LOS ANGELES — It’s not easy to pigeonhole actress Rachel McAdams. There are her ever-changing hairdos, for one — from the long platinum tresses in “Mean Girls” to the flame-colored waves in “The Notebook” to the brown curls in her most recent film, “Wedding Crashers.” And so far, each character on her résumé bears little resemblance to the last.

The one constant, however, is her engaging screen presence that keeps moviegoers’ eyes on McAdams whenever she appears.

And the actress hits screens again this summer in Wes Craven’s “Red Eye,” which opens Friday. In it, she plays (dark-haired) hotel manager Lisa Riesert, who becomes a pawn in a murder plot when a man seated next to her on a plane (Cillian Murphy) reveals he’s a terrorist operative.

At a recent breakfast at the Regent Beverly Wilshire hotel, the chameleon-like Canadian actress, 28, is back to her natural honey blonde hair, dressed in a brown and white polkadot Valentino blouse, beige cropped trousers and hot pink patent leather stilettos. “The challenge was not to become some Xena-Buffy superhero type, but to keep her based in some kind of reality where she uses all that she has to get out of the situation,” she says of her character. “I didn’t want to be ripping my shirt off through the airport, sweating, and all of a sudden wielding an Uzi!”

Still, McAdams has ample opportunity to “get her licks in,” as director Craven put it, at one point foiling Murphy with a stiletto heel to the thigh and a ballpoint pen to the trachea. And she even has the war wounds to prove it.

“I slammed my head on a door one day, running through this cardboard door that I had gone through 18 times before, but of course, on the last take, was stuck. I now have a dent in my eyebrow, a little souvenir.”

She’s used to bumps and bruises, though. A former championship figure skater, McAdams even managed to sneak a photo from her competing days into the film. As her star gets brighter — her next project is “The Family Stone,” co-starring Diane Keaton and Sarah Jessica Parker, out Nov. 4 — it will be interesting to see if she can remain as low-key as she is now. Making her home base outside of Toronto, rather than Los Angeles, will undoubtedly help.

This story first appeared in the August 18, 2005 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

“I just prefer to be where my friends and family are,” she says. “I just can’t imagine not living there just like everyone can’t imagine not living in L.A. if you are in the business. It’s a beautiful place, but it’s just not home.”

In her downtime, McAdams, who is single, calls herself “pretty domesticated.”

“My life comes to a screeching halt when I’m not making movies. I really like to ride my bike around town, garden, cook and play ultimate Frisbee,” she says. She also admits she’s a sucker for the oft-aired miniseries “The Thornbirds.”

But one perk of being on an endless promotional tour is the designer clothes. “It’s nice to have access to the fashion world, because I’m not too adept in that department,” she laughs.

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