New York Times: No Matter What Rachel McAdams Plays, She Plays for Keeps

New York Times
Published: February 23, 2018

Before there was Rachel McAdams, the Academy Award nominee and tough-as-nails star of films like “Spotlight” and television series like “True Detective,” and before there was Rachel McAdams, the romance queen and star of “The Notebook” and “The Time Traveler’s Wife,” there was Rachel McAdams, who gained wide attention for her go-for-broke performances in comedies like “The Hot Chick” (playing a body-swapped Rob Schneider) and “Mean Girls” (as the ruthless high-school queen bee Regina George).

It’s a side of this versatile 39-year-old actress that re-emerges in “Game Night,” a new comedy from Warner Bros. that casts her and Jason Bateman as a competitive married couple whose weekly get-together with their friends — usually reserved for charades and Trivial Pursuit — takes an unexpected turn into crime, kidnapping and murder.

Not that Ms. McAdams sees herself as any of her characters, or feels that any genre best suits her. The actress, who grew up in Canada’s Ontario province, says she has tried to keep things unpredictable in an industry that can only imagine you as the last character you played. “You have to intentionally shake it up sometimes,” she said.

Ms. McAdams spoke about her aggressive side, defying Hollywood’s expectations and the effects of sharing a personal #MeToo experience. Here are edited excerpts from the conversation.

It was so satisfying to see you take on a flat-out comedic character in “Game Night.” Why don’t you play as many of these roles as you used to?
You’re puffing up my feathers here. Comedy still really intimidates me. I am in awe of true comedians. Although they work very hard at it, I think it’s something they’re born with and the rest of us are just running to keep up. Comedies that are a little outside the box just don’t come along every day — and they don’t come my way every day, certainly.

Is there anything you’re as cutthroat about in real life as your character, Annie, is about her game nights?
Bingo. Even though it’s a game of luck and chance, I take it pretty seriously. I have weird, good bingo karma. It runs in my family. My grandmother used to knit her own special bingo dauber purse that she’d take to the bingo hall with her and she would lay out about 30 cards. I’m not at that point yet, but I hope to be by the time I’m in my 70s.

So the next time I’m in a bingo parlor and I see someone in sunglasses and a head scarf, and I think, “Hey, that looks like Rachel McAdams —”?
That’s me. [laughs] Whenever we go up to northern Ontario, I go online, look up the local bingo hall and try to sneak in.

Did you and your co-stars do anything to bond before shooting started?
We did have a game night before we kicked off the film. We’re a very Method ensemble. Billy [Magnussen], he’s an amazing cook, and he had everybody over to his place. We played Clue. And then we played this game called Joking Hazard, have you heard of that one? It’s like Apples to Apples meets Cards Against Humanity. It’s a little intense.

Did people’s competitive streaks start to emerge?
It is such an interesting social experiment to watch these sides of people come out. And it’s always the person that doesn’t want to play that won’t quit at the end of the night — the one you drag there, kicking and screaming, that you have to kick out at 3 in the morning.

Is there a day that has gone by since “Mean Girls” was released where someone didn’t remind you about Regina George?
Does Regina George haunt me every day? She does have that quality. [laughs] No, I have to thank Regina George for giving me some longevity. I’m forever grateful to Tina Fey [the “Mean Girls” screenwriter] and Mark Waters [the director]. I remember when I read it, I called my agent right away and said, “I will play any part in this, please, please, please.” I was at the beginning of my career, and it was a lofty thing out there, that I really, really, really wanted to do. I’m always looking for larger-than-life characters, which is probably why I like playing villains. They get away with so much.

Was that a time in your career when you felt you had to prove yourself a little harder for the roles you wanted?
I’m a neurotic actress, so I still feel that way. [laughs] I don’t know that that ever fully goes away. And then if you do prove yourself, you feel like in the next one, you have to prove yourself even more.

When you get a chance to act in a big franchise film but the role you’re offered is the male lead’s love interest, do you think, that’s just how it is in Hollywood? Or do you feel you should have a chance to be the person on the movie poster?
I certainly don’t mind playing supporting roles at all. I would be a basket case if I always played the lead role. Sometimes it’s nice to put the same amount of work into a character that has less screen time. You can dig into them but you also get to nap in your trailer for half the day, too.

In October, you spoke to Vanity Fair about your experience, while a theater student, of being sexually harassed by the filmmaker James Toback, and Selma Blair has said you gave her support to share her own story. In the months since, have you seen any changes in how the entertainment industry operates?
I have to say, I was really inspired by Selma — I think she’s got that the other way around. We spoke to each other before we spoke to Vanity Fair. She was so, so brave, and she gave me courage. It was really amazing to think, that many years later, that you could take your power back a little bit. I never imagined, 17 years ago, when that happened, that I would have this opportunity. I had put it away, on a shelf, and to be able to help in some way is really extraordinary.

I feel like the shift has been really palpable, and we’re at a real turning point. I’m really grateful to be a witness to it in my lifetime. I love that people are talking and listening and there’s compassion. It’s a good thing.

© 2018 New York Times | Written by Dave Itzkoff | No copyright infringment intended.

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