Published: October 26, 2016
Doctor Strange, Cumberbitches and women in Hollywood
Over the years, Rachel McAdams has starred in some of our favourite films. From her brilliant role as Regina George in Mean Girls, to the one that broke all our hearts in The Notebook, not to mention our favourite book-to-film adaptation The Time Traveller’s Wife and this year’s critically acclaimed Spotlight.
But this time she’s appearing opposite Benedict Cumberbatch in Marvel’s latest film, Doctor Strange as Christine Palmer/Night Nurse and it might just be our new favourite superhero film.
Ahead of the release, we talked to Rachel McAdams to discuss working with Benedict, women in Hollywood and speaking in Italian.
Tell us about your character Christine Palmer
The script packs a lot in in a short amount of time. Scott [Derrickson] was really interested in not telling the typical love story between my character and Benedict’s [Cumberbatch], that we would pick up where they’ve been through a whole relationship and come out the other side. They’re friends now and they have us a lot more history to start with because we didn’t have many scenes to establish where we had been and where we were gong.
They’re very different…
Christine and Doctor Strange are very different kinds of doctors, you know she’s very boots on the ground, trying to save every life that comes across your path and you don’t discriminate who deserves that and who doesn’t. Strange is much more particular, he wants the glory and the gold that go along with it. But I think they have mutual respect for one another and really deeply bound friendship between them.
How did you prepare for the role?
The thing I love most about my job is that you get to live so many lives in one lifetime. I have a bit of ADD when it comes to things and variety is the spice of life for me. My mum was a nurse and I don’t posses that gene, but I was fascinated with how she could go to work everyday and do this extraordinary job which takes real guts to do it and so I was excited to dive into the medical training and I read this really great book called Do No Harm by one of the leading neurosurgeons in the world, his name is Hendry Marsh. And then I got to shadow a really great female neurosurgeon in Toronto and a neurosurgeon in St Marks in London who taught me how to do sutures, which is find of like knitting. It was very meditative. When I was bored on set I would just pull out my stitching wire – I don’t even know what it’s called, some doctor I am. It was great to jump into another world that I knew nothing about.
You’ve turned down a lot of big roles, Bond girl, Andy in The Devil Wears Prada, what makes you choose roles?
I do think there’s this hand guiding you. I guess I feel like I have to connect to the character because that’s my job in all this, it’s a moving part and it is collaborative and that’s what I have to bring to the table and do well. Timing is everything too, you know I might have connected to it a few years before but you move on to other things, so I just try to make sure that there’s this passion for it within me and also that it’s a little bit scary. You have to find this nice balance where it’s not too scary and I’d be a basket case, that’s not going to work but at the same time that it’s just out of reach so you have to really stretch to get there.
In Doctor Strange you have to deal with a lot of special effects, like operating on Benedict Cumberbatch whilst his spirit is hovering about his body…
When I read that scene on the page I was simultaneously daunted and excited about it because it was like nothing I’d ever seen before. It was so fresh and different and weird and Scott had such a vision for this film that he really laid out from day one for us. We had someone much much smarter than me who would come over with a computer and show me what it was going to look like. It was like choreographing a dance really. Benedict was there for a lot of it he was up on wires flying around the room for hours on end, so actually it wasn’t that hard.
They changed The Ancient One’s gender. Do you think that was important?
Yeah I think its very forward thinking and it was a beautiful switch and it really updates the material to have Tilda [Swinton] play The Ancient One, I think she’s the perfect choice: she’s a very enlightened, magical person in real life so I think she nailed it. I believe in playing all kinds of different characters, you know characters that are fragile and can be strong as well, but at the same time when it’s called for, Christine is very heroic and it’s nice to see that she is smart and capable and she goes toe-to-toe with Doctor Strange and that’s kind of the allure of the relationship as well. That was very important to Scott to have strong female characters.
With the next Jessica Jones series on Netflix they are going to have all female directors. Is that something that you find important when looking for the roles?
I haven’t worked with nearly enough female directors and I would love to expand on that more. Everyday we are moving towards having access to that, so I’m really exited about the conversations that are coming up and where we’re headed.
Do you think things are changing for women in Hollywood?
Yeah it’s moving, sometimes it moves slowly and you have to be patient, which us women are good at, fortunately, but yeah it’s exciting that it is such a topic of conversation. I think the way to everything is education, knowledge and that is power so keep chatting about it.
What was it like to work with Benedict and the fan mayhem that surrounds him?
We were kind of in the middle of nowhere filming so the Cumberfans didn’t want to come out as far as we were, filming in a tank factory in Twickenham or something. I lived in Chiswick, Twickenham, we were all over the place – I got to know London really well. Even though it’s a Marvel film and the scale is massive, you get into this little bubble. Often it was just Benedict and me and Scott in a hospital room having a chat, so you kind of lose sight of how big it is and then you go to the world premiere and you stand on the red carpet and it’s insane and we’re brought back to the reality, which is stranger, but its easy to see why he’s so beloved and why he has Cumberbitches.
Is the red carpet as weird as it looks?
It does get a little easier, like anything I guess the more you do it, but I always have some butterflies before I go out there. But you can’t think about it too much, you have to march ahead with it, but it’s so fun and it’s a weird place to have the reunion. Sometimes that’s when you see people for the first time after a year, after you’ve gone through this strange cathartic experience and whatever happened on the film, then you see them on the red carpet, everyone’s watching and you’re like oh hey how’s life? So it is an odd place for a reunion with the film family that you’ve created.
You’ve been part of some incredible casts, in some incredible locations, what stands out for you?
I really enjoyed all of them because you get more, it’s not just visiting like you would for vacation, you get to spend 2-3 months there and get to know the place really well. Hawaii was incredible, I had a small part and I was there for a long time, it was a dream job and I got to go to three of the four islands, so that was really phenomenal. My first film was in Italy, I got really spoiled and it was the first time I’d taken a plane and I was straight out of theatre school, I didn’t even actually finish theatre school because I was off to do this film, it was called My Name is Tanino, an Italian movie, and I had to learn Italian for it.
Wow, are you fluent?
Nope, it’s like school you take it all in and then it’s gone, but yeah eating gelato and filming on the beach and thinking, yeah this is a great job! I’ve never gotten back to filming in Italy, it was such an anomaly you know, but Hawaii was definitely a favorite time.
Is there a particular role you wished you’d had?
I really love the role that Elizabeth Taylor has in Giant. Of course there’s the Scarlett O’Hara and the classic ones that everyone wants to play, but I just got to do an audible book of Anne of Green Gables, which is one of my favorite fictional characters. I just bow down to her she’s so phenomenal. It was so fun, totally different set of skills, which I found out I actually don’t possess, but yeah you get to do things you’d never imagine you’d be doing.
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