In the early 2000s, Rachel McAdams was one of those names that seemed to be everywhere. After starring in Mean Girls and The Notebook in 2004, then Wedding Crashers in 2005, the young star seemed to be well on the road to becoming one of Hollywood’s go-to "It" girls (via Stylist). However, instead of jumping about the fame train, the actress took a step back and went solo traveling for over a year. When she returned, she turned her focus to more varied roles, rejecting the "ingenue" or "starlet" labels Hollywood had given her. These days, she’s acting in the roles that interest her while living life under the radar in her native country of Canada.
McAdams’ life and career journey has been a fascinating one. For a girl who thought that she’d end up running children’s theater in Canada, it’s wild to see how she wound up first taking some of Hollywood’s most iconic roles, before taking charge of her own life and forging a unique acting career that suited her lifestyle. Want to find out more about McAdams’ incredible journey? Here is the stunning transformation of Rachel McAdams.
Rachel McAdams grew up in Canada with a loving family
Rachel McAdams‘ upbringing sounds nothing short of idyllic. She grew up in the town of St. Thomas in Ontario, Canada, the eldest of three children. By all accounts, her family were regular people — her mother was a nurse and her father was a truck driver. As McAdams explained to The Times, the family spent their summers doing plenty of stereotypically Canadian activities, from swimming in the Great Lakes to sledding in the woods and playing in the snow. In fact, McAdams loved sports. "I was kind of a jock," she confessed.
As the actress told Stylist, "[My parents] have always treated each other with a lot of kindness, so that was a great thing to watch." She went on to explain they both instilled in their children a sense of independence and a work ethic. But more than anything, McAdams’ parents taught her what a loving relationship should look like. "They are still together and still in love," she revealed to the Independent. "I had a great example of love in front of me, and that’s probably what makes me such a romantic, because I’ve seen it firsthand."
As a child, Rachel McAdams thought she’d end up working in Canadian theater
By the sound of things, Rachel McAdams caught the acting bug early in life. When she was just 7 years old, she wrote her parents a letter telling them her plan to become an actress. As she told The Times, "Then I hid under my bed, I felt so shy." However, her parents helped her pursue her dream, sending her to acting lessons and camps throughout her childhood. By the time she was 12, she’d truly become obsessed, after acting in a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream as a fairy. "I was like, ‘OK, this is amazing,’" McAdams recalled to Stylist.
Even though McAdams had grand dreams of acting professionally, she didn’t really think it would ever happen. She explained to the Los Angeles Times that becoming a movie star wasn’t something she’d "really meditated on or planned for in any way" as a kid. "I really thought I’d be doing theater in Canada," she confessed. Apparently, McAdams even envisaged herself becoming the artistic director of a children’s theater company!
Rachel McAdams went to theater school when she was 18
After dreaming of acting professionally as a child, Rachel McAdams took another step towards her dream job. After graduating from high school, she went to theater school at the age of 18, as noted by Stylist. However, it turns out, she almost took a completely different path.
As McAdams revealed to Macleans, she had originally intended to study "cultural studies." She recalled, "[My drama teacher] literally grabbed me the day before university applications where due and said, ‘Why aren’t you going into theater?’" Apparently, this was the nudge she needed to pluck up the courage and follow her dreams. McAdams changed her application last minute; the next year, she began in York University’s theater program. "She was shy, but sort of had a twinkle," her old professor David Rotenberg recalled of her first year.
However, by her final year, McAdams was practically a pro. "It was fascinating to watch the agents watch her, their eyes rolling back into their heads," he remembered. "They came chasing me after the first act." It sounds like McAdams definitely made the right decision to take the plunge and study acting!
Her role in cult-favorite Mean Girls made Rachel McAdams a household name
Rachel McAdams got her first professional role in the TV series The Famous Jett Jackson in 2001. She stayed busy for the next few years, appearing in films like Perfect Pie and The Hot Chick. However, it wasn’t until 2004 that she got her "big break." Just about everyone will remember her iconic turn as vicious queen bee Regina George in the cult classic Mean Girls.
Funnily enough, the role came as a shock to McAdams. As she explained to The Times, she originally thought she was being considered for the role of Cady (that eventually went to Lindsay Lohan, who’s undergone a stunning transformation). Nevertheless, she was thrilled. "It’s much more fun to play the villain," she said. McAdams went on to explain that more than 15 years later, people still shout out quotes from the film to her on the street.
It’s safe to say that Mean Girls shot McAdams into the public eye. She ended up earning two MTV Movie Awards for her role, as well as loads of critical praise for her performance. And with that, a star was born.
Rachel McAdams was branded the next Julia Roberts after starring in The Notebook
Shortly after starring in Mean Girls, Rachel McAdams wowed filmgoers again as Allie in The Notebook, another huge success. According to Good Morning America, The Notebook still has a legion of dedicated fans to this day – so it’s no surprise that McAdams’ "ingenue" role made her one of Hollywood’s most popular starlets. As the Los Angeles Times reported, studio executives quickly labeled her as "the next Julia Roberts." In other words, the industry expected her to become the "It" girl of Hollywood romances.
At the time of the initial auditions, McAdams was pretty far away from being the next Julia Roberts — she hadn’t yet found fame from Mean Girls, and was relatively unknown. "We found Rachel through an audition process and she was wonderful," Nick Cassavetes, the film’s director, revealed to VH1. "A lot of studios wouldn’t have had the courage to put two relatively unknown people in a movie like this."
Rachel McAdams took a break after her three most successful roles
In 2005, one year after the release of The Notebook, Rachel McAdams appeared in Wedding Crashers, yet another smash hit; it seemingly solidified her as an up-and-coming megastar. By any standards, McAdams’ career was all set to take off, sending her into fame of stratospheric heights. But instead of diving in headfirst, McAdams did something that very few actors would do in the same position: she decided to take a break, and didn’t appear in another film for two years. "It wasn’t a conscious break as much as a reassessment," she explained in an interview with Stylist. "I felt like I was getting swept up with the current and wanted to make sure I was making my choices from the right place."
Throughout her career, McAdams has held onto this mindset. "I’ve always valued the time I have off in between jobs," she continued. "There’s an exorcism that happens after each part."
During her acting "pause," Rachel McAdams took to solo traveling
When Rachel McAdams took time off acting, she decided to travel alone, venturing to Australia and Costa Rica. As she told Stylist, her adventures included flying in a tiny four-seater plane, exploring a rainforest, sleeping in a sketchy hotel while clutching a Swiss Army knife, visiting a volcanic black beach, and staying in a cabin with no electricity.
While she admitted her adventures were sometimes terrifying, she said, "I would do it that way all over again, it was life-changing." She explained that her travels taught her to become self-sufficient and less focused on the material world. As an actor, this proved to be an essential skill. "Now I feel like if [the success] all went away tomorrow, I know I would be OK," she continued. "I think it’s also allowed me to make choices in my career that are coming from the right place."
It’s pretty amazing how McAdams used her time off to reconnect with herself, learn some survival skills, and use them to recalibrate her career.
Rachel McAdams ended her relationship with Ryan Gosling in 2007
Rachel McAdams and Ryan Gosling didn’t get along at first when they starred together in The Notebook in 2004. As McAdams once told The Times, "We weren’t throwing Ming vases at each other, so it wasn’t loathing, but our relationship was not what you saw on the screen." However, they ended up reconnecting after the film and dating for three years.
By the sound of things, the relationship was incredibly special for both McAdams and Gosling. "God bless The Notebook," Gosling told GQ a few months after the breakup. "It introduced me to one of the great loves of my life." While he stated that his relationship with McAdams was "a lot more romantic" than the love story in the film, he acknowledged that it didn’t work out in the end.
For McAdams, her parents’ long-lasting love story showed her that her relationship with Gosling wasn’t quite good enough. She told Elle, "You grow up and you assume that everyone is like that, and you quickly realize that they’re not, and then you have those days when you wonder if you’re going to find it for yourself" (via the Independent).
Rachel McAdams is passionate about the environment
In an interview with The Fan Carpet, Rachel McAdams explained how her time abroad helped her to develop a connection with the natural world. "Growing up I had a real disconnect with the planet," she explained. "I would go to the beach in my turtle neck, all bundled up." However, after visiting Australia’s incredible beaches, that changed. "My relationship to the planet expanded," she continued. "I started to connect to it more and be more aware."
After McAdams got interested in the planet, she developed a passion for environmentalism. As she told Stylist, "I would consider myself an environmentalist." However, some of her views are a little unfashionable. As she confessed, she sometimes wonders whether we should just "use up all the oil and then we can finally figure out something else."
McAdams’ passion for the environment led to her creating her own website, which encouraged people to find their own little ways of contributing to a greener lifestyle.
When Rachel McAdams returned to acting in 2007, she took on a wide range of varied roles
After traveling the world and re-assessing her career choices, Rachel McAdams returned to the industry with a much better idea of the direction she wanted her career to take. As she explained to the Los Angeles Times, she actually turned down a few incredible opportunities, including Anne Hathaway‘s role in The Devil Wears Prada and the chance of becoming a Bond girl.
Instead, McAdams was more interested in challenging roles – even if they weren’t going to bring her the same levels of fame. These lower budget films included Married Life, The Lucky Ones, and State of Play. As The Scotsman noted in 2012, she had become incredibly "selective."
Colin Farrell, who starred alongside McAdams in True Detective, explained, "Rachel is navigating her career in a really interesting way. It feels like she’s seeking out the potential of what we do for a living."
Rachel McAdams learned a lot about the police force for True Detective
In 2015, Rachel McAdams starred as Ani in the second season of True Detective. As she told Stylist, she was attracted to the role immediately. "I understood her as soon as I read her," she revealed. For the project, McAdams was playing a police officer. As it turns out, her extensive research for the role ended up teaching her a lot. "I did a ride-along with the police and I learned that everybody is lying to everybody else," she continued. "I get it now when police officers are cynical, because the criminals are always trying to pull one over on them."
In another interview for Variety, McAdams shared that during the filming of the series, she got a taste of the action-packed, adrenaline-inducing life of a cop. In fact, during one "pretty intense" shootout scene, she actually threw up after having to run 200 yards several times. Sounds like the actress has a new-found appreciation for the difficult physical demands of being a cop after playing Ani!
Becoming a mother was the "greatest thing that’s ever happened" to Rachel McAdams
In April 2018, Rachel McAdams gave birth to her first child with her partner Jamie Linden, a screenwriter. The actress has always been private about her family, which is understandable, after the media storm that followed her relationship with Ryan Gosling. In fact, McAdams has never even revealed her son’s name. "I want to keep his life private, even if mine isn’t," she told The Times.
Even though McAdams kept the details private, she didn’t mind gushing about the experience. She explained that the timing felt right, and that she had "waited a long time" to be a mother. "I’m having more fun being a mum than I’ve ever had," she continued. "Everything about it is interesting and exciting and inspiring to me."
During the 2020 coronavirus pandemic, McAdams once again opened up about her son during a virtual event called "Heroes of Health: COVID-19 Stream-a-thon" (via Today). She said that her son had been endlessly "entertaining," and had helped keep the boredom at bay. While we don’t know a lot about Rachel McAdams’ son, it’s so sweet to hear the actress gushing about him.
Rachel McAdams’s journey hasn’t made her a mega celeb — but she doesn’t mind
For someone who was once called the "next Julia Roberts," things ended up quite differently for Rachel McAdams. After choosing her roles carefully, McAdams has definitely not become a huge star — even if she is a recognizable face. When asked by the Los Angeles Times about whether she was happy with where her career took her, she explained that she wouldn’t want it any other way. When she was younger, she had sometimes day dreamed about becoming famous — but really, she would have been happy working at a local theater company.
Additionally, McAdams "does seem to revel in being kind of unknowable." And when asked by Entertainment Weekly about how she tends to "puzzle a lot of people in Hollywood," she retorted, "I puzzle myself most of the time. It’s a mysterious business and there’s no clear path to take, so you just make choices in the moment and see where you wind up, and hopefully you land on your feet."
While McAdams has never actively avoided fame, her career choices have certainly helped her to find balance.
Rachel McAdams still lives in Canada to keep herself grounded
Most people would probably assume that Rachel McAdams would live in Los Angeles, like most other movie stars. However, for McAdams, living in Canada means living the lifestyle that suits her best. According to HuffPost, McAdams has always returned to her "long-time two-story house in Toronto’s Annex neighborhood" after every project. As she told the CBC, staying grounded by living in Toronto is "kind of everything for me and for my sanity…it helps me be better in my work to just step away from [Hollywood]."
As McAdams explained to Stylist, living in Canada has helped her to make the career choices that she really wants to be making, rather than getting swept up by industry. Additionally, according to Narcity, McAdams day-to-day life in Toronto is pretty low-key. She frequently bikes around the city, visiting cool areas like the Annex and Kensington Market. She’s even been spotted at the Eastern Mediterranean restaurant Byblos.