Stella: The incurable romantic

Published: January 29, 2012

A graduate of the teen hit Mean Girls, the actress Rachel McAdams has gone on the show her talent in a whole succession of rom-coms and tear-jerkers. She talks to Elaine Lipworth about her weepiest film to date, falling in love with the British star Michael Sheen and why she’s june a home-bird at heart.

Eight years ago The Notebook, a gloriously sentimental triple-tissue weepie, puy Rachel McAdams on the map. She’d already given a scene-stealing performance in Mean Girls (overshadowing the film’s lead, Lindsay Lohan), but The Notebook, in which she was cast alongside Ryan Gosling, grossed $75 million world wide and is now regularly listed with Titanic, Moonstruck and Gone with the Wind as one of the most romantic films ever made. “I remember coming out of the audition instinctively feeling that my life was never going to be the same,” recalls the 33-year-old actress over afternoon tea in a hotel suite in Los Angeles.

She was right. McAdams went on to star in the rom-com Weeding Crashers (2005), the film version of State of Play (2009) and both of Guy Richie’s Sherlock Holmes films. Last year she appeared in Woody Allen’s Oscar tipped comedy Midnight in Paris, on the set of which she met and subsequently fell in love with her co-star Michael Sheen. “I love the Britisch sens of humor,” she says with a smile.

Classically beautiful, McAdams has long, wavy blonde hair, which she has pinned back off her face, highlighting her delicate featured and creamy skin. She is wearing a 1940s-style shimmering gold Etro top and cream wool Roland Mouret trousers. We’ve met to talk about her latest film, The Vow, another romantic tear-jerker about a couple living in wedded bliss until a car crash leaver McAdams’s character with no memory of having met and married her husband (played by the hunky Channing Tatum of GI Joe fame).

The actress is a good raconteuse with a musical voice and a light Canadian accent. We find ourselves giggling like schoolgirls about the film, even though there aren’t a lot of laughs in it. McAdams is gleefully relating a story about one of the film’s moment of comic relief, when Tatum’s character, now stranger to his wife, walks into their bedroom star naked. “Seeing him naked comes as quite a shock [to her] He doesn’t seem to mind, [he just thinks] this is his wife,” she says. “Naturally my character has a rather dramatic reaction“. A reaction which, as it turns out, didn’t require any acting “Channing got the props department to make a prosthetic, um, member.” She lowers her voice and whisper. “Literally a fake penis. I didn’t know what to do, I thought, ‘Is this the real deal?’ It was very realistic.” She erupts into peals of silvery laughter.

Right on cue, Tatum, who is also in the hotel doing interviews, barges in to say hello to his leading lady. “Are you talking about my body?” says the actor, grinning with mock macho bravado. “In your dreams!” shouts McAdams. “I still can’t believe you did that.” She shakes her head and covers her face with her hands at the memory. “It was ridiculous – the scale of it!”

The film poses a serious question: would you fall in love with your spouse if you were to mee again as strangers? McAdams spoke to the couple who inspired the story: “They found their way back to each other, which is amazing,” she says. She also spent a lot of time talking about brain injuries and memory loss with an expert called in to help on set. “They say that people often get back on the path they were on before they lost their memories, and begin to resemble their previous selves again,” she says.

Does she believe in love at first sight? “I definitely believe in it,” she says. “I think there’s some kind of recognition when you meet a person that you really connect to. Apparently, it is all to do with pheromones. If the man’s smell is too close to her father’s a woman will reject him, but if it’s too far away she rejects him“.

I asked about Michael Sheen, the 42-year-old Welsh star of The Special Relationship, The Queen and Frost/Nixon. McAdams initially reluctant to share details of her relationship with Sheen, who was a 12-year-old daughter, Lily, from his relationship with the actress Kate Beckinsale (McAdams was previously involved with Ryan Gosling for three years.) She sighs and twists her necklace. “I don’t usually speak much about this kind of thing“, she says, hesitating. But her reserve melts away when I ask her what it’s like going out with one of our treasures.

Aha!” she exclaims, clearly amused. “He’ll be pleased to hear that!” She laughs delightedly. “Michael is a very funny person,” she says, revealing that she is part Welsh herself. “I have a lot of Welsh on my grandmother’s side. Michael and I didn’t get together while we were filming Midnight in Paris, which I feel strongly about not doing when I’m working. We became quite good friends, which I think is a great way to start.

I will say that I felt very blessed to have made a Woody Allen film in Paris together,” she continues. “It was magical, and it wasn’t one of these movies where the streets were cloes down; traffic was going by and we were art of French life. But also – and this is the most amazing thing – we had access to Giverny [Monet’s gardens] and the Rodin gardens barefoot without a security guard telling me off – it was extraordinary.”

McAdams grew up in St Thomas, Ontario, with her younger siblings, Daniel and Kayleen. Her father, Lance, was a removal man. “He preferred to call his job ‘relocation engineer‘,” she jokes. Her mother, Sandy, is a nurse. “My dad would have to go away sometimes to work, but mostly we had dinner together every night. I had my spot at the table along with my sister and brother.

Chores were divided among the family. “My mother thought it was important that we all learnt to cook. And she would say, ‘From now on you are all going to do your own laundry.’ So when I went to college I knew how to take care of myself. She was really nuturing and I had a lovely childhood. For family holidays we went as far as the car could take us – we would drive to Florida, even though it would take us three days.”

A competitive figure skater as a child, McAdams discovered a talent for acting at a summer camp in her early teens. “I always felt quite nervous in sports, but when I started acting the nerves pulled me forward and got me on to the stage, whereas when I was skating my knees were knocking together and I thought I was going to be sick. When I said I wanted to go to theater school I am sure my parents were terrified, but they didn’t show it and were completely supportive.” She studied theatre at York University in Toronto, and landed her first big role in The Hot Chick (2002). Mean Girls and The Notebook followed in 2004.

Hoever, just hweb her career was taking off, she stepped out of the limelight. She reportedly turned down a series of high-profile parts – and hefty pay cheques: Eva Green’s role as the Bond girl Vesper Lynd in Casino Royale, Anne Hathaway’s role in The Devil Wears Prada opposite Meryl Streep, and one of the female leads in Mission: Impossible III. “I had been working back to back without any breaks in between, and wanted to just relax and have a life,” she says.

The same year, she was meant to appear on the cover of Vanity Fair’s Hollywood issue with Keira Knightley and Scarlett Johansson, but walked out at the 11th hour when she discovered it was a nude shoot. “What bothers me is our culture’s obsession with nudity. It shouldn’t be a big deal, but it is“, she said at the time. “There’s the worry about seeing one’s body dissected, misrepresented, played and replayed on the internet.”

Rather then following the well-trodden path of Hollywood and settling in Los Angeles (where Michael Sheen is based), McAdams has chosen to remain in Toronto, where she lives with her brother. “I feel very much at home there. I ride my bike everywhere. I have my favorite restaurants. My perfect day is riding my bike to an amazing cinema called the Lightbox, then having a glass of wine and a quinoa salad. ”

Her sister, Kaylee, is her make-up artist. “This is her work,” she says with a smile, touching her face. “Working with her is amazing because your family can be honest with you without hurting your feelings. And I really trust her aesthetic eye. When we travel they book separate hotel rooms for us, and we say, ‘We can just bunk together. We’ll have two win beds.’ Neer in my wildest dreams did I think my sister and I would be travelling around to movie premires and walking down the red carpet together.”

As for making a long-distance relationship work, she says, “Michael and I never spend more than three weeks apart – we rack up a lot of air miles – but you have to be quite adaptable in this business whether you are in a relationship or not. Trying to establish roots somewhere is a bit of a joke.”

She takes an active interest in politics and current affairs. One of many celebrities who has joined in the Occupy movement, McAdams was photographed with protester in Toronto last October. “It’s been challenging at times,” she says of Hollywood, “because it is such a different world form my world I grew up in, but I try to keep my feet on the ground, to take it slowly and enjoy it.”

It sounds as if she is also taking her relationship slowly. Has she discovered anything about love over the tears? “I hope so! I think it’s something this movie is all about, that adversity is not always a bad thing; it can bring you closer together and make your bond stronger. It’s a means to getting to know each other better. When you’re young you think, ‘Oh if it’s not perfect and we don’t get on absolutely famously all the time we’re not compatible.’ I think there are probably a few cardinal rules: you need to trust each other and to be able to talk to each other and be best friends.”

McAdams tells me about a recent study she has read on the subject of relationships. “You have your honeymoon phase and then you hit a different kind of stride, and they say you can keep falling in love again and again.” Any clues as to how exactly you achieve that? “Oh, God, I don’t know, search me“, she says with a laugh.

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