Rachel McAdams on tea, scones, time travel and why Richard Curtis makes her swoon

"About Time’s a little autobiographical and Richard’s a really extraordinary human being. I’ve always wanted to work with him"

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It’s easy to forget that the diminutive auburn-haired figure sitting opposite me in a hotel room suite has achieved global superstardom. That’s not to say Rachel McAdams doesn’t turn heads with her porcelain skin and perfectly-styled curls. As men – and women – across the planet can testify, her heart-melting turns in The Notebook, The Vow and now About Time have beguiled many a cinema-goer. But in person McAdams has that uncanny girl-next-door quality to her. You’re tricked into feeling you’re sharing a cup of tea with a good friend, rather than one of the most bankable actresses in Hollywood.

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Her latest foray is vintage Richard Curtis. A picture-perfect romcom in which she plays pensive American Mary who catches the eye of hapless young lawyer Tim (Domhnall Gleeson). But there’s a catch. Tim can time travel – as revealed in a delightfully surreal conversation with his father, James (a jovial Bill Nighy).

So, once again McAdams is portraying the girlfriend/partner/spouse of a time traveller – a theme woven through a formidable CV that already includes The Time Traveller’s Wife and Midnight in Paris. Doesn’t she ever get bored? “Have I done it three times? Oh gosh, you’re right! And I never get to time travel. The wife time travels next time – we need to rectify that.”

Offer her the chance to time travel herself and it takes her all of a heartbeat to leap back to her dream role. “Scarlett O’Hara, for sure. She was just delicious and epic and you’ve got the costumes and physicality on top of it. And all the romances – it was just so rich. She really was the heartbeat of [Gone With the Wind] so I’d love to play that part. You may as well throw Clark Gable in there while we’re at it.”

So, why does she keep returning to familiar ground? “I really didn’t feel like this was a film about time travel, necessarily. It’s not super sci-fi. I thought it was used really deftly in Richard’s version. It was one of those ones you can’t pass up. I know I have a little bit of time travel in my past but this is different. The element of time travel thrown in was unique and quirky and dealt with it lightly.”

Hearing McAdams speak, you quickly gauge just how enamoured she is with Curtis and his films. “They just make you swoon a little bit,” she gushes. “They remind you about all the best things about life and the people in your lives. They make you take stock of what’s important. About Time’s a little autobiographical and [Richard’s] a really extraordinary human being. I’ve always wanted to work with him.”

What does she make of Curtis’s recent revelation that he plans to abandon directing? “Isn’t that stupid? He’s such a creative guy, I don’t think he’ll ever stop making art but he’s also trying to save the world and doing a pretty good job so far. The amount of money he raises for Comic Relief and various organisations – if he’s stopping [directing], it’s to do something else that’s really important.” 

An essential component in all of Curtis’s films to date has been Hugh Grant, or in his absence a typically English toff, who embarks on bumbling attempts at romance to fuel much of the narrative. Enter Domhnall Gleeson: a shaggy-haired ginger Irishman whose uncanny transformation into a Grant clone (audibly, at least) carries the film’s central conceit. “He’s really Irish,” exclaims McAdams. “He would keep [the accent] all day long and then suddenly when we were getting our make up off at the end of the day, he’d talk in this Irish accent. I’d say, ‘Why are you talking like that?’ and he’d reply, ‘This is how I talk!’ His British dialect is so spot on – it’s so good.”

And it appears McAdams’ penchant for the “dialect” isn’t the only thing she adores about spending time in Britain. “I’m a big tea person – we Canadians share your love of tea. You can’t always get a great cup of tea in America. The first thing my sister and I do as soon as we get to London is find tea and scones and clotted cream.”

While cream teas don’t find their way into the film itself, About Time is an unashamed advert for the country Curtis calls home. From the sweeping shots of Cornwall’s dramatic coastline to his artfully-crafted vision of modern-day London, this is a loving pastiche evoking that familiar fuzzy feeling that accompanies every John Lewis Christmas advert. A stunning backdrop to frame a neat marriage between sci-fi and romantic comedy. “Who knew that was possible?” quips McAdams.

But it is – and executed in typical Curtis style. A return to form from the man who brought us Four Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill and Love Actually, and McAdams shines opposite Gleeson’s breakout performance. As the nights begin to drawn in and we near the end of our remarkable British summer, About Time is in waiting as the perfect autumn pick-me-up.

About Time is released in UK cinemas on Wednesday 4 September. Read Radio Times’ review here


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