May 2022

Screened | Danielle Macdonald

Getting Into Character With The Tourist's Danielle Macdonald

Photos Martin Rusch | Words Tamara Rappa

Known for her breakout role as Patti’ in 2017 film Patti Cake$, and for her title character opposite Jennifer Aniston in Dumplin', Australian actress Danielle Macdonald currently stars in HBO Max's The Tourist along with Jamie Dornan, a six-episode thriller that debuted to rave reviews. Macdonald tells us that this storyline that challenges the idea of forgiveness 'kept her guessing the whole way'. Her character Helen, amidst deep personal growth, is struggling to survive longterm emotional abuse at the hands of her husband Ethan in this dark story filled with characters who have secrets---all while she lays bare much of her own. Having played a wide array of personalities and characters for films like Bird Box, French Exit, and in series like Netflix's critically acclaimed Unbelievable, we talked to Danielle about the role that is entirely different than anything she's before, one where her character drops in on a world of drugs, murder, and lies.

When we first meet Helen Chambers she's ordering food at a takeout window and hiding her eating from her husband. This sets the tone for what their relationships is like. What does Helen experience in her relationship with Ethan, and why has she put up with it? It took me a while to figure that one out, to be honest. I was like, 'Why are you with him?' It's an emotionally abusive relationship. A lot of the times it's hard to spot. When people are in it, they don't often see it. It isn't someone hitting you. Helen says, later on in the series, that one of the reasons she stayed is because there was a time when he was there for her when she needed him. That kind of pressure, guilt, or gratitude---can lead you to stay in something that is no longer right. He's the worst version of himself with her, clearly, and she isn't going to achieve her own potential, because she's stuck with him and they've grown in completely different directions. She shouldn't be with him, and that's just something she has to figure out along the way. Sometimes you get stuck, and it's really easy to find comfort in what you know.

Helen talks about the kind of police officer she is, and the one she is not. What does she desire, in terms of her profession? I think she wants to help people, I really do. I think that's her driving force. I also think she may have been told she's not as smart as she thinks she is, or as capable. She wants to be able to prove that, to prove herself. It's very important to her, and ultimately comes from a place of wanting to help others. She's one of those really pure people, which is amazing.

At one point, we see Helen truly enjoying being taken hostage by main character Eliot Stanley, played by Jamie Dornan. Why? Not everything is black and white. That's something she comes to understand. This bad thing is happening to me; but also I see this hurt underneath, and I have this desperate need to figure out who he is. She feels so much compassion for him and realizes that  this isn't someone who wants to hurt her. It's what truly makes her relax and enjoy her time with him. She's just trying to get to know him for who he's presenting, versus what she's heard about. She's actually open to it, and it's a beautiful thing. In other ways, it's naive. But it's beautiful.

Helen confides in Eliot when she tells him she tried to kill herself during a time when she was a full time caregiver to her father, and admits to have stopped taking care of herself during that time, something that is common in caregivers. She also explains, that it was after that time that she decided to 'stop betting against herself,' and really give life a try. How was she not giving life a try, and how does she view her experience with Eliot accordingly? She worked in traffic for a long time, and stayed in a job that was safe, that was easy, that she could do, a job where she was told she fit in. And she, finally, after betting on herself, thought 'I'm going to explore this world; I'm going to train, and become a police officer that actually gets to work on investigations.' It was one of her dreams that she decides to follow because she stopped being so scared. Ethan is kind of the last part that remains, in terms of betting against herself. She has to let go and follow her instincts. That man plays such an important part in terms of whether she won't bet against herself, whether she'll trust herself, trust her gut. He plays a big part in her journey.

At one point Helen says to Eliot, 'I'm the only person you know in the whole wide world'. They have a very unique relationship in that when they meet, Eliot has completely lost his detailed memory, and his memory of who he is as a human being. Helen is an inherently good person, and prior to his memory loss, Eliot was really good at being bad. Do you think there is an element of Helen choosing to see Eliot as good? Yes, there is memory loss and Eliot is working with a clean slate, but how much of it is Helen wanting to see Eliot a certain way? I think it's a big part of it. She sees the best in everyone. Everyone is innocent until proven guilty to her, without a doubt. She is the eternal optimist. But I also think she very much feels that Elliot wants to see the best in himself. That's what she's latching onto. It's very much, 'I feel that you want to be good, so I perceive you as good'.

At a point in the series, Helen's husband says he's done with their marriage because of how Helen has gotten so involved in Eliot's situation. Why is Helen's husband Ethan so threatened? Helen tells Ethan, 'If you love me the way you say you do, you wouldn't have to keep threatening me.' I think it's because this is the first time she's actually veered off, trusted her gut, and gone out on her own. Their relationship was always easy because nothing really happened, nothing ever changed. She goes along with everything because she's a relaxed person. But when there's something she's passionate about, when there's something she actually wants to achieve, that's when he starts to get threatened---because their dynamic is changing. All of a sudden he's not the one in power anymore. He's not the commanding one and he feels very threatened by that. In relationships it's always a balance, but when it's been one way for so long and the power dynamic shifts, you either go along with it and support it, or you become controlling. He went controlling.

Helen tells Eliot, 'If it wasn’t for you, I’d still be marrying Ethan. She explains to him that she's 'the new me, and this is 'life after Ethan'. Why exactly does she attribute her ability to leave her abusive husband to Eliot? It's not anything he's done, specifically---it's his existence. He showed up in her life, she chose to help him, she chose to follow her gut, and she was able to uncover this truth in her relationship. Elliot plays a part because he sees her for who she is. You are who you are, and that is great. Being appreciated, being seen---is a really big thing for Helen. She realizes, I can be seen for who I am. I don't need to change or to pander to someone's wants and needs in being me. His belief in her is a big part of her self confidence. Following her gut is how she gets there, through meeting Eliot Stanley.

By episode six, we learn the scope of who Eliot truly is. He's done some incredibly awful things including harming his own family and being responsible for killing his own children. Helen says, 'I just don’t understand how this guy who could do something so awful, could also save my life, and give a woman a million dollars. I don’t know whether I’m supposed to think about that, or to think about him.' Helen is in a bar with someone who shares her advice and wisdom, tells Helen, 'At the end of the day, love doesn’t happen like it does in the movies. Real people make mistakes and they deserve a second chance. You and this guy, this could be the prologue to the big love story.' Is is also at this point in the story that Eliot chooses to try and die by taking pills, just as Helen accepts the advice, and sends him a text message representing a great moment they shared. What are your thoughts as to whether she saves him, or whether they end up together?  It's up to the audience to really interpret it. I'll talk to different people, they have entirely different opinions, and they are each completely convinced that theirs is right! Even my parents have completely different opinions. My mom, I believe, thought it meant that he died knowing he had a friend. I may get this completely mom and dad may have been switched opinions. I can't remember. I think my dad believed the text message saved him, the message was him choosing to live instead. My managers each felt the exact same way about it, both completely opposed. People so strongly believe what they want to believe, it terms of the ending. I believe her text message saved him. That's how I choose to live, with hope. For me it was the sign he needed, to feel like he could continue on, and in the same way that Helen stopped betting against herself. I really feel like her sending the message was a chance for him to give life a try.

HAIR: Dita Durga | MAKEUP: Andre Sarmiento

"I use Saint Jane Luxury Beauty Serum every day. I have really sensitive skin, so for me, finding something that actually works is very exciting. It's been a game changer for me." 

"I have very curly, fine hair, and in this industry, having to use so many heating products, tends to not be great for it. I found one hair care brand that my hair loves --- Maria Nila. I use all of their products including their True Soft Argan oil. My hair is very happy." 

"Exercise, is something I really love to start my day with. I'm obsessed with Adidas Ultraboost sneakers. They're the most comfortable thing, I can walk for hours and hours in them." 

"I'm a big cook, and I'm a vegan. So it's really fun for me to find all the things I loved eating when I was growing up, and find a way to vegan-ize them. It's a science experiment for me. I get a lot of my ingredients at BESTIES Vegan Paradise in LA."

"I use Caraway pans---which I've been loving---because I wanted to find non-toxic pans that don't stick. I've tried out so many others, but Caraway is amazing. I have the whole set in green." 

"I have a favorite bag, a vegan crossbody bag from Sans Beast. It's my favorite brand, and the quality is amazing."