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Eye On The Prize 

Rachel McAdams soars toward stardom

With apologies to Pedro Almodovar, you might consider Rachel McAdams a woman on the verge of a nervy breakthrough. After a couple of supporting roles -- handily upstaging Rob Schneider and Lindsay Lohan in their respective movie vehicles The Hot Chick and Mean Girls -- the 26-year-old Canadian native is well on her way to making a box office name for herself, thanks to last year's romantic drama The Notebook and the current hit comedy Wedding Crashers.

In director Wes Craven's Red Eye (opening this Friday), McAdams co-stars with Cillian Murphy (of 28 Days Later and Batman Begins), playing a damsel-in-distress who turns the tables on the demented stalker seated next to her on a late-night flight to Miami. The movie promises to catapult her to a whole new level -- a prospect she isn't quite sure what to make of, the actress admits during a recent interview in Los Angeles.

Creative Loafing: You're being described as something akin to Hollywood's next "It Girl." How are you dealing with the onslaught of celebrity attention? Is it hard keeping yourself grounded?

Rachel McAdams: It's weird. Somebody definitely needs to write a book about it. There isn't anything out there like an instruction manual, you know? Still, I have to say it's been wonderful, and I'm becoming more and more comfortable with the movie industry itself, which helps a lot. I guess the more movies you do, the more it becomes clear about the reasons you're doing this. That really keeps me centered.

So you don't necessarily see a downside?

Well, there's probably a downside to any job. This business is so scrutinized, and sometimes it feels as if you're living under a big microscope. That can be a little intimidating. On the one hand, you want to step lightly, but on the other hand, you have to be brave, doing what makes sense to you, and trying to maintain those reasons you got into this in the first place.

What were your reasons for getting into this?

William Shakespeare, and theater in general. After my first summer theater camp, I just had a hunch that this might be something I'd really enjoy. It opened up a whole new world to me, and my imagination really kicked into overdrive, working with such interesting people like I'd never encountered before. It started out innocently enough, although I think my mom had a bigger hunch that maybe it wouldn't be so innocent. She'd say things like, "Figure skating is still pretty fun, isn't it? Don't you still like that?" She was a little wary of the entertainment business, and she just wanted to make sure it was something I really wanted to do, that it was more about me and not about some idea or fantasy about what this business could offer. I think once I decided to go to college and study theater, she was OK with it.

You had figure-skating aspirations at one time?

Yeah. That presented itself to me when I was quite young. It became a question of whether I wanted to be an Olympic hopeful, or just do it recreationally. At such a young age, the idea of training for the Olympics was really exciting to me, but then I found out what was really involved -- moving away from your family, having a tutor, spending 24/7 on the ice. When you're 10 years old, it was like, "Thanks anyway, but I just want to go play with my friends now."

What appealed to you about this project?

It was flattering to me that Wes Craven even knew who I was, let alone that he wanted me to be in one of his thrillers. That was really intriguing to me, and the script was such a page-turner, with such great possibilities in terms of the psychological warfare that develops between these two main characters. It was clearly an actor's piece, too. There were so many challenges, I just wanted to see if I could step up to them. We talked a lot about my character's arc and evolution, and Wes was really conscious of the pacing. That's why it was so great that we shot the film in sequence. We could build on it steadily, layer upon layer.

On what level did you identify with this character, or is it even necessary for an actor to relate to a character in order to play it?

It's always important to find something within yourself that enables you to understand the character you're playing. Otherwise, you find yourself looking at it judgmentally, from outside the character. I certainly understood her obsession with her work. But I don't think I'm quite as jaded as she is. She's very mistrusting of people and she's stopped trusting herself, but I feel pretty good about the ability to follow my own instincts and intuition.

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