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Interview with Kelly Macdonald

Kelly McDonald interview

HBO

In Episode 3, Margaret makes a real journey from widow to...something else.  What is driving her?

Kelly Macdonald

It's gone beyond just looking after her family at this point. It's something else. She's had this different idea of who Nucky is and then when he rebuffs her soda bread offer she thinks, "That's it. I'm going to get noticed." She's playing a bit of a game. She can give as good as Lucy, I think.

HBO

Terence Winter refers to Episode 5 as a chess match between Margaret and Nucky -- is she learning to play?

Kelly Macdonald

I think she's got a bit of a history. But she's seen something that she wants. You know, "a woman scorned..." -- she's going to get noticed no matter what.

HBO

It's interesting that she's gone from battered wife to accomplished chess player. 

Kelly Macdonald

But we also know that she travelled a long way to bigger things in Atlantic City. She must have had some gumption to get to America in the first place because it wasn't an easy trip in those days. So I think you can tell something about her already, that she's wanted a better life for herself. And she ended up in quite an abusive relationship and has seen a glimmer of this other life that's just so tantalizing and within her grasp. I think she's desperate, really, to see out her possibilities.

HBO

Is that why she steals the lingerie in the Episode 4?

Kelly Macdonald

She wants a little bit of that life. And like I said, I think she's got a history. I think possibly it's not the first time she's stolen anything. I think she's been the good wife and living an honest life for awhile and she just needs something. It's like with chocolate -- you can be really good with your diet for quite awhile and then it's like "I need chocolate!" You just need a taste of something delicious.

HBO

At the temperance meeting, she offers to talk to Nucky for help with their cause.  Do you think her motives are purely prohibitionist?

Kelly Macdonald

No, not at all. I mean, not "not at all," but she's showing off to these women that she knows the man in charge and she'll be able to sort it out. She's feeling a little bit giddy with a tiny bit of power. In the end she's totally mortified that it doesn't work out. He lets her down in more than one way.

HBO

She then ups the ante and goes to Van Alden.  Do you think she intended to rat Nucky out when she went there?

Kelly Macdonald

Oh absolutely. She's going to get noticed no matter what. She definitely goes into his makeshift office with that in mind. She's furious. She's not in a calm state at that point. She's acting without thinking. I don't think she realizes quite how dangerous both of these men are. She's playing with fire.

HBO

Outside Dante's Hall after the raid, Nucky and Margaret exchange a look...

Kelly Macdonald

She's sending him a message. He looks at her and that was the goal. She was trying to show to these women she had a little bit of power and control with Nucky to get him to sort things out and he robbed her of that little moment of glory. This is her making a definite point. And it could totally backfire. But it's too late. She's going down a certain path.

She wants a certain kind of lifestyle and she wants Nucky. And that's basically what's driving Margaret at this point.

HBO

Terence Winter talks about it being an interesting time for women.  Did women have to hide their intelligence then?

Kelly Macdonald

I think the smart ones did.  And she's smart enough and well read enough to know things and to know more than the average woman in her situation. Knowing when to use your...[Sound of water splashing] Sorry, I'm totally distracted by sea life. I'm at the water's edge. I'm scavenging for crabs and things... I'm on an island on the west coast of Scotland. I'm way out on the rocky outcrop. It's actually lovely. Apart from a dead seal on the beach which is quite unpleasant. Sorry. What was the question?

HBO

About women hiding their intelligence...

Kelly Macdonald

I think it's about knowing when to show your smarts. And women use their smarts in different ways. Lucy and Margaret are very similar, I think. Lucy's a lot smarter than she lets on. She uses her body to get what she wants. But she's no different than Margaret. She wants a certain kind of lifestyle and she wants Nucky. And that's basically what's driving Margaret at this point.

HBO

There must be something terrifying to be alone, a widow, with two children, wondering how she can provide for her children.

Kelly Macdonald

That's the thing that motivates her to start with. And Nucky helps her, but as she gets to know him, she wants a bit more. She wants him, basically, and the life he can offer her.  I think she's going to give Lucy a run for her money.

HBO

Were there any specific challenges to playing Margaret?

Kelly Macdonald

The real challenge was not knowing what was coming up and thinking I had a handle on her. From the pilot, say, she was this ultra-stiff goody two shoes. But things started to change. She's much more interesting than I gave her credit for. Nobody's just entirely painted one color. So it was really interesting to see this other side of her.

Interviews Seasons 1-3

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