Wall Street Journal
Published: August 18, 2006
Hollywood”s New Challenge: Getting Rachel McAdams To Say “I Do” to a Role
Minutes after auditioning Rachel McAdams for “Wedding Crashers,” director David Dobkin told the studio executive who had recommended her that she had to be hired. “She plays like a Stradivarius, man,” said Mr. Dobkin, who cast her in the 2005 comedy as the young socialite who sets a toxic bachelor straight.
These days, the director might have trouble getting Ms. McAdams to even consider showing up for an audition. Though she has only six major studio films under her belt, the 29-year-old Canadian actress has become a red-hot property. But she is also baffling some in ego-driven Hollywood for rejecting many of the high-profile, well-paying parts that young actresses are expected to jump at.
Ms. McAdams”s career-management strategy highlights the pitfalls of being a rising star today in the movie business, where balancing personal priorities with the building of a long-term career can be a tricky business. Hollywood has generated a bumper crop of promising new film talent in recent years only to see insiders write them off after they appear in movies considered either too commercial or crass — with the likes of Gwyneth Paltrow and Ben Affleck losing some cachet through overexposure or questionable creative calls. Twenty-somethings Jake Gyllenhaal and Scarlett Johansson, meanwhile, have improved their street cred by taking on complex films with respected directors. And then there”s Ms. McAdams: Representing the extremes of selectivity, the actress — whom more than one producer or studio executive has described as “the next Julia Roberts” — has the town in particularly high dudgeon.
But in an industry where rising stars are also increasingly quick to flame out, Ms. McAdams”s caution and patience may be the key to survival.
“She”s an interesting case study,” says Michael London, who produced last December”s dark comedy “The Family Stone,” in which Ms. McAdams plays an obnoxious younger sister in a New England family who bedevils her brother”s girlfriend, played by Sarah Jessica Parker. “I heard a lot of people say, “That girl better be careful because that auteur trip she”s on is going to hurt her career.” But I swear that girl doesn”t have an iota of artsy, auteur baggage in her. She just wants to be involved in movies that she enjoys and likes.”
Studio Chiefs Scrambling
Since her Hollywood debut in the 2002 comedy “The Hot Chick” with Rob Schneider, Ms. McAdams has been approached about a plethora of opportunities, ranging from Lois Lane in the recently released “Superman Returns” (the part eventually went to Kate Bosworth) to the love interest in the upcoming James Bond film “Casino Royale” (which went to actress Eva Green). Despite her declinations, studio chiefs all over town continue scrambling to work with her. “She has everything you want in a movie star — the talent, the looks, the accessibility,” says Marc Shmuger, chairman of Universal Pictures, which hasn”t been able to sign the actress to a movie. “People are both attracted to her and feel a kinship with her.”
Ms. McAdams relies on a small cadre of representatives to oversee her career. On the front lines is her longtime manager, Shelley Browning, who associates say fields many of the job inquiries that come the actress”s way, as well as handling her media relations. Although the actress signed on with the United Talent Agency late last year and the agency has presented her with numerous scripts and ideas, she hasn”t committed to much so far. Ms. McAdams”s representatives declined to make her available for this article.
Collaborating with the discerning Ms. McAdams can be a delicate matter. She threw a wrench in Vanity Fair magazine”s plans for its vaunted Oscar-season cover by walking away from the photo shoot last November after discovering the participants would be nude (though strategically obscured) — leading to a revamp of the cover and a parting of ways with her publicist. Ms. McAdams”s penchant for art-house films has made it hard to sell her on commercially driven projects, associates say, that could potentially boost her box-office clout and command a salary that some filmmakers now peg at $5 million or more.
Rich Silverman, a manager who has worked with young stars including Jennifer Garner and Tyra Banks, points to actors such as Meryl Streep and Keanu Reeves as ones who are focused on the long-term game. “They”re two different kinds of actors, and yet, they both have amazing career longevity, because they”re quality-driven,” says Mr. Silverman, who now runs his own firm, Edge Talent Group. “And so I think that Rachel McAdams is following that model, and is smart to do so. She”s not just relying on her looks, but is distinguishing herself as an actor.”
And her reluctance to engage in traditional movie publicity junkets, particularly where the press may ask personal questions, made the marketing of “The Family Stone” awkward at times. “She”s uncomfortable with the notion of exploiting her celebrity,” says Mr. London, the producer. “But from a more obliging artist we wouldn”t have gotten the performance we got.”
She”s also not shy about promoting the work of her boyfriend, actor Ryan Gosling, who appeared with her in the 2004 romance “The Notebook.” For a planned movie version of the best-selling novel “The Time Traveler”s Wife” in which Ms. McAdams may play the title character, she suggested to her representatives that Mr. Gosling might want to direct, say people familiar with the matter. (No decision has been made about the film”s director.) She also has agreed to play the part of a nun in a gritty drama he co-wrote and plans to direct. Called “Lord”s Resistant Army,” it”s adapted from a book about child soldiers in Uganda who are kidnapped and forced to fight. Mr. Gosling asked New Line Cinema executives to read the script this summer, and an official says the studio is considering making the film.
Takes the Bus
Supporters of Ms. McAdams say her willingness to prioritize her personal life makes her a breath of fresh air in such a work-obsessed industry. Despite the need to spend time in Los Angeles for meetings, for instance, she has refused to abandon her Toronto home. During her recent film shoot for “Marriage,” a low-budget, 1940s period drama, she”s been photographed waiting for a public bus. And rather than take a high-profile new film role to capitalize on the success of “Wedding Crashers,” which took in more than $200 million at the domestic box office, Mr. London says she spent a good chunk of last fall in Louisiana pitching in on Hurricane Katrina relief efforts.
Ms. McAdams is “trying to live a life first,” says J.C. Spink, who produced “Red Eye,” last summer”s airline-kidnapping thriller in which she starred. He adds that he could tell she was down to earth from her behavior on the set. Moments before an important scene was to be shot, Ms. McAdams took the time to chat with Mr. Spink”s mother, who was visiting one day, he recalls. “Rachel is a really nice person, which is half the battle,” he says.
So how does a frustrated studio executive win over the reluctant star? With a colorful script or a seasoned director. Sidney Kimmel Entertainment, the production company making “Marriage” for under $20 million, didn”t have a fat salary to offer, but it did have an intriguing script and an offbeat director of art-house films, Ira Sachs. So to persuade Ms. McAdams to make the film early this year, Mr. Sachs flew from New York to Los Angeles and made the sell over dinner, emphasizing the project”s Hitchcockian flavor and suggesting she screen old movies like the 1945 noir thriller “Leave Her to Heaven” and Hitchcock”s 1958 “Vertigo” to get a feel for the tone he was seeking. “We all sat on pins and needles for about a week or two,” says William Horberg, Kimmel”s president of production, “and then got the call back that she wanted to do it.”
Next up, according to people familiar with Ms. McAdams”s plans, could be “The Time Traveler”s Wife,” if the right director and co-star can be arranged, or possibly a Warner Bros. movie version of the 1960″s television series “Get Smart,” alongside comedian Steve Carell, who has agreed to do the film. But even as new and more compelling offers flow in, associates say her choosiness is unlikely to abate.
“She”s only going to pull the trigger when those things show up for her that are the right things,” says Mr. Dobkin, the “Wedding Crashers” director. “I don”t think she”s a career jockey.”