IAR Interview: Rachel McAdams Talks 'Midnight in Paris'

Wednesday, 18 May 2011 12:23 Written by  Jordan DeSaulnier
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IAR Interview: Rachel McAdams Talks 'Midnight in Paris'

With starring roles in films including The Notebook, Morning Glory, and Wedding Crashers, Rachel McAdams has demonstrated that she can carry a romance with seemingly effortless charm.  In Midnight in Paris, the latest film from writer-director Woody Allen, she plays Inez, a character with considerably less charm than we're accustomed to from the actress.  Inez and her fiance Gil, played by Owen Wilson, are on a trip to Paris with her city, and while screenwriter/aspiring novelist Gil is so taken with the city that he finds himself inadvertently traveling back in time to the 1920's, Inez resists the romance of Paris.  Unlike her character, Rachel McAdams enjoys the City of Lights, as she discussed in a roundtable interview with IAR and several other outlets.  Read on for her thoughts on Paris, Woody Allen, time travel, her co-stars, and nostalgia.

What is it to you that makes Paris synonymous with magic?  What is it about the city that just makes people fall in love?

I don't know.  I think people really take the time to enjoy life there.  You know, you see everyone sitting out on the sidewalk cafes, having a coffee and just kind of taking it in.  So I think there's this kind of quality of just enjoying life for what is is and not letting it just sort of pass you by, which I think Woody is acknowledging in the film a little bit as well.  So I think Paris is kind of a great place to do that and I think they appreciate really beautiful things there.  And it's a hub of art and culture and, as expressed in this film, a place where great artists have gone before and been inspired.  I don't know.  For me personally, I was really taken by, and this sounds so cheesy, but the light.  It was so extraordinary.  I'd heard that but I thought, 'How different can it be to anywhere else?'  And I don't know why it is, but it's just so beautiful.  I have a great memory of being on a scooter and going down the Champs-Elysées as the sun's going down, and the breeze, the wind in my hair and just thinking, 'This is the closest thing I can imagine to a heavenly experience.'

How was it playing a character who was completely immune to all the things you just described?

It was good.  I got a little bit of both worlds.  She was outrageous at times and could be quite extreme.  I liked her practicality.  I like that she didn't pretend to be swept away.  She was quite honest about that.  Woody warned me at the beginning, 'You will not be playing the object of desire.  I hope you're okay with that.'  And I was just happy to be in a Woody Allen movie, so the fact that he trusted me to play the villain, so to speak, I was kind of excited about that challenge.

In the legacy of Woody Allen's women, aren't there those two types, the object of love and the villain woman?  Did you see that legacy when you approached the role?

I feel like he likes those roles to be very clear. You're kind of helping to inform the story, and if I had made her likable it really wouldn't have worked.  She was a necessary foil, and I was happy to play into that. I do remember touching Owen.  I had this idea that I was the cat and he was the mouse, and I sort of would always have my paw on his tail.  I never let him go too far away from me.  And then Woody saw it totally different, he's like, 'Stop fondling Owen.  You're always touching him.'  So it was just different ways of looking at it, but it's fun to explore it.

Now that you're back home, are you listening to Cole Porter records and reading F. Scott Fitzgerald novels?  Did that have any lasting impact?

Yeah.  Woody gave us all this lovely collection of books.  I got 'Tender as the Night'.  I don't know what the collection is but it's a beautiful cover.  I'm almost afraid to read it because it's just something to be looked at on your shelf.  It was a lovely memento of the experience and the film.  I will read it though.  I love that music; I love that he always puts that music in his films.  It does inspire such a feeling of nostalgia.  It takes you back to a place immediately and gets that wistful feeling going rather quickly.

What makes a Woody Allen set different than every other set that you've worked on?

It's very relaxed. I mean, it's smaller crews. It's quite civilized. It's not really, really long hours. It's almost like being on stage. He sets up this space, and it's usually a bigger arena to play in than you normally get. He's like, 'You can go there, you can go over there. I've lit it all beautifully.  Feel free.  Pick up the phone, have a cigarette.  Whatever you feel your character would do and you'll look good no matter where you do it and what you do.'  It's very liberating.

Is that something that attracts actors?  Do you feel like you have more of a chance to act and more of a chance to use your craft?

Yeah, I think you do.  He leaves a lot of room for that and he knows what the shot is, but he doesn't limit the potential in the scene, the possibilities.  I didn't know that going into it.  I just knew he's an amazing director and I've always loved his films.  Every single one of them has something in it that touched me, moved me, made me think about something in a different way.  That was my outside view, but then inside you realize that it's a great exploration as an actor.

What was the first Woody movie you saw and what was your favorite?

Good question.  I think it was Annie Hall.  Yeah.  And my favorite was Stardust Memories, which made this one all the more exciting because there's some similarities there and similar worlds.  That's my favorite.  I like Love and Death, too.  For some reason I could not stop laughing through Love and Death.  And Sleeper, as well.  So many.  I mean you could go on and on.  It was fun, while I was working, to ask people what their favorites were and to have a Woody Allen film festival.  It was great.

This movie is very romantic and obviously everybody knows you as well for the classic romance in The Notebook.  But this character is the complete opposite of that and is not a romantic type of person.  Anything you want to say about what you personally feel about romance or what you learn from doing these kinds of roles?  Does your own view influence you when you pick a role like this or do you think the roles have an impact on you?

I would say the opposite, that the roles have an impact on me.  I try to go into everything with a fresh view.  That's what's so great about being an actor; you get to explore the world and people and relationships in different ways in each film, hopefully.  Otherwise I get very bored.  So I guess I go in and try to allow that to influence me.  And this was a totally new take on love that I had not experienced before.  Just as valid, for many different reasons, and I was excited to take a new journey in terms of the romantic relationship.

Over the years you've been working, it seems like you've always had a clear plan for how you would have longevity and success in the business.  Has everything gone according to plan?

Can you remind me of what that plan is again [laughs]?  I've feel so blessed it's worked out very well.  I could not have imagined that I would be in a Woody Allen film, so there have been numerous surprises along the way and this was a very big one for me.  A very welcome surprise.  It's gone in many different directions that I didn't expect, but they've all been wonderful.

How did Woody approach you?  He's sort of known for his idiosyncratic sales pitches to actresses.  What was his approach or sales pitch to you for this film?

He almost tried to talk me out of it. I was very confused.  I was like, 'So, wait, you want me to play the part?' We had a meeting in New York and he said, 'I really would like you to play this part, but if you don't want to do it, we'll do something else.  It's fine if you don't want to do it.'  I was like, 'Whoa, I want to do it.'  So it was very endearing and I was very flattered.  We had a very brief meeting and he told me the basics of the character, and then we kind of went from there.

If you were a cat and Owen was a mouse, what was your relationship with Michael Sheen?

I guess he was a bigger cat.  That was funny because Michael didn't realize that we had an affair in the film, because some people read the script and some people aren't given the script.  So it was quite funny. I think it was his last day and he said something, and I said, 'We have an affair,' and he was like, 'What?!  What do you mean we have an affair.  Why didn't you tell me that two weeks ago?'  But I think that's an interesting thing that Woody does, where he doesn't tell you everything.  He just sort of creates these great situations and lets people play them out.  I think sometimes holding things back... I think as actors we can't help but want to facilitate the story and want to let the audience know what's going on.  And sometimes I think it's better if we don't know because we don't announce it as much, you know?

When would be the golden age you look back on?

I don't know.  I think the Twenties seem like they were a lot of fun.  I think Woody makes them seem like a lot of fun, even though he's saying, 'Enjoy the present and what you have right now.'  I think he reminds us, in this film, of what a great time it was and what a great time it was for art and music.  So I think I'd enjoy the Twenties.  I love what Woody says about all the things that you would miss, like Penicillin.  It's a great lesson.

If you were pulled back in time and attended a cocktail party like Owen's character did, what actress from the past would you really hope would be there?

There's so many, aren't there?  Katherine Hepburn.  You know, I'd love to have a chat with her.  So many. Judy Holliday.  Her comedy was just incredible.  That would be two on the top of my list.

You mentioned the freedom Woody Allen gives you within a scene to sort of move around.  Does that extend to the dialogue as well?  he has such a particular rhythm and cadence that's sort of his trademark.  Do you have room to improvise and play or is it very exacting?

No, I think there's definitely room.  It's one of those things where if you can make it work, that's all that matters.  I think he's very honest about it.  If you think your character would do something and it makes sense and goes with the flow of things,then I think he's into that.  The only pressure is to be really good, and then you can get away with it.  I think there's definitely room to explore and room to come up with something else.

Midnight in Paris premiered last week at the Cannes Film Festival and has earned glowing reviews.  The film opens stateside Friday, May 20th.

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