The Globe and Mail: Rising star keeps her feet on the ground

The Globe and Mail
Published: July 7, 2004

Gayle MacDonald finds Ontario actress and The Notebook star Rachel McAdams laughs off her newfound celebrity

On screen, she’s played a cutthroat high-school sociopath (Mean Girls ). In The Hot Chick , she traded bodies with Rob Schneider and nailed the role of a bitchy, spoiled brat. In Rachel McAdams’ most recent film, the 1940s-era tearjerker, The Notebook , she’s a gorgeous Southern belle, with spunk, who falls in love with fellow Canadian actor, Ryan Gosling.

As a package, one might expect a gal with attitude, maybe even some airs. In person, McAdams, who hails from the sleepy Southern Ontario town of St. Thomas, is impossibly beautiful, and impossibly sweet . . . seemingly with gallons of maple syrup pumping through her veins.
In the past two years, her career’s skyrocketed, from bit roles in TV shows such as Shotgun Love Dolls to recently wrapping a big budget feature film with two of comedy’s wunderkinds, Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn. Who could blame a girl if that kind of meteoric success went to her head?

Not McAdams, who seems implacably grounded, and relatively unfazed by it all. Her face is on billboards worldwide. She’s in People magazine and Entertainment Weekly, and her home town wants to name a street and building (or two) after her. She just laughs it off.

Indeed, in Toronto yesterday for an interview to promote The Notebook , currently in theatres, she admits she’s taking the summer off, plans to go camping in Ontario’s north and buy a house in this city, where her sister Kayleen (who will soon be studying cosmetology) will probably room with her.

Why choose to live in Toronto when she could make roots in Malibu or Santa Monica? Simply, McAdams says, because she thinks it’s the wiser thing to do. “I just think it’s helpful in terms of maintaining some kind of normalcy and balance,” says the 27-year-old, whose dad Lance is a mover, and mom Sandy, a nurse. “It allows work and play to be very separate,” she says, shrugging her slim shoulders, clad in a faded jean jacket. “I can work from anywhere. I can read scripts from anywhere, do phone interviews from anywhere. This is where my family and friends are. It’s just home. I feel very Canadian. I just can’t leave it.”

McAdams is tall and wafer slim, with an eclectic fashion sense. She’s teamed a fifties-style, blowsy black skirt (decorated with pink stars) with flower-topped stilettos. Her movie-star mane of long blonde hair (seen in The Hot Chick and Mean Girls ) is now a deep, chestnut brown, and cut in a sleek pageboy. Besides the smooth complexion and bee-stung lips, the most striking thing about McAdams is her eyes. Deep blue, they’re reminiscent of Elizabeth Taylor’s. They’re direct, and unblinking.

This girl doesn’t pose or pretend much. When you ask a question, you get a straight answer. Which is probably part of the reason why the directors who have worked with her in Hollywood (Mark Waters, Nick Cassavetes and Tom Brady) have generally raved — about her geniality on set, her versatility and her work ethic. Some publications have already dubbed her the new It Girl. The Sunday Times recently gushed, “she’s a stunner who can really act.”

McAdams rolls her eyes, and giggles. She’s the first to admit the past two years have been one hell of a ride. But she’s still more impressed by the folk she’s working with than herself. In The Notebook she was in awe of the professionalism and class of James Garner and Gena Rowlands. In Dave Dobkin’s The Wedding Crashers , she says she learned at the feet of comedic pros such as Wilson and Vaughn, whom she describes “as polar opposites who complement each other in a very bizarre way.”

And, oh yes, there was also Christopher Walken. “He’s really interesting,” she says, choosing her words carefully. “He really likes to shake things up. One day, he was on this oinking thing. It was working for him, and oddly, it was working for the rest of us too because it was just getting us laughing. He’d just say, ‘Oink. Oink. Oink. Oink.’ In the most random way. But then I started to understand his technique,” she says, smiling. “He was throwing himself off his footing right before the action. And always something interesting would come of it.”

McAdams says drama, the gut-wrenching roles such as her turn as a pining debutante in The Notebook , come easier than comedy. But she likes to mix things up to keep things fresh. “I’m pretty selfish. I like to do things that challenge me and that evoke something in me. I always gravitated to drama naturally,” says McAdams, who studied theatre at Toronto’s York University.

Until McAdams burst out of the acting block, St. Thomas’s most famous daughter was Helen Shaver, the recent Canadian Walk of Fame recipient. Growing up, McAdams says Shaver was the town’s pride and joy. “Helen goes to my godmother’s church,” adds the younger actress. “I’ve never had the pleasure of meeting her. But my godmother gives us full reports after Sunday mass.”

Now, she admits town officials are calling daily to pay tribute and organize charity functions in her name. She’s glad to do the charitable work, she adds, but is uncomfortable with the other. “They’re very proud and very supportive, and I’m glad of that. It’s funny, you know, the further you go away from your community, the more I feel I’m becoming a part of it, which is nice.”

As far as she’s concerned, her first major break was The Notebook , based on the Nicholas Sparks novel. That role, she adds, was a godsend. “Nick [who is Rowlands’ son] encouraged us to just have fun, and be free to make bold choices. He told me I could never do too much, I could only do too little. So having that kind of freedom and space to play in was invaluable. . . .”

I would have liked to have thought that [celebrity] would not have changed me. You assume it won’t knock you off your feet, but it does,” she admits quietly. “It kind of knocks the wind out of you. The truth is the ripple effect is so much wider now. It’s exciting, and great, and daunting. All at the same time.”

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