Interview: Rachel McAdams Is Excited to Build a Broadway Community Around Mary Jane

McAdams makes her Broadway debut in Amy Herzog’s drama about a mother caring for a chronically ill child.

The closest Rachel McAdams has come to doing theater — beyond her school days — was when she played an aspiring actress who gets cast as Ophelia in the first season of the Canadian dark comedy series Slings and Arrows. After a career that includes such iconic titles as Mean GirlsThe NotebookSpotlight (which made her an Oscar nominee), and, most recently, Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret., McAdams is finally taking a step onto the Broadway stage, in Amy Herzog’s drama Mary Jane at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre (the Manhattan Theatre Club production begins April 2).

Picking up the torch from actors Carrie Coon (who played the title role seven years ago at New York Theatre Workshop) and Emily Donahoe (who originated the part at Yale Rep), McAdams is stepping into work about a single mother fighting the system to care for her chronically ill child, building an army of supportive women by her side along the way (Herzog wrote from a place of semi-autobiography; her daughter was born with a muscle disease called nemaline myopathy and passed away last summer at the age of 12).

McAdams, working alongside director Anne Kauffman and actors April Matthis, Susan Pourfar, Lily Santiago, and Brenda Wehle, is not just up for the challenge, but still awestruck by the little things…like seeing her face on a great big Broadway marquee.

rachel mcadams
Rachel McAdams
(© Tricia Baron)

This conversation has been condensed and edited for clarity.

I saw Mary Jane at New York Theatre Workshop before I had a child — and now with a two year old, I don’t know if I’m emotionally ready to see it again. As a parent of small children yourself, what made you want to conquer this particular mountain?
I think Amy is a genius. She’s sneaky. There’s a spareness to this play, but it’s so full. I wish I had years to work on this play because there’s so much there, and we discover so much every day. Amy and Anne are discovering things and they’ve done this play twice before, so that’s a testament to its depth. I felt that, initially, immediately. And then, you know…Parts like this just don’t come along, sometimes ever in a lifetime. To be able to play a woman with this much resilience and joie de vivre and buoyancy. The only thing that’s a burden for her is the system that she’s in and I thought that was a really beautiful point of view. It’s an important point of view that Amy’s brought into this world that we don’t have nearly enough exposure to.

Especially now, in the post-Covid era, the medical aspect of this play is going to be so much more visible than it every was.
Yes. And I know Amy’s brought it into the post-Covid — do we say post-Covid? I don’t know.

Are we ever “post-Covid?”
Right. She’s done little tweaks here and there to bring it into the present day. But yeah, we’re all learning so much about medicine. April Matthis is watching doctor videos every night, and we’re all coming in with our different bits of research. We had a palliative care doctor in here the other day and we got to spend hours with her asking all the questions. That’s access that you just don’t normally get that you need for this play.

It also showcases female camaraderie and community in ways that you don’t often see, especially on stage.
Totally. The beauty of community really comes across in it — community for all. It’s really nice to see women, super-capable women, taking really good care of each other, being a village. It takes a village to raise a kid, and a kid with special needs, needs even more. I love that. I think we all have been craving community. I think we’re always craving community, but particularly after Covid and being so isolated, it’s on everyone’s minds. It’s so much about connection and finding each other where you are and being supportive, knowing that we all really need each other.

Are you excited?
So excited. I’m so excited. I’m so nervous.

Has the Broadway of it all hit you yet?
It comes in waves. I saw April’s play The Apiary and I was walking to the theater and I saw our marquee and took a picture and sent it to my parents. I was like, “This is the theater we’re going to be in!” Moments like that hit me. And then I forget and come in here and we’re all in our PJs just chilling and working it out, and I forget that we’re actually going to show this to people one day soon.

And you’re a few blocks away from the The Notebook.
I know. Isn’t that wild? I wonder what the music is like. In the movie, it’s all Billie Holliday and 1940s stuff. I can’t wait to see it.

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Mary Jane

Final performance: June 2, 2024