Rachel McAdams | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Rachel McAdams

Rachel Anne McAdams, actor (born 17 November 1978 in London, ON). Rachel McAdams is perhaps best known as a leading lady in such Hollywood romances as The Notebook (2004), The Time Traveler’s Wife (2009) and The Vow (2012). After graduating with a BFA from York University in 2001, she made a meteoric rise to stardom, going from a Gemini Award-winning role in the Canadian TV series Slings & Arrows (2003) to her breakthrough Hollywood performance in the hit high school comedy Mean Girls (2004). She was inducted into Canada’s Walk of Fame in 2014 and received Screen Actors Guild and Oscar nominations for her supporting performance in the Oscar-winning Spotlight (2015).

Rachel McAdams
Rachel McAdams at the Los Angeles premiere of her new movie Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows at the Village Theatre, Westwood. December 6, 2011, Los Angeles, CA. Picture: Paul Smith / Featureflash.

Early Years and Education

The daughter of a truck driver father and a nurse mother, Rachel McAdams was raised in St. Thomas, Ontario. A competitive figure skater from ages four to 18, she began acting at age 12 with the Original Kids Theatre Company in London. She won an award in 1995 at the Sears Ontario Drama Festival. She planned to enroll in social sciences at the University of Western Ontario, but was encouraged by her high school drama teacher to continue acting. After moving to Toronto, she worked with the Necessary Angel Theatre Group. She also  enrolled in the Drama program at York University and graduated with an honours BFA degree in 2001.

Early Career

McAdams hit the ground running early in her career. She landed television roles before she even graduated from university. After performing in a TV pilot that was not picked up for network television (Shotgun Love Dolls, 2001), she was cast in guest appearances in series such as The Famous Jett Jackson (2001) and Earth: Final Conflict (2002). She then made her feature film debut in the Italian-Canadian co-production My Name is Tanino (2002); she played an American tourist who inspires a Sicilian man to follow her back to the United States.

She was nominated for a Genie Award for her supporting performance as the younger version of Wendy Crewson’s character in Barbara Willis Sweete’s indie drama Perfect Pie (2002). She  was cast in her first Hollywood feature as a high school cheerleader who magically swaps bodies with Rob Schneider’s petty crook in the teen comedy The Hot Chick (2002). She also continued working in Canadian television. In 2004, she won a Gemini Award for her supporting performance as a Shakespearean actor who falls for an American star in the first season of the acclaimed TMN series Slings & Arrows.

Hollywood Breakthrough: Mean Girls (2004) and The Notebook (2004)

McAdams achieved a major career breakthrough in 2004. She starred as a sadistic but endearing high school social queen opposite Lindsay Lohan in the Tina Fey-scripted hit movie Mean Girls (2004). She also played a 1940s Southern debutante who falls in love with a boy from the wrong side of the tracks (played by Ryan Gosling) in the romance The Notebook (2004). It performed poorly at the box office but became popular after its initial release.

These were followed by McAdams’s sassy and sweet performance opposite Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn in the blockbuster comedy Wedding Crashers (2005). She also starred in the Wes Craven thriller Red Eye (2005) and had a supporting part in the ensemble comedy The Family Stone (2005), co-starring Sarah Jessica Parker, Claire Danes and Diane Keaton.

McAdams was named Supporting Actress of the Year by the US National Association of Theatre Owners at the ShoWest Awards in 2005. She was hailed by many Hollywood insiders as the next Julia Roberts. As Universal Pictures chairman Marc Shmuger said of McAdams in 2006, “she has everything you want in a movie star — the talent, the looks, the accessibility. People are both attracted to her and feel a kinship with her.”

Break from Hollywood

McAdams was nominated for the Rising Star Award at the BAFTA Awards in 2006. However, she became so selective in her choice of roles that she ended up taking a break from making movies altogether. She also backed out of an agreement to appear on the cover of  Vanity Fair’s 2006 Hollywood issue after showing up for the shoot and learning it would involve nudity (she was reportedly not informed by her publicist, who was then fired). Speaking of this period in a 2013 interview with The Times of London, McAdams said, “There were a lot of cooks in the kitchen, a lot of voices around me, and I wanted to step away so I could hear my own voice again.” She reportedly turned down the female leads in Mission Impossible III (2006), Casino Royale (2006), The Devil Wears Prada (2006), Get Smart (2008) and  Iron Man (2008).

Return to Acting and Romance Films

McAdams marked her return to acting with principal roles in two low-profile projects. She played a 1940s femme fatale opposite Chris Cooper and Pierce Brosnan in the noir drama Married Life (2007) and an American soldier returning from Iraq in the indie drama The Lucky Ones (2008). She then returned to more mainstream studio fare. She reaffirmed romance as her signature genre with The Time Traveler's Wife (2009), The Vow (2012) and  About Time (2013). She also earning positive reviews for her work in the thrillers State of Play (2009), opposite Russell Crowe, Helen Mirren and Ben Affleck, and A Most Wanted Man (2014), with Willem Dafoe and Phillip Seymour Hoffman.

In 2010, the New York Times’ Leah Rozen praised McAdams for “her winsome manner, her serious acting chops and a no-diva approach to her work.” She played the wily love interest of Robert Downey Jr.’s Sherlock Holmes in the slick, action-adventure blockbusters  Sherlock Holmes (2009) and Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (2011). She also worked with renowned auteur directors in more challenging films, including Terence Malick’s romantic drama To the Wonder (2012), Brian De Palma’s erotic thriller Passion (2012) and Wim Wenders’s Montreal-shot drama Every Thing Will Be Fine (2015). She co-starred with Harrison Ford and Diane Keaton in the comedy Morning Glory (2010). She was also cast, on Keaton’s recommendation, opposite Owen Wilson in Woody Allen’s highly successful romantic fantasy Midnight in Paris (2011).


Rachel McAdams at an event for the movie "Doctor Strange" at the 2016 San Diego Comic Con International, 23 July 2016.

True Detective (2015), Spotlight (2015) and Comedies

After appearing in no more than three films a year throughout her career, McAdams enjoyed an especially productive year in 2015. She co-starred in three feature films, voiced the role of the mother in the animated adaptation of the classic fairy tale The Little Prince (2015), and earned positive reviews in the otherwise derided second season of the HBO crime drama True Detective (2015). Her film roles that year included a love interest in Cameron Crowe’s widely panned Aloha (2015), a tragic wife to Jake Gyllenhaal’s professional boxer in Southpaw (2015), and Boston Globe investigative reporter Sacha Pfeiffer in Spotlight (2015). The latter film earned McAdams an Oscar nomination and a Screen Actors Guild Award nomination for best supporting actress. Spotlight won the Academy Award and Independent Spirit Award for Best Picture and picked up several other high-profile awards for best ensemble cast.

In 2016, McAdams co-starred opposite Benedict Cumberbatch in the Marvel superhero blockbuster Doctor Strange (2016). In his review of the film, the Playlist’s Gregory Ellwood wrote, “McAdams will never get the credit she deserves for transforming the barely sketched out role of Strange’s former medical colleague Christine Palmer into a captivating three-dimensional character that feels like an integral part of the storyline even when she isn’t.”

McAdams starred opposite Rachel Weisz as lesbian lovers in an Orthodox Jewish community in the adaptation of Naomi Alderman’s novel Disobedience (2017). She then marked a return to comedy, co-starring with Jason Bateman in Game Night (2018) and with Will Farrell in Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga (2020).


Rachel McAdams at the 88th Academy Awards at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, 28 February 2016.

Activism and Charity Work

A committed environmentalist, McAdams lives in Toronto in a house powered by renewable energy. She co-founded the eco-friendly lifestyle blog GreenIsSexy.org and assisted the clean-up effort in Biloxi, Mississippi, following Hurricane Katrina in 2005. In 2010, she took part in the Canada for Haiti telethon following the Haiti earthquake. In 2011, she participated in the Occupy Toronto protests and the Foodstock event to protest a proposed mega quarry near the Niagara Escarpment. In 2013, she served as a spokesperson for the Food and Water First Movement, which aims to preserve Ontario’s farmland and fresh water supply. She has also been involved with many other charities, including Habitat for Humanity and United Way.

Personal Life

McAdams was involved in a high-profile relationship with Ryan Gosling from 2005 to 2007, and briefly in 2008. She was also romantically linked to American actor Josh Lucas and her Midnight in Paris co-star Michael Sheen. She was involved with Canadian music manager Patrick Sambrook of Eggplant Entertainment (Sarah Harmer, Sam Roberts Band, The Tragically Hip) from 2013 to 2014. She reportedly dated True Detective co-star Taylor Kitsch before becoming involved with American director and screenwriter Jamie Linden in 2016. She and Linden have kept their relationship out of the public eye. McAdams gave birth to a son in April 2018. “It’s the greatest thing that’s ever happened to me, hands down,” she told the Sunday Times in 2018. “[People say] your life is not your own anymore, but I had 39 years of me, I was sick of me, I was so happy to put the focus on some other person.”

In 2014, McAdams and her sister, Kayleen, participated in an episode of the TLC genealogy program Who Do You Think You Are? and discovered that a maternal ancestor, James Gray, was a Loyalist who fought for Britain during the American Revolutionary War.


In 2013, McAdams was inducted into the St. Thomas Wall of Fame in her hometown and attended the ceremony with her parents. She was inducted into Canada’s Walk of Fame in October 2014 for her accomplishments as “one of Hollywood’s most sought-after and respected actors.”

See also: Rachel McAdams (Profile)


  • Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Supporting Role in a Dramatic Series (Slings & Arrows), Gemini Awards (2004)
  • Best Breakthrough Female Performance (Mean Girls), MTV Movie Awards (2005)
  • Best Kiss (The Notebook), MTV Movie Awards (2005)
  • Supporting Actress of the Year, ShoWest Awards (2005)
  • Choice Movie Actress, Drama (The Notebook), Teen Choice Awards (2005)
  • Choice Move Actress, Comedy (Wedding CrashersThe Family Stone), Teen Choice Awards (2006)
  • Female Star of the Year, ShoWest Awards (2009)
  • Choice Movie Actress: Action Adventure (Sherlock Holmes), Teen Choice Awards (2009)
  • Inductee, Canada’s Walk of Fame (2014)
  • Best Ensemble Cast (Spotlight, shared), Nevada Film Critics Society (2015)
  • Robert Altman Award (Spotlight, shared), Independent Spirit Awards (2016)
  • Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture (Spotlight, shared), Screen Actors Guild Awards
  • American Riviera Award (shared with Michael Keaton and Mark Ruffalo), Santa Barbara International Film Festival (2016)
  • Best Supporting Actress (Disobedience), International Online Cinema Awards (2018)