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Contributed by Michael J. Lee, Executive Editor
for Radio Free Entertainment

August 6, 2005

In the suspense-filled thriller Red-Eye, a seemingly random encounter on a plane sets the stage for a test of wills between two resourceful individuals. When the level-headed but haunted Lisa Reisert (Rachel McAdams) meets the charismatic Jackson Rippner (Cillian Murphy) on a red-eye flight, she doesn't suspect anything out of the ordinary. But soon after takeoff, Rippner reveals his insidious agenda: he wants Lisa to use her position as manager at an upscale hotel to change the room assignment of a political figure, thereby facilitating an assassination attempt that is scheduled to take place. If she does not cooperate, Rippner will have her father murdered. Armed with her wits, Lisa becomes a reluctant hero who must find a way to stop Rippner, and a tense game of cat and mouse ensues 30,000 feet in the sky.

Directed by veteran horror auteur Wes Craven, Red-Eye is a smart, tightly-cut thriller fueled by two amazing lead performances--a critical element for a film in which much of the story unfolds through the simple set-up of two people sitting next to each other, talking. Rachel McAdams (Mean Girls, The Notebook) delivers a wholly believable and embraceable character that is distinct from her previous roles, while Cillian Murphy (Batman Begins, 28 Days Later) conveys a perfect mix of intrigue and danger as one of this year's most notable villains.

In this interview, the absolutely charming Rachel McAdams talks about her own experiences with air travel, what she knows about customer service, and getting roughed up in the name of making a killer suspense film.

The Interview

MEDIA: What attracted you to this project, and your role in particular?

RACHEL: I was just flattered out of my shoes that Wes even knew who I was, let alone was considering me for this part, because I hadn't done anything like it. And I'm always interested in doing things that I haven't done before, and just seeing what kind of fit that is. And I just thought she had such a great arc. She really finds her steel in the end. And I was intrigued at the notion of finding this girl who fought back, really dug down deep inside and finds this strength within her, but doesn't turn into a superhero. She isn't wearing hot pants all of a sudden, or a machete. [laughs] She's based in some kind of reality.

For much of the story, you're physically stuck in a confined space with the camera right in your face. How did you feel about that tight shooting situation?

I was really nervous about that going into the film, but it was also one of the reasons that I was compelled to the script in the first place. I really wanted to explore this notion that if you think it, the camera can see it. You know, that working in subtleties. Because I knew I'd get to do the action stuff, and that was going to be really fun, too. And I have an athletic background, so I hoped that that would work. But this presented a unique challenge. And in terms of the confinement, that actually worked for me. The cameras were so close and Cillian was there at all times, I was literally stuck in the seat for twelve hours a day, everyone's watching you, and it's all on your head. And that kind of pressure added to the tension and the urgency. I was actually kind of grateful for it. It helped.

You mentioned having an athletic background. Did you do your own stunts in this film? And what, exactly, is the proper way to headbutt someone?

[laughs] "Miss the head!" You know, it's all about angles, really, when it comes down to that sort of thing. But I tried to do as much as I possibly could. I didn't roll down the stairs.

Did you sustain any injuries during filming?

There's bumps and bruises and scrapes along the way. You can't avoid that. And those feel kind of good at the end of the day. You're like, "All right, I really put in my time today!"

Which sports did you play as a youth?

I figure skated. That was my main sport. And I loved gymnastics and things like that. And then I played soccer and volleyball and badminton in school.

Were you a tomboy?

No, I was pretty girly. I've always been kind of girly. I'm more of a tomboy the older I get, actually. I just loved sports. That's what [we] did in my town. If you were a girl, you figure skated. If you were a boy, you played hockey. [laughs]

Cillian said that the bathroom scene was a bit rough and required a certain level of trust. How did you feel about all of that?

I trust Cillian completely. We had spent a lot of time together at that point, and he's such a good physical actor. He's really good with the choreography. He's so convincing when it comes to being shot at and stabbed. [laughs] He's just so believable. Yet it's very controlled. Sitting side by side, I can tell that he's completely within control. So I trusted him wholeheartedly, and we were kind of used to each other at that point. But at the same time, there was always an element of danger and urgency, because he's a good actor. You can see it in his face.

Since your characters are enemies, did you and Cillian avoid getting overly friendly between takes?

There's a certain distance, but at the same time, [we] really tried to keep it light and enjoy ourselves. It was such a weighty project, and the scenes were so terrorizing and intense. Cillian...he's actually really funny and has a real lightness to him. He's a joker. Like he loves to tell really bad jokes! [laughs] And I'm a sucker for bad jokes. I love them. So he'd just tell corny jokes all the time. But there was a silence between us when we were shooting a scene, even if we were waiting for a light to be put up or something. Unless we were between scenes, there was a quiet respect for the fact that we were supposed to be at odds with one another.

Considering what happens to your character, would you have a drink with someone who you met in an airport?

[jokes] Well, now I might think twice!

Let's assume they don't know who you are...

I guess it depends on their demeanor, you know? I think that was the thing about Rippner...he came off as so harmless. He was so good at that. You'd like to think your gut would kick in, but...

What was your impression of Wes Craven as a director?

Well, he knows what he wants, and I love that about a director. They're there to guide you and they're the outside eye. It's their vision. So it's great to hear their opinion and to know what they're seeing. You're too much inside of it to be able to really judge it--to be objective. So I appreciated that. And also, the arc was so, like I said, subtle. It was baby steps towards Lisa's ultimate convictions. So we had to track it really carefully...the development on that flight and what was happening to her on the inside. So it was great to have him at my side whispering in my ear, saying, "A little bit further" or "Let's pull it a little bit back. We're not here yet, we're getting there." He was really helpful in that way.

Your character is a manager at an upscale hotel who is level-headed, resourceful, and resilient. She is also somewhat preoccupied with her work. Do you find some of those qualities in yourself?

I definitely find some of it in me. To have to leave your home and go off and live in another place for a couple months...there's a fair amount of pressure involved with making a film, especially if you're...you know, a lead. So you kind of develop this tough skin to get through it. So I understand that, and I understand wanting to immerse yourself in your work, and that some things kind of drop by the wayside. And sometimes you can feel falsely complete because you're immersed in your work.

You just hesitated to call yourself the lead, despite the fact that you are the lead and your stardom is on the rise...

[blushingly slinks down in her chair]
[Editor's note: This overt display of modesty scores major cute points.]

Do you try to block out all those trappings of fame and recognition?

Well, yeah. It's funny. I almost forget that the movie's going to come out when I'm making it. [laughs] You forget that people are actually going to see this because it's so far away, and you're really just in the process. So fortunately, the nature of film is such that you try not to focus too much on the outcome. And I've learned that it's so fickle. You never know where an audience is going to be at, what's going to hit, what people feel like seeing. Sometimes people aren't in the mood for a love story, and you happened to make one a year ago, when they were. [laughs] So it's really hard to predict the masses. It's so impossible.

Were you able to relate to the customer service aspect of your character's job?

I worked at McDonald's! I understand the customer is always right. "Rule #1: The customer is always right. Rule #2: Refer back to Rule #1." That was what was in the staff room. And I waitressed for a long time.

McDonald's was your first job?

Yeah. I did a little bit of work at a theater before that, but that was my first.

Have you had any bad flight experiences?

I've been really lucky [knocks on wood], which is why I get more and more nervous every time. You're like, "Wow, it really has gone smoothly a lot." [laughs] "How long does that keep up?"

Do you feel the same way about your career?

Yep! [laughs] There's a strange parallel there!

What's your seating preference on a plane: aisle or window?

Window, for sure! Because you've got to lean against the wall of the plane, because the seat just isn't enough support. [laughs]

You've had a nice variety of roles between Mean Girls, The Notebook, and Red-Eye. Which type of character is the most fun for you to play?

I gotta say, it's pretty great playing the bad girl. [laughs] I'm a little bit nastier in the last film that I shot, The Family Stone. It's a supporting role, but I just wanted to do it so badly because she's so troubled.

What do your friends think when they see you playing the bad girl?

They have such a good sense of humor about it. Sometimes I get a little nervous, like, "What are people going to think about this?" and "I hope everyone knows that this is a movie." They always think it's so funny.

In the wake of your flourishing success, do you find that people are prone to labeling you as a particular archetype?

Well, I'm hoping that based on the diversity that I've had so far, that I'm not going to be pigeonholed or typecast. But that said, most of the roles out there for women are the ingenue, the girlfriend, the daddy's girl...you know, it's all pretty sweet and straightforward. So I'm just really looking for roles whether they're so-called "attractive people" or not. I'm more concerned with the depth of the role and the uniqueness of the character.

As an actress, do you have a preference between comedy and drama?

I'm far more comfortable in drama, but that's why I want to do more comedy.

Growing up, did you ever see a movie role that just stuck with you?

I watched so many movies growing up. You know, Saturday was like pop and chip night, and movies. [laughs] It was the only night of the week that I got to have junk food and watch a movie. It was just so thrilling. Ummm...there's so many. I loved Robin Wright Penn in The Princess Bride. I just thought she was so great. I love those quest films. And Elisabeth Shue in Adventures in Babysitting. She was my idol! My hero! I loved her hair! [laughs] Yeah, there's so many...

Thank you for your time.

Thanks a lot, guys!

Related Material

Movie Coverage: Red-Eye


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