Published: June 23, 2004
The former queen of the Mean Girls discusses her turn as the nice girl.
In Hollywood, we hear the word “it” a lot these days. There are “it” lists of Hollywood players and “it” lists of stars on the rise. Often, the “it” can refer simply to the public’s inexplicable fascination with the subject, having nothing to do with talent. A perfect example would be Paris Hilton.
Occasionally, and this is becoming an all-too-rare thing nowadays, the mention of “it” status in conjunction with an actor or actress can refer to talent and the increasing demand for Hollywood high-powers to command that talent in their films and give birth to the grand puma of Hollywood achievement: A Star. Rachel McAdams is a girl on the brink.
In a three-month span, Rachel McAdams will be seen in two strikingly opposing roles. In March, McAdams appeared as the meanest of all Mean Girls, Regina George. That character is already growing to legendary heights of cinematic high school villainy, with potential to one day be on par with the two Heathers of Heathers and John Travolta’s malicious Billy Nolan from Carrie.
This month, McAdams makes a U-turn to play beautiful debutante Allie Hamilton in the sweeping epic romance, The Notebook. Much in contrast to the heartless wench she played in Mean Girls, Allie is the sweet, innocent, southern charmer. The film is about her summer romance with Noah (Ryan Gosling), a good-natured boy whom Allie’s parents deem unworthy of their reputable daughter’s affection.
After a four-day marathon of promotion for The Notebook, I am Rachel McAdams’ final interview. While I might expect exhaustion from her, surely tired from answering the same press questions over and over, she is the exact opposite. Like co-star James Marsden said in my previous interview, McAdams is “fun as hell.” Full of energy and, as she puts it, “giddy,” McAdams shows no sign of exhaustion and is thrilled to talk all about the film and anything else I might have in mind.
My challenge is to keep things fresh, perhaps discussing a topic or two that may be new to her, a tricky task after her scores of interviews. Hopefully, I achieved my goal. I gotta think I’m the only one that got her to talk about her hopes for Thundercats: The Movie, right?
IGN FILMFORCE: In this movie you manage to have a strong chemistry with both Ryan Gosling and James Marsden. Chemistry is such a tricky thing; what is the key for you?
RACHEL MCADAMS: I guess you have to be really open to your acting partners and believe in the story. I had a real passion for this story and I’m a hopeless romantic and I believe that you can find love in many different places and be very conflicted. I’ve discovered as I’ve grown up that life is far more complicated than you think it is when you’re a kid. It isn’t just a straightforward fairytale. This is a fairytale, the story, even with its complications. What was great is that I got to experience two different men. James is really charismatic and he’s a bit of a ham and bit of joker and really fun to be around and you just have a great time with him. We did a lot of swing dance together. It’s in the movie for like two seconds but we worked on that, we had a whole bit choreographed.
IGNFF: Had you swing-danced before?
MCADAMS: A little bit. I did it in school. It’s so much fun. I’m so glad it came back.
IGNFF: Were you there for any of James Garner and Gena Rowland’s scenes?
MCADAMS: Yeah, I saw their first day, which was really cool because they just seemed to find each other so easily. They seemed so ready to embrace the story and go there with each other, it was nice to watch. They didn’t take much time feeling each other out. They were just there already, which they have to be. They’re supposed to have many, many years of fighting and loving and kids…
IGNFF: Was it intimidating working with such a large cast of established actors?
MCADAMS: Yeah, of course. And even Ryan, he’s been working for a long time. And Sam Shepard, I studied in school, so to go from this academic sort of adoring him from a far to standing in the mud in Charleston with him and say, ‘Okay, this is going to be my boyfriend’s dad,’ so to speak, and then you get over that and you find that they heighten your acting. That’s what makes them so great is that they have such a presence about them and it’s great to act with these people because you understand why they are the greats. You get to actually have a little piece of them, you get to experience them first hand, and it’s quite an honor.
IGNFF: It struck me as funny that you and Ryan Gosling are now playing opposite one another in a romance when the roles you are perhaps best known for are villainous characters in Mean Girls and The Believer?
MCADAMS: Right, an unlikely pair. It’s interesting, I mean, I think that the fact that we are so different, that we complemented each other in the end.
IGNFF: Did you relate to Allie?
MCADAMS: Yeah, I related to her very much. As I said, I’m a hopeless romantic and I think she is as well. I have a certain curiosity for life that drives me and propels me forward and I think she has that as well. And a sense of abandon, wild abandonment when you’re having those feelings.
IGNFF: What is your method to prepare for the emotional moments in this film?
MCADAMS: Some days it came easier than others. Some days I’d have to stand out in a field and stare at a rose or something like that.
IGNFF: Do you ever burst out laughing when you’re supposed to cry?
MCADAMS: Sometimes. When I’m uncomfortable, I laugh.
IGNFF: So do I.
MCADAMS: [Laughs] Isn’t it a funny reaction? It’s so human. If I hurt someone, if I were to accidentally poke someone’s eye out, I would laugh. And then I’d say, ‘I’m sorry, I really do feel bad,’ but then I’m on the floor rolling.
IGNFF: Have you read the book and, if so, what did you think of the changes?
MCADAMS: I read the book after I read the script. There were a lot of changes. I was grateful for the changes because it made my role significantly bigger. I think to target a young audience it’s good to have that, I’m glad they’ve explored the young love a lot more. I think that it makes the end so much richer because you get to see their memories and you get to see the memories that she’s losing and the tragedy in that. And then you understand better where James Garner is coming from because you got inside of Ryan. So, I think the changes were good and positive…
IGNFF: Are you a fan of period movies and is it a daunting task to move in to that time period and fit in?
MCADAMS: Well, there’s obviously worry that you won’t get it right, you won’t be authentic. But, there’s so much information out there. There’s so much to draw on. You can get very accurate with the costumes. Even rhythm. You can go back and listen for rhythm for the way people talked, especially working in the South, the dialect.
IGNFF: Did you have a dialect coach?
MCADAMS: Yeah, we did. We went down two months early so we started with a dialect coach right away.
IGNFF: Cassavetes is known as more of an actors’ director in that he works very closely with the actors and he doesn’t use the video assist. How different an experience is working with him from other directors you’ve worked with?
MCADAMS: I love that about Nick, that he’s right in the camera. At first I thought, ‘How am I going to do this?’ How can I look at Ryan on one side of the camera and have this totally intimate moment and then big Nick is crouched in the corner right on the other side of the lens… But, I was so glad he was there with me. He started to be like a friend on my shoulder. Actually, a little angel and a little devil at the same time on my shoulder. It gave me some kind of strength actually and sometimes all I had to do was look at him and I would start crying. He was going through it with me; he was there 110 percent every day. He could tell when I was struggling and he would come over and whisper something in my ear. He really put himself on the line and I loved that because he wanted me to put myself on the line, but not without returning the favor. You know, he wanted big, bold, colorful choices and didn’t care if they were wrong. He wanted me to fall flat on my face, I mean congratulated me when I fell on my face. And at the end of each day he shook my hand and said, ‘Good job’ even if I’d done a terrible job.
IGNFF: James Marsden said that Cassavetes was yelling at him one day and said, ‘I want the audience at the end of this movie to go, “Why the hell did she go with him? What was she thinking?”‘
MCADAMS: [Laughs] He really pumped James up that day. I remember James was on fire. Nick had just totally pumped him up. Nick was saying, ‘Go get focused. Go dial in. Take your time, take it and make it your own.’ Such passion and it sort of gets into your veins; it kind of courses through you.
IGNFF: On the subject of Mean Girls, I loved your performance in that. Your character was one of the great high school…
MCADAMS: [interrupting] Bitches? [Laughs]
IGNFF: [Laughs] Yes, well… What’s it like to switch gears so radically from that to this role?
MCADAMS: I had time in between the two to be fair. I was a different person, not completely. By the time I did Mean Girls, I had come through The Notebook experience.
IGNFF: Do you like playing the villain?
MCADAMS: [Smiling widely] Yeah, of course. You don’t have to answer to any of your crimes. It’s the perfect situation. Being devilish is so fun, it’s so delicious.
IGNFF: Did you base Regina George on a person from your past or was she an amalgam of people?
MCADAMS: Yeah. No one specific. I had my own ideas about her, like that she was a Barbie doll on the outside, you know, candy-coated on the outside and horribly destructive on the inside. I liked that juxtaposition and I liked that idea. But I didn’t base her on anyone specific. I was on the other end of it when I was in high school. I wasn’t necessarily a victim but I certainly wasn’t the popular girl. It gave me a different kind of insight into Regina because I had impressions of those girls, but then I had to get inside of it and understand what she was talking about.
IGNFF: So you were in the middle ground in high school?
MCADAMS: I was, probably. I wasn’t quite any of them. I think that was part of my problem. I guess I was a floater, but not really. I don’t know. I didn’t get high school.
IGNFF: Join the club.
MCADAMS: You too, huh?
IGNFF: I was just waiting for college.
MCADAMS: [Laughs] Me too. I was, like, ‘Okay, any day now.’ I had five years. Not anymore. It sounds funny, ‘When I was in high school we went to school for five years.’
IGNFF: And you weren’t always up for the part of Regina?
MCADAMS: Originally it was for Katie and I had hesitations about playing Regina because I didn’t want it to be another Hot Chick but I thought she was just so much more of a sociopath and it goes so much deeper with Regina.
IGNFF: How is The Wedding Crashers going?
MCADAMS: I just finished it. We just wrapped last week. It was awesome. It was so much fun. We were shooting in Maryland and Washington, DC. We were sailing around on boats and going on picnics and having barbecues and, you know, working with Owen [Wilson] and Vince [Vaughn] and Chris Walken and Jane Seymour. It was so fun, I remember sitting beside Bradley Cooper, who plays my fianc–, we were doing a dinner scene and there was, like, 15 of us around the table and he looked at me and said, ‘What a crazy family!’ You’ve got Chris Walken at the head of the table here and Jane Seymour down here and then everybody filling in-between and then Owen and Vince across from us. What a crazy cast. It’s so rich.
IGNFF: Is it hard to keep a straight face with them, especially with Vince’s dry sense of humor?
MCADAMS: It is. He’s brilliant. When he would riff, I mean, there was a few days where everyone was just sort of in awe of him. When he gets on that tangent, when he gets on that runaway train, there’s no stopping him. I think they used a lot of film.
IGNFF: In the roundtable interview Sunday, you mentioned you are reading Fantastic Four.
MCADAMS: [Laughs] I’m reading it.
IGNFF: Can you mention what part you are being considered for?
MCADAMS: What they seem to think I would do is, um, [looks to publicist], did they even say?
[Publicist says: It’s one amongst many]
IGNFF: Avi Arad said that the film is a go at the Spider-Man 2 junket this weekend.
MCADAMS: That the film’s definitely a go? Yeah, I think it is a go. It should be really, so far the script’s really good.
IGNFF: It’s a fun comic book.
MCADAMS: Are you a fan?
IGNFF: I read it when I was younger.
MCADAMS: Wasn’t it a cartoon?
IGNFF: Yeah, I think Saturday mornings.
MCADAMS: I don’t remember it. My brother said he remembers it and he loved it. And he was younger than me. I’m waiting for them to make Thundercats. I would love to be Cheetara. [Laughs]
IGNFF: On the subject of ’80s cartoons, a few of your fan sites mention that your first role was as April O’ Neil in a school play of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles? Is that true?
MCADAMS: It’s not. [Laughs] It’s inaccurate. I wasn’t. I would have liked that. It sounds like a lot of fun, but no.
IGNFF: It also says that you are 5’9″.
MCADAMS: [Laughs] And now you know that’s not accurate. That’s a bit of a stretch. Well, on the big screen, you do look much taller.
IGNFF: Your name is being associated with a lot of “it” lists lately. How is that changing things for you or are you trying not to pay too much attention to that.
MCADAMS: I guess it is changing things. I’m not completely aware of the changes. I’ve sort of heard that “it” girl thing, but not really. Hearing it from a few people doesn’t solidify it in my mind and I wouldn’t know how to solidify that title. It’s so elusive and what does it mean, I don’t know? In terms of dealing with it, I’m just going to try to keep on going the way I have if I can. I want to pick good projects, I want to work with great directors and try not to put too much pressure on myself and just read things for the story and recognize when I’m drawn to something for the right reasons and try to maintain some sanity. Sanity would be good. [Laughs] I’d like to have a little sanity!
IGNFF: Well, you should push for that Thundercats movie. That would be awesome.
MCADAMS: Yeah! Wouldn’t that be cool?
[Looks to publicist]
What do you think, Kimberland?
[Publicist has no idea what Thundercats is]
You never watched? [Rachel now breaks into the theme song] Thunder, thunder, thunder Thundercats!
MCADAMS: What was the lion’s name?
IGNFF: Thunderheart. Wait, that might be a Care Bear.
MCADAMS: I think it was a little tougher than that. Lionheart?
IGNFF: Well, all the ’80s stuff is coming back.
MCADAMS: You know what, though, there’s something sad about that. They come back and then they’re gone again.
IGNFF: Why do you think that is?
MCADAMS: A friend of mine had this great theory about the Teletubbies, that it’s preparing us for being mindless. And getting us ready for living in an underground world. That’s why the scenery is so flat. When they build the underground world because we can no longer breathe the air that it will look like Teletubbie land.