IAR INTERVIEW: Rachel McAdams and Bill Nighy Talk 'About Time'

Tuesday, 05 November 2013 09:46 Written by  iamrogue
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IAR INTERVIEW: Rachel McAdams and Bill Nighy Talk 'About Time'

In About Time, expanding to a nationwide release this Friday, Rachel McAdams and Bill Nighy are players in a quietly unconventional time travel story, one unconcerned with saving the world or overblown visual effects.

Written and directed by Richard Curtis (Love Actually), About Time instead follows Tim Lake (Domhnall Gleeson, Anna Karenina), an earnest young man who discovers that all the men in his family have possessed the unique ability to travel through time.  Though he does not have the ability to change history, Tim can alter what has happened and will happen in his own life.  Setting out to create the perfect romantic relationship, Tim gradually discovers that, even for a time-traveler, life is full of surprises and fleeting, unrepeatable moments.

In this romantic comedy, Rachel McAdams plays Mary, the love of Tim's unusual life, with Bill Nighy as the father who shows his son the ropes of chrono-hopping.  McAdams is a household name here in American and around the world, having demonstrated her inimitable charisma and charm in films as diverse as The Vow, Mean Girls, Sherlock Holmes, and Morning GloryNighy, meanwhile, is known best to Stateside audiences for his supporting performances in British gems like Shaun of the Dead, genre fare like Underworld, and blockbusters like Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest.

Thanks to Brenna Smith, IAR was on hand to discuss About Time with McAdams and Nighy in Los Angeles recently.  Both actors enthusiastically shared their thoughts on romance, their leading man, working with one-man-romantic-comedy-empire Curtis, their roles, how the ordinary can be sublime, and the effect About Time is having on audiences.


Since The Notebook almost a decade ago, McAdams has been identified with onscreen romance.  While it's far from the only genre in which she works, the actress explained, "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 a lack of love, and I don’t get that. I’m like, 'Something’s missing.' 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."

She may be notably gifted at conveying love on film, but even McAdams is still reliant upon her chemistry with the actor playing her reciprocal other.  She recalled her first encounter with Gleeson, saying, "Well, the first night that Domhnall and I ever met was on the street where we have our first kiss, and Richard orchestrated it that way. So, we literally met each other, for the first time, on that corner. And then, we went and had dinner with Richard and his partner, and they walked us around the neighborhood. We got a feel for where these people come from. That was lovely, and really nice."

Nighy, meanwhile, was effusive in his praise of Gleeson, on whose shoulders About Time rests. “He was just, honestly – I know they all say this, this is not PR – completely dreamy to do business with," said Nighy." He’s a lovely young man, and he’s a great actor. Those scenes are quite high-powered, some of them, but he operates without fuss, and there was very little discussion about it. We just kind of went into it instinctively. We seem to do pretty good together. And I was very very seriously impressed by him. He’s a lovely man, and he’s a very nice guy. Very cool guy to hang out with. And Punch-Drunk Love is his favorite film. Which is also mine. One of my favorite films. So I figured he was a regular guy.”


"I think she’s absolutely incredible," he said of McAcams. "I know they all say that, but she’s just incredible. She does what Richard said, 360 degree acting: you can’t see round the back, there is no back, it’s just entire. She’s touched, as they say in the cliché way, by genius. She’s fantastic. I think she could do anything. She’s breathtaking."

The American actress was struck by the good humor of this British production, saying, "I’m glad it was pointed out in the film that I was American, so people didn’t think I just had a bad British accent, but it was great. They’re so funny, and the 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 was incredible. Being able to work together, as an ensemble, is really seamless, and it happens really quickly. There’s no messing about with that, and yet they have such a great sense of humor about everything. 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?' He was like, 'This is how I talk.' It was impeccable. He was really good at it. It was an inspiring group to be around."

Having played visual effects-intensive characters like Davey Jones in two Pirates of the Caribbean films and a giant in Jack the Giant Slayer, Nighy was grateful for the simplicity of his paternal figure here, explaining, "From my point of view it’s very refreshing to play just a regular human being for a start and not someone from another dimension, which I dig too. But also, when I say not act, what I mean is to be as natural and normal as possible. My model for it was Jason Robards in a movie called Julia where he played Dashiell Hammett and he was Vanessa Redgrave’s husband. It was a relatively small part, and he made a, as he always did, I’m a huge Jason Robards fan, a big impression on me because he was just there in the most simple, unaffected and without,  a way of describing performances I admire, is there’s an absence of careerism. It’s a clumsy way of describing it but it sort of does it for me. He just did the job and he was just an absolutely beautiful, fond, powerful presence when she came home after doing all these incredibly dangerous stuff. It was a film about Vanessa Redgrave and I think Jane Fonda mostly, but Jason Robards was just there, and I wanted to be just there like that, and that’s as good as I can explain it. I just wanted to be around, win no prizes. Just be there and whatever happens happens, and it is a bit daunting because you think, 'I think I’m supposed to be everybody’s idea of dad,' but then you think 'Well I can’t do that, I can’t be everyone’s, but I‘ll do my best.' It’s what they call naturalism, there is no such thing, naturally, because there’s a film crew and you’re standing there and somebody says 'action' and you’re speaking somebody else’s words, but the kind of quest for levels of naturalism never ends."


Writer-director Richard Curtis has written films such as Four Weddings and a Funeral and Notting Hill.  Despite having enjoyed success as a director with Love Actually and Pirate Radio, Curtis has said publicly that About Time will be his final film as director, largely so that the Comic Relief founder can devote more time to his extensive philanthropic endeavors.

"I’m such a fan of his," McAdams said of the possibility that About Time may be his last film. "And I thought, 'Well, this might be my only chance.' So, I reached out to him for that reason, too. I hope it’s not. It’s tough because he’s taking time away from film to 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."

"It really did feel like we were enjoying the process so much because that’s what the movie was about," she continued. "That idea was always present. And Richard just sets the tone for that, too. He mines out the greatest moments in life, and he calls special attention to them. He undercuts them with humor, but he really takes measure of the good stuff. I think that’s such a talent, and a really admirable way to live. His family is a big part of the filmmaking process. His partner, Emma [Freud], who is a collaborator of his, would bring baked goods, every day, and lottery tickets on Friday. We were just totally spoiled, and it was a really lovely experience."

Nighy, who has worked with Curtis on all three of his directorial features, said, "On a personal level, on a kind of film set level, he’s endlessly courteous, funny as anything and sharp, and can really help as a director. He writes me great roles and they usually come with a string of pretty good jokes, so that makes him popular in my world. But I love the fact that the films are courageous enough to promote that which is usually described as ordinary in our lives, but are in fact the most important things there are, and that he has an enthusiasm for what’s good about people. We've got plenty movies about what’s not good about people, and that’s fine, we need those kinds of movies too, and I dig those movies, but I love the fact that he’s the guts to celebrate what’s the so-called small stuff, which is not in any way small, really. And whenever you’re in trouble, those are the things you reach for, not the other stuff. And I love the fact that he celebrates what is decent and tender and powerful between people."


"He doesn’t make movies to manipulate people, he’s not that guy. This is what he wants to say," Nighy continued. "He could make any movie he wants at this current point in his life, he could’ve made any movie he wanted and they would’ve given him the money, he can do that because he’s generated millions of millions of millions of dollars, but this is the movie he wants to make. Just this one. This is exactly what he wants to say and exactly what he wants to tell you. And it’s not mysterious to people. Everybody struggles with it every day. All those questions about how to get the most out of life and how to relish the so-called ordinary things and the beauty around all that, and he has the courage to say it, but in a beautiful way. I love it.”

Coincidentally enough, About Time marks McAdams's second time playing against a man romantically unstuck in time, having starred in The Time Traveler's Wife.  "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," she said. "And I love the sentiment that maybe we should just embrace what happens. There’s that whole idea 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 I wouldn’t have a story to tell. If you did everything over and made it perfect, what would you talk about?"

About Time has already inspired no small amount of emotion from audiences, with some responding more to the love story and others struck by the father-son relationship.  McAdams asserted that this is very much to the film's credit, saying, "What I love about film is that everybody often connects to something so different, and things you couldn’t anticipate when you were making the film, so you just make it as honest as possible."

"I’ve heard people are very emotional, by the end, and that it’s got a nice balance of humor," she concluded. "It’s got that Richard Curtis stamp on it. Reading it, I felt quite taken away. I wanted to reach out and call my mom when I put the script down. I love films that make you feel a little differently when you come out of them, as opposed to when you first go in, and I feel like this one does that."

About Time is currently in limited release.  This Friday, November 8th, the film expands to a full nationwide release.


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