Scottish actress Kelly Macdonald was planning to go to drama school when director Danny Boyle cast her in Trainspotting (1996). A surprise international hit, it featured Macdonald, a native of Glasgow, as the acid-tongued schoolgirl who gives heroin junkie Ewan McGregor one of the more memorable nights — and surprises — of his young life.
Following the film’s great success, Macdonald began finding steady work in a number of films as both a lead and supporting player. In the immediate wake of Trainspotting, she could be seen playing the title character, a teenage prostitute, in Stella Does Tricks. Subsequently, she nabbed a lead role in the period drama Cousin Bette (1997) and a small but memorable part in the lavish historical epic Elizabeth (1998). In 1999, Macdonald was featured in four very diverse films: the first, My Life So Far, cast her as a young girl growing up in 1920s Scotland, while Entropy featured the actress in the thoroughly modern milieu of the 20-something romantic angst drama. Later that year, Macdonald appeared in Mike Figgis’ The Loss of Sexual Innocence, playing the young girlfriend of the film’s protagonist; and in Gregg Araki’s Splendor, a romantic comedy in which she played the blue-haired best friend of the film’s heroine.
After a slew of similar supporting roles, including a memorable turn as the daughter of Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio and Colin Firth in My Life So Far, MacDonald was given possibly her biggest break since Trainspotting when Robert Altman cast her as a lead (albeit one of many) in Gosford Park (2001). One-part comedy of manners, one-part murder mystery, the film featured MacDonald in the pivotal role of a young maid who finds herself caught up in a whirl of intrigue, deception, and exceedingly tiresome snobs over the course of a hectic weekend at a country estate.