Current Hollywood “It Girl” Rachel McAdams has certainly had a busy few years, ever since her break-through role in the 2004 black high school comedy Mean Girls. Her face has graced the covers of magazines, her performances are accoladed, her personal life is covered by gossip columnists, and she’s becoming a beauty icon in an international sense. It`s definitely an understatement to say that she`s come a long way from her hometowns of London, Ontario, where she was born, and nearby St. Thomas where she grew up.
The first child of Lance and Sandy McAdams was born on November 17, 1978 (they would later have two more children, Kayleen and Daniel). As a young child, Rachel McAdams showed a predilection for the arts and performing. At the age of four she began competing as a figure skater and living in close proximity to Stratford, Ontario, was often in attendance during its celebrated annual theatre season. Worn out by the high pressure of being a competitive skater, young Rachel turned her attention to acting and at the age of 13 joined a summer theatre camp, performing in Shakespeare productions with such promise she was asked to continue on with them when they became a year-round company.
As a teenager she performed with the newly formed Original Kids Theatre and was involved in her high school’s drama program (winning an acting award in 1995) but despite this never seriously considered acting as a possible career path. Intending to study cultural studies, it wasn’t until a drama teacher encouraged her to pursue drama that she changed her mind. Upon completion of high school she attended York University in Toronto, eventually graduating with an Honours degree in theatre.
Unlike many actors who struggle to get their careers started, Rachel’s career took off immediately after her graduation. Her very first major role came in 2001 when she appeared on an episode of Disney’s The Famous Jett Jackson as the bulimic older sister of one of the main characters. She was also cast in a lead role of an MTV series entitled Shotgun Love Dolls about an ordinary teenager who suddenly finds herself in a fantasy world where she’s the leader of a fantastical crime-fighting unit. Perhaps luckily, the pilot for Shotgun Love Dolls was never aired because the first of Rachel’s big breaks was just around the corner.
In 2002, McAdams’ visibility as an actress increased. She was cast in a small role in an episode of the popular sci-fi TV series, Earth: Final Conflict, an American-German-Canadian co-production filmed in Toronto. The same year, she appeared in a television movie based on a true story, entitled Guilt By Association (2002). It told the story of a woman, played by Mercedes Ruehl, who not only discovers her new boyfriend is a drug dealer but is also arrested and wrongly convicted as a co-conspirator. McAdams played one of the inmates Ruehl`s character meets in prison.
Also in 2002, McAdams could be seen in the sweet and funny (thought difficult to find in North America) My Name is Tanino directed by award-winning filmmaker Paolo Virzi. She plays an American tourist who travels to Italy and has a summer romance with a local who, naively lovestruck, follows her home where he becomes entangled in one crazy scenario after another. My Name is Tanino was an Italy/Canada co-production and in it, McAdams speaks Italian and also translates Italian in English for her onscreen family.
She next appeared in the feature Perfect Pie (2002), a rural coming-of-age film in which she played Wendy Crewson’s character as a teenager. Her performance was compelling enough to be recognized at the Genie Awards – she was nominated as a Supporting Actress. It was her first major recognition, but definitely wouldn’t be her last!
Her first foray into Hollywood was a big one; she landed a major role on her very first visit. The played the title role in the Rob Schneider (SNL) comedy, The Hot Chick (2002), in which a self-absorbed cheerleader switches bodies with an older man. With her first big role under her belt, McAdams divided her time between Canada and Hollywood, working on the Canadian TV series Slings and Arrows, and filming what would be her breakthrough role in the Hollywood feature Mean Girls.
The cable series, Slings and Arrows (2003-2006) was based around the often-bizarre world of a theatre town, much like the very real and celebrated town of Stratford, Ontario where Rachel McAdams spent many childhood summer days. With a main cast featuring such Canadian heavyweights as Paul Gross, Don McKellar, Susan Coyne, Mark McKinney, Steven Ouimette, and Martha Burns, and an impressive roster of guest stars like Colm Feore, Sean Cullen and Sarah Polley, it was both a popular and critical success, winning multiple Gemini Awards. McAdams appeared in seven episodes during its two-year run, in the recurring role of Kate McNabb, a young acting apprentice with big dreams. She was nominated for a Gemini in 2006 for her work in the first episode of Season Two of Slings and Arrows.
And then came Mean Girls (2004), the smash-hit feature that exceeded expectations and breathed new life into the normally silly genre of teen comedy. Adapted for the screen by SNL alum Tina Fey from a non-fiction book, Mean Girls told the story of Cady Heron (Lindsay Lohan) the new girl at school who originally conspires to bring down the Plastics, an alpha-girl trio and the mean girls of the title, is befriended by them, and becomes more like them than she intends to. Mean Girls was praised for its sharp observations, solid comedic performances and characters that weren’t one-dimensional.
Though it was Lindsay Lohan as Cady who was the film`s protagonist and star, McAdams shone as Regina George, the lead Plastic, the film`s main villain and Cady`s nemesis. But her big break didn’t start and end with Mean Girls, far from it. A few months later she could also be seen on the big screen in the Nick Cassevetes’ film The Notebook (2004) a gently powerful period romance. Proving she was just as capable with dramatic material as with comedy, she played Allie Hamilton, a young woman from a wealthy upper-class family who summers in North Carolina where she falls in love with a local boy named Noah Calhoun (played by fellow Canadian Ryan Gosling). Her parents disapprove of their relationship and Allie is torn between choosing between the man she loves and her family. Their story is told in the film by Noah as an old man (played by James Garner) to Allie (played by Gena Rowlands), who is succumbing to Alzheimer’s. The Notebook was praised for not being just a tearjerker but a good tearjerker.
At 2005`s MTV Movie Awards McAdams’ status as Hollywood`s newest It Girl was cemented when she received a record five nominations, for Mean Girls and The Notebook combined. She went on to win three of the five including the award for “Breakthrough Female.” The 2004 and 2005 Teen Choice Awards were similarly charmed by Rachel, nominating her ten times and awarding her four.
To the great delight of fans of The Notebook, Rachel McAdams and her co-star, Ryan Gosling were awarded the MTV Movie Award for “Best Kiss” and accepted it by playfully (but not-so-playfully) recreating their award-winning embrace onstage. Shortly afterwards, it was reported that the onscreen lovebirds had become a real-life couple.
As if 2004 hadn’t been a big enough year, 2005 would beat it. Rachel McAdams continued to make smart career choices, managing to do solid work in two surprisingly smart Hollywood blockbusters while appearing in episodes of the critically acclaimed Canadian TV series, Slings and Arrows. In Wedding Crashers (2005), a hugely successful comedy starring Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn as long-time friends, wedding crashers and womanizers, she skillfully balances the comedic tone, playing the beautiful and desirable object of Owen Wilson’s affection.
The same summer saw the release of the Wes Craven-directed thriller Red Eye (2005). Co-starring another young rising star, Cillian Murphy and well-timed to tap into the increasing public anxiety about commercial flight, Red Eye is a smart, near perfect Hitchcockian-type thriller about a young woman kidnapped in mid-flight by the man sitting next to her, and forced to help him carry out an assassination. With most of the film set in the cabin of an airplane, and all of the action happening between two characters sitting in close-proximity to one another, the acting had to be spot-on and it is. Her character`s gradual development from being charmed to barely contained panic and finally to determined hero is brought across beautifully.
To close out a highly successful year came the release of The Family Stone (2005) a comedy about a son who brings his uptight fiancée home for Christmas to meet his liberal family. McAdams played the youngest sister in a family which included Diane Keaton as the mother, Craig T. Nelson as the father and Dermot Mulroney and Luke Wilson as her brothers. Sarah Jessica Parker stars as the fish-out-of-water fiancée.
McAdams played one of three soldiers who return from the war in Iraq and attempt to rejoin the lives that have moved on without them in the 2007 film The Return. Another film that generated a lot of buzz was Married Life, written and directed by Ira Sachs. Set in the 1940s, it tells the tale of a man who plots the death of his wife rather than submit her to the humiliation of divorce. As well as McAdams, the film stars Pierce Brosnan, Patricia Clarkson and Chris Cooper.
Her biggest film to date has to be the highly anticipated The Time Traveler`s Wife, based on the 2003 romance/science fiction novel by Audrey Niffenegger. McAdams plays Clare, who is married to Henry DeTamble (Eric Bana) who has a genetic disorder that makes him travel through time. Asked if she would like to try this in real life, McAdams said: “I’d be afraid that I would throw it all out of whack. But I would love to see my parents falling in love or seeing them as children – the film made me think about going back and seeing the people that you love in a different time and place.” Throughout the film, fans see McAdams getting younger, older and young again. The Time Traveler’s Wife washer second film in 2009. She also costarred opposite Russell Crowe and Ben Affleck in the thriller State of Play. She costarred next in Sherlock Holmes. Robert Downey Jr. played the fictional sleuth and Jude Law was Dr. Watson.
In 2010, McAdams hooked up with Owen Wilson again but this time would be something very different. This time it was Midnight in Paris from renowned writer-director Woody Allen. Allen had high praise for McAdams’s work on the film. “Rachel just gets it,” he said. “She’s funny when she has to be funny; she’s serious when she has to be serious. She’s unfailingly real, she doesn’t do anything too big or too under-acted, and she’s totally alive on the screen.” Owen Wilson added, “What I saw even more from Rachel’s performance was how (her character) Inez is kind of funny in the way she uses her sexuality to manipulate Gil. Rachel has a very good sense of humor and knew exactly how to play those scenes.”
However celebrated and gossiped about by Hollywood she might be, Rachel McAdams still seems able to exhibit a genuine love for her craft and she does her best to avoid the non-work related publicity many of her peers are desperate to attain. Speaking of Hollywood, in January 2016 Rachel McAdams was nominated for an Academy Award® in the Best Supporting Actress category for her work in the feature, Spotlight. She is pictured in the press room during The 22nd Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards holding a SAG Award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture for Spotlight.
Also see: Rachel McAdams’ Filmography.
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