Tonight at the movies: A conversation with Rachel McAdams

Tonight at the movies
Published: May 20, 2011

Rachel McAdams is as down to earth as you can get for a “Hollywood” actress. Roles such as Regina in Mean Girls and Claire in Wedding Crashers helped put her on the map as an actress to be sought after that later landing her roles in films The Time Travelers Wife and Sherlock Holmes. As she walked into the press day roundtable interview at the Four Seasons it is hard not to notice the absolutely gorgeous dress that she is wearing. , an old-fashioned, curve hugging, lace dress in a beautiful shade of golden brown. When I compliment her on she immediately says, “I know, I love it. It is borrowed.” From there out our interview feels more like a conversation between a few old friends rather than an “interview.”

She has landed a role in Woody Allen’s film Midnight in Paris which was chosen as the opening film at Cannes this year. She talks about receiving an unexpected call from Allen, “I got a call that [Woody Allen] wanted to meet and I went into a complete shock. I went out to New York and we had a very brief meeting. He said I’d like you to play this part, she’s definitely not the object of desire, but I think she’s a lot of fun. Then he sort of said, but if you don’t want to do it, it’s fine, whatever. It was very surreal, because I never imagined…he would knock on my door.” After receiving the role McAdams did a bit of prep work, a mini Allen cram session. She describes her process, “ I tried to watch as many of his films as I could…[to] get a sense of the rhythm of the Woody Allen film, but ultimately I realized in the end that it was going to be a unique experience for me and different from the other films.” And when she arrived on set her experience couldn’t have been any better. She talks about working with Allen, “It was great to just kind of get in there with him, and realize that he’s incredibly funny, incredibly generous, happy to guide you if you want guidance, and happy to leave you alone if you feel confident in what you’re doing. [He] just creates these really fun great characters in these wild situations and lets you just go and play.”

When it was mentioned that Allen had said that he gave her free range that she required little direction. Her response is humble, “That’s very nice. He’s being very generous.” And then goes on to say, “I had to ask for it. [Laughter] It’s a wonderful quality that he’s very, very trusting and hires people because he thinks they are the best person for the job… The whole set had an ease to it and everyone felt really relaxed and comfortable. I think that makes for better work.”

It must have only made it that much more fun to be working in Paris. McAdams who says that she had been to Paris recently, “I had very briefly for fashion week in January. But January is very different from July in Paris. It was nice to revisit in the summer.” One can only imagine that working in Paris would make the job that much more enjoyable and she confirms this by saying, “I loved being [in Paris]. This job did not feel like work, because we were in museums. I felt like I was more on vacation. Go to the [Musee de] l’Orangerie and shooting at Giverny. Standing on that bridge with Owen and just a small film crew. No tourist, no one, no security really, it was just sort of hard to wrap your head around some days… They did take down some of the Picasso’s when we went to the museums, they put up some fakes, so I don’t think they totally trusted us, but it was extraordinary.”

Has she seen the finished film? “It did… I really appreciated that opening sequence. I think he captured Paris beautifully, you can tell he has a love for it. I think it really comes across. You don’t see that very often – you know. The opening credits…just take [their] time, and takes the city in, in the way that Parisians do… They slow down. They sit on those sidewalk café’s. They just drink it in. I really loved that… It kicks it off on the right foot I think. It is a love letter I think; it’s a love letter to Paris.

In the film McAdams play Inez, a woman whom she describes in this way, “Inez and I don’t have that in common. She doesn’t appreciate [Paris] as much as Gil. – That’s Owen’s character.”

When we get into discussing Allen’s style, talking about adlibbing and a free flowing script, McAdams is quick to chime in, “I think that his structure is so strong [that] you really can lean on that. I think a lot of great things can come out of adlibbing, but I think there tends to be a trend where that’s all that happens. I think that’s a shame, because there is a real skill to writing a scene, it doesn’t just appear. He’s so good at that… I really valued that we had that to work with. That there is a certain cadence and there is a certain rhythm to his dialogue that everyone’s come to love so much. Why mess with that? On the other hand, Owen is great at adlibbing as well, so it was balancing the two. I think Woody just loved what Owen was doing, and I think he loved having him play around with the text a little bit. [Allen] says if it feels right to you, go with it. So it’s not that strict.” And did she think that Owen Wilson channeled Allen in the film? She carefully answers, “I can only speak from my experience. I know he and Owen seem to get along really well. I think they really admire each other, and I think that spilled over somehow into Owen playing this part. I think he did a lovely job. But, in terms of an impersonation of Woody, I don’t think Owen was doing that personally, but that’s my opinion.

In the film Wilson’s character travel back in time, is there an era or a period that McAdams would like to revisit? Did she gain any insight from that portion of the film? “It was a valuable lesson; I would like to incorporate into my life. It’s part of why I do this job. I do get to go back in time. I get to get as close as you possible can. I’m always looking to do that in different periods, Sherlock Holmes was late 1800’s. I’d like to hit them all.” She continues by answering the question on our minds, does Sherlock Holmes II return to London? “We do, yes. Can I say that? [Laughter] Am I gonna get a phone call now?” She talks about her role in the sequel, “I just have a small cameo in this one. But it was nice to revisit [Adler]. It’s why I always thought I would like to do television, because you get really intimate [with the character]. I find often with film your just really get to know a person, they are really getting into sync in, and [then] you are wrapping a film. It was nice to bring her back and meditate on her a little more. I like that exercise.

Her calendar is definitely full as she talks about finishing one picture and moving onto the next, “We finished The Vow that was after Midnight In Paris and then I went and did a Terrence Malick film after that.” As far as what Malick’s film is about or the title, she says, “[It is] still untitled. I’ll find out when I see the film, but it’s a romance as far as I can tell. It’s a bit of a triangle between Ben Affleck’s character and Olga and myself.” She describes working with the infamous Malick, “Wonderful, so inspiring. It’s a very different way of working. I think it really services a real honesty and beauty in his films, and it was a great experience as an actor. Because, you have to be very honest, very vulnerable, take a leap and just hope someone will catch you and he does. Again, same thing with Woody, you can sort of just let yourself go and let them take you where they are going to take you, and trust that it will be interesting and compelling. You don’t have to do a lot in a weird way. Both great experiences.” The film also stars Javier Bardem whom she says she did not have the chance to work with, “Our characters never meet up. He plays a priest and he was gone by the time I got there, so we didn’t even meet.” Was it odd to meet and work with a director that has not been photographed in over thirty years that has this sort of mystic? She had this to say, “I guess you never really know anyone until you really get in there and work with them. I find that with any film I do. But he’s a very open, warm person. We spent a fair amount of time together before we got started. I got to know the town we were shooting in, as though I had lived there. There is great preparation involved with him.

McAdams had mentioned earlier in our conversation that she had thought television would be great, because you would have the opportunity to explore and go into more depth with a character. I was curious to know what character that she had played before would she like to take further. Her answer surprised me, “That’s a good question. I did this movie with Tim Robbins called The Lucky Ones, and at the end of the movie we go back — We are soldiers who are on leave from Iraq, and at the end we wind up going back. It’s very open ended, kind of sad. You don’t know what will happen to these people. It would be interesting to carry that story on and see how that went, where that went. She was really fun to play. Probably one of my favorite characters I’ve ever played. So yeah, that one.

When asked if there was any bit of advice that has stuck with her through her career and life, she says, “I’ve been given lots of great advice in my life.” But has she taken it? “That’s the bigger question… I think honesty, just as an actor being as honest and as present as you can be. And it’s one of the things I just loved so much about this film is about being present. Embracing the world that you find yourself in and not sort of spending too – I think it’s fair to spend time in the past and to romanticize thing, I think that that’s a fun past time, you know, but if it becomes that you’d rather have that than what you have now, that’s when it’s a little bit dangerous. So, yeah, I’ve taken real heart in that in this movie. And I really enjoyed that he’s exploring that.

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