Published: May 17, 2011
Woody Allen wrote a movie for her. Diane Keaton is her biggest fan. She’s fronted blockbuster romcoms, seduced mouthwatering stars, and made girls old and young believe that we, too, will get swept up in an epic love story one day. Tom Shone finds Rachel McAdams 2,168 miles from the L.A. limelight
While shooting his latest movie in Paris, Woody Allen came across Rachel McAdams in the lobby of his hotel, playing with his daughter’s puppy. A few days earlier, he’s ask her not to be so touchy-feely in her scenes with costar Owen Wilson, because to be at each other’s throats. “I think you may be the most affectionate actress I’ve eve come across,” he said to her. “Is that a Canadian thing? What is that all about?”
Maybe it’s a Canadian thing. Maybe it’s the indefatigable pluck of her performance. Maybe it’s the dimples. At 32, McAdams provides as close to a pure Doris Day high as can be gotten from movies right now, wether beautifully rain-sodden as the ’40s heiress smitten with Ryan Gosling’s laborer in The Notebook, resourceful as a Hitchcock heroine fighting off Cillian Murphy’s psycho in the mile-high thriller Red Eye, or displaying almost vaudevillian verve n last year’s Morning Glory as a producer trying to whip an ailing breakfast show into shape (a performance inspired in part by Rosalind Russell in the 1940s screwball classic His Girl Friday).
“She’s not caught up in the whirlwind of Manhattan or the whirlwind of Los Angeles. There’s no of that actress nonsense with her,” says Allen, who first saw McAdams in Wedding Crashers. “Usually you’ll find someone who’s great-looking and they’ll be a little weak with the acting or the comedy. Or you’ll find someone who’s great at that but not so amazing-looking as Rachel. All of a sudden, here was this girl who had it all.”
He wrote this month’s Midnight in Paris with McAdams in mind, after many years of receiving “glowing” reports on her from Diane Keaton. “She’s like a violin,” says Keaton, who played McAdams’ cancer-stricken mother in The Family Stone and a veteran TV anchor in Morning Glory. “She can do anything, and she can play anything. She’s a dynamo, but she’s also soft. She can be bitchy but also light. She can do serious drama; she can do comedy. She has a lot of things going on, which makes her absolutely captivating.”
In person, McAdams is funny, smart and precise, with the impregnability that comes from a secure family background – unusual for an actor, although, as she says, “I’ve come across all walks of life in this business.” Her mother is a nurse, her father a retired mover, they raised Rachel and her two younger siblings in tiny St. Thomas Ontario, the kind of town, she has said, “where the mayor bags your groceries.” GreenIsSexy.org, an eco-lifestyle website the ardently green McAdams runs with friends, describes an idyllic childhood of “summers spent at the cottage, swimming in the Canadian Great Lakes, riding her banana-seat bike around the neighborhood. Winters consisted of tobogganing through the treacherous woods and building dangerous snow forts.”
She still uses a blue Pathfinder bike to get around Toronto – either that or the city’s famous streetcars. Though she’s been acting since 12, when she played a witch in a theater-camp production of Macbeth, she’s never strayed from the area for long; she earned a four-year theater degree with honors at Toronto’s York University and today hole up between acting gigs in the Victorian brownstone she bought in the city with her brother, Daniel. (Her sister, Kayleen, is a makeup artist who often preps McAdams for public appearances, as long as she gets adequate warning: “If I give her, ‘We have 10 minutes Can you do a great smoky eye and fake lashes?’ then she’s like, ‘No’” McAdams says. “I have a wraped sense of time. I think everything can be fit into 10 minutes“)
McAdams is a dainty thing: 5’4″, wasp-waisted – “a figure skater’s body,” she says, having competed on the ice from the ages of four to 18, at one point dreaming of Olympic glory (“my Sporty Spice side“). She still works with an athlete’s muscle memory – it may be why alighting into the embrace of leading men seems to come so naturally – as well as the unmistakable competitor’s drive that thrums beneath that beautiful hood. She locked horns with Rusel Crowe over character motivation on the first day of shooting 2009′s political thriller State of Play. “Sometimes I just find myself in situations and my my mouth is going and my brain can’t keep up,” she says. “‘What are you doing?‘ Oops, too late. Afterward I realized: We were actually getting into character.”
Like many stars with a reputation of supernova niceness – Tom Hanks, Matt Damon – McAdams’ friendliness doubles as a handy cloaking device. She adept at steering clear of conversational trouble spots – her four-year on-off romance with ex-fiancé Gosling, for example; the shorter fling she had with Josh Lucas; or recent sightings of her with Midnight costar Michael Sheen, including a Valentine’s Day trip to Dublin. McAdams is all crisp borders, soft humor, and good manners, but just when you find yourself wondering what so sensible a head is going in movies, she looses a rich, low laugh that carries a hint of something racier – the wind-in-her-hair transports of a woman who gets carries away for a living. She’s that most beguiling of personality types: the shy exhibitionist, the bashful streaker.
Her daredevil side inspires occasional risk-taking, such as signing on for an as-yet-untitled film by director Terrence Malick costarring Ben Affleck, the plotline of which – even after filming – remains a mystery to her. “I have bits and pieces, I have fragments, I have moments,” she says. “I could try to string them all together, but I would probably wind up with a different story than the one he’s telling.” Midnight, too, brings her out of her comfort zone; she delightfully skews her wholesome image by playing a cold-eyed literalist, basically a younger version of Allen shrew as seen in films like Husbands and Wives. As the pampered fiancée of Wilson’s tortured screenwriter, she’s too busy shopping to pay any heed to his wistful yearning for the golden age of Picasso and Hemingway. The role required some “sexually potent enough to manipulate [Wilson's character], to get what she wants from him,” Allen says. And besides he thought “it would be fun for her not always be the beautiful girl who gets married at the end of the picture.”
Elle: How was it working with Woody Allen?
Rachel McAdams: You hear such ridiculous stories. “He hates the color blue. Don’t ever show up wearing blue.” And I wear a very clearly blue shirt at one point. When the costume designer put it on me, I said, “What are you doing? I’m just going to have to wear something else.” We debated how blue the blue was, and in the end I’m sure he didn’t even notice that I was there that day.
Elle: In Wedding Crashers, you and Owen Wilson were basically love’s young dream. Here, the dream has curdled a little.
RM: It’s definitely a different dynamic from the last time we were together. It wasn’t as fun being mean. I love that Woody likes good guys to be good guys and bad guys to be bad guys. Owen seemed to respond really well when I was a really bad guy.
Elle: He liked it when you were mean to him?
RM: Yeah, he found it really funny.
Elle: It’s not the first time you’ve played mean: Regina, the queen bitch in Mean girls, Amy the Machiavellian sister in The Family Stone. These were not nice girls.
RM: With Mean Girls, I originally auditioned for the part that Lindsay Lohan played. I wouldn’t have seen myself playing Regina at all. But when I read the script, I thought, Oh, this part is way more fun; I wonder who will play that … And the same thing with The Family Stone. I thought I’d probably play Claire Danes’ character [the grounded sister of Sarah Jessica Parker's workaholic], and they went, “Now we want you to play Amy.” I tought, Oh, that’s way more fun; I’d love to do that.
Elle: A big theme of Midnight in Paris is nostalgia; your character pours cold water on Owen’s romantic attachment to the past.
RM: I think Woody’s made such an excellent point, he’s dragging us out of the reverie for the past. It’s really just not living in the present.
But your own career seems to have such an old-fashioned tint to it: The Notebook, The Time Traveler’s Wife …
RM: You’re saying I’m old-timey? [Laughs]
Elle: Maybe. But in a good way. You seem such a romantic.
RM: I am. When Billie Holiday comes on, I can’t help but be transported – and I’m sure it wasn’t as romantic then at all – but that’s the wonderful part of my job: dressing up and walking down the street in New York or Toronto, pretending I’m in the ’40s. Whenever people ask me what’s I’d like to do next, I always say that I really miss epic films. My mom and I watched The Thorn Birds every summer and The Ten Commandments every Easter. I grew up with films that took my breath away – Giant, Gone with the Wind, The Found of Music – stories that spanned time and place. I loved movies that were so long you had to take bathroom breaks and make a snack. They stay with you such a long time.
Elle: A sweeping love story helps.
RM: It helps everything. It does make the world go around.
Elle: Your parents are still together.
RM: Still together and still in love. I’m very blessed that way. I had a great example of love in front of me, and that’s probably what makes me such a romantic, because I’ve seen it firsthand.
Elle: Doesn’t that also set the bar impossibly high?
RM: You grow up and you assume that everyone is like that, and you quickly realize that they’re not, and then you have those days when you wonder if you’re going to find it for yourself. It’s such a hard thing to find. I think it was more that realization that rocked me.
Elle: I read somewhere that you like writers.
RM: I like anyone who can work from home. I know that’s quite romantic of me.
Elle: I don’t know about romantic. Charitable, certainly.
RM: Why? Are writers having a hard time finding love?
Elle: We tend to be rather unglamorous creatures, I’m afraid.
RM: [Laughs] Maybe I’m very naive, but I always think you can persuade them away from their desk. “C’mon, let’s play.” Heal their wounds. Bring them tea. Soothe them.
Elle: What do you think has held your parents together?
RM: One thing I’ve learned is that they really like each other, and they really help each other out. My dad was just saying this morning, “I would never ever say anything negative about your mother.” And when I hear someone trashing their partner, I have a really hard time of it. I was reading something in Wired Magazine – they’ve found that couples who idealize one another tend to stay together. And people who are conscientious and neurotic – that combination – are supposed to be good togehter.
Elle: Which one would you be?
RM: A little of both, but I’m definitely neurotic.
Elle: Is that why you turned down The Devil Wears Prada and Iron Man you had to be talked into doing Morning Glory? Its director Roger, Michell, called you “clinically hesitant.”
RM: Sometimes I don’t think I’m the best person for the job. That was the case with Morning Glory. Sometimes I think, Really? You see me as this? Just because I don’t see myself that way, does that mean I shouldn’t do it? I tend to go, Is this the right decision? What are the ramifications of doing this part You start to over analyze. But once I make the decision, it’s full steam ahead. I just had this experience para gliding off a mountain in Switzerland. It seemed easy when I was sitting at the table and somebody came by and said, “Do you want to sign up for para gliding?” because I had two feet on the ground and no idea what I was in for. Then, when I was standing on the top of a mountain and he was saying, “You’re going to run off the mountain; I’m going to ski right behind you,” suddenly I felt the magnitude of what I had really agreed to. And I started to panic.
Elle: Maybe you have to be choosy because you commit so fully?
RM: That’s pretty much it. You could be my therapist. It’s a very Scorpio quality. If we’re not in, we’re so not in. But once we’ve committed, you won’t be able to get rid of us. “You thought you wanted me? Now you’re going to find out.”
Elle: When you first decided you wanted to act at age seven, you wrote your parents a note.
RM: I remember hiding under my bed after I gave it to them. I was really shy about that declaration. They were very good. “That’s wonderful; we’re so proud of you, and you let us know if you get a call or if you have any leads, and then we’ll take it into consideration.” When I was still in high school, I found this agent in a rundown building in Toronto with a men’s-only bingo bar down the hall. We could hear hollering and shouts of “Bingo!” throughout the meeting – it was a very strange place. He asked for a lot of money up front for pictures and acting classes. My parents wisely canceled the check when we got home.
Elle: But you knew you wanted it.
RM: I didn’t know what it was exactly that I was looking for – some sort of outlet – and when I found it, it awakened something in me.
Elle: You’ve based yourself in Toronto, going to L.A. only for work. Were you scared of moving to L.A.?
RM: Definitely. I assumed I would work here my whole life, but then you quickly realize that’s just fear of the unknown. Once you go there, and you go to many auditions and you get turned down many times, it loses its mystique a little bit. Then it’s just about plugging away at it until you find a crack, and you sort of try to fit in there.
Elle: Was there ever a moment in which you breathed easy, thought, Phew I can do this; I can make a go of this …?
I don’t know that I have ever thought that. Things change, and they can change overnight in this business.
Elle: Not even after The Notebook?
RM: That one seems to have had staying power. I’m so grateful to have a film that people respond to in that way. It was a big deal.
Elle: I was surprised Morning Glory – which pulled in a relatively modest $31 million at the box office – wasn’t a bigger hit.
RM: It’s funny, because so many people said to me, “It’s the kind of film you don’t see anymore, done in a way that isn’t done anymore.” I thought that was a really positive thing, but apparently not. I only hear these businesspeople: “Well, no one was sure who it was for.”
Elle: What do you do when you get back home after a job?
RM: I have to open the windows and get a breeze going and reacquaint myself with things. I love being able to have a neighborhood. Getting home and being able to cook a meal. These are the little things. I love being away – the life of a gypsy suits me quite well – but it’s nice to come home and reconnect. Because when I do work, I’m quite myopic. It was great working with Terrence Malick recently. He took me around a town where my character would have lived and pointed out, “Perhaps you grew up in that house, and your dad worked at that building, and you went to that school.” I found it incredibly helpful.
Elle: You really have no idea what Malick’s film is about?
RM: [Laughs] You don’t know with Terry. He really creates a family. The crews are very small, intimate. All I can say is, it was a very satisfying unique way of shooting. And [the film] will probably be very beautiful.
Elle: So you don’t ride off into the sunset at the end?
RM: [More laughter] It’s probably not a romantic comedy but … I still can’t be sure. You never know.
Published: May 12, 2011
Our June cover star gets noir, channeling Catherine Deneuve in ‘Repulsion’ with silks and lace. Get inspired, and get the look!
n February, on the eve of Oscar weekend, 32-year-old Rachel McAdams arrived solo for her June cover shoot at L.A.’s Milk Studios. Starbucks in hand, wearing a white cotton button-down, black skinny jeans, and Nine West wedges, the actress radiated the homegrown, no-fuss demeanor that we’ve come to expect from a star who strategically avoids the (offscreen) limelight.
McAdams enthusiastically embraced ELLE creative director Joe Zee’s inspiration for the shoot: Catherine Deneuve as a virgin plagued by paranoia in Roman Polanski’s 1965 psycho-thriller, Repulsion. With the Black Keys, Talking Heads, and Radiohead playing in the background, she slipped into a belted crepe de chine Gucci dress and later channeled Deneuvian va-va-voom, shrugging off a sheepskin Burberry Prorsum coat to reveal a lacy Josie Natori slip.
Between takes with photographer Alexei Hay, McAdams snacked on a sandwich, a salad, and cookies from L.A. caterer Food + Lab and turned the conversation to an upcoming trip to her hometown of St. Thomas, Ontario. The notoriously private actress kept the shoot strictly professional—not a peep about rumored amour, actor Michael Sheen—but she and prop stylist Juliet Jernigan did bond over Oklahoma. McAdams was planning a trip to Jernigan’s home state to complete reshoots on an as-yet-untitled project with filmmaker Terrence Malick, in which she costars with Ben Affleck, Javier Bardem, and Rachel Weisz. Once the shoot wrapped, McAdams borrowed the draped velvet Giorgio Armani dress in which she’d just been photographed and headed out for the evening’s award-show festivities.
Read Excerpt of Interview
Published: May 9, 2011
Rachel McAdams: The Romantic
Woody Allen wrote a movie for her. Diane Keaton is her biggest fan. She’s fronted blockbuster romcoms, seduced mouthwatering stars, and made girls old and young believe that we, too, will get swept up in an epic love story one day. Tom Shone finds Rachel McAdams 2,168 miles from the L.A. limelight
On working with Owen Wilson: “It’s definitely a different dynamic from the last time we were together. It wasn’t as fun being mean. I love that Woody likes good guys to be good guys and bad guys to be bad guys. Owen seemed to respond really well when I was a really bad guy.”
On her role in Mean Girls: “With Mean Girls, I originally auditioned for the part that Lindsay Lohan played. I wouldn’t have seen myself playing Regina at all. But when I read the script, I thought, Oh, this part is way more fun; I wonder who will play that.…”
On being a romantic: “I am. When Billie Holiday comes on, I can’t help but be transported—and I’m sure it wasn’t as romantic then at all—but that’s the wonderful part of my job: dressing up and walking down the street in New York or Toronto, pretending I’m in the ’40s.”
On finding inspiration in her parents’ marriage: “[They are] Still together and still in love. I’m very blessed that way. I had a great example of love in front of me, and that’s probably what makes me such a romantic, because I’ve seen it firsthand.”
On her expectations for relationships: “You grow up and you assume that everyone is like that, and you quickly realize that they’re not, and then you have those days when you wonder if you’re going to find it for yourself. It’s such a hard thing to find. I think it was more that realization that rocked me.”
On being hesitant to take on certain roles: “Sometimes I don’t think I’m the best person for the job. That was the case with Morning Glory. Sometimes I think, Really? You see me as this? Just because I don’t see myself that way, does that mean I shouldn’t do it? I tend to go, Is this the right decision? What are the ramifications of doing this part? You can start to overanalyze. But once I make the decision, it’s full steam ahead.”
On the critics’ reaction to Morning Glory: “It’s funny, because so many people said to me, “It’s the kind of film you don’t see anymore, done in a way that isn’t done anymore.” I thought that was a really positive thing, but apparently not. I only hear these businesspeople: “Well, no one was sure who it was for.”
Read Behind the Cover: Rachel McAdams
Published: August, 2005
Owen Wilson’s queeze in this summer’s comedy The Wedding Crashers
From queen bitch in Mean Girls to blushing bridesmaid in The Wedding Crashers, versatile 28-year-old Canadian actress Rachel McAdams has received three MTV Movie Awards. She’s starred in The Hot Chick, The Notebook and alongside Lindsay Lohan in Mean Girls. And her latest role, in the can’t fail comedy The Wedding Crashers, sees her play a bridesmaid who tempts playboy Owen Wilson into settling down. “He and Vince Vaughn were constantly riffing and improvising on set – it was very cool to watch,” she says.
Coming soon is The Family Stone, in which she schemes to splot up Dermot Mulroney from fiancée Sarah Jessica Parker (“She wears her clothes so well“). Meanwhile, speaking from her Ontario home, she says she’d like to take piano lessons and ‘get better at cooking.’
• Rachel used to ice-skate competitively in her teens.
• She pent three summers flipping burgers in McDonald’s.
• She didn’t set foot on a plane until she was 22.
• Her current favorite read is Sylvia’s Plath’s bleak novel, The Bell Jar.
By Lindsey Filed under 2004 Comments Off
Published: November, 2004
Hometown: Near London, Ontario.
Upcoming: The Wedding Crashers, with Owen Wilson, Vince Vaughn, and Will Ferrell, in which she plays a bridesmaid who catches the eye of Wilson’s womanizing nuptial freeloader.
Where you’ve seen her: As the stuck-up cheerleader who turn into Rob Schneider in The Hot Chick; the stuck-up high school queen bee who tangles with Lindsay Lohan in Mean Girls, and the small-town girl in the Norman Rockwell-ish romance The Notebook.
Anywhere else? Her hometown McDonald’s. “I gave three years of my life,” McAdams says ruefully, and she still has fryer burns to prove it. “Remember the ‘smiles are free!’ motto? These greasy guys would come up and say, ‘Where’s my free smile?’ I should have quit right then.”
Least favorite thing about growing up Canadian: Poorly stocked supermarkets. “We always saw American commercials that would tantalize and taunt you, like for those squishy chocolate chip cookies. But we could never find the products.”
Fashion weakness: The Salvation Army and other op-shops (as they’re known in Canada). “I found a beautiful Christian Dior dress in a local Goodwill bin for $4.”
Exercise regimen:Running. “It’s actually not that fun, but the runner’s high is awesome. And it’s free.” Plut, it beats figure skating, which Rachel quit at age 18. “Getting up at 5 A.M. was a constant struggle. I hung up my boots and haven’t picked them up since.”
Published: April, 2004
Rachel McAdams has gone glam.
Playing the role of a young woman trapped inside the hygienically impaired body of dork in the The Hot Chick may have been Rachel McAdams’ first Hollywood break, but this spring the London, Ont., native ups the glam quotient with her sassy turn in Mean Girls. “This role is definitely more kick-ass,” says McAdams, who plays a bratty teen who takes a new girl under her wing to teach her the ways of her boy-crazy, gossip-mongering, A-list posse. But what she doesn’t know is that this girl has infiltrated the clique as a spy on behalf of all nerds and is out to sabotage her with the same humiliation tactics. “It’s fun to play these popular girls, with the most popular boys as their boy toys, because I was such a geek in high school,” she says, laughing. “I knew nothing of that world. But I wondered what it was like.”
As a young girl, McAdams – who performed in her first Shakespeare production at age 12 – says she was more interested in acting than social cliques. “I remember watching Star Search and thinking ‘I have to get on that show’ – even though I couldn’t sing or dance to save my life.” Although she never landed a spot with Mr. McMahon, McAdams can’t complain about the company she’s now keeping. This summer, she’s in the middle of an enviable love triangle with Ryan Gosling and James Marsden in The Notebook. She also recently reported to the set of The Wedding Crashers to play Owen Wilson’s love interest. And while locking lips with these hotties is certain “dreamy“, McAdams confesses that her ideal onscreen smooch would be with Billy Crudup. “He’s amazing and has twinkle in his eyes.”
Published: January 1, 2004
Newcomer Rachel McAdams goes from Mean Girls’ bossy teen queen to The Notebook radiantly desirable protagonist.
In The Notebook, Rachel McAdams plays a Southern woman who after World War II must choose between her devoted fiancé (James Marsden) and the soul mate of her prewar teens (Ryan Gosling). Based on the best-seller by Nicholas Sparks (Message in a Bottle), The Notebook should be Hollywood safest, but McAdams gives it poignant conviction. Her character has such luminous vitality that the decision she faces feels life defining, for the men and for her. Speaking from Los Angeles the Canadian transplant describes her audition. “This amazing love she experiences was enough to fill me up, she says, “When I walked into that room, it just came pouring out, and the next thing I knew I had the job.”
McAdams, 25, is close to her parents, Lance, a furniture mover, and Sandra, a nurse, and keeps a Toronto apartment to get away from the “noise” of the movie business. She’s done mostly comedies such as this spring’s Mean Girls – her prom princess is a model of beaming malice – and she’s about to shoot The Wedding Crashers with Owen Wilson, McAdams brings an impudent humor to The Notebook too, but as an exuberant grace note in a performance so rich and subtle it’s a revelation. Much good acting is physical, and in one indelible moment she says not a word and her face is barely visible. In a house renovated by one of the men, she sits painting in the morning sun, utterly engrossed, naked except for a blanket around her hips – she has straight from the bed to the easel, carried by some private notion. Her delicate, harp-shaped back is eloquent with unself-conscious pleasure and concentration. Suddenly, you understand what will be lost for the man who loves her.
Published: March 12, 2007
We whisk Rachel McAdams off to Paris for some haute couture dress-up.
The art deco labyrinth of the Los Angeles Public Library is her home away from home. Beyond the high metal gates, past the Children’s Courtyard with its lotus flower fountain and bas-reliefs of Robin Hood, the Cat and the Fiddle, Ali Baba, Alice and the Queen of Hearts…through the Egyptian-inspired doors, up one worn marble staircase, down another, along the Ivanhoe friezes, across the atrium, beneath the light of the enormous cast-bronze globe chandelier ringed by the zodiac, Rachel McAdams sits on a bench writing in a spiral notebook, looking much more Alice in Wonderland than Hollywood movie star. “You won’t be able to miss her,” her manager said. “She has pink stripes in her hair!” Indeed she does. Lingering in the golden gleam. So cool. So curious. So clever. So the perfect complement to the bright fuchsia dress and copper platform shoes.
“My dress is actually soy,” McAdams says, happily holding out the hem, inviting a feel. “It’s made of, like, edamame.” Scrumptiously soft. As for her short black trench coat: “Target.” Or, as they say in France, Tarjay. The actress will soon be in Paris to attend the spectaculars of haute couture week, which—for a girl whose taste runs more bohemian than Balenciaga—will be quite like falling down a rabbit hole.
Picking up her cotton book bag, McAdams announces, “I have to show you something,” and leads the way up, up, up to a huge sunlit ballroom, where all the children’s books are napping. Inside and to the right, she enters the children’s theater, where rows of small, attached wooden chairs face a proscenium stage. “There’s never anybody in here,” McAdams whispers, though there isn’t anybody in here. “Look at this little auditorium! Isn’t it cute? Look at these tiny chairs!” She sits, dwarfing a seat, her knees nearly up to her chin. “Adorable!”
“Excuse me, excuse me,” says a pair of brown orthopedic shoes attached to a plaid-skirted gargantua with tightly curled gray hair. “No one is allowed in the theater.” That goes double for actresses. McAdams apologizes sweetly and, taking your hand, pulls you into the outer room toward two oversize club chairs by the windows, stepping between the roosters and turtles and squirrels and bears woven into the carpet. “I keep getting in trouble today,” she giggly whispers. “I took out a book on slow cooking—you know, Crock-Pot? And I got a call this morning, ‘Bring it back! The slow-cooker book is in demand! You have to bring it back.‘ And then I got pulled over by a cop on my way here for running a red light on my bike.” She rode a bicycle, in a dress? “I did!” Her eyes dance. “And now we’re getting kicked out of the kids’ auditorium!” All before noon.
McAdams curls up in a corner of a big leather chair, making herself teensy in the process. Whistle thin, she has the diminutive dimensions of a figure skater—a former incarnation. That grounded weightlessness has served her in embodying a quick succession of disparate characters in highly successful films—the nasty teen queen in Mean Girls; the World War II-era ingenue in The Notebook; the action heroine in Red Eye; a winsome, woo-able bridesmaid in Wedding Crashers—the box office sum of which added up to “The next Julia Roberts!” or so the Tinseltown criers cried. “There’s always that need to turn everything into something you can recognize,” McAdams says, understanding the inclination without being so inclined. Beyond that, she can’t explain herself, because she’s not Herself, you see. But on-screen the two actresses do share a rare effervescent, incan descent, superlunary power that prevails upon you to root for their happiness as if your very own depended on it. And it does. Who could stand to see Julia go back to hooking on Hollywood Boulevard or Rachel marry the one who isn’t The One?
“You feel almost vulnerable watching them. They’re giving you something so intimate,” says Ira Sachs, who cast McAdams in the upcoming Married Life. “They take the everyday and turn it into something enormous.”
“When Wedding Crashers came out, everyone was hyped up, calling Rachel the new It Girl,” recalls Tom Bezucha, director of The Family Stone, in which McAdams costarred with Diane Keaton. “I felt anxious about that because it’s so diminishing to her talent. You get the impulse—you want to put her in everything. But her selectiveness shows wisdom greater than her years about her place in the industry. She’s very purposeful in side stepping Hollywood. She has the opportunity to be this huge, huge movie star, but in her heart she’s a character actress.”
Echoes Keaton: “I hadn’t been that impressed with someone since I worked with Meryl Streep.”
“I’m not going to make movies just to make movies,” McAdams says. (She’s turned down loads of roles, including the romantic leads in Mission Impossible 3 and Casino Royale, Anne Hathaway’s part in The Devil Wears Prada, and Agent 99 in the upcoming Get Smart, starring Steve Carell.) “I have to be passionate about it. And at the same time, I can get very distracted when I’m working, and I like to get back to my life a lot“—a love-wise life with Ryan Gosling that she fictionalized in The Notebook in 2004 and factualized with him “quite a while after the movie.” Two years-ish to be exact. She’s a serious sort, not one to have her head spun on a set all flibbertigibbety, hand-feeding the tabloids. They’re a well-matched pair of hearts. She admires him. Her cheeks bloom when she speaks of his Oscar nomination for Half Nelson. “He did such an amazing job,” McAdams says, her voice positively aching. “He worked so hard, too! He never does the same thing twice. He’s very brave. I don’t think he sees the point [in taking a role] unless he can find out what he’s made of every time. He just doesn’t back off. He goes into everything from that place.”
You should see her now, so in love. Note the dimples—the right one deeper than the left. They contribute to the illusion that she is younger than her years—which IMDb states is 30, but is really, truly, ask her mother, 28. She has a high, unlined forehead, clear gray-green eyes, a rosebud mouth, and a beauty-marked chin, all floating in a pool-of-milk complexion blushed cotton-candy pink. She’s a confection of perfection that would be too-too if it weren’t for the fact that she’s playing with a full deck and a half. And so sincere it’s nearly queer! Guile-free. Yet knowing.
“Something’s happening behind the eyes that’s different from what she’s saying,” Sachs says. “There’s a whole life going on within the gaze.” Clearly smitten; she’s run off with his head. “Yes! You fall completely in love with Rachel when you work with her. And I’m a full-grown gay man!” Such bewitchery was required for her role in Married Life. Based on the John Bingham 1953 noir novel Five Roundabouts to Heaven, the film stars McAdams as a ’40s femme fatale involved in a murderous menagerie with Pierce Brosnan and Chris Cooper. “This man wants out of his marriage, so he decides rather than breaking his wife’s heart by leaving her, he’ll just kill her—avoid the emotional damage altogether,” McAdams says, smiling. “I play the lover.”
“She has a movie star’s entrance in the movie,” Sachs says. “In that moment you understand why two men will fall so madly in love with this woman as to put their own lives on the line to have her. She embodied that mythological cinematic quality.” He compares her to “Kim Novak in Vertigo, Grace Kelly in Rear Window, and Eva Marie Saint in North by Northwest.”
It was in London, Ontario, Canada, that McAdams bounced into this world, soon to be the eldest of three. Her father is a mover, and her mother a nurse. It was an idyllic growing-up in which you could believe impossible things. “My parents were so supportive,” she says. “They believe you can learn just as much from your children as you can teach them. They’re getting more and more environmentally minded because that’s where my interests lie,” McAdams says. “I bought my dad a composter for Christmas. He’s so excited—’I can’t wait until spring and I can turn my composter!’ It’s so cute.”
“There isn’t a sense that Rachel’s come to the craft as an act of exorcism,” Bezucha says. “She’s not working out her own stuff on set. If she comes with baggage, it’s a carry-on.” The dramas in her life were relegated to the stage.
“I started by doing Shakespeare when I was 12,” she says. “It was very intimidating at first—Macbeth. I played one of the witches—and reprised my role in college, coincidentally. We did little excerpts from it, and our swimming towels were our capes. We performed in a Greek outdoor amphitheater that had stone tiers. It was magical.… One year we did Agamemnon, and I played Clytem nestra, who is this blood-seeking terror of a woman. It took place in a ravine, and I was just blasting the chorus, who were judging her for murdering her husband and his lover. I can’t describe the feeling I had standing there.” She sighs. “I’d love to go back and do that again. It would be different at 28 than it was at 13.”
Alas, the stone stomping grounds of McAdams’ amphitheater are forever no more. “They’ve torn it down,” the actress says, pressing her lips together, furrowing her brow.
“My ears perked up when I heard she started in theater,” Cooper says. That background has helped her pull off complicated performances. “I’ve worked with some wonderful American actors, but I’m afraid that for a piece like [Married Life], they usually cast from Britain, Australia, Canada. There’s a maturity in these women that the American film industry…well, look at what’s happening with the awards this year—Meryl is the only American up for best actress.”
Standing up to just the right size, McAdams clasps her rumbling stomach. “I’m starving!” says the former vegetarian. “I stopped eating meat for a few years and got so tired I fell asleep during a Chris Rock show—live, front row. And I was like, ‘I’m picking up some bacon tomorrow!’ You have to be so strict to be a vegetarian. And I’m only human.”
She rouses the children’s books as she’s leaving, tickling their spines. “I love Beatrix Potter,” she says wistfully. “My mother took me to the library so much when I was a kid. That was like my whole summer. I just got lost. The library and the grocery store are my favorite places to go.” Which reminds her: “I’m so excited to leave for Paris—I’ve never been! I’m hoping to take a little cooking class. Do they do Crock-Pot cooking in Paris? Is that a faux pas?”
Back through the stacks, down the stairs, along the hall she stops and declares, “That makes me anxious!” McAdams enters the library’s Getty Gallery and rights the left-leaning painting hanging on the wall. “I have major anxiety about crooked pictures. They just make me mental.” She steps back. “I’m spatially sensitive,” she says. “In the shower, I have to have the shampoo bottles set up right. I don’t want the writing facing out. I want the label facing out. I’m learning to relax about bookshelves. I think the books look nicer if the heights are mixed up.”
An etching catches her eye, a graveyard, one plot in particular. She reads the headstone aloud: “Here lies worry, aspiration, stress, hunger, thirst, and lust.” McAdams stares, contemplating. “I don’t want to have a tombstone,” she says, matter-of-factly. Slipping on her Target trench coat, she’s struck by a bolt of cheerfulness. “You can now be made into a reef! I was reading that they can make your remains into a reef and put you into the ocean, and the fish can feed off you!” Human compost. She kisses goodbye on both cheeks. “I just want to go back into the earth the same way I came.”
Then she vanished quite slowly, ending with a grin, which remained some time after the rest of her was gone.