First thing’s first. No, Rachel McAdams and Russell Crowe don’t get it on in their movie, “State of Play.” Their characters don’t even flirt with each other. That’s one of a few clichés that “State of Play” manages to avoid: sexual tension between the male and female lead characters. (Another cliché that the movie doesn’t have: the coupling of a leading man with a leading lady who’s young enough to be his daughter.) The political thriller “State of Play” marks the return of McAdams to a major-studio film, after the actress took a few years off to do small independent films like “Married Life” and “The Lucky Ones.”
In “State of Play,” McAdams plays Della Frye, a blogger for a newspaper in Washington, D.C. She’s hot on the trail of a scandal involving politician Stephen Collins (played by Ben Affleck), a married congressman exposed for having an affair with a female subordinate who dies mysteriously on a train track. Della often clashes with her co-worker Cal McCaffrey (played by Russell Crowe), an “old school” journalist who happens to be a friend of Stephen’s. Cal also gets involved in the investigation, and the two reporters team up to get to the bottom of the story. McAdams recently talked about “State of Play,” why she could never be a journalist in real life and which of her “State of Play” male co-stars she thought was the hottest. (It’s not who you think.)
For anyone who hasn’t seen “State of Play,” can you describe your character Della Frye?
I think she’s very ambitious. It’s definitely her passion. And I think she’s very interested in uncovering the truth. But I also think she’s a product of modern-day journalism … She wants to impress her boss, and she wants to get it right. And she wants to be popular with the public, because she writes a blog. She needs readership and wants stories to be sexy … She hasn’t been exposed to journalism that Cal is about. I think she’s reignited by him and reinspired and kind of what really journalism should be. It’s really not about impressing others. It’s not about fast results and sexy stories all the time.
What do you think about Cal being a friend of someone he’s investigating?
That’s what’s hard about the situation. He is too personally involved. He should probably step away from the story. But his passion and commitment to his friend is also what’s going to push him to find the truth. So I think she’s calling him out on something that’s fair, but at the same time, he has good reason to follow those instincts.
Reporters are supposed to stay objective, but what did Della learn from Cal about letting your personal feelings possibly affect your reporting?
He’s teaching her and showing her the ropes and sparking her interest. And I think he’s reminding her that it’s not an easy job. You do get personally involved, and it does affect your whole life. I think if you’re really worth your salt, the lines do get blurred. It can be dangerous, and that’s really exciting. But it’s definitely not an easy job. I couldn’t be a journalist at all. [She laughs.] That’s what I discovered from doing this [movie], but I do respect and admire those who put their reputations and their lives on the lines and seek out the difficult truths. I think [Cal] is just making Della aware of that, and I think she loves it. I think she realizes that her heart is in doing that.
How would you describe the characters of Cal and Della?
Cal is referred to as a “dinosaur” at one point. His computer is 20 years old. He still uses pen and paper. Della, on the other side, is very much online; she’s a blogger. She does all of her work in front of the computer. There’s a running gag that she doesn’t ever have a pen handy. [She’s about] Blackberrys, iPhone, all the latest and greatest. So they’re definitely on opposing sides of the same business when they first meet.
There’s a scene in the movie where Della tries to get some information from a source who’s laid up in a hospital bed, and then something shocking happens. Can you talk about that scene and how it affected Della?
I think it shocked her back into reality, in a sense. I also think it ignited her when she got over the shock of almost being killed. Suddenly, she was propelled to dig further, and [think,] “Wow, this is a really intense story and this is a big break!” She kind of had to put herself on the line. It was in that moment that she realized that. But it was also in that moment how she realize dhow dangerous it was and how people’s lives are at stake.
I think it’s funny that she’s in that room, and this guy is coming out of a coma and she wants to ask him a question. But people really are in that situation: having to talk to journalists in the hospital. The bosses say, “You have to knock on that door.” … I couldn’t do [that job]. I couldn’t sell chocolate almonds [door to door] when I was in eighth grade.
The plot of “State of Play” is kind of elaborate, but can you summarize it?
Their investigating is quite elaborate. Cal’s friend [Stephen Collins] is a famous politician, and his intern has died on the subway tracks. And they don’t know if it’s suicide or murder … There are all these other murders on the side and they all start to add up. And then they’re all linked to this politician and Point Corp. … It’s like Blackwater, basically. And Stephen is the politician holding hearings about Point Corp. and the way that they’ve been operating and their function in the world and whether they should be or not.
Why should people who love political thrillers see this movie?
What I’ve been hearing is … that people are appreciating that it’s a smart film and it’s asking the audience to wait for things to appear and reveal themselves. And you really have to pay attention. It’s a big jigsaw puzzle.
Which look on a man do you like the most, based on the characters in this movie: a hard-partying Jason Bateman, a scruffy Russell Crowe or a dapper Ben Affleck?
Oh, don’t make me choose. I’d have to say the tweaking Jason Bateman was pretty hot. [She laughs.] He was great. He was amazing. He came in with that slicked hair and that suit … all finicky and fussy. Russell and I, our jaws were dropping. Every single take that [Jason] did was incredible.
Jason Bateman is great comic relief in the movie.
Yeah, but so beautiful at the end when he was begging for his life and … [his character] was so pathetic and so sad. He was so slimy and so smarmy but at the same time he pulled at your heartstrings. It was really memorable.