Published: February 9, 2012
Almost 20 years ago, US newlyweds Kim and Krickitt Carpenter were involved in a car accident that would make headlines around the world when Krickitt emerged from a month-long coma with her memory of the previous 18 months erased – including her husband and their wedding day.
Shown evidence of her marriage, in the form of photos and video, devout Christian Krickitt had to fall in love with this stranger, her husband, all over again.
Their real-life love story bounced around Hollywood studios until Grey Gardens director Michael Sucsy recruited Rachel McAdams and Channing Tatum to translate the Carpenters’ story to the big screen in The Vow.
If others might have felt stymied by the Carpenters’ insistence that their story not depict any pre-marital sex, then not so McAdams, her roles in The Notebook and The Time Traveller’s Wife proving her as Hollywood’s go-to girl of box-office romance.
“The Carpenters are even more amazing than these fictional characters that we play because they have incredible faith in God,” McAdams, 33, said.
“Krickitt and Kim had only been married about two months when this accident happened, and when she woke from her coma and they told her the situation, that this guy was her husband, she said ‘OK, lets continue on then’. And they have two beautiful children now and they’ve made a life together.”
Portraying the dumbfounded Kim Carpenter, struggling to come to terms with his wife’s memory loss, Tatum said: “I was nervous to meet Kim because I didn’t want him to hate what I was doing with their story but they were so positive, and I think they were just thankful that their story was going to be out there.”
“And for people to know that it’s possible – that a greater love does exist. They’re an extraordinary couple and I think that has a lot to do with their faith which made their relationship even stronger.”
“If that happened to me, and my wife couldn’t remember me, I don’t think I would be that understanding. I’d be very frustrated. Kim must have had to have swallowed so much.”
“Working with Rachel was a real lesson. She is a curse and sort of a blessing all at the same time. She literally cannot say a bad line. She’d be given the worst line on the face of the planet like a Harlequin Romance novel line that you’re just like ‘That is never going to be said in reality’. And then we’d go in and she just nails it and you’re like ‘How did you . . . ?’ And then my line sucks afterwards because it has another corny line on the top of it and I can’t do it as good as she can.”
“She’s a lovely actress and I don’t know where she pulls it from but she’s got this thing about her that you just believe. She has this inner warmth about her that I think is because she’s such a sweetheart and just a really honest person.”
Although The Vow is squeaky clean in line with the Carpenters’ wishes, that didn’t stop Tatum from playing a prank on McAdams, wearing a large strap-on prosthesis for a scene where the couple take a midnight plunge in a lake. “Yes, he’s very proud of that day!” laughed McAdams, blushing. “And what you see on screen is my initial reaction while being filmed. Yeah, that was pretty shocking.”
“I still can’t believe he did that! But it made my job much easier because I didn’t have to pretend or do any real acting. But it was ridiculous, the scale of it was ridiculous. But Channing is so much fun. He made every day fun, but I was always a little on edge because I knew something was around the next corner.”
“That was his hugest prank though!”
McAdams worked with a doctor specialising in brain injury and amnesia to get the character just right.
“It stands to reason that a person would feel overwhelmed by it all and want to avoid what is making them feel bad about themselves even though others are trying to help. It must be so frustrating for anyone in this situation,” she said. “So often people have to take a stand about who they are, but then when they lose important people in their life, Paige (her character) feels inadequate and frustrated by her memory loss and at one point just finds it easier to be away from her husband. This is about bridging the gap between those two things, and so many of us can relate to that.”
A die-hard romantic, Canadian-born McAdams didn’t need The Vow to alter her own rosy feelings about love and destiny: “My parents are still very much in love and I grew up with that being around me, so I’ve seen it work very well and I’m a total believer in romance.”
“Fortunately I was given a lot of freedom when it came to whatever choices I wanted to make and my parents said ‘Follow your dreams, follow your passions and pay for half of the tuition and it’s fine’.”
As Valentine’s Day approaches, she’s in no doubt as to what adds up to the perfect romantic gesture.
“I always like really personal things; something that no one else would know about you. A girlfriend of mine leaves little notes and drawings on the toilet roll for her boyfriend. I think that’s really cute. I love the really personal stuff. I prefer those things. It doesn’t have to be big or lavish. It’s just the thought put into it.”
Tatum is a little more hesitant.
“I actually broke up with long-term girlfriends on two Valentine’s Day so it’s not necessarily my favourite day. Valentine’s Day sort of brings the problems to the surface because it’s like ‘We can’t do this, this isn’t working’. It’s such a day of ‘We have to love each other’ and if you don’t, it’s apparent. You’re like – if this is the day of love and if we’re not going to do this, then let’s not just go through the paces. And, for whatever reason, it sort of always falls on that day. If you’re honest with each other, you’ll know,” says the actor who married actress Jenna Dewan almost three years ago.
“I don’t think it’s that hard to be thoughtful or romantic. I really don’t. I grew up with women so maybe that’s sort of my thing that I took from that. I think of love and showing care to someone as just another way to be creative. I like to draw and write stories or sculpt a little something. I’m not great in any of those things but I like doing them.”
“I’m a practical joker so I’ll put it in her makeup bag or I’ll put it under the toilet or hide them everywhere so they’ll find them eventually. I mean it’s not that hard to be creative. Then there’s big things that you can trick them with. I always think of the surprise – where they didn’t think that you were thinking of them at that moment – is the best way to go.”
Featuring a cast rounded out by Sam Neill and Jessica Lange, the Carpenters are delighted by The Vow. Krickitt said: “My husband is amazing. He did everything he could to win me back. Life is full of ups and downs and challenges, but you have to dig down and be the best that you can be.”