Published: January 27, 2016
RACHEL McAdams first shot to fame in such quintessentially ‘girlie’ movies as Mean Girls, The Notebook and Wedding Crashers. But the Canadian actor has changed gears of late venturing into edgier fare beginning with last year’s second season of True Detective and the gritty boxing drama, Southpaw.
Now in Oscar-nominated, Spotlight, McAdams takes on the role of the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Sacha Pfeiffer, a reporter from The Boston Globe who played an integral role in breaking the story about the Catholic Church child sex abuse scandal in the 1990s.
“It’s a really exciting time in my career,” McAdams acknowledges. “It’s been a really interesting ride.”
The 37-year-old, who is currently single, maintains a low-key lifestyle in Toronto despite the high profile company she keeps. McAdams has dated both Ryan Gosling and Michael Sheen, yet the public still knows very little about her private life. She has certainly been resolute in her refusal to move to Los Angeles; refreshingly, it seems her career isn’t the be-all and end-all.
“I like staying in Toronto,” she says. “It’s nice and quiet and it gives me a break from the business. It’s home.”
The eldest of three siblings, she was raised by their mother, a nurse, and their father, a truck driver, now retired. She took figure skating and acting classes from a young age and, at school, found her niche in the world of theatre before later graduating from York University with a Bachelor of Fine Arts Honours Degree, in 2001.
McAdams’ demure appeal and under-the-radar profile are proof that it is possible to live a life out of the spotlight while still being acknowledged for one’s work. Now with her performance in Spotlight, she has earned her first Best Supporting Actress Academy Award nomination, following her nominations for Screen Actor’s Guild and Critics’ Choice awards.
Her dimpled grin and billboard smile, shown off to excellent effect on red carpets for years now, belie a resolute strength that has allowed her to move seamlessly into playing weightier roles. “In my own life, I tend to fight the good fight and I at least go back for one more round before I give up on something,” she says.
Spotlight, which also stars Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton and Liev Schreiber, is in many ways an old-fashioned journalism thriller in the same vein as All the President’s Men (1976), which chronicled the work of newspaper men Bob Woodward (Robert Redford) and Carl Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman) when they uncovered the Watergate scandal. The subject of paedophilia and the Catholic Church, however, can be difficult to stomach.
“I was kind of in the dark about the details of the story, though I knew it from a distance,” she says. “I spent a lot of time with Sacha, who explained to me that often priests are raped by priests. They go into the priesthood when they’re nine years old or even younger and they’re being raised by men who are not necessarily sane. Damaged priests raising damaged priests means it’s a perpetual cycle.”
“It’s very hard to wrap your mind around how this could happen and how it became so rampant. But talking to Sacha shed some light on the whole thing for me in a way I hadn’t seen before.”
Shooting the film caused McAdams to consider her own Protestant upbringing.
“I had one particularly religious grandmother and I couldn’t help thinking while I was playing this part how this scandal would have rocked her faith, had she been alive at the time. I was thinking, ‘How would I have broken that to her?’ So the issue became a little personal for me that way. But I don’t subscribe to any one particular religion. I would probably lean closest to Buddhism if I had to pick one, though I’ve never declared one over the other.”
Her co-star, Ruffalo, raised in both the Catholic and Muslim faith, is also up for a Best Supporting Actor award.
“It’s a really complex issue and it starts with celibacy,” he says. “It began in the 18th century and it was institutionalised because the church wanted to keep property whereas if there were heirs or family it would become problematic. So they created a celibacy, which I see as oppressive and creates a lot of negative sexual tension with the people who practice it. We are not meant to be shut down that way. It has to manifest itself somehow and so it manifests itself in deviance and unhealthy sexuality.”
Like the remainder of the cast, Ruffalo spent a good amount of time researching the story. “When you speak to psychiatrists who have been working on this problem for the past 50 years they say that celibacy is the number one issue for the abuse. And also, if women were not subjugated and were on a par with the men in the church, they would have never allowed this to happen to children.” He pauses. “They would have never covered this up, never.”
When McAdams isn’t working she uses her celebrity to lend a hand to various philanthropic endeavours including environmental groups such as Food and Water First.
“It’s a Canadian company involved in many projects like the Shell oil drill ship that’s going up in the Arctic. I also think it’s important to do things on a daily basis. I have Bullfrog Power so the money that goes towards power goes towards sustainable energy,” she says. “We all need to help where we can.”
McAdams is certainly one of Hollywood’s most prolific actors and therefore not all her choices make for box office gold. Last year she turned in a critically praised performance in the boxing drama, Southpaw. But she also starred in the misfire, Aloha, a movie unloved both by critics and at the box office.
“It’s disappointing when your work isn’t received as you’d hope it would be,” she admits.
Next up, she is entering the Marvel Universe in the superhero film, Doctor Strange opposite Benedict Cumberbatch, who plays the title role.
“I can’t tell you anything about it,” she grins. “I’m afraid someone from Marvel will jump out of a closet, but all I can say is that I’m playing a doctor, plus most of my scenes are with Benedict,” she says enthusiastically. “It’s all good.”
© 2016 The Courier Mail | Written by Michele Manelis | No copyright infringment intended.