to rap. Because the film is about where I grew up, I know how someone from Jersey walks, talks and moves and what feels authentic and right so I can judge that while Danielle brings the emotional soul to the character. She spent two years learning how to rap, learning a Jersey accent, and learning how to rap with a Jersey accent so she spent a massive amount of time transforming herself into this character. Danielle’s personality is massively different from Patti’s so she really morphed.
What do you hope people will take away from the film after watching it?
A few things. I hope it gives people hope, we need it these days, especially in the US. I’m also excited for people to see faces, characters and personalities, that in The States especially, we’re not used to seeing on screen. There’s very few, if any, leading roles for a plus-size woman who’s not apologetic about what she looks like. We have a fucking president who body shames people and judges people, so I call Patti ‘a blue-collar wonder woman’. I think it’s good for young people to see a different kind of hero on the screen.
You can see Patti Cake$ at the Showroom Cinema from Friday 1 September.
Interview by Felicity Jackson