Time-Traveler’s Actress Rachel McAdams
Mary (RACHEL MCADAMS) in "About Time." ©Universal Studios. CR: Murray Close.

Mary (RACHEL MCADAMS) in “About Time.” ©Universal Studios. CR: Murray Close.

Front Row Features

HOLLYWOOD—Rachel McAdams is no stranger to time travel. That is, the Canadian actress has played characters that get mixed up with fellows who have a magical ability to visit the past. Though not once in three time-travel films she’s been in has McAdams played the one with that magical gift. It’s something the actress hopes to correct at some point.

McAdams has made a career out of starring in weepy rom-coms, notably “The Notebook,” “The Vow” and “The Time Traveler’s Wife.” She now stars in Richard Curtis’ latest tearjerker, “About Time.” She plays Mary, an ex-pat American living in England where she is courted by Tim (Irish actor Domhnall Gleeson), a young man who discovers he has the ability to go back in his life and re-live certain events. Having multiple opportunities to make a first impression and win over the lovely Mary. They soon wed and have kids. The inevitable complications in life ensue, involving Tim’s eccentric but loving family. Tim eventually realizes that life is meant to be experienced the way it happens and not trying to fix things that go wrong.

Dressed in a bright red Lanvin cocktail dress for an interview, McAdams (who turns 35 on November 17) spoke about her latest brush with the fantasy genre, working with the much lauded Curtis (who directed the quintessential holiday romance “Love Actually,” and wrote “Four Weddings and a Funeral” and “Notting Hill”), working in Britain and wearing bangs in her new film.

Q: How did you like having bangs in this?

McAdams: The bangs were fun.

Q: How did you decide on that look?

McAdams: We just kind of played around with (Mary’s look). It also was us trying to go from younger to older and bangs automatically scream young. It’s so funny because it’s actually a piece so we could go quickly from younger (Mary) to older (Mary). We forgot to put it on one day, and my hair stylist was like, “Wait!” And she’s running after me with this little piece of hair. I was like, “Oh my God! How could we forget?” It was slightly embarrassing. That look just seemed like her.

Q: This movie couldn’t be more different from “The Time Traveler’s Wife,” but was there an initial pitch meeting where you said, “No, I’ve done the time travel thing?”

McAdams: I actually didn’t really think about it because I just read the script and loved it. I loved the sentiment behind it. And because I’ve actually never played a time traveler, for all the time traveling movies I’ve done, I sort of took myself out of the equation again. I’ll have to make amends on the next time traveling film I do. But, I just fell in love with the story and where these characters wound up. I was swept away on Richard’s journey. It really wasn’t until I was doing press when people said, “You know, this is your third time travel film.” I wasn’t counting “Midnight in Paris,” I hadn’t thought about that.

Q: Do you have time travel envy?

McAdams: Apparently, I do. Yeah, I would love to be the time traveler, next time. It’s a fun construct, isn’t it? It’s an enticing thing to indulge and fantasize about. It’s like winning the lottery and thinking about what you would go back and do again. I love that sentiment that maybe we should just embrace what happens. It’s that whole idea too that your mistakes make you stronger and better, and it’s the messiness of life that ultimately leads you to the most interesting things. Everyone asks, “What would you do over?” and I don’t know because then you have a story to tell. If you did everything over and made it perfect, what would you talk about?

Q: Is there something you’d like to re-live?

McAdams: I guess time with family. My mother’s parents died when I was quite young, so to be able to go back and know those people, as an adult, (I’d enjoy) things like that.

Q: Were you aware that this is the last film Richard Curtis plans to direct and did that put pressure on you?

McAdams: Yeah, I was. I had heard that nasty rumor, and it’s one of the reasons I did the film because I’m such a fan of his, and I thought, “Well, this might be my only chance.” So I jumped on it for that reason, too. I hope (it’s not his last film) because he’s taking time away from film to kind of save the world. He’s so altruistic and raises so much money to fight poverty. It’s hard to ask him to take time away from that. It feels selfish, so I can’t fault him for why he’s making the switch. He’s an incredible person. He’s one of the greatest people I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing, and he brings that to the film. I felt like we were living the film we were making.

Q: Are you working on the Cameron Crowe’s new movie now?

McAdams: We’re in the throes of it now, yeah.

Q: He’s another director that uses a lot of pop music to great effect in his films, as does Richard Curtis. Do both of them play music on set to get you in a certain mood, or do you have your own playlist that you listen to?

McAdams: Yeah, and music can be such a great tool. Richard uses it in such a beautiful way. He was very communicative about what he wanted, musically, and how that could inform the scenes, and the flavor he wanted to inject through music. So I’m always so grateful to have that, when directors share that with you, because it takes away so much of the mystery. It’s like I can take that esoteric feeling somewhere with a song. So I found that really helpful. He would play music (on location) and when you’re playing music on the streets of London at 2 a.m., and there’s something so cool and magical about that. It takes you to a special place, very quickly. And Cameron is the same way. He’ll play songs in the middle of a take, and then you stop and wait and let it wash over you. (She laughs.)

Q: You’ve done a lot of romantic films. Is there something that attracts you to that genre?

McAdams: I love stories with love in them. I just prefer those films. Every so often, I come across a film where there’s no love story. It doesn’t have to be romantic, but there’s sort of a lack of love, and I think, I don’t necessarily get that. It’s like, “Something’s missing here.” It’s just personal taste, I guess. It doesn’t always have to be a sweeping romance. I just feel like love and passion are synonymous with each other, whether it’s for a person or a thing, and I just want to see movies that are infused with passion.

Q: What’s your relationship to “The Notebook?” Would you like to move on from it, or will it always hold a special place in your heart?

McAdams: It will always hold a special place in my heart. I’m very grateful for that film, and I feel very lucky to have been a part of it. Anything that seems to reach people—we certainly didn’t know it would have that affect going into it—is a real privilege to be a part of something like that. The number of men that come up and confess that they kinda sorta secretly liked the movie just delights me to no end. So I never get enough of that or the women who rat out their husbands.

Q: What was it like being the lone Canadian surrounded by all of those Brits?

McAdams: I’m glad it was pointed out in the film that my character was American, so people didn’t think I just had a bad British accent, but it was great. They’re so funny, and their timing is impeccable. There are so many actors in this film, in particular, who have such a wealth of theater in their background, so the level of professionalism is incredible. I always forgot Domhnall wasn’t English because he would stay in his English accent all day. Even when he came in for make-up, he was in his English accent. It wasn’t until we got our make-up taken off at the end of the day that he would suddenly go back into being Irish. I was like, “Why are you talking like that? Are you doing a bit right now?” And he was like, “This is how I talk.”

Q: Do you have a favorite holiday movie?

McAdams: I love “Love Actually.” That’s probably one of my favorite Richard Curtis films. I love this little movie called “One Magic Christmas” with Harry Dean Stanton, who played Gideon, the angel who lived in the tree. Mary Steenburgen’s character hates Christmas. It’s really emotional, actually. It really goes there. It gets a little bit dark. Harry Dean Stanton is the voice of Christmas past, a ghostly character. I’ve always loved it. My mom and my sister and I watch it every year.

Q: You have a birthday coming up soon, right?

McAdams: Aw, somebody remembered! I’m 35 this year. In terms of Christmas traditions, we finally ditched the stockings last year, which was very hard for my mother. Every year, she says, “We’re not doing stockings next year. I’m sick of it. I’m sick of buying you all these little things that you never use.” She’s so sweet. She really takes the time to find the most special little things for our stocking. But last year, we said, “We’re not doing them this year.” She was like, “What do you mean? Just one more year. Your brother will be very upset.” My brother was like, “It’s fine.” So, the stockings are gone, which is sort of sad, but we’ll bring them back when we all have kids.

Q: Does turning 35 mean anything special?

McAdams: No, it’s just another year. Isn’t it?