Why Rachel McAdams is a ''Mean Girl'' gone good -- The Canadian actress is currently starring in the sob-fest drama ''The Notebook'' and next in the comedy, ''The Wedding Crashers''

By Joshua Rich
Updated June 18, 2004 at 04:00 AM EDT

Just three years ago, Rachel McAdams was a mild-mannered college grad with nary a notable part to her name. And now? Well, now she’s nine feet tall. ”My parents are so sick of me — and I haven’t been home in three months,” says the meanest girl in ”Mean Girls.” ”Paramount sent them nine-foot-high [theater-lobby] cutouts of me. They say, ‘You don’t have to come home, we’ve got you in every room of the house!”’

Whenever she does make it home, this 25-year-old professed ”little hick girl from Canada” likely won’t be boasting about the spotlight — courtesy of ”Mean Girls” and June 25’s Nicholas Sparks weepie adaptation, ”The Notebook” — shining her way. ”I haven’t figured out how to deal with it quite yet,” she sighs. ”It’s fun, it’s bizarre, it’s all that — but it’s exciting.”

We can only imagine. Excepting appearances in the sci-fi series ”Earth: Final Conflict,” the 2002 indie drama ”Perfect Pie” (for which she was nominated for a Genie, Canada’s Oscar), and an MTV pilot called ”Shotgun Love Dolls,” McAdams has barely been seen south of the border. Her childhood revolved around things like acting camps and local Shakespeare productions, but it was spent in a community on the flatlands between Detroit and Toronto. And only after she graduated from Toronto’s York University in 2001 with honors in acting did she board a jet for the first time, to go shoot an Italian movie called ”My Name Is Tanino.” ”When [the flight attendants] were offering the newspaper, I was like, ‘Do I have to pay you?”’ she recalls. ”I just had no idea how anything worked.”

She soon figured it out. A handful of L.A. auditions led to the title role in ”The Hot Chick,” the 2002 body-switching flop in which she channeled Rob Schneider while pole-dancing at a strip club. ”It’s such a strange little entrance to make,” she says of her Hollywood debut. ”I guess it could have been an exit as well.” She quickly shed her Canadian accent at the behest of filmmakers. (Though, she’s proud to report, ”I still say ‘eh’ a lot…eh?”) And while her newfound Yankee twang has drawn grief from her 21-year-old brother and 22-year-old sister, it’s probably helped her pick up parts as a sort of all-American Everygirl. Or, in the case of her role as ”Mean Girls”’ dastardly queen of the popular clique, the Plastics, an Everybitch.

”She impressed me as someone with one foot in an old movie-star world,” says David Dobkin, her director in the upcoming Owen Wilson — Vince Vaughn comedy ”The Wedding Crashers,” ”and the other in being the modern girl.” And she’s shown the skill to straddle another border, the one between teen comedies and grown-up dramas like ”The Notebook,” in which she plays a sheltered debutante who romances a blue-collar boy (Ryan Gosling) in North Carolina circa World War II. McAdams, who knows she’ll draw sobs from the most macho viewers (”Big wussies!”), beat out a batch of contenders for the role, including Britney Spears. But director Nick Cassavetes says he made the right choice — even though, he marvels, ”I had no idea who she was!” Well, now we do, eh?