Published: October 13, 2013
Is it ever a good idea to cycle in heels? Rachel McAdams thinks so, and it’s her movie-star suite at the top of the Mandarin Oriental in London that we’re sitting in.
“I do heels in the purse, wear the flip-flops on the bike sometimes, but I prefer the heels; it feels bad-ass,” she says, with a wicked smile, reaching an elegant hand towards a silver teapot.
Then the other Rachel – the cautious, sensible one who took two years out of her career at its peak to be ‘normal’ again – appears.
“But then you’re outside the restaurant trying to put your heels on,” she says, frowning, as if no amount of bad-assery could be worth that, to be honest.
This is Rachel all over, at once bold and fearless, hesitant and cautious – and you never know which one you’re going to get.
It’s premiere day and the entire production crew of McAdams’ new film, About Time – the latest from Richard ‘Notting Hill’ Curtis – have gathered at the Mandarin to get ready.
Outside in the corridor, PR girls and people from the film company are rustling around issuing commands to lackeys.
Actor Bill Nighy has sent a strongly worded request that his family be met “from the car on arrival at this evening’s reception. It’s important”, and Curtis and his producer, Eric Fellner, are “lunching with Bill upstairs. Would Rachel like to join them?”
Well, Bill isn’t lunching upstairs, because I just spotted the old rogue shambling down the corridor, taking a cursory glance around and vanishing into a room for a crafty lunchtime nap.
And Rachel, says her assistant, has ordered lunch to her suite.
There’s no hustle and bustle in McAdams’ suite; it is only calm, and we are talking about love and Valentino – two words that could not look prettier together. She’s wearing a coat dress from the autumn collection.
“Y’know, this old thing,” she says, and we laugh because we both know it’s borrowed.
She reminds me a little of the Queen – poised and serious – but then she’ll break out that smile and it’s so enormous and dazzling, I’m almost flung against the walls.
I feel rather lucky to be here. You don’t see much of her outside the official actor circuit. She’s never been one for staged paparazzi shots or showbiz gossip, preferring – like Madonna and the supermodel Linda Evangelista – to communicate with the public mostly via her choice of hairstyle.
In her first role, in 2004’s Mean Girls, it was a bitchy pale blonde with bangs. In The Notebook, it was Southern belle dark-strawberry russet with waves. When she was going out with Ryan Gosling, she was mostly a secure, happy brunette. With Michael Sheen, it was proper screen-siren blonde. But today it’s a brilliant tonged copper, making her pale skin glow like the moon.
“It’s better to experiment with it when you’re not working, so you’re not faced with having to go on camera with a disaster,” she says.
In the new film, it’s the boy – played by the new Hugh Grant, Domhnall Gleeson – who’s the redhead.
The story goes that Gleeson’s character, Tim, finds he has the gift of time travel and uses it to, among other tricks, get the girl. The girl, Mary, played by McAdams, has a mouse-brown bob, signifying that while she is beautiful, she’s also dependable and a good bet.
This is a classic Curtis family-values film; the couple a reassuring nod to the possibilities of long-term love.
“I love that he [Curtis] didn’t want the couple to fall apart,” says McAdams, 34. “He said, ‘Can we not have the dramatic we-almostlost-each-other [plot]? Can we have a couple that expresses something more stable?’ I loved Tim and Mary for that. It’s more a question of ‘Let’s be each other’s greatest support, because life is going to get hard and lots of things are going to crumble around us, so let’s try to be strong within that together.’ It has that certainty.”
Curtis couldn’t have found a more suitable accomplice in McAdams, the movie star boys believe they most stand a chance of finding next door.
Her longing to be that girl – despite all of her pesky success – is notorious. That two-year hiatus, some time after The Notebook, came with the quote, “If you want to play normal people, you need to have a normal life.”
On another occasion, she told an interviewer that her perfect day out would be “riding her bike to the cinema and then sitting down for a glass of wine and quinoa salad”.
Was this why, in February, she broke up with Welsh actor Michael Sheen? The pair met on the set of Midnight in Paris in 2010, although they made it known that they were only friends until the shoot had wrapped.
It can’t have been easy, and not only because, as Gosling fans would all agree, Sheen wasn’t her sexier, cooler ex.
She lives in Toronto, Canada – not so far from where she grew up near Ontario with her truck-driver dad, nurse mum, and sister and brother – while Sheen lives between Los Angeles and Wales. She always said how challenging the long-distance thing is.
Add to the complex mix Lily, the 14-year-old daughter Sheen shares with Kate Beckinsale.
Yet she always said she “loved the British sense of humour”, and they looked happy together at premieres. But now it’s over anyway, and her hair is brilliant pink, which must mean she’s having a good time.
“Actually, I just like it to be healthy,” she says.
Was there ever a more perplexing actor? Sometimes you do wonder if her inability to make up her mind about anything is the reason why, more than 10 years after it began and despite her undeniable beauty, smarts, talent and chutzpah, she isn’t, well, a lot more famous than she is.
Directors have always adored her, speaking of her “uncanny warmth on screen” and how she “radiates life”. She is the only actor ever to have been cast by the two screen masters Terrence Malick and Woody Allen; the latter on the glowing recommendation of her most ardent champion, Diane Keaton.
(“There aren’t a lot of girls out there with that much sex appeal and beauty who can also be comic,” said Allen.)
Yet, her career is a study in doing things on your own terms, which doesn’t always add up to being top of the A-list.
Like the time, around the end of 2005, when, after outshining Lindsay Lohan in Mean Girls and breaking all those hearts in The Notebook, Vanity Fair invited her to be on the cover of its Young Hollywood issue with Keira Knightley and Scarlett Johansson.
And then, when she turned up at the shoot and found the other actors being photographed nude – I remember this cover, it was very elegant and beautiful – she walked out of the studio.
Knightley commented very sweetly: “Rachel just said, ‘No, I’m not into that.’ She’s a lovely girl and I really respect her for doing that.” And you absolutely got her point.
But then there was her hiatus when she reportedly turned down Eva Green’s role in Casino Royale, Anne Hathaway’s role in The Devil Wears Prada and a female lead in Mission: Impossible III. “I had been working back to back without any breaks in between, and wanted to just relax and have a life,” she said afterwards. Yes, but… Rachel!
“It’s the great thing about the times we live in right now,” she says.
“Anything goes. Nobody is doing the same thing with their clothes or their hair. We live in such a global village that you can find like-minded people anywhere you go and online, so everyone can gravitate towards their own thing really easily.”
And she’s right. Why should anyone do things the way they’re ‘supposed’ to, just because it’s been prescribed by Hollywood?
“She sort of embodies what [creator of method acting] Stanislavski said about ‘love the art in yourself, not yourself in the art’,” said Jeff Goldblum, who starred with her in Morning Glory. “She’s not egotistical. While still being passionate and committed, she doesn’t seem to be overly identified with her roles or as an actress.”
Is it our problem, because we love her so much? She’s talked about the sort of support she gets; the way people show how much they want her to succeed. In an interview once, she described a confrontation she had had with a US Customs officer. “She kicked me to the kerb,” she recounted with amusement. “She said, ‘Don’t dye your hair that colour and don’t make any more stupid movies.'”
Is one of the many reasons we love her that we loved her and Gosling together? They met on the set of The Notebook and were a couple from 2005 to 2007, then again in 2008. In the past, Notebook director Nick Cassavetes has expressed surprise their relationship happened at all, considering how strained relations were on set. But the movie was voted the most romantic film of all time, and theirs was the most romantic Hollywood love – one commenter on a YouTube page showing the kiss they performed onstage at the MTV Video Music Awards in 2005 has written that he watches it at least once a week in order to feel happy.
After they split, Gosling said: “God bless The Notebook. It introduced me to one of the great loves of my life. But people do Rachel and me a disservice by assuming we were anything like the people in that movie. Rachel and my love story is a hell of a lot more romantic than that.”
Now, he’s with the gorgeous Eva Mendes, but fans of McAdams and Gosling still hope they will get back together one day.
“Some people have that spark immediately and it stays,” she says when I ask her about that kind of love, the kind when people just seem to fit. “For others, the love deepens as time goes by. More often than not, that spark can go more quickly than if you spread it over the years. And love changes so much.”
Is it possible to love completely more than once? “I think yes, for sure. I don’t think there’s a hundred times but, yeah, you can… there’s room in life for more than one love. I would hope there’s room for more.”
I don’t think she’s waiting around for ‘the guy’ to show up. She has a slew of films in the works, including A Most Wanted Man, Anton Corbijn’s latest film based on a John leCarré novel.
McAdams is one of Hollywood’s most ardent environmentalists.
For five years she ran a blog called greenissexy.org. She helped out after Hurricane Katrina and was involved with the Occupy movement. There can’t be much time for anything else.
“Trying to put down roots is a bit of a joke,” she’s said. So, where does she see herself ending up: in a mansion in LA or in Toronto, where she lives now, sharing a house with her little brother, Daniel?
She talks fondly of how her mum made sure the kids could cook, and how her dad would pile the family into the car and “see where it could take us – we would drive to Florida, even though it would take us three days. I’ve had the opportunity to travel and live elsewhere, so I don’t wonder what it would be like to live somewhere else,” she says. “I really appreciate the opportunity to come home and have something familiar. I have community.” So, Toronto it is.
“Maybe, but I grew up in a smaller town, so I think I might even go back that way. It’s funny – you think, ‘I can’t wait to get out of this little town’ and then, as you get older, you find yourself gravitating back towards where you started.”
It’s always a funny moment when a movie star in Valentino tells you they think they’ll end up settling down in the tiny town they lived in before they were famous. Particularly when, in the evening of that very same day, she’s photographed in a floor-length lavender silk dress by Roksanda Ilincic that sets off her wild hair. The following night, she appears in Munich, Germany, wowing the crowd in short black Saint Laurent and a beehive. It’s complicated being Rachel McAdams.
Is that because she’s the celebrity who just happens to be more like us than the rest – and happy for people to know that?
“I do sometimes have moments where I think, ‘Oh, I’m done. I’ve got it figured out’, but I know better now than to believe them,” she says, with a little laugh. “It’s when you’re kind of at peace and everything feels OK and you’re coasting, and life is still interesting and you’re curious, that something happens and you think, ‘Oh, no, no, no, no, I have a looong way to go!’ So I guess that’s the exciting part…you’re never finished.”
© 2013 Sunday Style | Written by Jessica Brinton | No copyright infringment intended.