Interview: Rachel McAdams by Owen Wilson

Published: July, 2005

Rachel McAdams. She’s nobody’s next big thinks – when you’re this timelessly gorgeous, limitlessly talented, and crashing into theaters at breakneck speed, you’re just it.

With the 2004 out-of-left-field hits Mean Girls and The Notebook, the relatively unknown Rachel McAdams burst onto the scene, delivering a one-two punch by portraying utterly opposite characters with startling talent, humor, and grace. This year, she delivers on the buzz in the Vince Vaughn/Owen WIlson summer comedy Wedding Crashers as well as in Wes Craven’s Red Eye, and with another big film on the horizon (The Family Stone with Diane Keaton and Sarah Jessica Parker), it’s a noise that will likely only get louder. And to think-this young woman from a small town outside of London, Canada, would once have been satisfied just being the local ice-skating champion. Here, McAdams tells her Wedding Crashers co-star Owen Wilson about how she went from doing figure eight to running circies around Hollywood.

Owen Wilson: Now I want you to know I’m not going to pull any punches here – I’m going to be though on you and ask all the questions those other journalist have been afraid to.
Rachel McAdams: Yeah, I had a feeling. I’ve been sweating all day.

OW: You better be. I was looking in your little bio, and I hadn’t realized that when you were a kid you were a competitive figure skater. It says that you started at age 4.
RM: Yeah, I enjoyed it, and I did it until I went off to university. Buy then I took theater and just sort of switched gears. Skating was kind of passion for a while, though.

OW: Do you see any similarities between athletics and acting, like in term of pressure?
RM: Actually, I didn’t deal well with the pressure in skating the way I seem to in acting. When was skating, the nerves got to me, and I’d get paralyzed, whereas when I’m acting, the nerver propel me into action. That’s how I knew was probably a bteer actor than a figure skater. My skating coach always said to me, “You’d be a lot better if you were dumb,” because you can’t let your brain get in the way. And I think it’s the same thing with acting – you have to do a lot of thinking before you et there, but once you do, you have to give yourself over to the universe and not think too much. But doing a sport totally helps you – it’s great for your work ethic, and I love doing physical work as an actor because I’ve really become in tune with my body.

OW: While shooting Wedding Crashers, sometimes when I was getting ready I’d read over the scene you were going to do, and I’d think to myself, “Oh this is kind of a corny line. There’s no way she’s going to get out of this one.” And then you’d find a way to say it where it was not only believable and real but also very winning.
RM: [laughs] You’re too kind.

I’m serious! One of the thinks that makes acting tricky and creates insecurities for actor is that there isn’t necessarily a correlation between hard work and how well you do – you can work your hardest, and people can still watch it and go, “I don’t buy that.” Did you work on your craft, or is it just a natural way you have about you?
RM: I wonder sometimes whether some people do just have it and some don’t, but I think it gets better the more you work on it. And a little bit of hard work really does go a long way – it allows you to be freer because you’re not as anxious. How do you do it?

OW: I didn’t study. Hopefully I make things sound reasonably natural, but in terms of being ble to change my voice and do different thins, I don’t know that that’s necessarily me. Like, your character in Mean Girls was totally different person than the one you played in The Notebook – you did a real accent and stuff
RM: I helped being in the South for a couple months before we started, because it’s one thing to learn a dialect, but it’s another to get the rhythm – that really requires immersion. In terms of being versatile or being a chameleon, I guess I get caught up in the details – I really like to concentrate on what a character looks like and try to morph into that. Sometimes it’s fun to find an image that’s really far from where I am and see how close I can get to it. I love to dye my hair, and I don’t mind looking unattractive, which doesn’t work so well for film. [laughs] But if you’re open to that it gives you more range.

OW: It does seem like the great actors have this kind of absence of vanity, like the way Jack Nicholson looks in About Schmidt [2002] or even Chinatown [1974], where in a lot of his scenes he plays with his nose bandaged.
RM: I really think that if you’re being truthful and have inhabited a character, people will take the ride regardless of what you look like.

OW: It’s interesting with comedy, but a lot of times the stuff I find funny is very painful.
RM: I’m so curious about the art of comedy. I should have asked you this before we started Wedding Crashers – not that I was really the funny one anyway – but do you have any tips for me?

OW: Well, pratfalls and things aren’t really my sense of humor – to me, comedy is just making stuff sound real. Basically all seven deadly sins are where funny stuff comes from.
RM: That’s interesting, because feelings like that are pure places to drop into.

OW: I remember when you had to do an emotional scene you prepared by listening to your Ipod. It was “Landslide” by Fleetwood Mac. [both laugh] Boy, you’d hear that song and it was like turning on a faucet!
RM: Oh, I can’t believe you! And then Vince [Vaughn, who also appears in the film] started singing it too. You were noth standing there at the altar, sining “Landside” dead serious. It totally took me out! But whatever works.

OW: Music’s a great way to get in a good head – or bad head as the case may be – before you shoot a scene.
RM: It certainly gets your heart beating and your blood pumping. Which, as cheesy as it sounds, is so important when you’re going into a scene, because you’re about to try to do the extraordinary.

OW: What else gets your blood pumping? [McAdams laughs] Who did you have crushes on when you were a little kid? Did you have posters up of Axl Rose or Tom Cruise?
RM: I was pretty serious, so I didn’t want anyone to know I had crushes on famous people. I really liked Richard Grieco, though – I think that was the only poster I had the nerve to put up.

OW: Well I’d say that one takes a lot of nerve! You mention it like you’re talking about James Dean or something. Jesus!
RM: I don’t know what it was, man. It was inexplicable. And I was young.

OW: I guess there was kind of a swarthy brooding, handsome intensity about him. What kind of music did you get into as a kid?
I would roller-skate to Cyndi Lauper. We didn’t have a stereo in the house, just a record player, so if I wanted to play my tapes, I’d blast them out of my dad’s old Mustang and pop the hatchback so I could hear it. Me and my friend would roller skates between us, so we would tie our inside feet together and then push off with the outside foot. [laughs] Anyway, I’d listen to Cyndi Lauper, Madonna, Whitney Houston, Heart – I was really into Heart, still am, always and forever – and the Mini-Pops, which is apparently a Canadian thing. No one in the States has ever heard of them, which outrages my sister. Now I’m pretty much game for anything.

OW: Any interest outside acting?
RM: I find when I’m not doing that. It’s time tot catch up with all the people I was away from and read some books and cook some nice meals and maybe take up knitting or learn to play the piano or something like that. But for the most part, it’s work and family and friends.

OW: I remember your parents visiting the set. Your dad seems like a real kind person, and your mom seems like a strong woman.
They’re two of the kindest people I know. They’ve taught me a lot about treating people well, and they’re incredibly honest. They have a real sense of fairness and justice, and they keep me very grounded. My dad’s an extremely spiritual person, and my mom’s sort of where I get my gumption from. She’s feisty and a real humanitarian and she worries about the state of the world I’m probably most like her.

OW: Well, you definitely have a lot of gumption! [McAdams laughs] I remember thinking when we started shooting. Gosh, this girl has a real point of view about her scenes. You would really stand up for yourself, but never in a way that was off-putting. It just seemed like standing up to make the scene better. David [Dobkin, the film’s director] and Vince and I had all worked together before, and some people would have been intimidated by that, but you didn’t hold back.
RM: It’s funny thing. I always feel incredibly intimidated, so I kind of kick myself in the ass and give myself a pep talk. I’m like, “Okay, go in there and say what you mean and mean what you say. And be brave.” That’s something I learned doing The Notebook. Nick Cassavetes [the film’s director] taught me how to be brave by sort of kicking me in the ass. I would do a scene, and it would be fine, and then he would go, “We’ve got a million miles to go,” and we would spend all day until we got there. He took me to places I had no idea I could get to, and he just wouldn’t take no for an answer. I really enjoy working with directors who have more faith in me than I have in myself. When you’re vulnerable, especially in front of a bunch of strangers, you automatically try to protect yourself – the flight kicks in, and without knowing it you back off. This is what’s so hard about being an actor. I guess when that response kicks in it’s the director’s responsibility to push you back out on the stage.

OW: What was his tone like when he did that?
RM: It depended on the day. But you know what he did best? He threw me off my feet. He knew I was better when I didn’t quite know what I was doing, so he would toss me a ball out of nowhere, and I’d have to catch it before I could think. I’m good at looking at a scene and figuring out where to go and then getting there, but I’m much better when I have no idea where I’m going. I’m a control freak, and if you take that away, then really interesting things can happen.

OW: Yeah, I think I’m probably a control freak too. I remember on the first movie I worked on [Bottle Rocket, 1996] we were doing this scene where I was supposed to try and pick up this girl in kind of a rude way, and pick up this girl in kind of a rude way, and Wes [Anderson, the film’s director] told the girl in front of me that she was supposed to be into it, but later, without telling me, he told her she should trow a drink in my face. So just like Cassavetes would throw a ball at you, he had her do that, only I walked off the set. [laughs] Wes had to come and talk to me. So I guess it depends on what they throw at you.
RM: It’s hard

OW: It’s really hard. But I think that’s the freedom you were talking about. Have you ever thrown a drink in a guy’s face?
RM: In scenes.

OW: Have you ever struck a guy in anger?
RM: Once. But he hit me with a car. [both laugh]

OW: C’mon, Rachel. You’re saying that he litterally hit you with a car?
RM: He wasn’t intending to. He’s a wonderful person and wouldn’t hurt a flea. But he did hit me with a car, and I hit him back – I pinched him, but it didn’t really land. Fighting is really awkward and dumb. Did you ever instigate a fight?

OW: I’m sure I did with Luke and Andrew [Wilson’s brothers]/ But for the most part I try to follow the golden rule.
RM: The path of kindness and goodwill.

OW: Exactly. So let’s go back to Wedding Crashers for a second. What was it like to kiss Owen Wilson? I think all the readers would probably like to know that.
RM: It’s the million dollar question. [laughs] We kiss twice in the movie, don’t we? Once in the church and once on the beach?

OW: Yeah, I remember it like it was yesterday.
RM: I thought those were really nice scenes. We were kind of fighting that day in the church, so stakes were high, and it was passionate.

OW: Do you get uncomfortable doing love scenes? We only had to kiss – but when you do love scenes, do you get self-conscious, or do you try to free yourself up?
RM: Well, it’s interesting. More than any other type of scene it’s hard to block out the camera and all the people standing around you and still make it intimate, because it gets really technical. Especially if you’re hiding body parts, and you have to kiss at a certain angle.

OW: You’re also got this other movie out called Red Eye with Cillian Murphy, who was so great in 28 Days Later (2003).
RM: Yeah, he was amazing.

OW: Is this going to be scary?
RM: It’s suspenseful, but it’s a thriller as opposed to a horror movie. Everyone hears “Wes Craven” and thinks horror, but it’s a bit of a departure for him. I hear it’s pretty tense, though – you’ll feel exhausted by the end – but no one turns unto a demon or anything like that.

OW: Good. I have to worry about you. My Lord, I don’t want our little Rachel getting manhandled by a demon in a Wes Craven movie!
RM: [laughs] Well, there’s a little mishandling, but I manage.

OW: Right, with that gumption you learned from your mother.

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