The Toronto Star
Published: December 19, 2009
Rachel McAdams went back to her Southwestern Ontario childhood – when she was a little girl fascinated with competitive figure skating – to help her with the elaborate fight “choreography” in the artful Victorian thriller Sherlock Holmes, opening Christmas Day.
As daring femme fatale Irene Adler, the mysterious siren who holds Holmes (Robert Downey Jr.) in thrall and can more than hold her own in a scuffle, the star raised in St. Thomas, Ont., had to put some hustle in her Victorian bustle.
“I loved the fight scenes and the action stuff,” McAdams, 31, said from New York, before walking the red carpet for the Gotham premiere of the movie. “(Director) Guy Ritchie is a great fight choreographer and I don’t know if it’s just from my old figure-skating days, but it was fun to map out all the graceful – albeit violent – dances.”
The American-born Adler is described in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Holmes story A Scandal In Bohemia as having “the face of the most beautiful of women, and the mind of the most resolute of men.”
McAdams actively pursued Ritchie to cast her for the role of a 19th-century globetrotting spy who is dubbed as being “dangerously alluring” on the Sherlock Holmes publicity poster.
“I was really excited about her,” McAdams said. “There was lots to do in the story and I felt like in Guy Ritchie’s hands, this woman would be really interesting. He does feisty characters so well.”
So does McAdams, who first caught filmgoers’ eye in 2004’s Mean Girls, where she starred as the bitchy Regina George, leader of a gang of self-absorbed high-school queen bees.
She earned solid notices in the romantic drama The Notebook (starring opposite ex-boyfriend Ryan Gosling) the same year.
McAdams followed that up by playing Claire in The Wedding Crashers in 2005, and her role as acerbic Amy Stone in The Family Stone drew critical raves. Even in movies that draw more jeers than cheers (State of Play, The Lucky Ones, The Time Traveler’s Wife), there is praise for McAdams’ acting chops. In April, she was named the Female Star of the Year by the National Association of Theatre Owners at the 2009 ShoWest Convention in Las Vegas.
Irene more than holds her own against Holmes and his sleuthing partner, Dr. Watson (Jude Law) in the movie. But Watson isn’t thrilled to have her around. Jealousy, perhaps? And Holmes reacts similarly to Watson’s fiancee, Mary (Mrs. Henderson Presents’ Kelly Reilly).
But that doesn’t deter these determined women, who have their own agendas. “She’s a little bit elusive and so it’s hard to know where she’s coming from,” added McAdams of Irene.
“She has these ulterior motives and she’s a very spontaneous creature and … struggles to get by in a man’s world.”
McAdams said she thoroughly enjoyed working with Downey and Law.
“It’s kind of cute; they have this really great relationship,” she observed of Holmes and Watson, who are prone to the kind of bickering seen between old married couples. “Jude and Robert collaborate with each other well and it was so much fun to watch on set.”
McAdams also had fun playing with her character’s effect on the usually overconfident Holmes. “She turns the tables on him and Robert played that really well. It’s the only time you see him at a loss for words,” she says, laughing. “He becomes a bit bumbling. He turns more like Watson, who’s not great with women.”
The amount of action in the movie meant McAdams was called on to do some demanding physical work – and it started in her dressing room. She was laced into a very constrictive corset each morning, which was in turn topped with a dress with voluminous skirts and a bustle.
“It was very Scarlett O’Hara,” she said of the ritual to lace up her stays. “I started to cheat, to push my stomach out or eat a big breakfast of oatmeal so it wouldn’t be as tight. But they caught on to me.”
Every morning after getting dressed, it was time to get dirty, McAdams joked. When the makeup crew finished, she ended up looking like an urchin from Oliver Twist. “Victorian London was just so dirty and grimy and I was covered in fake dirt and mud and blood. I came to really enjoy it.”
As laborious as it was to dress for her role, McAdams was thrilled with the experience. “It was really fun. I love dressing up and the costumes really informed the character.”
She’s all dressed up in another kind of high style for the January cover of Vogue. Inside, she’s a stunner in a skin-tight floral print Dolce & Gabbana dress with ruby stilettos. In another, McAdams wears a gauzy crimson blouse with black bra underneath.
“That’s not something I could have ever foreseen,” she said of the high-fashion cover and pictorial. “It was really exciting for me. I still can’t believe it happened.”
McAdams, who has graced plenty of other magazine covers before, is perhaps most famous for the one she didn’t appear on: she bowed out of a Vanity Fair cover photo with Keira Knightley and Scarlett Johansson when she discovered they would all be nude. Designer Tom Ford stepped in, fully clothed, and took her spot.
McAdams, who is something of a hair-colour chameleon, has adopted a wide range of shades from platinum to red (she’s brunette in Sherlock Holmes). She’s blond for the Vogue shoot.
“I don’t know any more,” she laughed when asked what her natural hair colour is. “I started out blond and graduated to something more in between blond and brown.”
If McAdams sounds grounded, it’s because she is. She was thrilled that her family – including her parents – would be in New York to join her for the Sherlock Holmes premiere. “They’ve always been really supportive,” said McAdams, recalling that “it was pretty dramatic” the day her folks dropped her off at York University to start school.
The family’s premiere plans included getting red-carpet ready together at the hotel, and then enjoying champagne after the movie.
McAdams admitted she still has to do a reality check sometimes when she ponders her success. She never thought when she was growing up in a small town, a self-confessed soap opera addict who loved to skate and was in high-school shows, that one day her dreams of being a Hollywood star would come to pass.
“It’s pretty phenomenal. I pinch myself, yes,” McAdams said.
© 2009 Toronto Star | Written by Linda Barnard | No copyright infringment intended.