Published: August, 2009
NEW YORK — If people didn’t have regrets, they wouldn’t fantasize about changing the past.
Thus the appeal of a film — and book — such as The Time Traveler’s Wife, in which Eric Bana and Rachel McAdams fall in love despite the fact he suffers from a genetic condition that, without warning, transports him in and out of the present. Sometimes he materializes in his own childhood; other times, he’s flung into an uncertain and possibly perilous future.
So it’s to be expected that during interviews at a posh Manhattan hotel, the actors who play time-crossed lovers Henry and Clare are fielding questions about where/when they would like to travel to if similarly afflicted with “chrono-impairment.”
McAdams’ answer? “I’d like to see my parents fall in love. I think that’d be fun.”
What she would not reverse or alter (and therefore what she doesn’t regret) is her career — or the choices she has made since first flirting with superstardom following Wedding Crashers and Red Eye in 2005. Back then, McAdams — already sought-after following the surprise of The Notebook — was on the verge of being anointed The Next Julia (a title thrown around frequently as Hollywood searches for its next great female box-office draw; just ask Amy Adams). Superhero franchises, rom-coms and Oscar nominations would swiftly follow, right? Actually, no. Instead, McAdams appeared to downshift into idle, making just three modest films in three years — The Lucky Ones, Married Life and The Family Stone — and generating more headlines for her personal life than her work. (Now split from her Notebook co-star Ryan Gosling, she has been most recently been “linked” — per the industry lingo — to Josh Lucas.)
Had the Ontario-born McAdams opted out of the A-list?
“I don’t think I wanted to be one thing or another,” she says now. “It has landed the way it has. I feel very grateful it’s gone the way it has so far because I’m still employed and I’ve been able to do a wide variety of things and different roles. I’ve met challenges on every film and never have been bored. So that’s a success to me, that I’ve been able to stay afloat and also get to do things that are fun. I don’t know where that puts me in the grand scheme of things, but I’ve enjoyed the journey so far.”
Still, it’s hard not to get the impression she is suddenly making up for lost time. This past spring, she was seen as an ambitious Washington D.C. blogger opposite Russell Crowe in the political drama State of Play. And with The Time Traveler’s Wife (in theatres Friday), McAdams has two high-profile projects due in the next 12 months: Sherlock Holmes, starring Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law; and Morning Glory, a J.J. Abrams-produced comedy with Harrison Ford and Diane Keaton. If she has been cautious about Hollywood, the industry, it seems, remains as enamoured as ever with her.
Or maybe they just feel the way screenwriter Bruce Joel Rubin, who adapted The Time Traveler’s Wife, does. “I don’t know what it is about Rachel. You can see it in The Notebook, you can see it in almost everything’s she’s in. Most men I know see it. It is unbelievably attractive. It is so alive, it just sucks you in.”
McAdams has been involved with an adaptation of The Time Traveler’s Wife almost since the book’s publication. “I fell head over heels in love with it,” she remembers.
She wasn’t alone. The novel became a bestseller, distinguished by how it used its trippy science-fiction concept as a metaphor for everyday life. “It was important to root it in something we could relate to and not just be this fantastical concept,” McAdams says. “Longing and waiting and separation — so many people are overcoming that every day. We kind of step away from the time travel of it all.”
When she learned Bana would play Henry, “The lightbulb went off. Knowing the book so well and having spent some time with the fictional Henry, I just thought he was perfect.”
But will audiences be similarly captivated? The movie is far from a sure thing — neither an effects-driven sequel nor name-brand remake.
And some have wondered why the film, which was shot in 2007, is being released now? Usually delays mean trouble. Not so, says Bana.
“You have to be so careful with a film like this that it’s released at the right time. It’s not the sort of film you can open anytime in the year … This was never a troubled film. The film was never in repair. It was finished on time. So really it was Warner Bros. taking the right amount of care to make sure it was released at a time it would have its best chance (at finding an audience).”
Naturally, both actors say they are pleased with the finished product — although McAdams notes her reaction may have been somewhat muted by the DVD screener she watched. “My copy said across the screen, ‘Property of Warner Brothers, you will be seriously prosecuted if anyone ever gets a hold of this, Rachel McAdams.’ So I didn’t get completely carried away.”
’Time Traveler’s’ long journey
How far back do you need to go to learn the origins of The Time Traveler’s Wife?
Back to when it was considered by some as a potential vehicle for Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston. The duo, then Hollywood’s primo power couple, snapped up the rights to author Audrey Niffenegger’s 2003 tome for their production shingle Plan B.
Although the pair never was set to play chrono-challenged lovers Henry and Clare, screenwriter Bruce Joel Rubin admits he couldn’t help but envision the roles with Pitt — who remains one of the film’s producers — and Aniston in mind.
“They seemed like a perfect version of Henry and Clare. They were equally attractive, equally compelling and in the Hollywood arena at that moment in time, they were as good a couple as you’d find and I thought I’d love to see them together.”
Of course, that’s one of the challenges in adapting any book: Everyone who has read it envisions its characters differently.
Acknowledges Rachel McAdams, who portrays the titular spouse, “You’re playing a character that people have already cast in their heads.”
Still, regardless of what departures from the source material the filmmakers took, Eric Bana believes the story’s appeal remains intact. “The key element is this impossible love between two people who get ripped apart by this time-travelling device,” he says. “I think the core of the book is there. I think it’s as close as it can be … And there’s a point where the two things have to live on their own.”
For Rubin, who won an Oscar for penning 1990’s Ghost, that meant focusing on the plight of the characters and not the mechanics of time travel. “It was very important the movie be emotionally involving,” he says. “You don’t want it to be a movie where you’re watching it primarily from your head, like Memento or something. That is its own kind of experience because it’s puzzling and fun.”
Instead, the film functions as a romantic drama — and, for director Robert Schwentke (Flight Plan), a love letter to his wife.
“I had been looking for a love story. I’m at a stage in my life in which I’m married and very happy and I wanted to make a movie for my wife (about) what it is to be in a long-term, very committed relationship. Because at the heart (of the story) that’s what it is.”