Published: August, 2005
Canadian Rachel McAdams makes a sharp turn from comedic straight girl in Wedding Crashers to thriller heroine in Wes Craven’s airplane fright film Red Eye.
This is the summer of Rachel McAdams. To get their name in a sentence like that, most young actors would commit a felony.
But the unassuming, chameleon-like Ontarian seems like she’s just a little wary of taking the hype that comes with two major movies releases too seriously.
“It’s kind of strange to believe any projection outside of yourself,” says McAdams, who starred in last month’s raucous comedy Wedding Crashers, leads this month’s airborne thriller Red Eye, and recently took home an armload of through work in last year’s The Notebook and Mean Girls. It’s a little dangerous to see yourself the way other people do.
“I don’t mean to sound ungrateful. It’s really lovely that people are thinking that way. And it’s important, obviously, in terms of my career and getting other jobs that people think I’m competent,” adds the actor her wide smile framing self-deprecating laughter. “So I appreciate that very much. But for my own sanity, if I put all my eggs in one basket, hoping that I will get to work for the rest of my life … that’s so rare, and if it doesn’t happen I’ll be incredibly disappointed. So I guess I just try to enjoy it now. You just try to do things that speak to you, and hopefully it’ll work out. I have faith in the universe, I have faith that things will be okay.”
While faith is nice, McAdams may not need it. According to Wedding Crashers director David Dobkin – who, after auditioning hundreds of other actors for the role cast her as the one sensible person in his otherwise nutso comedy – McAdams has the talent to take any path she chooses.
“Rachel McAdams is the real deal,” Dobkin says. “This girl’s gonna be huge. And it’s her choice. She’s gonna be Rachel McAdams, her own original thing, but she can be Julia Roberts if she wants. This girl can do both.”
Rob Schneider, too. Her first major film. The Hot Chick saw McAdams playing a nasty snob who’s forced to live in Schneider’s body after being cursed. McAdams played a similar character in Mean Girls, but then started to showcase her impressive range as The Notebook‘s passionate ’40’s débutante, Wedding Crashers‘ spunky straight-woman and now in Red Eye as a workaholic hotel manager coerced into aiding an assassination on an airplane.
And she’s done every one with different coloured hair, to boot.
“You can see the roots,” McAdams cheerfully demonstrates by pulling back her dark brown curls. She’s wearing a short, patterned jacket with floral embroidery on the sleeves, a black blouse and tight jeans over her thin frame. “There they are! Kinda dark,” McAdams admits that her playfulness masks jitters about a crucial period in her career.
“It’s nerve-wracking because I realize that they’re coming on the heels of Mean Girls and The Notebook, which are going to be special films in my life, I feel,” she says of this summer’s releases.
“They won’t be all be that way. But it’s nice to have the opposition. I like that I did a comedy, and then a serious thriller.”
Ever the student – she has a BFA in theater from Toronto’s York University – McAdams was delighted to get some lessons in film fright from Red Eye director Wes Craven, the man behind the Nightmare on Elm Street and Scream movies.
“I learned an entirely new skill bout how film making and suspense are related,” she says, “the way that you use a camera and the way that you use your vessel to terrorize an audience. That was interesting I’ve never, ever touched that stuff before.”
Red Eye starts out looking like it might turn into a sweet romantic-comedy. Lisa’s (McAdams) flight to Miami is delayed, but while waiting she meets cute fellow passenger Jackson (Betman Begins villain Cillian Murphy). When they finally board, guess what, their scats are right next to each other. But Lisa soon finds out that it’s no coincidence – in fact, Jackson set the whole thing up. He needs her to help him kill another passenger, the Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security, and if she doesn’t comply he’ll kill her father. To prove how serious he is, Jackson presents Lisa with her dad’s wallet, stolen from his desk at work.
McAdams says she likes the physicality of suspense movies. “I loved the action sequences, running through an airport in high heels and all that stuff. That was really fun. And there was the opposition of it being a two-hander [theater term for a play with two main roles] and being this really confined space having to look ino this very scary person’s eyes all day and communicate the fact that you’re, y’know, scared sh-tless.”
In Wedding Crashers, as an unhappily engaged woman who falls in love with Owen Wilson’s sweet but completely bogus wedding guest. McAdams had to access a different set of skills.
“I guess your job as an actor is to relate to every character and find something inside of yourself that understands what their plight is.” she explains. “But then, also, to find something about them that you didn’t know before.”
“Like, I’ve never been with a jerk for a long period of time [laughs]. I’m pretty though that way. I’m pretty picky. And I don’t think I’ve ever been duped.”
Except, perhaps, herself when she thought she could star in musicals. A competitive figure skater in her youth, McAdams’ drive to perform was further engaged when she enrolled in a London, Ont., theater camp one summer.
“I attended when I was about 12,” she recalls. “That’s were I got bit, where I started doing Shakespeare. Actually, they had these categories at the camp, and I started doing Disney musicals. I wanted to be on Star Search. I wanted to be a Broadway star. But there were all these eight-year-old kids around me in the Disney group who were singing and dancing, they were like the next Annies. I just cried every day. It was awful because I can’t sing. I can’t dance. I don’t now what I was thinking.”
“So a director came up to me and said. ‘Maybe you’d be happier in the Shakespeare group’ I said, ‘I can’t do Shakespeare’ She said, ‘Well you can’t sing and dance!’ So I went and did some Shakespeare an it was incredible.” Ironically, McAdams’ first filmed appearances was on a Disney television series, The Famous Jett Jackson.
Diehard fans of Canadian cinema may have caught her in the one CanCon pic she did before hitting it big in U.S., 2002’s Perfect Pie. She earned a Genie nomination for her supporting role as the teen version of Wendy Crewson’s small-town comedy wife.
Despite all of her recent success in the States, McAdams still calls Toronto home. Asked if that way was a particularly down-to-earth. Canadian thing to do, the actress wasn’t sure.
“I don’t know, if it’s Canadian specifically,” she says, “But it’s good to distance yourself from the place where you work. If we lived at work all the time we would be insane. So it’s good to go home and just step back.”
Her next film is The Notebook, due out in November, and starring Luke Wilson as a guy whose family doesn’t like his girlfriend. McAdams plays one of his sisters. After that, who knows? Now in her mid-20’s, McAdams refuses to rule out playing yet another teenager.
“I would lov to go back in high school,” she chirps. “It’s always fun to go back. Especially when you’re 26; it makes you feel young again. Yeah, I would love to keep the age range open-ended as long as possible.”
With uniform praise coming from collaborators, critics and fans alike, all possibilities appear open to Rahel McAdams. She might pretend to be more concerned than excited about it all, but she also clearly appreciates that things are going exactly the way she likes.
“I don’t want to disappoint” she says in response to rising chorus of accolades. “There’s a lot of pressure there. But it’s very, very flattering.”
“I guess you try to get into movie not thinking how people are going t react to them. I really hope everyone enjoys to them. I really hope everyone enjoys everything I make, but you just have to get into it kind of selfishly, like this does something for me personally and, hapens it translates.”