No stranger to time travel, Rachel McAdams cutes up the screen once again in Woody Allen's latest search for the perfect relationship in Midnight in Paris, with Owen Wilson, Michael Sheen, and Kathy Bates. Rachel sat down with Buzzine to talk about her dreams coming true working with Woody in Parisian museums, and her upcoming projects, including Sherlock Holmes Part 2.
Megumi Torii: Did you have a preconceived idea of what it might be like working with Woody Allen? Was it different from what you thought it would be?
Rachel McAdams: I tried to watch as many of his films as I could – watch them again – and get a sense of the rhythm of a Woody Allen film, but ultimately I realized in the end that it was going to be a unique experience for me and different from the other films. It was great to get in there with him and realize that he's incredibly funny, incredibly generous, happy to guide you if you want guidance, and happy to leave you alone if you feel confident in what you're doing. [He] creates these really fun, great characters in these wild situations and lets you just go and play. I was just happy to find out that it was going to be a great experience and one that I'll always really cherish.
MT: Can you talk about your character's dislike for all things Parisian? Do you share anything in common with that, or do you love Paris?
RM: Inez and I do not have that in common. She do
esn't appreciate it as much as Gil, Owen [Wilson]'s character. She comes from a sunny place and likes it that way. But I, on the other hand, loved working there. I love being there. This job did not feel like work because we were in museums; I felt like I was more on vacation, going to the boulangerie, and shooting at Giverny, standing on that bridge with Owen and just a small film crew; no tourists, no one, no security really. It was hard to wrap your head around some days. I loved that. They did take down some of the Picassos when we went to the museums. They put up some fakes, so I don't think they totally trusted us, but it was extraordinary. Really great.
MT: Woody had some nice things to say about you. He said that you've really got it, and he didn't have to give you much direction. I've never heard that before...
RM: Oh, that's very nice. He's being very generous.
MT: But did he give you much direction? He said he hardly gave you any...
RM: I would ask for it. Again, it's a wonderful quality, that he's very, very trusting and hires people because he thinks they're the best person for the job. That really instills a sense of confidence when you're standing there, like, "Urgh. I guess no news is good news," type of thing. I just really appreciated how much he trusts in the people he has around him. The whole set had an ease to it, and everyone felt really relaxed and comfortable, and I think that makes for better work.
MT: What was the casting process like? How did this end up coming your way?
RM: I got a call that he wanted to meet, so I was in complete shock. I went out to New York and we had a very brief meeting, and he said, "I'd like you to play this part. She's definitely not the object of desire, but I think she's a lot of fun." And then he said, "But if you don't want to do it, it's fine. Whatever." And I said, "No, no, I definitely, definitely want to do it." So we just went from there. It was very surreal because I had never imagined he would knock on my door.
MT: You've been to Paris before, haven't you?
RM: I had, very briefly for Fashion Week in January, but January is very different from July in Paris. It was nice to revisit in the summer.
MT: Woody Allen films always have the sense that everyone is ad-libbing, which I know is probably just really good dialogue, but did you and Owen ad-lib a little?
RM: I think his structure is so strong, so you really can lean on that. I think a lot of great things can come out of ad-libbing, but I think there tends to be a trend where that's all that happens, and I think that's a shame because there's a real skill to writing a scene. It doesn't just appear. He's so good at that, and he gets that. I really valued that we had that to work with and that there's a certain cadence and rhythm to his dialogue that everyone has come to love so much; why mess with that? On the other hand, Owen is great at ad-libbing as well. It was balance in the two, and I think Woody just loved what Owen was doing, so I think he was happy to have him play around with the text a bit. He says, "If it feels right to you, go with it." It's not that strict.
MT: Watching Owen, some of the gestures looked like Woody, and I've seen that in all of his movies. Do you see that happening on set? I assume he works differently with the main actors than he does with the supporting cast...
RM: I don't know. I guess I can only speak from my experience. I know he and Owen seem to get along really well. I think they really admire each other, and I think that spilled over somehow into Owen playing this part. I think he did a really lovely job. But in terms of an impersonation of Woody, I don't think Owen was doing that personally, but that's just my opinion.
MT: When you were in that scene with Paul (Michael Sheen) and he was correcting the tour guide, when you found out the tour guide was actually the president of France's wife, what did you think of that? Was she quite an actress, or what?
RM: I thought it was such a great choice. I didn't know Carla [Bruni] before, but she's a really lovely human being. I think this was her first acting job, and she did an amazing job. I think she did a really beautiful job with it. I think so, was it not? Am I wrong about that?
MT: She sang and has appeared before the public, but I don't think she's acted...
RM: She's a performer, yeah. I thought she did a wonderful job. I would have been scared to do that. I was, and I've done it before, so I can't imagine how she was feeling, but she was grace under pressure.
MT: Were you disappointed not to go back in time? I could see you as Zelda. Is there a time you'd like to go back to? Would that interest you, or are you into the now, which is the whole point of the movie?
RM: It was a valuable lesson I'd like to incorporate into my life. It's part of why I do this job -- I do get to go back in time. I get as close as you possibly can. I'm always looking to do that and different periods, and I've done the '40s. Then Sherlock Holmes was late-1800s; I'd like to hit them all really.
MT: The current Sherlock Holmes?
RM: The Part 2, yes.
MT: Do you go back to England?
RM: We do, yes. Can I say that? Am I going to get a phone call now? Yes.
MT: Was it fun to play that character again? Were there things about her that you wanted to explore a little more?
RM: Yeah. I just have a small cameo in this one, but it was nice to revisit. It's why I've always thought I would like to do television, because you get really intimate... I find that, often with film, you're just really getting to know a person – they're just starting to sink in, and then you wrap the film. It was nice to get to bring her back and get time to meditate on her a bit more. I like that exercise.
MT: How about The Vow? Is that your next movie?
RM: We finished The Vow after Midnight in Paris, and then I did a Terrence Malick film after that. That was my last...
MT: Is that still untitled?
RM: Still untitled.
MT: What kind of role do you have in the Terrence Malick project?
RM: I don't know. I'll find out when I see the film. It's a romance, as far as I can tell, and it's a bit of a triangle between Ben Affleck's character and Olga [Kurylenko] and myself. That's about it, I think.
MT: What was Terrence like to work with?
RM: Wonderful. So inspiring. It's a very different way of working. I think it really services a real honesty and beauty in his films. It was a great experience as an actor because you have to be very honest, very vulnerable, take a leap, and just hope someone will catch you, and he does. Again, same thing with Woody; you can just let yourself go and let them take you where they're going to take you, and trust that it will be interesting and compelling, and you don't have to do a lot in a weird way. Both great experiences.
MT: Did you get to work with Javier Bardem?
RM: I didn't. Our characters never meet up, no. He plays a priest, and he was gone by the time I got there, so we didn't even meet.
MT: How did you feel coming into the movie? Terrence Malick hasn't been interviewed or photographed in 30 years. How do you know anything about him, other than just watching his movies?
RM: I guess you never really know anyone until you get in there and work with them. I find that with any film I do. He's a very open, warm person; we spent a fair amount of time together before we got started. I got to know the town we were shooting in as though I had lived there. There's great preparation involved with him.
MT: Is there great preparation in Woody Allen films? Because he wants everything to be simple. Do you do a lot of rehearsal beforehand? Because then you might think too much...
RM: No, I think he likes catching lightning in a bottle on the first one and not letting it get too overdone and too over-rehearsed. He likes the spontaneity of it.
MT: Have you seen Midnight in Paris yet?
RM: I have, yes.
MT: How was watching it for you? Just the opening sequence? Did it reignite the love for Paris?
RM: It did. I really appreciated that opening sequence; I think he captured Paris beautifully, and you can tell he has a love for it. It really comes across. You don't see that very often -- the opening credits taking that much time. Just takes its time and takes the city in, in the way that Parisians do too. They slow down, they sit on those sidewalk cafes, they just drink it in. I really loved that, and it kicks it off on the right foot, I think. It's a love letter to Paris.
MT: What about falling in love with a pedant as you do in the movie? At what point does a guy stop being smart and become an obnoxious pedant?
RM: You see it from my character's point of view. You're talking about with Gil? I think she thinks he's being foolish. I think she values how hard he's worked and where he's gotten to, and she thinks being a successful screenwriter is quite a feat, and he is dismissing that, and he thinks being a novelist is true art, and I think Inez is arguing against that. I think she's quite frustrated with him. I think she feels like he's throwing their life away and changing the rules, changing the game plan. Because she's a planner, she's got her sights set on the horizon; she knows what she wants, she knows how to get it, she's very practical, and he's got his head in the clouds. They're so not right for each other.
MT: She wants to live in Malibu with a big house and his nice salary as a screenwriter, and he's turning his back on the whole thing...
RM: Exactly. He's changing the rules. I don't think that's working for her.
MT: What do you think her character sees in Michael Sheen? Because his character and Gil are very different people...
RM: I think she sees him as much more grounded, reliable; I think she's swept away by his intelligence, and they have this great guide to take them through Paris, but not really the real Paris – I mean, a part of it – the front side of Paris, not the back side. I think she's just swept away by his success.
MT: What about the advice? What is among the best advice you've ever received? A beautiful, young actress like you, I'm sure everyone gives you advice on everything...
RM: I've been given lots of great advice in my life. I'm trying to think of something in particular someone said. I can't think of anything in particular.
MT: Maybe your mother told you something, or some actor? Maybe Woody? Or maybe just something life has taught you?
RM: I think just honesty, as an actor -- being as honest and as present as you can be. It's one of the things I just love so much about this film -- it's about being present and embracing the world that you find yourself in, and not spending too much... I think it's fair to spend time in the past and to romanticize things -- I think that's a fun pastime -- but if it becomes that you'd rather have that than what you have now, that's when it's a little bit dangerous. I've taken real heart in that, in this movie. I really enjoy that he's exploring that.
MT: How do you think your character would have changed if she went back to the past with him that day?
RM: I think she would have thrown a temper tantrum. "Get me out of here!" It's a great question. That's the sequel, I guess. I don't know if she would have been as swept away as Gil. She's too practical for that. Maybe she would have checked herself into a psychiatric hospital.
MT: You talked about being envious of television because you can revisit characters. What character that you've played would you like to revisit in film?
RM: That's a good question. I did this movie with Tim Robbins called The Lucky Ones, and at the end of the movie, we go back... We're soldiers who are on leave from Iraq, and at the end, we wind up going back, and it's very open-ended. It's kind of sad -- you don't know what will happen to these people, so it'd be interesting to carry that story on and see how that went, where that went. And she was really fun to play -- probably one of my favorite characters I've ever played.
Sony Pictures Classics' 'Midnight in Paris' is released on May 20, 2011.