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The gossip's now over Rachel.

Byline: By Robin Walker

It's easy to see why young Canadian actress Rachel McAdams has managed to make that elusive breakthrough in Hollywood ( the 25-year-old is blessed with being pretty, thin and blonde.

But the ex-competitive skater and theatre graduate can also act, as she proves in the two very different roles seen on British screens this summer.

In Mean Girls, released today, Ontario-born Rachel plays a bitchy high school Queen Bee type whose beauty is rivalled only by her single-minded desire to be the centre of attention.

And in the film version of Nicholas Sparks' novel, The Notebook, she plays a southern debutante in the 1940s who is separated from her first love, only to be reunited later in life.

Rachel admits she did draw on some of her own experiences to play Regina in Mean Girls.

"I do remember being a bit angry and aggressive as a teenager, desperately trying to fit in," she admits. "Of course I don't think I was ever as mean or as extreme as my character in this film, but I did encounter girls like that."

Nevertheless Rachel does confess to being a bit of a control freak and a perfectionist, which probably helps to explain her rise through the crowded ranks of Hollywood's pretty wannabes.

Her screen debut was in 2002 in Canadian hit Perfect Pie, then she headed to Los Angeles and landed the eye-candy role in The Hot Chick, as a cheerleader who switches bodies with Rob Schneider. While these may be her last teen roles, her Mean Girls character proves while she may look a dream, she's capable of playing it nasty.

"You have to cast a nice girl to play a mean girl, just like you have to cast a smart person to play a dumb person," explains director Mark Waters. "Rachel is incredibly nice and hard- working but can be wonderfully evil on camera."

The movie centres on the cruel ways in which high school girls enforce their cliques. Gossip is often the chosen weapon and Rachel admits she was involved in it, growing up in Ontario.

"I did gossip because I wasn't popular ( so if someone invited me into a group it was usually to gossip about someone else. It came out of wanting to belong." So she enjoyed playing a character who took it to extremes.

"The challenge for me was that Regina is like a machine, she hurts people because she can and for some reason it feels good. I wanted to go to that extreme where she lacks that little trigger that says, `Wait a second, this is wrong'.

"You do meet people who don't feel bad about hurting others and that's kind of interesting."

Romantic drama The Notebook is a change of pace, even if she is still playing younger than her age. In flash-backs, Rachel and rising star Ryan Gosling play young couple Allie and Noah, who reunite later in life, in the guise of Gena Rowlands and James Gardner.

"I'm this character falling in love for the first time who then becomes separated from him. It's really the story of this love affair."

Her character is a real southern belle. "Allie is a debutante in every sense of the word: etiquette classes, ballet, French and Latin studies. But she has a passion for painting which is something no-one but Noah encourages in her."

To get the feel for a southerner, Rachel soaked up the culture in South Carolina: "In the South everything is so different for me as a Canadian, so spending time in Charleston prior to filming enabled me to get into the character with ease."

She says working with Ryan and director Nick Cassavettes was a step up in her acting career.

"These were two manly men excited about this love story and it was an amazing experience. Sometimes Nick pushed me really hard, but it's something that will be with me always."

The daughter of a truck driver father and nurse mother, Rachel's early interest was ice skating, which she did at a competitive level into her teens: "It came to a point when I couldn't mentally handle the pressure I put myself under any more. It wasn't fun. In the build-up to competitions, my personality would change."

Eventually Rachel was drawn into taking acting seriously, graduating with an honours degree in theatre from Toronto's York University and finding her feet in TV supporting roles.

These days she divides her life between Los Angeles and Toronto, with her film career on a steady rise. She recently completed The Wedding Crashers with Owen Wilson. She is still surprised she's made it in Hollywood. When the then 13-year-old enrolled in Canada's celebrated Original Kids Theatre programme, it often led to tears.

"I was absolutely terrified when I started that course. I was this shy little turtle who would run home crying to my parents. It took me a while to enjoy being on stage," she reveals. But going to university and studying acting was her salvation.

"A whole new world opened up for me. I found people who had the same interests and who respected each other."

* Mean Girls opens today and The Notebook on June 25.
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Copyright 2004 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:Jun 18, 2004
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