LOS ANGELES — The top spot at the box office is rare turf for Kelly Macdonald, a character actress known on the big-screen mainly for supporting roles in such films as "No Country for Old Men" and "Finding Neverland."
With her wild red mane and her killer skills with sword and bow, Macdonald has become the latest in Hollywood's growing line of successful female action heroes.
Except the Scottish actress is a petite brunette who never had to wield a weapon for her role as teenage Princess Merida in "Brave," which shot to a No. 1 opening weekend with nearly $67 million in North America and more than $80 million worldwide.
Managing the kind of action role that gets numbers like that during the summer movie season is something Macdonald never expected – and a feat she knows would have been out of her reach if "Brave" were a live-action film rather than the latest cartoon adventure from Disney's Pixar.
"It's a dream come true," says the 36-year-old Macdonald. "These roles are much coveted, and there's always A-listers around that would have snapped it up."
Macdonald is also grateful for `Brave's' location. "The film could have been set anywhere," she said in a recent interview. "It's about a mother and daughter. That could have been any place, any time, but I'm lucky it was in Scotland, so it was a smaller pond" of potential voice stars."
Macdonald grew up in Glasgow and was working as a bartender when she decided to turn out for an open casting call on a little Scottish film. She was in her late teens and figured auditioning would help work up her confidence to apply to drama school.
Instead, Macdonald landed`a career-launching role as a school girl seductress in "Trainspotting," an early film from Academy Award-winning director Danny Boyle ("Slumdog Millionaire").
Macdonald went on to mostly supporting and ensemble roles, among them "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2" and "Gosford Park."
"Brave" and a key role on HBO's acclaimed series "Boardwalk Empire" have given Macdonald the biggest exposure of her career. She also has a supporting role in Keira Knightley's upcoming adaptation of "Anna Karenina."
"I've worked for a long time now, and I've worked hard and quietly. I've been sort of well-known within the industry for certain films. It's great to be considered for roles that I might not have been a few years ago," Macdonald said.
"I go along doing my thing," she added, "and then these gifts are sort of given my way. I don't quite know what I've done to deserve them."