How did Rachel McAdams prep to play the part of emergency room doctor Christine Palmer in director Scott Derrickson’s new superhero film Doctor Strange (out Nov. 4), which stars Benedict Cumberbatch as the titular surgeon-turned-sorcerer, Stephen Strange?
“I read this really good book called Do No Harm, which is written by one of the world’s leading brain surgeons,” says the Spotlight actress. “Even though I don’t play a brain surgeon, I wanted to understand the attitude of a brain surgeon, so that I could understand Stephen Strange better. Christine has a lot of empathy for him, and she is one of the few people who can tolerate some of his more [laughs] difficult characteristics. So, I did a little bit of studying on brain surgeons and then shadowed a few surgeons. We had a really great surgeon on set who showed me how to do stitches. So, now, in a pinch I could stitch somebody up on the sidewalk, with a lighter, and a needle and some thread. So, that’s exciting!”
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What attracted you to the role?
RACHEL McADAMS: I was very drawn to Scott’s passion for the project. Scott is a self-proclaimed comic book nerd to the Nth degree. He was like a giddy kid half the time on the set. It just delighted him to no end. It’s nice to work with someone who’s so passionate and going ga-ga over what they’re doing. That was always fun. And I was so excited to work with Benedict. I think he’s one of the most extraordinary actors we have today, and was very excited to see him take on this iconic character and watch that transformation. And Scott was interested in not having the typical guy-meets girl relationship. [He] wanted to pick up with them being former lovers, and not have it be so black-and-white. So, I liked the grey area he was exploring and, yeah, it’s an opportunity to work in the Marvel universe. They do such cool stuff.
Tell me more about your character.
So, I play Christine Palmer, who is an emergency room doctor, and Stephen is a longtime colleague and former boyfriend of mine, and we have very different philosophies on saving lives. I believe one life is as important as the next and you do everything you can to save people who come to you in need. Stephen is a little bit more clinical and practical about it. He wants to save lives in a little bit more of a glamorous way, with a little bit more glory involved. We still have a very good friendship and relationship. But I’ve decided it’s best not to carry on with a romantic relationship with him, because he’s more married to his work and himself.
You seem to be the only main character who is not a sorcerer, or who doesn’t become a sorcerer. Were you jealous of your colleagues at all?
I got to do fun medical stuff, and stitch up people’s heads, and things like that. I was working on dummies. So, I did get to plunge into a world I’ve never spent a lot of time in. My mom’s a nurse and I always marvel that she can do what she does. I’m really freaked out by blood and anything like that. So, it was good for me to kind of get over that fear and spend a lot more time in hospitals. I followed a bunch of surgeons and things like that. So, I was having a kind of different trippy experience than some of the others.
Given your newly acquired skills, were you secretly hoping there would be some real-life opportunity on set to show off your talents?
Well, there were certainly a lot of medical professionals there, if anything had gone wrong. I wouldn’t have jumped in myself. But it’s a funny thing that happens with actors — I did a cop show, and you play a cop long enough, you suddenly think you could intervene into some kind of dispute, or whatever. And you really can’t. You’re just an actor. So, you try and keep that in check.
You can see the trailer for Doctor Strange, below.