Danielle Macdonald was so enthralled while reading the script for The Tourist for the first time that she didn’t even care if she got the job. She just needed to know how it ended. “I can’t remember the last time I felt that excited over a script,” she tells me over Zoom. “I could not put it down.” Having just finished the show myself, I can understand her sentiment. From the genius minds of Harry and Jack Williams—the duo behind thrillers such as The Missing and Baptiste—The Tourist is an amusing cat-and-mouse chase that doesn’t let up until its final shocking revelation comes to light.
Of course, Macdonald did end up getting the job—and the plot details she was looking for. “I literally cried when I got the role,” she says from her Los Angeles home while surrounded by her brood of rescue animals. “I haven’t cried when I got a role in a really long time, but I was just like, ‘Ah, it feels so good because I’m so excited about this.’” The six-part genre-bending series follows an Irishman (Jamie Dornan) who suffers from amnesia after a horrific car crash and must embark on a deadly journey in the Australian outback to find his true identity. Along the way, he is joined by a series of offbeat characters, including the lovable Helen Chambers, played by Macdonald. The actress is perfect as the slightly awkward yet endearing probationary officer who goes on her own exploration of self-discovery while entangled in the mystery man’s troubled affairs. She is the heartbeat of the show, the one person you are constantly rooting for.
Helen is so squeaky-clean good that it’s hard to imagine how she fits into this brutal world, but that’s the beauty of the show and the chemistry between its actors. “When Jamie and I first read together, that was a big sigh of relief,” she says. “It was like, ‘Oh okay, I see how you can be here and I can be here, and we can just play with that.’ It was very fun.”
It’s not surprising that Macdonald fell in love with Helen right away. “I think Helen is every woman,” she says. “You can really relate to her on so many levels no matter who you are because we’ve all gone through that period of self-discovery. I think that’s really fun to see in a series that has so many high stakes and so much action and so many twists and turns.”
It’s really a testament to the Williams brothers’ ability to encapsulate something we’ve all felt at one point or another as well as Macdonald’s authentic portrayal on-screen. In episode one, we are given highlights of Helen’s personal life. A heartbreaking but honest scene at a meeting for a weight-loss support group and an emotionally abusive interaction with her fiancé are windows into why Helen is the insecure person we first meet, brilliantly setting the stage for the viewer to go on a journey of growth with her. “It’s really easy to look at a screen and yell at someone like, ‘Why are you with him? What are you doing?’” Macdonald says. “But we’ve all found ourselves in situations where we are blinded because we are in it, and we have to find our way through. We can’t just see clearly. And so that was one of the things that we spoke about. … It’s keeping the same character but one that has grown in confidence in her own ability and figuring out who she is. I loved getting to explore that.”
Macdonald has a soft spot for any kind of character going on a journey. In her breakout role in the 2017 Sundance hit Patti Cake$, she played an aspiring rapper on an unlikely quest to reach stardom. In the coming-of-age Netflix comedy Dumplin’, she portrayed a plus-size teen looking to revolutionize beauty pageant standards. And in last year’s Falling for Figaro, her character Millie makes the ultimate career pivot from successful fund manager to opera singer. Of course, there is Macdonald’s own personal journey too. After struggling to find acting jobs in her native Australia, she packed up everything and moved to Los Angeles at 18. On her own for the first time, she had to learn how to be an adult and find her own path in Hollywood.
“I’ve gained a lot more confidence in the last 10 years,” she tells me. “I’ve learned so much about myself. … Being in this industry, you meet so many different people from all across the world. You have completely different upbringings and different everything in the end, and it’s incredibly powerful to learn from other people who have an entirely different situation from you. I’ve learned so much by being here and getting to work in this industry and getting to tell other stories.”
Macdonald has been delighting audiences for the last decade, and her ability to portray everyone from loveable underdogs to inspiring rebellious types demonstrates her impressive range as an actress. She is, without a doubt, one of the most exciting talents on-screen today, and I’m convinced we’re just seeing the beginning of what her journey has in store.
The Tourist is now streaming on HBO Max.