A competitive figure skater since age 4, McAdams quits at 18 in favor of acting. "Getting up at 5 a.m. was a constant struggle," she tells Elle. "I hung up my boots and haven't picked them up since." That's not to say she doesn't miss the sport. "I miss skating," she tells Parade. "But I used to get so nervous before competitions. I'd wake up in a cold sweat. I don't miss that." She later graduates with honors in drama from Toronto's York University.
A supporting role in the low-budget film Perfect Pie earns McAdams a Genie Award nomination (Canada's Oscar), which puts her on the Hollywood radar. She goes on to play a teen who gets stuck in Rob Schneider's body in The Hot Chick. "It [was] such a strange little entrance to make," she tells EW. "I guess it could have been an exit as well."
To play Regina George, the cliquey queen bee whose regime is toppled by Lindsay Lohan in the box office hit Mean Girls, McAdams gets a taste of high school high life. "Getting to do it the way the popular girls do it was fun: to layer on makeup and have long, straight platinum-blonde hair," she tells In Style. "I certainly didn't look like that in high school."
In the screen adaptation of Nicholas Sparks' novel The Notebook, McAdams goes from mean girl to romantic lead. "It's such an overwhelming love story," McAdams tells PEOPLE. The best part of the film? Meeting Ryan Gosling, who she later began dating. "God bless The Notebook," Gosling tells GQ in 2007 after they split. "It introduced me to one of the great loves of my life."
McAdams stars opposite Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn in the blockbuster The Wedding Crashers. "I'd always imagined that once I got to this level, life would somehow become really easy," McAdams tells The Hollywood Reporter. "It's actually the opposite. But I tend to think the complexity is a real blessing in a strange way. The scripts I get are a lot better than they used to be."
Filming the entire thriller Red Eye inside a plane "was incredibly claustrophobic," McAdams tells London's Free Press. "I was literally stuck on the plane for 12 hours every day." During one fight scene, she accidentally smacked her face into a door. "Yeah, that hurt," she tells Entertainment Weekly. "I thought, 'Okay, we're done. Production ends. It's over.' And then I got ice. The Jell-O pop on the fat lip really helped."
McAdams finishes off a banner year with a delicious role as Sarah Jessica Parker's soon-to-be sister-in-law in the Christmas comedy The Family Stone, which also stars Diane Keaton, Luke Wilson and Claire Danes. "We had so much fun making it," McAdams tells Parade. "We joked, 'We're having such a good time, it can't be any good.' But it was incredible."
After a busy year, McAdams decides to take most of 2006 for herself, before reporting to the set of the 1940s-era film Marriage in the fall. She returns to Canada for some downtime. "I love being able to come home to a place where no one really cares what you do or who you are, and allows me a break from that life," she tells the Hollywood Reporter.
McAdams reunites with ex-boyfriend Ryan Gosling, who called her "one of the great loves of my life." The on-again duo is first spotted at Gosling's deejay debut in Hollywood and then getting cozy over breakfast in Toronto. But in December, a source tells PEOPLE that the pair split: "He still loves Rachel and Rachel still loves him, but the timing is off and they can't make each other happy right now."
After reportedly making out at the Inaugural Purple Ball in Washington D.C. in January, McAdams and new love Josh Lucas go public with their romance. The actor, who previously dated Salma Hayek, is photographed with McAdams in Toronto, before calling it quits by the end of the year.
BIOGRAPHY (top to bottom): Splash News; Everett Collection; Columbia; Fred Prouser/reuters/Landov; New Line Cinema/Zuma; Gemma La Mana/Dreamworks; Zade rosenthal/20th Century FOX; Flynet; INF; Vera Anderson/WireImage, Stephen Lovekin/Getty