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Something I said really tickled actress Rachel McAdams - or what I said was so goofy she couldn't let me live it down. Regardless, we had a lot of laughs. It's not often you get to do that with one of Hollywood's hottest rising stars.

Noting that a number of current television and movie notables were born, like her, in London, Ont. - Crash director and Oscar winner Paul Haggis, David Shore, the creator of TV's smash House M.D., even her Notebook co-star and Oscar-nominated former boyfriend Ryan Gosling - I simply asked, what's in the water up there?

"What's in the water of London, Ontario?" McAdams repeated, laughing heartily in her black cocktail dress and strappy, thick-heeled shoes. "I don't know! It's like there are a lot of Australians in Hollywood and a lot of Brits. I don't know if there's just another quality from living somewhere else that you bring to the screen. I'm not really sure, and I don't feel that differently as a Canadian from an American.

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"Or a London-vicinity Canadian, specifically," she added, starting to chuckle again. "That's funny, there's something in the water ..."

Actually, McAdams, grew up across the county line in St. Thomas, Ont., and what she does onscreen apparently knows no boundaries. She was mean and funny in, well, Mean Girls, and The Family Stone. Sweet and funny in Wedding Crashers. Romantic as all get out in The Notebook, and again in a very different way in her latest release, Married Life (which opens Friday) and presumably will be again in the upcoming The Time Traveler's Wife. She was scared out of her wits but persuasively resourceful in the thriller Red Eye, and will tackle political and social themes in two other forthcoming films, The Lucky Ones and State of Play.

Then there was all that Shakespearean stuff, onstage and off, in her recurring appearances in the successful Canadian TV series Slings and Arrows.

You can trace some of that aptitude back to London's Original Kids Theatre Company, which she attended after her early interest in figure skating waned. "The first half of my life, I was definitely more sports-driven," McAdams explained. "But if you haven't decided that you're going to train for the Olympics by the time you are nine years old, then it's a hobby. ... hen I discovered theatre, and that became something I wanted to pursue my whole life.

"In London, where the water is funny," she says, "I went to a children's theatre group - more for young adults, I guess - and started doing Shakespeare one summer. The following summer, I did Greek classics and just got a real education in theatre in a very non-confrontational, fun way. And I guess that's where I got bit. Then I decided I would pay a lot of money to be a trained actor, so I enrolled in York University's theatre program. And it paid off."

In the case of Married Life, that payoff would be more artistic than monetary. The low-budget movie set in 1949 is part infidelity melodrama, part murder mystery and occasionally a farce, but all of it feels grounded in realistically quirky human nature.

McAdams plays Kay, a blond beauty whom a middle-aged man, Harry (Chris Cooper), has fallen in love with. Their affair is more emotional than sexual, just the opposite of Harry's relationship with his wife Pat (Patricia Clarkson). Meanwhile, Harry's caddish friend Richard (Pierce Brosnan) makes moves on Kay when his pal's not around. Nothing about this romantic quadrangle turns out the way you might expect.

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"It's very grown-up," McAdams enthusiastically notes. "I read the script and I thought, this is a very mature film. It's not easy, but it's well-crafted. The dichotomy of that, I thought, would be a great experiment. The characters were roughed-out enough that they're interesting, but there was a lot to explore still."

"Rachel is extremely ambitious with the emotional life of her characters," says Married Life director Ira Sachs ( Forty Shades of Blue). "There's also this emotional level that I think she has as an actress which is just beneath the surface. It's something that the audience wants more of, and on that level, she really understands the nature of what it is to be a movie star, which is to provide something but, also, to hold something back."

You feel a bit of that when talking to McAdams. She doesn't discuss her personal life (she and Gosling reportedly broke up last year), but she's happy to share her views on romance. Not surprisingly, she likes hers to have a little mystery.

"I think relationships are incredibly complex and unique and there are no right answers," McAdams said. "I don't think you can ever know your partner inside and out. And I wouldn't want to, personally. I think that keeps love exciting. When you wanted to be with an individual in the beginning, you appreciated them for the things that you didn't know about. So you want to keep some of that, right?"

No wonder McAdams was drawn to The Time Traveler's Wife, the adaptation of Audrey Niffenegger's best-selling novel about a man, played by Eric Bana in the movie, who jumps back and forth to various periods in his life and the effect that has on his marriage.

"I love romance," she admits. "I love romance in general and I love romantic films. I always will. And I hadn't done one for quite some time, so [ Time Traveler's]felt like the right thing to do.

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"I'd like to dabble in every genre. But I rarely enjoy a film that doesn't have some kind of love story to it. It doesn't have to be the focus and it doesn't have to be sweeping or typical. But when love isn't involved, I'm not as interested."

Love comes up a lot (even more than water) in conversations with McAdams. Asked about her fairly swift success in Hollywood, she gushes: "It's nice to be able to work and do what you love. And travel ... I feel incredibly blessed that I get to continue to do this and I hope I can always do it."

She has to be prodded for any complaints about her growing celebrity. There was some media tongue-clicking two years ago when she pulled out of a semi-nude Vanity Fair cover shoot with Scarlett Johansson and Keira Knightley, but she just says of it now, "It was the right thing for me to do at the time. No regrets.

"There's no handbook, there's no right or wrong way to do it," she added about managing stardom. "So sometimes you feel like you're just stumbling along and hoping for the best. But that's part of the fun, too."

For the moment, McAdams is keeping more or less rooted in Ontario. "I obviously travel for work, but my primary residence is in Toronto," she says. "It's close to all the people I love, and Canada's just home for me. It's where my heart is; it just is. I don't know that I will never live anywhere else. I'd like to try lots of different places. But I think I will always come home to Canada."

She takes a perfectly timed comic pause, before adding, "It's the water."

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Essential McAdams

Education

Central Elgin Collegiate

Institute in St. Thomas, Ont.;

Toronto's York University.

Key roles

Slings and Arrows (2003)

Mean Girls (2004)

The Notebook (2004)

Wedding Crashers (2005)

The Family Stone (2005)

What's ahead

The role of Clare Abshire in

The Time Traveler's Wife, slated for release later this year

McAdams is also set to star as a reporter in the Kevin Macdonald film State of Play

Quote

"When Wedding Crashers came out, everyone was hyped up,

calling Rachel the new It Girl.

I felt anxious about that because it's so diminishing to her talent... But her selectiveness shows

wisdom greater than her years about her place in the industry. ...She has the opportunity to be this huge, huge movie star,

but in her heart she's a

character actress."

-Tom Bezucha, director of The Family Stone, in an interview with Elle Magazine

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