Published: June 18, 2004
It’s easy to see why young Canadian actress Rachel McAdams has managed to make that elusive breakthrough in Hollywood – the 25- year-old is blessed with being pretty, thin and blond.
But the former competitive skater and theatre graduate can also act, as she proves in the two very different roles she has out on British screens this summer.
In Mean Girls, Ontario-born Rachel plays a bitchy high school Queen Bee type whose beauty is only rivalled by her single-minded desire to be the centre of attention.
And in the film version of Nicholas Sparks’ novel The Notebook, she plays a Southern debutante in the 1940s who is separated from her first love, only to be reunited later in life.
Rachel admits she did draw on some of her own experiences for her role of Regina in Mean Girls. “I do remember being a bit angry and aggressive as a teenager desperately trying to fit in,” she admits. “Of course I don’t think I was ever as mean or as extreme as my character in this film, but I did encounter girls like that.”
Nevertheless Rachel does confess to being a bit of a control freak and a perfectionist, which probably helps to explain her rise through the crowded ranks of Hollywood’s pretty wannabes.
Her screen debut was in the Canadian hit Perfect Pie in 2002, after which she headed to Los Angeles and landed the eye-candy role in The Hot Chick, playing a popular cheerleader who switches bodies with Rob Schneider.
Although these may well be her last teen roles, now she’s in her mid 20s, Rachel’s role in Mean Girls proves while she might look like a dream, she’s quite capable of playing it nasty.
“You have to cast a nice girl to play a mean girl, just like you have to cast a smart person to play a dumb person,” explains director Mark Waters. “Rachel is incredibly nice and hard working who can be wonderfully evil on camera.”
The movie centres on the cruel ways high school girls enforce their codified conduct of cliques. Gossip is often the chosen weapon and Rachel admits she did her share of it growing up in Ontario.
“I did gossip when I was given the chance because I wasn’t popular so if someone would invite me into a group it was usually to gossip about someone else. It came out of wanting to belong.”
So she enjoyed playing a character who took it to an extreme.
“The interesting challenge for me was that Regina’s sort of like a machine, she hurts people because she can and for some reason it feels good. I really wanted to go to that extreme where she lacks that little trigger that says, ‘Wait a second, this is wrong’.”
“You do meet these people who don’t actually feel bad about hurting other people and that’s kind of interesting.”
Romantic drama The Notebook is a complete change of pace – even if she’s still playing younger than her age.
In flashbacks, Rachel and rising young star Ryan Gosling play young couple Allie and Noah, who reunite later in life – in the guise of Gena Rowlands and James Gardner, who play the adult versions.
“I’m this character falling in love for the first time who then becomes separated from him. It’s really the story of this love affair.”
Her character is a real Southern belle. “Allie is a debutante in every sense of the word, etiquette classes, ballet, French and Latin studies. But she has a passion for painting which is something noone but Noah encourages in her.”
To get the feel for playing a Southerner Rachel spent time before filming began in South Carolina soaking up the culture. “In the South everything is so different for me as a Canadian, so spending time in Charleston prior to filming enabled me to get into the character with ease.”
Working with Ryan and director Nick Cassavettes was a step up in her acting career, she says.
“These were two very manly men being excited about this love story and it was an amazing experience. Sometimes Nick pushed me really hard, but it’s something that will be with me always.”
The daughter of a truck driver father and nurse mother, Rachel’s early interest was ice skating, which she did at a competitive level into her teens.
“It came to a point when I couldn’t mentally handle the pressure I put myself under any more, it wasn’t fun. In the build-up to competitions my personality would start to change.”
Eventually Rachel was drawn into taking acting seriously, graduating with an honours degree in theatre from Toronto’s York University and finding her feet in television supporting roles.
These days the actress divides her life between Toronto and Los Angeles, with her film career on a steady rise. She recently completed The Wedding Crashers with Owen Wilson.
Rachel is still surprised she has made it in Hollywood. When the then 13-year-old enrolled in Canada’s celebrated Original Kids Theatre programme it was usually tears before bedtime.
“I was absolutely terrified when I started that course. I was this shy little turtle who would run home crying to my parents. It took me a while to enjoy being on stage,” she reveals.
Going to university and studying acting was her salvation, she says.
“A whole new world opened up for me. I found people who had the same interests and who respected each other.”
Thanks Laura for donating