Chapter 2

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The Breakthrough

The Breakthrough (2003-2005). After landing the leading role in “The Notebook” and “Mean Girls”, Hollywood started to take notice of Rachel and her breakthrough in hollywood was inevitable.

  • I’m totally overwhelmed by the opportunities I’m getting and the position I find myself in; I pinch myself at least once a day.– Rachel McAdams, THR (2005)
  • Mean Girls” was released nationwide on April 30, 2004. Ten years later marked the anniversary of the movie, which by then turned into a popculture phenomenon and fan favorite. The movie ranked first in it’s opening weekend grossing over $24 million in the USA and grossing over $129 million in total in the box office worldwide. A few days after the theatrical release of the movie, Rachel received the Superstar Of Tomorrow Award during the 2004 Movieline Young Hollywood Awards.

    The Notebook” was also released in 2004 and was released nationwide on June 25, 2004. The movie ranked fourth during it’s opening weekend with over $13 million in the USA. Initially the movie struggled in the box office according to the director Cassavetes, “so we didn’t do any business and we had no good reviews; it was considered really bad. And there was this little thing I’ll always remember: I was sitting at home and somebody said, ’Do you know that your movie is No. 1 on Facebook?’ And I said, ’What’s Facebook?’ (x)” Both movies benefited from word of mouth and social media and popularity continues to grow until the present day. Cassavetes remembers, “The social media really helped us to get the word around and kind of like Titanic, we never really had a big week of business — we just went forever (x).” The movie was in theaters in the USA for almost 22 weeks, with it’s closing date on November 21, 2004. The movie grossed over $115,5 million in the box office worldwide and turned into a modern day romantic classic.

    About a year after their release, both movies reached a popularity milestone when Rachel sweeped the 2005 MTV Movie Awards, winning a record of 5 awards voted by fans. To quote actress Nicole Kidman, who presented Rachel her Breakthrough Female Award, “in an actors career, there is only one breakthrough role and that is the instant when critics, colleagues, fans recognize her talent and decided you have arrived (x).” By breaking the record of MTV movie award wins, it seems fans took notice of Rachel and decided she arrived. Critics also took notice. The acclaimed trade source Variety awarded Rachel a 2005 crix mention, their annual review listing movie highlights, for Most promising emerging talents, stating that Rachel “demonstrated that she has real movie-star magic of Julia Roberts’ caliber (x).” Colleagues also took notice, as her “Spotlight” (2015) co-star Michael Keaton said, twelve years after the release of “Mean Girls” (2004), that peers took notice of Rachel while watching the movie, stating “I’ll bet you if you went around this room and asked any actors or directors, but mostly actors, the first [they will] ask is, ‘Who’s that girl [Rachel McAdams]?’ (x)

    Rachel attending an early screening of “The Notebook” in 2004. Rachel during the LA premiere for “Mean Girls”. Rachel with co-stars Gena Rowlands and James Garner during “The Notebook” premiere. Rachel in the press room of the 2005 MTV Movie Awards.
    “In terms of being versatile or being a chameleon, I guess I get caught up in the details – I really like to concentrate on what a character looks like and try to morph into that.”

    – Rachel McAdams, Interview Magazine (2005)

    It was announced in Mid-February 2004 that Rachel joined Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson in “Wedding Crashers” (2005). Late April 2004, it was reported Jane Seymour joined the ensemble with filming being underway in Los Angeles, Columbia and Maryland. Rachel joined the cast after auditioning hungers of actresses for the role of Claire. Director David Dobkin recalls, “none of them [actresses who auditioned] really captured the essence of the character. I was an hour from going to the studio and presenting my top two choices when Rachel McAdams came into my office. I just loved her energy immediately. I threw her a couple of curve balls just to see how good she was and she nailed both of them, which made my decision really easy (x).” To prepare for her role, Rachel got her certification in sailing, “now I can handle a 26-foot boat (x).” Rachel joined the cast of “Wedding Crashers” before the release of “Mean Girls” and “The Notebook” and was still relatively unknown. Even Rachel herself was surprised by how quickly she was cast in the ensemble, she describes “I was really surprised to get the part because it all happened so fast (x).” However, at first Rachel was not sure about doing a comedy again. She recalls, “ever since I did The Hot Chick I never thought I’d be doing comedy, because I was terrified of it.” The opportunity to work with comedic talents behind and in front of the camera, “people who are the best of the best right now, in terms of this kind of genre (x)” she said, and the opportunity to do an adult comedy changed her mind. The movie was filmed from Late March until June 2004 in Maryland, California and Colombia. Rachel looks back fondly of her time filming and stated she had an amazing experience, “The locations and my fellow actors have made this a really amazing experience for me. The Maryland Eastern Shore is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been and I felt guilty sometimes spending the day on the beach hanging out with Owen Wilson. I’ve always had a great appreciation for Owen, Vince, Chris Walken and so many of the other actors on the project. It’s been a thrill to be able to work with them and observe their processes. Owen and Vince are comedy gurus for the younger generation and it was really cool to be part of that dynamic (x).” It would be the first time Rachel worked with Vince Vaughn, Owen Wilson, and Bradley Cooper. She would reunite with them on projects in the years ahead, respectively “True Detective” (2005), “Midnight in Paris” (2011), and “Aloha” (2015).

    Early September 2004 Rachel joined Cillian Murphy in Wes Craven’s thriller “Red Eye” (2005), with principal photography beginning on November 8, 2004. Craven saw Rachel’s work in “The Notebook” and “Mean Girls“, before casting her in “Red Eye“. He recalls, “I loved The Notebook and saw this is an actress who can obviously do the first part of the movie where she’s falling in love and she’s beautiful. I looked at Mean Girls and I said this is somebody who can disappear into a role and be totally different. So she’s not just one thing in every role (x).” Rachel was the only actresses they looked at when casting Lisa Reisert. Rachel was flattered that Mr. Craven even knew her name, she said “I was flattered out of my mind that Wes Craven even knew who I was (x).” What drew her to the part was the script, which was “a real page-turner, obviously an actor’s piece (x)“, and the dark theme of a thriller. For Rachel it brought her back to one of her first plays at age twelve, “ironically one of the first plays I did when I was 12 was Woody Allen’s Death. I started this acting thing out in a dark moment and it took Wes to bring me back to those themes (x).” Most of the filming for the movie took place in Los Angeles. Other locations including locations in Miami and at Ontario International Airport. However, most of the filming took place at the Raleigh Studios in Los Angeles. Two soundstages were build. The first one becoming the home of Fresh Air Flight 1019 from Dallas to Miami, since most of the film takes place on the plane. The second one became the Reisert home. For the former, they even build a turbulence stimulator which had the desired effect according to Rachel, “They did a remarkable job. It was really moving and shaking; it felt so real at times that you could feel a sense of motion sickness. But it was great because it really helped inform the character and the anxiety and terror of the situation (x).” Rachel acknowledged that working in such a small space was “incredibly claustrophobic”, but at the same time it also helped with the storytelling, “it elevated the tension. I was literally stuck on the plane for 12 hours every day. And the cameras are really close to your face and Cillian is in really close proximity to me and I can’t get away (x).”

    While still filming “Red Eye”, Rachel took advantage of the American thanksgiving to be able to return for “Slings & Arrows“. She flew back to Canada to film the season two premiere. After wrapping up filming for “Red Eye“, Rachel filmed another day for the series. Rachel received another Gemini Awards nomination for Best Performance by an Actress in a Guest Role Dramatic Series.

    Rachel as Regina George in “Mean Girls”. Rachel as Allie in “The Notebook”. Rachel on-set of “Red Eye” with late director Wes Craven (1939-2015). Rachel with Diane Keaton & Sarah Jessica Parker in “The Family Stone”.

    Mid-November 2004 it was reported that Rachel would join Zach Braff in “The Last Kiss” with director Tony Goldwyn and filming expected to start in April 2005. However, Rachel had to drop out of this movie because of other commitments. The other commitments seems to be her joining the cast of “The Family Stone”.

    “I was just petrified, I couldn’t even speak to Diane Keaton – I don’t think I said hello properly. I don’t know how it came out but I’m sure it wasn’t good. I was really nervous.”

    – Rachel McAdams, Daily Telegraph (2005)

    Mid-December 2004, it was reported that Rachel joined joined the ensemble cast of “The Family Stone” (2005) with Sarah Jessica Parker, Diane Keaton, Claire Danes, Dermot Mulroney and Luke Wilson all set to join as well. The movie began production on February 28, 2005. According to Thomas Bezucha the cast joined the ensemble because of their love for the script, Bezucha recalls “They wanted to be in this movie because they loved the script and were passionate about making the film. Their attitude felt simple and pure, and that’s why all of the elements of the project began to fall into place (x).” Rachel herself recalls remembering reading script a few years before, “It’s one of those scripts that I remember exactly where I was when I read it. It just really hit me. Amy felt so complicated and had a lot of love to give. She’s a person that’s so protective of her family, but it’s a confused love issue for Amy — and that’s fun to explore (x).” Prior to filming, the cast was able to meet in Los Angeles for a pre-production rehearsal period which was considered a luxury. During the director Bezucha wanted to build-on portraying the family interaction on-screen. The cast played charades, which actually occurs in one sequence of the film. What drew both Rachel and Sarah Jessica Parker (coming off the succes of HBO’s ‘Sex in the City’) to the film is that their roles offered them something different. According to Bezucha, Rachel refused to get typecast as the ingenue parts, he said “It’s a nasty part. There was pressure to cast her in the ingenue role. She refused (x).” The movie was filmed in Connecticut, California, New Jersey, Los Angeles and New York. They filmed on-location for the exterior scenes while the interior scenes, two-thirds of the film, of the Stone household were filmed at the Culver Studios in California. Rachel praised the director for finding a balance between directing and allowing actors the space to discover the character, “Tom [Bezucha] struck a nice balance on set between allowing you to find things yourself and giving you specific direction. He wrote it, so he could encourage you in certain directions but without telling you what to do. He encouraged me not to hold back (x).” The feeling of admiration seems mutual with Bezucha praising Rachel’s talent and wisdom, “When Wedding Crashers came out, everyone was hyped up, calling Rachel the new It Girl. I felt anxious about that because it’s so diminishing to her talent. You get the impulse—you want to put her in everything. But her selectiveness shows wisdom greater than her years about her place in the industry. She’s very purposeful in side stepping Hollywood. She has the opportunity to be this huge, huge movie star, but in her heart she’s a character actress (x).” This movie would mark the first time Rachel and Diane Keaton worked together, they would later reunite in “Morning Glory” (2010). Keaton had high praise for Rachel after working with her for the first time, as she told Elle magazine in 2007: “I hadn’t been that impressed with someone since I worked with Meryl Streep (x).”

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    The It Girl

    The It Girl (2005). After her breakthrough, the media soon started to call Rachel the new ‘it’ girl and studio executives branded her the ‘next Julia Roberts’.

  • What I love is dropping into someone else’s life and exploring it. That exploration runs to compassion, and to cracking yourself open and creating more understanding of how weird and amazing life is.– Rachel McAdams, Marie Claire (2015)
  • 2005 was another busy year for Rachel with four projects getting released. First up was the release of the season two premiere of “Slings & Arrows“. In the season two premiere Rachel and her co-star, and love interest, Luke Kirby returned for a special appearance. The premiere aired on June 27, 2005 in Canada. Sundance Channel required the rights to air the series, including season one, in the United States in April 2005. While the series never reached the popularity levels of projects such as “Mean Girls” and “The Notebook“, it found popculture following. A highlight of this was when ‘Harry Potter’ actor Daniel Radcliffe gave the series a shout-out while guest hosting Live With Regis in Kelly in 2010, when Rachel made an appearance. He describes being “obsessed”, saying “it’s an amazing show. Rachel is in it and it’s amazing (x).” Praise and admiration for the series was echoed by the media as well in recent years. Vulture published an article in 2015 with the headline “Slings and Arrows Is the Show Rachel McAdams (and All of Us) Deserved (x)” and Decider called it the “best show you’ve never seen (x)” the year before.

    “She hates being compared, but I often said to her, ‘You can be Meryl Streep. You can be Sigourney Weaver or Julia Roberts’. I believe she can make almost anything that you ask her to do.”
    – Director David Dobkin, LA Daily News (2005)

    Next up was the release of “Wedding Crashers“, which was released nationwide on July 15, 2005 in the USA. The movie turned into a box office success with eventually grossing over $285 million worldwide. It was Rachel’s first movie to gross over $200 million in the US box office. The movie also received critical acclaim. With the commercial and critical succes, it seems logical for the studio to consider a sequel. After the release of the movie buzz about a sequel began, however until this day the studio never officially gave a green light. In the winter of 2016 it was reported that insiders revealed the studio hired screenwriters Evan Susser & Van Robichaux to pen the sequel after their pitch. However, “it’s not near a green light because the stars need to sign off creatively and then make deals that will be pricey (x)” according to reports. Even after wrapping up the film, the cast continues to express fond memories of filming. In 2006, co-star Bradley Cooper told Conan O’Brien about filming with Christopher Walken and Rachel on his very first day on-set, “He [Walken] had this dancing seen with Rachel McAdams and it just looked beautiful on the monitor. She came up to me afterward and she sad: ‘He keeps saying fart’, just to keep it light. You look at the monitor, and they start dancing and he is like: ‘Fart, I’m farting’ (x).” Rachel herself also expressed how this movie was one of the movies she had the most fun on-set. “Probably, one of the best times I had making a movie. I’m surprised we got through the film (x)“, said Rachel in 2016.

    Rachel in “Slings & Arrows”. Rachel & Owen Wilson for Life Magazine. Rachel attending the “Red Eye” premiere. Rachel as Claire Cleary in “Wedding Crashers”.

    Wes Craven’s “Red Eye” also got a summer release. The movie was released nationwide on August 19, 2005 in the USA. The movie was a box office success. It opened second in it’s opening weekend in the US and ended up grossing close to $100 million worldwide. The movie also received critical acclaim, earning a Certified Fresh rating at Rotten Tomatoes and a critic’s pick by New York Times. Craven told the press in 2006 that he there was a possibility of doing a sequel if Rachel and Murphy agreed. Craven stated that for the plot it would be “fascinating to have something like Rippner (Murphy’s character) being held hostage by the government and needing her (McAdams’ character) help for some reason (x).” While Craven told the studio was interested he was not sure Rachel would be as well stating, “Rachel would be trickiest for them to get because she has a manager who’s extremely cautious about her career (x).” However, it seems the studio never moved forward with making a sequel. Mr. Wes Craven passed away on August 30, 2015, only a few weeks after the movie celebrated it’s 10 year anniversary. Co-star Murphy remembers him a year later, “Wes Craven, though, he’s greatly missed, and he was a master of his craft (x).” After working with Rachel, Mr Craven continued to support Rachel’s career and attended the “To The Wonder” premiere in Los Angeles in 2013 were he was pictured alongside his wife Iya Labunka and Rachel.

    Rachel’s last 2005 release was “The Family Stone“, which was released nationwide on December 16, 2005 in the USA. While the movie did not reach box office levels of “Wedding Crashers”, it grossed over $90 million in the box office worldwide. Her performance earned her, her very first Satellite Awards nomination for Outstanding Actress in a Supporting Role, Comedy or Musical. As critic Lee reviewed, “Rachel McAdams tops off a star-making year with another great performance (x).” Rachel also received the Breakthrough Actress during Hollywood Film Awards, which presented by “The Family Stone” co-star Dermot Mulroney.

    Rachel as Lisa Reisert in “Red Eye”. Rachel with her Hollywood Film Award. Rachel as Amy Stone in “The Family Stone”. Rachel attending the 2005 Toronto Film Festival.
    “I feel incredibly blessed that I get to continue to do this and I hope I can always do it.”
    – Rachel McAdams, Globe & Mail (2008)

    After the succes Rachel had in 2004-2005, the ‘it’ girl label was bestowed upon her. Reacting to this newly appointed title, Rachel said that she did not want to disappoint, “There’s a lot of pressure there. I don’t know, it’s very, very flattering. You try to go into movies not thinking about how people are going to react to them. You hope everyone enjoys everything I make, but you have to go into it selfishly: this does something for me personally and hopefully it translates (x).” The media, including critics, also praised Rachel by calling her ‘the next Julia Roberts’. Rachel remained humble and wary with these new labels, stating “I just want longevity. If being given the label ‘It’ Girl helps, then I’m happy to have it (x).”

    From the beginning of her career, it seemed that Rachel was set to aim for longevity and her love for the craft of acting. Producer Joel Silver, who worked with Rachel on “Sherlock Holmes” (2009), stated “she cares about the craft, not the parties or the fancy clothes (x).” As Rachel describes herself, “You either move beyond It Girl to Working Girl, and then to appreciated, somewhat artistically satisfied actress, or you just end up a former It Girl (x)“, adding that she is aiming for longevity.

    Late 2005, Rachel – now famously – turned down the opportunity to appear on the cover of Vanity Fair’s Oscar-season Hollywood issue (March 2006), also featuring Scarlett Johansson and Keira Knightley, when she learnt they were to be photographed nude. Looking back on turning the cover down, Rachel said: “It was the right thing for me to do at the time. No regrets (x).” She also added later-on: “I didn’t see any other way, It wasn’t something I could ever possibly see myself doing. I have no issues doing it for a part if it makes sense, if it’s not gratuitous and I think it’s adding to the story. But not as myself on the cover of a magazine about Hollywood’s most powerful young women (x).” She also reflected a few years later: “What bothers me is our culture’s obsession with nudity. It shouldn’t be a big deal, but it is. There’s the worry about seeing one’s body dissected, misrepresented, played and replayed on the internet (x).” Knightley commented: “Rachel just said, ‘No, I’m not into that.’ She’s a lovely girl and I really respect her for doing that (x).”

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