Published: July, 2014
Rachel McAdams has starred in more quotable movies than any A-list actress – yet she remains a mystery. But the private actress is willing to reveal some of herself, her famous costars, and her thoughts on true love.
Most actresses have one movie they would rather not talk about. They may even want to erase it from their IMDB profile. Rachel McAdams isn’t most actresses. Though she is a star with serious talent. McAdams doesn’t have an issue with the fact that her major big-screen debut was in the The Hot Chick, a comedy in which she and Rob Schneider swap bodies. In fact, she not only talks about the movie respectfully but also considers the striptease scene to he one of her toughest acting challenges to date.
“I remember standing backstage, dressed like a mechanic. I had a pink bikini on underneath, grease on my face, and I just remember breathing deep and thinking. Oh. my God, I have to go out there and do this striptease, as a man…as a woman. How did I get here?” McAdams says, adding that the stage was shaped like a cat’s tongue. “It was probably one of the scariest moments I’ve had in my career. It stretched me in ways I could never have imagined.” A slight pause. “Literally.”
Following her role in 2004’s chick flick to end all chick flicks, The Notebook, McAdams could have continued on an unbroken path as America’s Sweetheart. Instead, she has proved her versatility in films of different genres, carving out the kind of career that doesn’t fit into a neat narrative. If anything, it’s more like a riddle. Q: What do Mean Girls, Midnight in Pars, and Sherlock Holmes have in common? A: Rachel McAdams.
Her taste in men is equally eclectic. She had a real-life love affair with her Notebook costar Ryan Gosling. Though the two had broken up by 2008 and she later had a two-year relationship with actor Michael Sheen, her costar in Midnight in Paris, to this day fans of the movie fantasize about McAdams and Gosling getting back in the rowboat together. (It seems highly unlikely: In May, McAdams was seen kissing music manager Patrick
Sambrook.) Does she still believe in true love? “Oh. yeah, for sure. Absolutely.” she says, and smiles.
At 35, McAdams is a rare combination of beguiling and guileless. When she first started out, at a stage when
most starlets would be fine-tuning their image, McAdams seemed more concerned with being undefined. After appearing as a strawberry blonde in The Notebook, McAdams became nearly unrecognizable when she changed her hair color several times. She says she felt pressure to “be red again, completely arbitrarily.” but she decided to become a brunette for her next movie, Wedding Crashers, because she thought that brown hair better suited her character. “I like change.” says the actress.
Nor did McAdams commit to raising her profile in Hollywood. She has chosen to live in Toronto instead and claims to be “out of it” when it comes to certain pop culture references. For instance, the “Hey Girl” meme, which imagines what Gosling would say if he were your very own sensitive and frequently shirtless boyfriend. (“Hey Girl, sometimes I get so sad when we can’t watch Golden Girls together.”) “I know you’re not going to believe me.” McAdams says sheepishly, “but I don’t follow it.”
OK. So Rachel McAdams is not as gossipy as Regina George, but she is a breath of fresh air in an industry where self-importance is as thick as smog. She treats a celebrity interview like a two-sided conversation, asking questions of her Interviewer (many actresses don’t) and ordering white wine and a bowl of, Japanese Shishito peppers to share in a quiet hotel lounge. “It’s like Russian roulette with peppers.” McAdams says, referring to the common wisdom that one in every ten is surprisingly hot. She pops a long green chili into her mouth. “Whew! That was a spicy one!” When I get a hot one that renders me temporarily speechless, she goes into nurse mode: “Take your time. Wine doesn’t help. You need milk.”
McAdams herself can play sweet and mild and, every once in a while, a blistering bitch. “Sometimes you want to meet people’s expectations, and sometimes you want to go beyond them,” she says matter-of-factly.
And sometimes it’s best simply to blend in. In A Most Wanted Man, a thriller set in Germany. McAdams plays a human-rights lawyer whose refugee client is being investigated by a veteran spy (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and his team. The actress worked with a vocal coach and studied German dialects to develop her character’s light accent. Once on the set in Hamburg, she also observed the technique of her costar, Hoffman.
“I learned so much from him. He really takes you under —he really took me under his wing.” McAdams says, obviously still not accustomed to using the past tense. “You feel very taken care of, but at the same time, there’s an element of danger. There’s a crackle in every scene. He makes sure the stakes are very high, and there’s a safety there, too.” She pauses to gather her thoughts. “He had so much natural, raw talent, but he worked so hard, too.” she continues, playing with the sleeve of her Mark leather jacket, the same one her character wore in the film. “He really worked for it and didn’t let up. I’m sure that wasn’t easy.”
Talent is a subject that comes up again and again with McAdams. When I ask her about an interview with the
director of Mean Girls in which he said that Lindsay Lohan felt intimidated by her on the set. McAdams balks. “If any thing. I was in awe of her talent. I looked at her as this experienced actor, and she had great comedic timing, so natural.” says McAdams, who originally auditioned for Lohan’s role as Cady Heron. “It’s just funny to hear that because you never know what people are thinking. We all try to act like we’ve got it together.”
Although McAdams has a lighthearted way about her, one gets the sense that she doesn’t make decisions lightly. Early in her career. McAdams backed out of a photo shoot for the cover of Vanity Fair’s Hollywood issue after discovering, at the eleventh hour, that she was expected to pose nude. “It was a difference of creative opinion.” she says, looking back. “I think the more you spend time in this business, the more you realize that those things are OK—to have creative disagreements and to go a different way. It gives you more confidence to be in the moment and make the choice that’s right for you.”
Proceeding with caution is still her style. McAdams is more discerning about selecting movie roles than some actresses are about choosing husbands. “I have to click with the character,” says the actress, who recently filmed a new Cameron Crowe movie, also starring Bradley Cooper and Emma Stone, in Hawaii. “I’ll read something, and it just sort of worms its way into you or it doesn’t.”
McAdams doesn’t talk about acting as if it’s a great mystery. She isn’t precious describing how she prepares for a scene, and she generously shares credit with her costars—in the case of Channing Tatum, by describing how he pranked her on the set of The Vow. Tatum helped McAdams express believable surprise as a woman suffering from memory loss who doesn’t remember her relationship with her husband and is therefore shocked when he casually walks into their bedroom stark-naked. “I had to have a very intense reaction.” McAdams says. Tatum did his part: He wore a prosthetic penis, which he’d asked the props department to create on the sly. “He didn’t want me to have to pretend too much, so he was helping me out, I guess.” She smirks. “It was very professional.”
Jokes aside. McAdams takes her job seriously. Given her drive and self-discipline, it’s not hard to imagine the actress as a young figure skater. The daughter of a nurse and a mover, she and her younger brother and sister grew up in St. Thomas. Ontario, where McAdams spent years pursuing the sport, only stopping when it became clear she wasn’t going to train for the Olympics. In addition to a lot of sparkly blue eye shadow, the experience gave her a deep understanding of what it means to commit to something you love.
And she continues to take her career one careful step at a time. “I’m hoping it’s going to be complicated and have lots of dead ends and corners and sharp turns.” McAdams says, popping another pepper into her mouth. “I hope it can’t be summed up too easily when I’m done.” ♦
2002 With Anna Faris, Rob Schneider, and Mart Murray in The Hot Chick “My girls. I found Rob very funny, and Anna I think is comedic genius.”
2004 With Ryan Gosling in The Notebook “We just wanted to get out of the rain. It was very cold. That dress was made for the film, but a lot of the stuff I wore was rented and was actually from the 1940s. So much of it was falling apart. I think there’s a scene in the movie where I’m running in bare feet, and it’s only because [after] the first few takes I did, the shoes disintegrated off my feet.”
2005 With Bradley Cooper in Wedding Crashers “[Bradley] reminded me recently—this was [filmed] over ten years ago, which I can’t believe. It’s probably one of the best times I’ve had on a film. I’m so glad to see the trajectory his career took because, even then, he was one of the hardest-working actors I’d ever met. Like, a bottomless pit of passion and commitment. So I’m happy to see that he’s now BRADLEY COOPER, with capital letters.”
2007 With Gosling at the Screen Actors Guild Awards in Los Angeles “I love the pink hair. It was really fun. I wanted to go all pink. My, hairstylist was like, ‘Well, let’s just start with some pieces and see how you like it.’ I’m grateful for that.”
2009 With Guy Richie at a party for Sherlock Holmes in New York “Mr. Ritchie. I was so late for that
premiere. Just massive traffic, and I was running behind anyway. But I remember getting out of the car and
having to run through the streets of New York in high heels. It’s embarrassing when you’re the last one on the carpet. You never want to be that person. It’s not OK.”
2012 With Channing Tatum in The Vow “My favorite person in Hollywood. There are many, but he’s one of them. He’s such a nice person. Very soulful guy.”
2009 With Russell Crowe in State of Play “I love seeing how far you can stretch your look and how close you can get to your idea of the character. She’s rosy. She’s a newbie. She’s very green. She’s quite naive and trying to act like she knows more than she does. I think the hairstylist used some of my natural body there.”
2009 With Eric Bana in The Time Traveler’s Wife “That’s my prosthetic belly popping out of the tub. They glue it to your body. They match it to your skin tone; they even draw veins on it. It has to be so seamless with the rest of your body. It was strange.”
2009 At the premiere of The Time Traveler’s Wife in New York City “I love that dress. It was actually very comfortable. I love wearing white. That was the night my family met Brad Pitt. He produced the film. He was just very sweet and came over and introduced himself to everyone. It was so funny to see the look on their faces. They were all gobsmacked.”
2011 With Owen Wilson in Midnight in Paris “Owen was so fabulous. I never made the Woody Allen-Owen Wilson connection until I saw that movie. Sometimes the lead actor is a reflection of Woody. They had such a connection. It was very private. They were always off in the corner, kibitzing and laughing.”
2011 With Robert Downey Jr. at the premiere of Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows in Los Angeles “The brilliant Robert Downey. It’s fun to transform. I love that dress, but I hadn’t tested sitting down, and it’s so high…. When I sat down to watch the movie, [the beading] was digging so hard into my neck. When the lights went down, I wiggled out of it and watched the whole movie, and then kind of forgot I had done that because I got so comfortable. Then the lights came up, and I was like, ‘Oh, my God.’ I wiggled back in.”
2012 At the premiere of The Vow in Los Angeles “I love a bold lip. I like a bang. I don’t normally have a bang. I guess that’s the thing. It’s just not something I’m used to seeing on myself, so it’s a bit of an adjustment. That was a Vivienne West wood dress, and it fit like a glove. I’ve learned now…. You have to practice sitting down in it because you’re going to be sitting through the movie for an hour and a half.”
2012 At BBC Radio 1 in London “I loved that look. You never know how these things will photograph, but I just sort of threw that coat on. Those lengths could have been weird, but it was a happy accident. I enjoyed it. And those shoes were incredible. You can’t actually see, [but] they have a beautiful black ruffle on the back. They were kind of to die for. My legs are not that long at all. It’s a nice optical illusion.”
2013 With Noomi Rapace in Passion “I was playing an ad executive who had sort of run out of ideas. She’d really lost herself. I felt like, symbolically, all the color had gone out of her. So I loved the idea of her being very bleached out and then painted on. We had really bold lips and then this sort of ghostly washed-out hair. It was an idea. We ran with it. This [shot] implies that it’s about us having a love affair, which it’s not.”
2013 With Domhnall Gleeson in About Time “Romantic comedies and romances just seem to reach a larger audience. People want to feel good; they kind of want that kind of sweeping epic, romantic feeling.”
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