The Post and Courier
Published: February 19, 2003
Consult the closest encyclopedia. Go ahead, we’ll wait. That’s it … Volume L. If a photo of Rachel McAdams does not adorn the entry for “lovely young actress,” return the book for a refund. It’s an absurd omission.
All the hallmarks are there. The fresh face and 10-candlepower smile. Silky voice. Tinkling laugh. Great figure. A breezy enthusiasm that could charm a cobra, not to mention a cast, crew and onlookers at a downtown set.
It’s a sparkling clear day on Broad Street, and even at rest, McAdams looks for all the world like a star in the making, something the stage-trained, Ontario-born actress fervently would like to realize with “The Notebook,” her first leading role in a major mainstream picture.
Set in the coastal Carolinas, the film is drawn from Nicholas Sparks’ best-selling novel of the same name, bearing his signature romanticism but with characters expanded and deepened in the screenplay.
“It’s just the most beautiful love story,” says McAdams, distinctively turned out in ’40s attire. “It’s such a miraculous thing. And the fact that the story takes place over so many years gives it another dimension. But in the book, the parts played by the young people are over quite quickly. Fortunately, for the film, my part was extended greatly.”
Winning the role in the first place was a triumph for the native of St. Thomas, a small town midway between Toronto and Detroit. Getting to play a romantic lead was a bonus. What does she find most compelling about Allie, a role she shares (in different eras) with Gena Rowlands?
“Oh, her wardrobe! No, it’s her world. She is at a place in her life where all things are possible. Life is full of promise and possibilities. Playing her is really exciting to me.”
The book centered on Noah Calhoun (played by Ryan Gosling), a rural Tar Heel who returned home from World War II to restore a plantation home, only to find himself haunted by images of the beautiful girl (McAdams) he met 14 years earlier. The film chronicles the odyssey of these two young lovers, who unexpectedly are reunited after the war. Their story is revealed years later to a woman in a Southern nursing home, told by a gentleman who visits regularly to read her stories from a mysterious notebook.
Working with talented young co-stars like Gosling, James Marsden and Kevin Connolly was challenging enough. To be in the company of veteran actors of the caliber of Rowlands, Joan Allen, James Garner and Sam Shepard was another matter entirely.
“It was very intimidating at first. I mean, I studied Sam Shepard’s plays at the university, studied his lectures. To suddenly be on the same film with him was amazing.”
Like her character, McAdams is riding a bit of a whirlwind. Less than a year ago, she was in Canada trying to shift her career into high. She had done stage work and telefilms such as “Guilt by Association” opposite Mercedes Ruehl. Then just before touching down in Los Angeles, she had a featured role in Barbara Willis Sweete’s Toronto Film Festival entry “Perfect Pie,” based on the play by celebrated Canadian playwright Judith Thompson. It was a story, like “The Notebook,” which also is told over a span of years.
“I studied Judith Thompson in school as well. She is quite well- known in Canada. Her work has edge and is very dark at times. Doing that film sometimes was very intense.”
So was some of the physical comedy she was called on to perform for her previous movie, the broad comedy “The Hot Chick,” opposite comic actor Rob Schneider. “The Notebook” offers a radically different tone, of course, not to mention its own set of demands.
Earlier in the week, McAdams was cutting a rug with co-star Marsden for a scene set at a USO mixer. Their swing dance –a dynamic variant of the jitterbug — was a show stopper. (Maybe they should have cast her in “Chicago,” too). After five or six takes, McAdams was still smiling, a little giddy, enjoying the whoops and applause from an appreciative crew.
She’s felt “stretched” as an actress in multiple ways, a sensation that has grown only during a production that began in November and will wrap around the end of this month. “At first I put a real pressure on myself to be a full vessel, to be carefree and wild and embody that sense of a summer love. But I feel I began to hit the right note (on the shoot) when I accepted that I was doing the best work I could.”
McAdams steadfastly refuses to allow herself to ponder the what- ifs. To be sure, “The Notebook” could prove to be a pivotal moment in her fledgling career. It’s a high-profile role in a high-profile picture, surrounding her with skilled professionals on both sides of the camera.
“I try to take it in stride, but it is important that that sort ofthing not be on my mind,” she says. “You start fretting that ‘If this scene isn’t good, then the whole movie will be ruined.’ I can’t go there, because it would just snowball on me. But sometimes you definitely think about what a wonderful opportunity this is and how it might change your life.”
While not Southern California, the prospect of fall and winter in the South seemed fairly inviting for McAdams.
Then came January. Sustaining her focus outdoors during some of the colder days’ shooting was not easy, even for one accustomed to frigid weather.
“Two seconds after they call, ‘Action,’ you’re feeding off your acting partner and not feeling the cold. It’s amazing how the cold doesn’t hit you again until they say, ‘Cut.’ I’m sure it’s not that way for everyone on the sidelines, and I didn’t feel that way so much when the script called for me to jump in the water — that was a wake-up call. Back to reality. But usually when you’re in the middle of a scene, it’s different.”
McAdams definitely is inhabiting the moment, but she looks forward to mixing it up, doing theater as well as features.
“Doing stage is a different animal. So is television. And it’s interesting to look back on it as you learn other skills in other mediums, which is exciting. I would love to go back to theater eventually — not that I conquered theater, which is the great thing about it. It will always challenge you. It was just time to do try something else.”
As for her next project, there’s no rush. And no specter of unemployment.
After “The Notebook,” McAdams will take time to clear her mental slate.
“I’d like to take a little bit of time away at the end of the film. I usually like to travel, really travel, taking my backpack and heading out by myself for a month. It’s not always possible, but it’s definitely welcome. It’s also great to go home and do simple things like going to the grocery store. The funny thing is, I feel like I’m home now, right here. I can’t believe how much I’m going to miss Charleston. You get so comfortable that it can be little disconcerting when it’s all over.”
Thanks to Laura for donating