A different space

Kelly Macdonald on working with Marc Turtletaub on Puzzle

by Anne-Katrin Titze

Kelly Macdonald on working with Puzzle director Marc Turtletaub and Irrfan Khan, David Denman, Bubba Weiler, Austin Abrams, and Liv Hewson: "It's very much on the day, on set, I believe that's when it really begins for me."
Kelly Macdonald on working with Puzzle director Marc Turtletaub and Irrfan Khan, David Denman, Bubba Weiler, Austin Abrams, and Liv Hewson: "It's very much on the day, on set, I believe that's when it really begins for me." Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

In the second half of my conversation with Kelly Macdonald at the Langham Hotel in New York we go from Natalia Smirnoff's Rompecabezas to Anna Karenina, Robinson Crusoe, and Philippa Lowthorpe's Swallows And Amazons based on the book by Arthur Ransome. Kelly's feelings about jigsaw puzzles are revealed: "I love them"; and she talks about her upcoming projects which include working again with The Child In Time director Julian Farino on a BBC and Netflix mini-series Giri/Haji, created by Joe Barton, and a Sherlock Holmes comedy directed by Etan Cohen, starring Will Ferrell and John C Reilly as Holmes and Watson with Ralph Fiennes, Hugh Laurie, and Rebecca Hall.

Kelly Macdonald is Agnes with Robert (Irrfan Khan)
Kelly Macdonald is Agnes with Robert (Irrfan Khan)

First-time director and long-time producer Marc Turtletaub (Valerie Faris and Jonathan Dayton's Little Miss Sunshine, Jeff Nichols' Loving), sets up his protagonist's life with an elegant and surprising opening sequence that makes us understand in a flash the dynamics between Agnes (Kelly Macdonald) and her nearest and dearest and propels us into the personal riddles to be explored.

Agnes, mother of two sons, Ziggy (Bubba Weiler) and Gabe (Austin Abrams), wife to Louie (David Denman), a car mechanic, lives in Bridgeport, Connecticut in the same house where she was raised by her father. An inventor named Robert (Irrfan Khan), living in a beautiful old, mostly empty, house in New York City, is looking for a jigsaw puzzle partner for an upcoming tournament. In puzzles, pieces only fit one way, in Puzzle, the movie, as in real life, there is more freedom, more chaos, more decision making to do.

Anne-Katrin Titze: Did you watch the Argentinian film that Puzzle [Natalia Smirnoff's Rompecabezas] is based on?

Kelly Macdonald: I didn't. I hear our film is very different. Maybe one day I'll watch it. If there was a book that it was based on I would read the book.

AKT: You probably read Anna Karenina [Kelly was Dolly in Joe Wright's Anna Karenina, starring Keira Knightley].

Kelly Macdonald: "I was doing puzzles in the evening when I wrapped work for the day. I had a puzzle on the go at home."
Kelly Macdonald: "I was doing puzzles in the evening when I wrapped work for the day. I had a puzzle on the go at home."

KM: I did, I did, oh my gosh. It banged on a bit in Anna Karenina with the feuds and the farming. There's a lot of farming.

AKT: True, like Robinson Crusoe with all this fence building.

KM: I know! Or Swallows And Amazons I did. There was a lot about raising lanterns. It's about the boat and it gets [she squeals] - move the story along, please!

AKT: Were there any films you watched for Puzzle?

KM: For this one, I don't think so. I'm trying to think. It might have been for Puzzle actually, Women On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown.

AKT: Pedro Almodóvar?

KM: No, no, no, I'm getting it wrong. Cassavetes, you know, Gena Rowlands. What's that film called?

AKT: Gloria?

KM: No, no. [Both of us had a brain freeze at that moment - A Woman Under The Influence is the title we could not come up with.]

AKT: Your process of acting is not like that?

KM: It's more instinctive and on the day, which was helpful working with Marc [Turtletaub]. Because we didn't do rehearsals, we talked through the scenes enough that we all knew in our heads where we were going to be. It's very much on the day, on set, I believe that's when it really begins for me.

AKT: The thing about puzzles, as discussed in the movie, is the sense of completion. All your decisions are confirmed. You know you've made the right decisions.

KM: You know you've come to the end of it. It's very satisfying. I love them.

AKT: So you are perfect casting.

Robert (Irrfan Khan) with Agnes (Kelly Macdonald): "She doesn't have a filter almost. She just says what she's thinking."
Robert (Irrfan Khan) with Agnes (Kelly Macdonald): "She doesn't have a filter almost. She just says what she's thinking."

KM: I was doing puzzles in the evening when I wrapped work for the day. I had a puzzle on the go at home. Because when you're doing a puzzle you can't think of anything else. It's very Zen.

AKT: You're still doing them after filming ended?

KM: Yes, I just was on holiday and I was going to pack a puzzle. But, you know, with two kids, it's not likely that I'm going to get anything done. I did see and got really excited about - you know, a yoga mat? But it's for puzzles and you can do your puzzle if you're traveling.

AKT: And roll it up?

KM: Yeah, it's a revelation.

AKT: Is it the idea that you have everything in its place in the end that is appealing or is it more the Zen quality of doing jigsaw puzzles?

KM: I think it's the Zen quality of doing it. And it beats sort of sitting watching something on TV that you're not interested in. It takes your brain to a different space.

AKT: What is coming up for you?

KM: I'm doing the new Julian Farino, who directed The Child In Time. I'm doing a TV series, I'm going home to do that next week and it's called Giri/Haji which means Duty and Shame and it's about the Japanese underworld.

Puzzle poster at the Angelika Film Center in New York
Puzzle poster at the Angelika Film Center in New York Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

AKT: Present day?

KM: Yeah and someone gets killed and the story leaks into London, it sort of travels across the ocean. I'm part of the London aspect but there's a lot of Japanese actors and it's going to be subtitled a lot of it. It's really exciting. And I've got a comedy coming out at Christmas with Will Ferrell and John C Reilly called Holmes and Watson.

AKT: Are you either one of them?

KM: No. I'm Mrs Hudson, I'm their housekeeper. She's a terrible housekeeper and they spend the whole film just shouting insults at me. It was really … it was so fun.

AKT: Did you ever go to the Sherlock Holmes Museum on 221b Baker Street? The museum is so wacky, I love it.

KM: I've never been in the museum. It's right next to the Beatles shop [231-233 Baker Street], though. I've been to the Beatles shop.

AKT: Speaking of shouting men - when Robert [Irrfan Khan] opens the door to Agnes in his robe, that must have been filmed before last fall? When stories of men opening doors in their bathrobes reached new meaning.

KM: Oh my gosh, you know it is just pre all of that! It's interesting the film industry.

AKT: You tell him [Robert] to put on some real clothes. Which is very necessary at that point.

KM: And very strong. And that's the thing about Agnes, she doesn't have a filter almost. She just says what she's thinking.

Read what Kelly Macdonald had to say on Mirren Gordon-Crozier's costumes, cinematographer Chris Norr, and her character in Marc Turtletaub's Puzzle.

Read what director Marc Turtletaub had to say on Mike Leigh, Alfonso Cuarón, the screenplay, and locations for Puzzle.

Read what composer Dustin O'Halloran told us about fitting music to the Puzzle.

Puzzle was the opening night film of the Edinburgh International Film Festival and had its world première at the Sundance Film Festival.

Puzzle is in cinemas in the US and will open in the UK on September 7.

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