EASTON, Md. — To hear actress Rachel McAdams tell it, her career so far has had its share of what she calls “hallelujah moments.”

There was the moment when the star of the upcoming World War II period romance “The Notebook” nailed her audition opposite Ryan Gosling for the film’s lead role as Allie Hamilton, a Southern debutante wild child. “I felt pumped full of some drug. I certainly wasn’t on Earth,” she recalls. “I thought, ‘They’re never going to give this to me. I’m nobody.’”

This story first appeared in the May 18, 2004 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

“She was, by far, the greenest actress we auditioned,” says the film’s producer, Mark Johnson, adding that 12 other, more-established actresses were up for the part. “But she was unquestionably the most appropriate and surprising. We all just said, ‘Oh my God, this girl is really good.’”

Then there was the moment during filming when the 25-year-old, who attended the conservatory at Toronto’s York University, met actor and playwright Sam Shepard. “I was knee-deep in mud in South Carolina, and so was he. We just had a normal conversation,” she says. “I mean, I studied him a lot at university. And just to be in front of this man, who’s playing my boyfriend’s dad, it was one of those things you could never even imagine happening to you.”

Now perched on a couch in the lobby of a picturesque, white clapboard resort that overlooks the Chesapeake Bay, the tiny thespian is enjoying more good fortune: a day off from shooting her next film, “Wedding Crashers,” a romantic comedy opposite Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughan. Fresh from a swim in the pool, she arrives with her dark wet hair slicked into a bun, wearing jeans and a pair of floppy white hotel slippers. A giant white wedding tent from the previous day’s shooting looms in a distant field. In the film, she plays the bridesmaid daughter of the Secretary of the Treasury (Christopher Walken) who encounters Wilson and Vaughan when they crash her sister’s wedding. Of her co-stars, McAdams says, “They ad lib, and they come up with these wild things, and you just have to kind of run with it. We’re filming a bike riding scene tomorrow. I picture someone going headfirst into the marsh.”

Though McAdams has been landing roles as the rich girl — she plays the beautiful blond Regina George, Lindsay Lohan’s archrival in “Mean Girls” — her own upbringing was quite different. Raised outside Toronto by her mother, a nurse, and her father, a mover, she fell in love with Shakespeare at 13 while attending a summer theater camp. Studying theater during college, she booked her first film, the Canadian-Italian “My Name is Tanino,” during spring break, and headed to Italy on her first plane ride shortly after graduation. She was even nominated for a Genie, the Canadian Oscar, for her supporting role in the indie film “Perfect Pie,” but still deemed Hollywood impenetrable.

“I thought I would refuse to be part of it,” she says. “I thought, ‘I’m just going to do theater, and be poor and it will be really romantic.’”

On her first trip to L.A., she auditioned for a Nancy Drew pilot. “I didn’t get it and I was devastated,” she says. “I thought I’d blown my only chance.” On a whim, she auditioned for “The Hot Chick” with Rob Schneider, and she got the part.

The buzz surrounding her performance in “The Notebook” has reached a steady thrum. Critics have described her as a “silver-screen star in the making,” and her performance has been described as a “revelation.”

Since picking up a Hollywood-style paycheck, McAdams says she’s splurged on travel. She backpacked through Australia and Costa Rica, squired her family to Mexico for the holidays, and plans to fly them out to L.A. for the premiere of “The Notebook” next week.

Her only other indulgence includes one very special pink vintage dress, which she will wear to walk the red carpet.

“Normally I pick something the day before,” McAdams says shyly of the dress, which she purchased after falling in love with it at a photo shoot. “But I figured this was one of those moments where I better think ahead.”

— Alison Burwell

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