Early Years and Education
The daughter of a truck driver father and a nurse mother, Rachel McAdams was raised in St. Thomas, Ontario. A competitive figure skater from ages four to 18, she began acting at age 12 with the Original Kids Theatre Company in London and won an award in 1995 at the Sears Ontario Drama Festival. She planned to enroll in social sciences at the University of Western Ontario, but was encouraged by her high school drama teacher to continue acting. After moving to Toronto, she enrolled in the Drama program at York University, worked with the Necessary Angel Theatre Group and graduated with an honours BFA degree in 2001.
McAdams hit the ground running early in her career, landing television roles before she even graduated from university. After performing in a TV pilot that was not picked up for network television (Shotgun Love Dolls, 2001), she landed guest appearances in series such as The Famous Jett Jackson (2001) and Earth: Final Conflict (2002). She then made her feature film debut in the Italian-Canadian co-production My Name is Tanino (2002), in which she played an American tourist who inspires a Sicilian man to follow her back to the US.
She was nominated for a Genie Award for her supporting performance as the younger version of Wendy Crewson’s character in Barbara Willis Sweete’s indie drama Perfect Pie (2002), and was cast in her first Hollywood feature as a high school cheerleader who magically swaps bodies with Rob Schneider’s petty crook in the teen comedy The Hot Chick (2002). She also continued working in Canadian television. In 2004, she won a Gemini Award for her supporting performance as a Shakespearean actress who falls for an American star in the first season of the acclaimed TMN series Slings & Arrows.
Hollywood Breakthrough — Mean Girls and The Notebook
McAdams achieved a major career breakthrough in 2004, starring as a sadistic but endearing high school social queen opposite Lindsay Lohan in the Tina Fey-scripted hit movie Mean Girls (2004). She also played a 1940s Southern debutante who falls in love with a boy from the wrong side of the tracks (played by Ryan Gosling) in the romance The Notebook (2004), which performed poorly at the box office but became immensely popular after its initial release.
These were followed by McAdams’s sassy and sweet performance opposite Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn in the blockbuster comedy Wedding Crashers (2005), as well as a starring role in the Wes Craven thriller Red Eye (2005) and a supporting turn in the comedy The Family Stone (2005), co-starring Sarah Jessica Parker, Claire Danes and Diane Keaton. By the time McAdams was named Supporting Actress of the Year by the US National Association of Theatre Owners at the ShoWest Awards in 2005, she was being hailed by many Hollywood insiders as the next Julia Roberts. As Universal Pictures chairman Marc Shmuger said of McAdams in 2006, “she has everything you want in a movie star — the talent, the looks, the accessibility. People are both attracted to her and feel a kinship with her.”
Break from Hollywood
McAdams was nominated for the Rising Star Award at the BAFTA Awards in 2006, but became so selective in her choice of roles that she ended up taking a break from making movies altogether. She also backed out of an agreement to appear on the cover of Vanity Fair’s 2006 Hollywood issue after showing up for the shoot and learning it would involve nudity (she was reportedly not informed by her publicist, who was then fired). Speaking of this period in a 2013 interview with The Times of London, McAdams said, “There were a lot of cooks in the kitchen, a lot of voices around me, and I wanted to step away so I could hear my own voice again.” She reportedly turned down the female leads in Mission Impossible III (2006), Casino Royale (2006), The Devil Wears Prada (2006), Get Smart (2008) and Iron Man (2008).
Return to Acting and Romance Films
McAdams marked her return to acting with principal roles in two low-profile projects, playing a 1940s femme fatale opposite Chris Cooper and Pierce Brosnan in the noir drama Married Life (2007) and an American soldier returning from Iraq in the indie drama The Lucky Ones (2008). She then returned to more mainstream studio fare, reaffirming romance as her signature genre with The Time Traveler's Wife (2009), The Vow (2012) and About Time (2013), while also earning positive reviews for her work in the thrillers State of Play (2009), opposite Russell Crowe, Helen Mirren and Ben Affleck, and A Most Wanted Man (2014), with Willem Dafoe and Phillip Seymour Hoffman.
She played the wily love interest of Robert Downey Jr.’s Sherlock Holmes in the slick, action-adventure blockbusters Sherlock Holmes (2009) and Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (2011), and also worked with renowned auteur directors in more challenging films, including Terence Malick’s romantic drama To the Wonder (2012), Brian De Palma’s erotic thriller Passion (2012) and Wim Wenders’s Montréal-shot drama Every Thing Will Be Fine (2015). She co-starred with Harrison Ford and Diane Keaton in the comedy Morning Glory (2010), and was cast, on Keaton’s recommendation, opposite Owen Wilson in Woody Allen's highly successful romantic fantasy Midnight in Paris (2011).
True Detective and Spotlight
After appearing in no more than three films a year throughout her career, McAdams enjoyed an especially productive year in 2015. She co-starred in three feature films, voiced the role of the mother in the animated adaptation of the classic fairy tale The Little Prince (2015), and earned positive reviews in the otherwise derided second season of the HBO crime drama True Detective (2015). Her film roles that year included a love interest in Cameron Crowe’s widely panned Aloha (2015), a tragic wife to Jake Gyllenhaal’s professional boxer in Southpaw (2015), and Boston Globe investigative reporter Sacha Pfeiffer in Spotlight (2015), which earned McAdams an Oscar nomination and a Screen Actors Guild Award nomination for best supporting actress. Spotlight won the Academy Award and Independent Spirit Award for Best Picture, and also picked up several other high-profile awards for best ensemble cast.
In 2016, McAdams co-starred opposite Benedict Cumberbatch in the Marvel superhero blockbuster Doctor Strange (2016). In his review of the film, the Playlist’s Gregory Ellwood wrote, “McAdams will never get the credit she deserves for transforming the barely sketched out role of Strange’s former medical colleague Christine Palmer into a captivating three-dimensional character that feels like an integral part of the storyline even when she isn’t.” McAdams was also slated to appear with Rachel Weisz in the 2017 adaptation of Naomi Alderman’s novel Disobedience.
Activism and Charity Work
A committed environmentalist, McAdams lives in Toronto in a house powered by renewable energy. She co-founded the eco-friendly lifestyle blog GreenIsSexy.org and assisted the clean-up effort in Biloxi, Mississippi, following Hurricane Katrina in 2005. In 2010, she took part in the Canada for Haiti telethon following the Haiti earthquake, and in 2011 she participated in the Occupy Toronto protests and the Foodstock event to protest a proposed mega quarry near the Niagara Escarpment. In 2013, she served as a spokesperson for the Food and Water First Movement, which aims to preserve Ontario’s farmland and fresh water supply. She has also been involved with many other charities, including Habitat for Humanity and United Way.
McAdams was involved in a high-profile relationship with Ryan Gosling from 2005 to 2007, and briefly in 2008. She was also romantically linked to American actor Josh Lucas and her Midnight in Paris co-star Michael Sheen. She was involved with Canadian music manager Patrick Sambrook of Eggplant Entertainment (Sarah Harmer, Sam Roberts Band, The Tragically Hip) from 2013 to 2014, and reportedly dated True Detective co-star Taylor Kitsch before becoming involved with American director and screenwriter Jamie Linden in 2016.
In 2014, McAdams and her sister, Kayleen, participated in an episode of the TLC genealogy program Who Do You Think You Are? and discovered that a maternal ancestor, James Gray, was a Loyalist who had fought for Britain during the American Revolutionary War.
In 2013, McAdams was inducted into the St. Thomas Wall of Fame in her hometown and attended the ceremony with her parents. She was inducted into Canada’s Walk of Fame in October 2014 for her accomplishments as “one of Hollywood’s most sought-after and respected actors.”
See also: Rachel McAdams (Profile)
Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Supporting Role in a Dramatic Series (Slings & Arrows), Gemini Awards (2004)
Best Breakthrough Female Performance (Mean Girls), MTV Movie Awards (2005)
Best Kiss (The Notebook), MTV Movie Awards (2005)
Supporting Actress of the Year, ShoWest Awards (2005)
Choice Movie Actress, Drama (The Notebook), Teen Choice Awards (2005)
Choice Move Actress, Comedy (Wedding Crashers, The Family Stone), Teen Choice Awards (2006)
Female Star of the Year, ShoWest Awards (2009)
Choice Movie Actress: Action Adventure (Sherlock Holmes), Teen Choice Awards (2009)
Inductee, Canada’s Walk of Fame (2014)
Best Ensemble Cast (Spotlight, shared), Nevada Film Critics Society (2015)
Robert Altman Award (Spotlight, shared), Independent Spirit Awards (2016)
Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture (Spotlight, shared), Screen Actors Guild Awards
American Riviera Award (shared with Michael Keaton and Mark Ruffalo), Santa Barbara International Film Festival (2016)