Total Film UK: The Real McAdams

Total Film UK
Published: September, 2015

As a lead in this season of True Detective, Rachel McAdams is ticking off ‘crime’ on an already varied CV, whilst also fending off enquiries about plotlines and her private life…

Given the ascent to iconic status of her most notable ex, Ryan ‘Hey girl’ Gosling, Rachel McAdams herself remains remarkably low-key. The 36-year-old Ontarian has deftly negotiated a career path through acclaimed Woody Allen movies (Midnight In Paris) and broad comedies (Mean Girls, Wedding Crashers), romantic dramas (The Notebook, The Time-Traveller’s Wife) thrillers (State Of Play, A Most Wanted Man) and, if rumors are to be believed, a Marvel movie (the upcoming Doctor Strange) without ever having to bare her soul – or bare all. She notably declined the request to pose naked on the cover of Vanity Fair with Scarlett Johansson and Keira Knightley for its 2006 Hollywood edition and has surely never regretted the decision.

Not that her CV is quite as unblemished as airbrushed starlet’s skin. There’s Brian De Palma’s Love Crime remake, Passion, for starters, in which she and Noomi Rapace plotted against one another in a supposedly steamy sapphic thriller, and Terrence Malick’s To The Wonder, where she spent more time on the cutting room
floor than the screen (at least she made the final cut, unlike Jessica Chastain, Rachel Weisz and another former lover, Michael Sheen).

Yet whatever the finished product, McAdams has maintained her poise, delivering a string of subtle, nuanced performances, most recently in Cameron Crowe’s Hawaiian romance Aloha. Where US critics seemed to revel in rubbishing the movie – deeming it a “weird heap of patriotism, astronomy and Hawaiian folklore”, “a marshmallow of a film: soft on the inside, soft on the outside and wholly devoid of substance” and a “fascinating mess” – they were effusive about McAdams’ acting, The Chicago Tribune’s reviewer waxed lyrical about her ability to “make truth out of contrivance, often nonverbally, dramatizing contradictory impulses within a single moment… in the space of a few seconds, the actress activates her character’s full array of concerns and regrets and conflicted feelings.”

“It’s disappointing when your work is not received as you hope it would be,” she says. “I’m such a big fan of Cameron’s and I think he’s such a brilliant person and such a kind person, and he brought a lot of love to this project…” Unlike the collars and cuffs of the monochrome playsuit she’s wearing today, offsetting her tousled blonde bob and scarlet lipstick, she’s unruffled. “The writing’s incredible and things seem to take on a life of their own as time progresses so I feel like the verdict is still out a little bit, but I had a blast making it. It was an extraordinary experience and I try to contain my expectations to that – to the adventure of making it rather than the final product.”

It’s that sanguine attitude which will be serving her well in the face of the perhaps inevitable backlash against the second season of True Detective, in which she plays Detective Ani Bezzerides, opposite Colin Farrell and her Wedding Crashers co-star, Vince Vaughn. “I don’t watch a lot of TV” McAdams admits, “I listen to the radio probably more than I watch TV”, so it was somewhat serendipitous that the show made it on to her radar. “I was a huge fan of the first series, I thought it was incredible,” she nods. “I binge-watched it in a cabin in the woods – sort of the perfect and worst setting to watch it in… I found it really challenging and some of the best television I’d ever seen. I had a Skype [call] with Nic [Pizzolatto, creator and writer] first and that’s where it began. I read a couple of the episodes and hit the ground running.”

Where the first anthology paired metaphysical detective Rust Cohle (Matthew McConaughey) with no-nonsense Marty Hart (Woody Harrelson) to track the mythical Yellow King, this iteration sees Ani teaming with corrupt Detective Ray Velcoro (Farrell) and Officer Paul Woodrugh (Taylor Kitsch) to investigate the murder of a businessman while keeping tabs on local gangster Frank Semyon (Vmce Vaughn). They are, of course, a bundle of flaws, making for more intense, character-driven drama with a side-serving of sex and violence.

“They’re this band of outsiders, misfits who don’t quite fit into the norms of society or their occupations or their personal lives, even,” McAdams elaborates. “Ani holds the world up to a very high standard but she can never live up to her own expectations. She’s trying to make the world a better place but uncertain about how to go about that and constantly being disappointed.” (Sharing a strong moral compass with Ani, McAdams has a great passion for environmental issues: “I try to apply kind of a ‘green mind’ to everything I do and try to find the lighter way to do it, like your power still comes from the regular grid but your money goes towards sustainable energy.”)

“It’s been a while since I’ve done television” – she had roles in two Canadian series, Gene Roddenberry sci-fi Earth: Final Conflict and comedy Slings & Arrows, before making her name with Mean Girls and The Notebook in 2004 – “and I forgot just how wonderful it is to get to spend this much time with a character. I really miss playing her. I’m sad that there’s not the potential for another season for her. [True Detective is an anthology series, entirely new each season. ] Your arc is just so much greater and more expansive; by the end I knew exactly what she’d eat for breakfast, I knew her inside and out. Sometimes in film you’re just getting to that point then it’s over, so the deep exploration was probably the highlight for me, and Nic’s attention to backstory: he had a ‘bible’ on my character that I could turn towards at any time I needed assistance.”

Where the women in the first series of True Detective were an infamous mixture of eye candy and victims, “I felt completely embraced and part of the team… Nic and I talked about how, with Ani she’s not overtly using her sexuality but she’s also not apologizing for it or shying away from it.” Indeed, Ani is front-and-centre of the new investigation, if something of a lone wolf. “The character’s a bit lonely so that penetrated the process a little bit, she’s sort of on her own island, but off the set it was a very different experience,” says McAdams, who was thrilled to shoot the series in her adoptive home town. “I’ve lived in Toronto for over 20 years now I moved there when I went off to theatre school [at York University] and I love it most of the time – it was nice to be shooting True Detective out here during the winter months…” (On average, it’s sub-zero in Toronto in January and February.) Weather aside, what of her co-stars? “Colin’s just an absolute sweetheart, such a generous, chivalrous actor so we spent a fair amount of time hanging out, bringing snacks to each other. He’s a big snack guy, we were getting hopped up on sugar.”

Such bonding certainly helped when dealing with bleak subject matter day after day: “The material’s so dark it almost allowed the time when you weren’t at work to be very light. So there was a levity around the work that allowed you to really focus when you needed to, but there wasn’t this heaviness on set. Taylor has a really great, unexpected sense of humour that kind of catches you by surprise, Colin is Irish so… [laughs] you know, and then Vince is just so smart – I was amazed at the ways in which Vince could make things funny with this material.”

Speaking of unexpected approaches, McAdams has become skilled at the art of staying schtum whilst working in the spotlight. When quizzed as to her perfect partner, she responds “What am I looking for? You know,
the big ones: kindness, humour, malleability… [laughs] a sense of adventure. Start there.” So is it true she’s now dating her kind, humorous, adventurous Southpaw co-star Jake Gyllenhaal? “No, no.” Not that McAdams is the type to shout from the rooftops, anyway, whether about true love or plot points. “I hate spoilers,” she says, shaking her ruffles. “It’s not your secret to decide. I don’t want to know anything. I used to read scripts and not want to know who was in them, who was directing, who wrote it – I just want to read it and not have it coloured by any preconceived notions.”

© 2015 Total Film UK | Written by Jenney Conney & Emma Morgan | No copyright infringment intended.

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