The Early Life (1978-2001). Rachel McAdams was born and raised in Canada. Her childhood consisted of spending time with her family, going on adventures in nature and discovering her love for the arts and acting. She graduated York University with a Bachelor of Fine Arts honours degree (’01).
– Rachel McAdams, LCN (2013)
Born Rachel Anne McAdams on November 17, 1978 in London, Ontario, to Lance McAdams, a furniture-mover, and Sandra Kay Gale, a nurse. Rachel was raised with two younger siblings, her younger brother Daniel McAdams and her younger sister Kayleen McAdams, in St. Thomas, Canada. Rachel describes her childhood as a happy one. “I had a lovely childhood (x)“, she recalls in 2015. Family dinners were part of their daily routine: “We had dinner together every night. I had my spot at the table along with my sister and brother (x).” She added later-on: “I [think] that the dinner table is a place to learn — about compassion and just sharing life together. I do miss that with my family. It’s one of the things I always look forward to during the holidays (x).” She also remembers spending family holidays driving “as far as the car could take us – we would drive to Florida, even though it would take three days (x).” Growing up Rachel really enjoyed spending time in nature, as she later writes on her environmentalist website GreenIsSexy.org: “Summers spent at the cottage, swimming in the Great Canadian Lakes, riding a banana seat bike around the neighborhood. Winters consisted of tobogganing through the treacherous woods and building dangerous snow forts.”
At age four Rachel began figure skating, which she pursued for a long time. “I didn’t have a lot of stuff [growing up], but I always had my skates (x)“, she said. Growing up Canadian figure skater Elizabeth Manley inspired her. Rachel continued to skate competitively throughout high school. At nine years old, she got the opportunity to move to Toronto to train for pairs dancing and possibly pursue an Olympic career, but she declined. She “hung up my skates and never looked back (x)” as soon as she heard what a career in figure skating would entail. While filming “The Vow” (2012) in Toronto, Rachel took her co-star Channing Tatum to the ice skating ring to teach him a few moves, but she did not succeed – “mostly he taught me how to do hip-hop on ice (x).” She described figure skating as her “first love in terms of the arts (x).”
Rachel’s love for storytelling began at a very early age. She remembers her mother taking her to the library, which remains one of her favorite places to go to this day: “My mother took me to the library so much when I was a kid. That was like my whole summer. I just got lost (x).” While her parents were quite strict when it came to watching movies – “They would watch Flashdance but wouldn’t let us see the whole film because Jennifer Beals’ character was a stripper” – she recalls watching movies together as a family, “Our family would get together every Saturday night and we’d rent a film (x).” Furthermore, Rachel watched a lot of television, “I grew up watching so much television. I was really into soap operas. I’d begin with Days of Our Lives, then Another World, and finish off with General Hospital. And before dinner I’d watch Oprah (x).”
Her passion for acting also started at an early age. She describes the mini-series Anne of Green Gables as quite influential in terms on being inspired to become an actress, “I watched [Anne of Green Gables] when I was young — about 150 times! It was just a really great performance (x).” She also remembers “writing my parents a very long letter when I was about eight or nine and saying ‘I would really like to be an actor, so if we can all work together and figure out how to make it happen, that would be great (x).'” While appearing on Jimmy Kimmel in 2015, she also remembers being nervous and bashful about it. She recalls hiding “under the bed for a long time until they found me and we had a little chat (x).”
– Rachel McAdams, Elle (2007)
At ten years old, she became involved with the Original Kids Theatre Company at Alma College in St. Thomas, where she “fell in love with Shakespeare and Greek tragedy and out of love with tapdance (x).” In the 1992-1993 season, Rachel appeared in “Juvie”. She also went to Shakespeare camp for several summers, performing productions that included Macbeth, Agamemnon and A Midsummer Night’s Dream at a Greek outdoor amphitheater. She set her sights on theater, but she “discovered that I couldn’t sing or dance, so that had to change (x).” She continued her passion for theater by also directing children’s theatre productions. She remembers being in love with Stratford Festival, formerly known as Shakespeare Festival: “We went there on school trips. I was really, really a theatre snob, I think. I liked movies too, but I thought only plays were serious acting (x).”
Rachel attended Central Elgin Collegiate Institute in St. Thomas from 1992 to 1997. Rachel was an active student. She was involved in several sport teams, including the Volleyball team, and a member of the Students Council, Crime Stoppers, and part of Central Elgin Collegiate Institute’s first peer helping team. While attending high school, the stage continued to draw her and she was an active drama student. She received her first acting award in 1995 for the high school production of “I Live In A Little Town“, which was featured in the Ontario Showcase of the Sears Drama Festival. Initially, Rachel had not planned to pursue a career in acting after graduating high school two years later, in 1997. She remembers: “On the day our university applications were due, I was going to go into cultural studies, I didn’t even know what that meant, but it seemed vague enough that I didn’t have to make a decision about anything yet (x).” She credits her high school drama teacher Linda Pereira, who taught her drama from Grade 11 to OAC, for making a vital connection for her. On the day of her application, she ran into Mrs Pereira who expressed her surprise when she found out Rachel was not going to apply for drama. “I guess I hadn’t allowed myself to dream that dream” she admitted years later while looking back. “So I walked around the school for the next hour with my wheels turning, and then went into the guidance office and said: ‘I’m going to cross out cultural studies on all three of the schools I’m applying for and replace it with acting’ (x).”, she remembers. Pereira Remembers Rachel as extremely talented: “She stood out as being extremely talented and extremely gifted, And she was also a very hard worker and a really smart girl (x).” Rachel also credits her English teacher Christopher Pereira, who taught her Grades 11 and 12 English and OAC Canadian Literature. She recalled: “His classes were really interactive and more about discussion – not just being taught at. I learned so much from Mr. Pereira. We talked about Leonard Cohen and poetry and he was into Joni Mitchell. He just made everything so interesting (x).” She added: “In high school kids can be so uncomfortable with character development and if we were doing Shakespeare he’d want us to get really into it, He set a good example of just how brave you could and should be.” Mr. Pereira still remembers Rachel’s performance in “I Live in a Little Town”, he commended: “Rachel comes to the front of the stage, sits down and she says, ‘I have something to confess to you, I think I may have a drinking problem.’ That was 10 years ago, and I can still remember Rachel doing that role (x).”
Rachel enrolled for York University’s four-year theatre program and graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts honours degree in 2001. While attending York, she performed in numerous student films and stage productions, including reprising her Shakespeare summer camp role of one of the witches Macbeth, as well as playing a child character in The Piper, a production by the acclaimed Necessary Angel Theatre Company.
Her theatre professors from York University remember her as a talented and stand-out student. Theatre Professor Peter McKinnon remembers her as an “immensely talented, but also grounded, conscientious and nice” student. He recalls her project on Sam Shepard’s play Buried Child, which “was one of the best [he] ever received in [his] teaching career (x).” Professor McKinnon gave Rachel an A in the course. Similarly, theatre Professor David Rotenberg remembers her as a stand-out and recalls his first impression, “She was shy, but sort of had a twinkle (x).” He decided to showcase her with a lead in Frank Wedekind’s Lulu for our fourth-year production, because he “saw something extra special there (x).” After her showcase in Lulu, agents rushed to Professor Rotenberg to talk about Rachel’s performance. Rotenberg continued to work with Rachel after she graduated, working as personal acting coach including on “Mean Girls” (2004), “The Notebook” (2004) and “Red Eye” (2005).
While attending York University, Rachel worked three summers at McDonald’s. Furthermore, Rachel also worked as a tour guide. Originally, she was set to be a tour guide in Ottawa, Ontario but her destination changed last-minute to New York while she had never been there. She recalls: “I was done school early that year from university, so they said, ‘Would you want to go to New York?’ and I had two days to prepare and I had never been [there]. They gave me two binders [of information] to go through. I had 35 grade seven and eight kids on a bus and I had to talk on one of those [loud speakers] all the way to New York from Toronto. [I had] no idea [what I was talking about]. I was like, ‘I think that’s the Mets stadium over there’ (x).”
The Early Career (2001-2003). Rachel’s career already began while she was still attending York University. She landed several guest spots. After graduating, Rachel was cast in her first feature films and landed an audition of a lifetime.
Rachel remembers being nervous about not having an acting job when graduating university, so began to look for work prior to graduating. While still attending York University, Rachel made her onscreen debut in Disney’s television series “The Famous Jett Jackson” (1998-2002), she remembers “I landed a guest spot on a TV show called The Famous Jett Jackson during the summer before my fourth year (x).” During her fourth year spring break, Rachel filmed a pilot for MTV titled “Shotgun Love Dolls“, which did not get picked up.
After graduating with honours from York University, she landed her first feature film role, co-starring role in “My Name is Tanino” (2001). The movie was partly filmed in Italy, and Rachel remembers having to board a plane for the first time in her life recalling “I just had no idea how anything worked (x).” The movie premiered during Venice Film Festival in 2001. In 2009 Rachel told Jimmy Kimmel that she had to speak Italian for the movie. She had to learn her lines phonetically. Co-star Corrado Fifteen years later, Fortuna revealed, “I’m not surprised that she has been nominated for an Oscar. Fifteen years ago I saw she would become a (movie)star (x).”
In 2002 Rachel appeared in various productions, including a guest spot in the series “Earth: Final Conflict” (2002), co-starring in the television movie “Guilt by Association” (2002) and co-starring in the Canadian feature film production of “Perfect Pie” (2002). The latter, which had it’s world premiere during the 2002 Toronto International Film Festival, earned Rachel a Genie Award, Canada’s equivalent to the Oscar. Co-star Wendy Crewson – who also co-starred in “The Vow” (2012) – later recalls, “I remember when I met [Rachel], all these years ago. This stunning actress and the nicest girl in the world and we worked together a couple of years ago and [she] was exactly the same, as lovely as [she’d] ever been (x).”
She also flew out to Los Angeles after graduating and auditioned for various parts, including a pilot for Nancy Drew series, “I was testing for a pilot to play Nancy Drew, and I didn’t get it (x).” This was never confirmed, but it seems Rachel auditioned for the Disney’s Nancy Drew pilot that aired in 2002, with actress Maggie Lawson playing the lead of Nancy Drew. While still being devastated about not landing the Nancy Drew Pilot, Rachel had a last-minute audition for “The Hot Chick” (2002) and was cast co-starring opposite Rob Schneider, who remembers “We all knew you were going to be a huge star (x).” Director Tom Brady recalls, “We did an exhaustive continent 3 months search for this actress [Rachel McAdams]. She happened to be in town auditioning for another part and we were holding our breath, wishing that she didn’t get the other part, wising against her success so we could have her all to ourselves (x).” According to Rachel, the persistence of her manager Shelley Browning, who is still her manager to this date, lead to her landing her this role. In March 2002 it was reported that Rachel joined the cast of the movie, with production being underway in Los Angeles.
– Rachel McAdams, Post and Courier (2003)
Late August 2002 it was reported that Rachel and Gena Rowlands joined Ryan Gosling in “The Notebook“, with principal photography beginning on November 7, 2002 in Charleston. Gosling was the first one to board the project and the filmmakers conducted a nationwide search to find their Allie. Director Cassavetes remembers, “when Rachel McAdams came in and read, it was apparent that she was the one (x)“. Gosling also had high praise for his co-star stating Rachel constantly delivers, “no matter how uncomfortable or challenging circumstances of filming might have gotten, she went toe to toe for every take. She just won over the whole crew with her drive – it was pretty impressive and motivating for all of us (x).” Rachel describes the audition as a turning point in her career, “I was sort of floating through the entire audition. I didn’t know what had happened. I remember sitting down on the sidewalk after and thinking. ‘I feel like something has changed and I don’t know that it will ever be the same again (x).” Rachel received the script for her audition the day before her audition and she remembers her initial reaction as “weeping and sobbing uncontrollably (x).” Two months prior to starting filming, Rachel headed to Charleston to start preparing and doing research for her role. She later describes, “everything is so different for me as a Canadian, so spending time in Charleston prior to filming made a tremendous impact on me, and enabled me to get into character with ease (x).” Her research included taking ballet and etiquette classes and she also talked to debutantes. To physically prepare for the role, Rachel had a work-out regime, she describes “I’d never trained like that, I was even taking protein powder (x).” The movie was Rachel’s biggest role thus far and Rachel recalls feeling nervous that the success rested on her shoulders. According to Cassavetes, Rachel was up at 4 A.M. every day and was the last to leave the set. “She’s a warrior (x)“, recalls Cassavetes, because Rachel wanted to keep going until she felt that she got the scene right. The movie was filmed in reverse, with Gosling taking advantage of the Christmas break (’02) to lose weight in order to be able to transform to the younger Noah, and the scenes taking place earlier on were filmed after the Christmas break in early 2003.
In late 2002, “The Hot Chick” was released. The movie hit theaters nationwide on December 2, 2002 in the USA. The movie opened in the top five during it’s opening weekend and grossed close to $55 million worldwide. To this date, Rachel still considers the striptease scene of the movie as one of her toughest acting challenges to date, “it was probably one of the scariest moments I’ve had in my career. It stretched me in ways I could never have imagined (x).” When asked for career defining moments, Rachel often mentions getting cast in this movie and describes is as her “breakthrough role (x)“. Rachel later revealed that the movie opened the door for her being able to audition for “Mean Girls” and secondly because it was her first part in an American feature will that was released nationwide in the USA. As Rachel, jokingly recalls twelve years after the release, “I got to switch bodies with Rob Schneider – every girls dream (x).”
Rachel also continued to audition and look for projects in her homecountry Canada. She landed a starring role in the first season of Canadian television series “Slings & Arrows” (2003-2005), for which she received a nomination for Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Supporting Role in a Dramatic Series. After wrapping up filming for “The Notebook“, Rachel headed back to Canada to start filming the mini-series. In April 2003 principal photography began for the series in Canada and after 42 days of filming, the first season wrapped up late May/early June 2003. The first episode aired on November 3, 2003 in Canada. Director Peter Wellington remembers he insisted on audition for Rachel for the part, “Naively I said, ‘I appreciate the fact that there could be people who think she’s going to become a big shot, but I don’t care. If she wants the part, she’s going to have to audition’ (x).” Rachel auditioned and landed the part and Wellington recalled Rachel was quite unassuming about all that stuff, “And I remember Sarah Polley telling me, ‘The biggest punchline four years from now will be that you auditioned Rachel McAdams.’ It’s a feather in my cap (x).”
– Tina Fey, NPR (2011)
Early September 2003 it was announced that Rachel and Lindsay Lohan were set to star in “Mean Girls” (2004). Rachel originally auditioned for Cady, Lohan’s role. Furthermore, Lohan originally wanted to play Regina George while Amanda Seyfried auditioned for the part as well. The latter was eventually cast as Karen Smith. Rachel recalls, “everyone was flipped around a little bit (x)” in the casting process. Director Mark Waters revealed that Lohan was shy and intimidated with Rachel during the audition, “When Lindsay was acting with Rachel, she got very shy, because Rachel was older and a very accomplished actress. She’d come in the room and not talk to Lindsay — she was very focused. Lindsay kind of got nervous around her, and I thought that, more than anything, was going to be the deciding factor, the fact that she affected Lindsay in that way (x).” In retrospect, Rachel told the press years after the release that she was actually also intimidated by Lohan describing, “If any thing. I was in awe of her talent. I looked at her as this experienced actor, and she had great comedic timing (x).” Rachel later revealed she had concerns playing Regina George, because of the similarity to her role in “The Hot Chick” (2002). However, she later “realized that there was far more room to be a sociopath with Regina, and to be a bit of a nightmare (x).” According to Tina Fey, you have to cast against personality type staying, “the great thing about Rachel is it’s true that you have to cast a nice girl to play [mean] (x).” Principal photography began on September 27, 2003 in Toronto and the filming continued for about a month and wrapped up filming on November 25, 2003.