Currently one of Hollywood’s most sought-after actresses, Amy Adams first came to international attention after her role in 2005’s Junebug as a good-natured southern belle afforded her a Best Supporting Actress nomination. Since then, her star has risen inexorably, featuring as a Disney princess in Enchanted, a flighty actress in Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day and Tom Hanks’ secretary in Mike Nichols’ prestige drama Charlie Wilson’s War. She’s also appeared in comedies Talladega Nights and Tenacious D in The Pick of Destiny – a trick she will repeat in 2009 in the Ben Stiller sequel Night at the Museum 2.
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For the moment, Adams, 34, takes on her most dramatic role to date, in Miramax Films’ Doubt. She plays Sister James, the sweetly innocent nun who gets caught up in a scandal at a Brooklyn Catholic school in 1964, when she shares with her colleague, the dragon-like Sister Aloysius (Meryl Streep), her concerns that a priest, Father Flynn (Philip Seymour Hoffman), has behaved inappropriately with a pupil. Her second film with Hoffman, following Charlie Wilson’s War, Adams will reunite with Streep in 2009 on Nora Ephron’s Julie & Julia. Below, she discusses working with such luminous actors, her meteoric rise to fame and how she still buys towels from Target.
How did you prepare for Doubt?
How did I prepare? Panic! No, I’m kidding…we had three weeks of rehearsal. John didn’t get on my case but he said, ‘You should really talk about it more because you came in really prepared!’ I was so like the girl who wanted to make a good impression on the first day of school. I knew all my lines and knew everything about the play. I knew other people’s lines! I’m usually pretty prepared but I think I’m über-prepared. I spent weeks with this material. I knew there was going to be no hiding and I better bring something to the table. So I prepared.
Had you seen the play before?
Yes. I felt a great responsibility to the play but at the same time, the script is different and opening it up, provides a different feeling. My character in the film and the play are similar, but because of the way the scenes are broken down, it’s a different path. I had to really let the play go. I was like, ‘Yes but in the play…’
How did you find wearing the habit?
The bonnet got a little painful but I liked wearing the habit. You knew it was going to fit! There’s no zippers. It’s all fastenings with ties and buttons. It was many layers and it helped you feel…it forced a certain posture and walk. The shoes were so comfortable. I’m typically in high heels and these were orthopaedic shoes.
Do you see your character as naïve?
I just didn’t see her as naïve. I saw her as somebody who grew up in this time, which was 1964, and chose to be a nun, pretty early on. And to the world she might appear naïve but I think she’s just trusting. I don’t think that was an uncommon thing at that time. It was a time of great change, in the church. I think by the end, she’s definitely an older person sitting with Sister Aloysius. I just see her not as naïve…she is trusting and open. And I believe that when you watch the film, you bring your own personal experience into it. A lot of people go into the film and realise what it’s about and automatically want to assume the priest is guilty. The same goes if you decide if Meryl’s character is malicious. I’ve watched the film now several times and I intentionally went in with different opinions every time. You have to try this. You have to see the film and decide that he’s guilty. It becomes a totally different film than if you decide he’s innocent. It’s an interesting thing.
Prior to Doubt, you’ve had an amazing couple of years. How has that been?
It’s been great. I enjoy the work, so that’s been really good. I’ve been really busy. I miss my friends and my family. So I look forward to a time when I can have more balance. But because of taking the long road to the place I’m at now, I’m really enjoying taking advantage of the opportunities that have been put in front of me now.
You were recently on the cover of Vanity Fair. How did that feel?
It’s great, and I don’t mean to in any way diminish it, but when I started acting, I never really imagined doing any covers. So I don’t judge the success of myself with how many covers I’ve done or what covers. Although, that was an amazing thing. And Vanity Fair, they’ve grown with me. For me, it was really special. They did the first piece on me, for Catch Me If You Can – I was in Vanities. Then I was inside the Hollywood issue when Junebug came out, then I was on the Hollywood issue when Enchanted came out, and now, with Doubt, they put me on the cover. So it feels like I’ve grown up with them a little bit.
How was your Spielberg experience on Catch Me If You Can?
It was great. I loved it. I’d love to work with him again. It was extremely intimidating, though. I do have this way of when I’m intimidated or challenged, I tend to get tunnel vision and very focused. I try not to pay attention to all of the external voices. I have to shut myself to an extent and really focus on the task at hand. But, sure, I was intimidated. But I’d made my mind up that I was there to work, I was there to be Brenda, and anything else that happened was fine. If he liked me or he didn’t like, I didn’t expect to be friends with Leo, I didn’t expect to work with Steven again, I was there to be Brenda – I was not there to do anything else. And I had a great experience and they were wonderful. They turned out to be so easy to work with. I was scared – ‘Are they going to be easy to work with?’ It was a big mystery to me. It always is when you go in. Like going into this with Meryl.
How was working with her?
The idea is terrifying. The actual execution is actually a lot of fun. Meryl is a fantastic scene partner, and it’s not as if she saves it all for when the camera is on her. She really gives you a lot to work with. So any intimidation on the set is purely brought on by my own insecurities and has nothing to do with her person.
You worked with Philip Seymour Hoffman on Charlie Wilson’s War, so you knew what to expect with him, I guess…
I had the wisdom to be terrified! I love him. I think we’d be really great together as foils to one another. He’s a lot of fun and he’s got a big heart. He’s just a great guy. And a frickin’ fantastic actor.
So how was working with him?
He’s intense and he definitely puts himself through it. I knew with Philip that he wasn’t…he was going to be taking care of himself and going to be a consummate professional and an amazing scene partner. He trusts the other actors he’s working with to do the same. He put that faith in me and that’s fantastic. I hadn’t worked with Meryl before so I was always like…I just wanted to make sure I was a good scene partner. That I was in my character and in the story and really giving them something.
You’re in another film with Meryl Streep soon, Julie & Julia. Who do you play?
I play Julie. Julie Powell, who wrote the book Julie & Julia. She is approaching her thirtieth birthday and questioning her life, when she decides to cook her way through the art of French cooking by Julia Child, and write a book about it. And it follows her journey and growth through that year and it parallels Julia Child’s experience in France as she’s composing the cookbook. It parallels these two women’s lives.
What made you choose this?
A lot of things. I loved the script. I was really curious to work with Nora Ephron. I love her writing. I was just really excited to do it. I also really identified with being thirty and being lost. That was something I identified with very much.
How did you cope with turning thirty?
It’s an interesting experience. You really start to take inventory of what you’ve done, or what you’re going to do. You can’t really pretend to be a kid anymore. You don’t really have the same excuses. You have to be accountable now. So whatever damage your parents did, or whatever damage you did, it’s now time to own it all and get on with it, so to speak.
You’re also in Night of the Museum 2. Who do you play?
I’m a new character. All of the same guys return, and additionally we have Hank Azaria and Christopher Guest…and I’m playing the pilot Amelia Earheart.
Did you do any research to play her?
I absolutely did learn about her. They had a clear idea what was needed to serve this story and plot. But I definitely went and did research. There was a lot written about why she said she flew. And she would quote ‘For the fun of it!’ In Night of the Museum 2, she’s definitely an adventurer and a risk-taker and someone who really makes the most of each moment.
How did you feel being around comedians like Ben Stiller and Robin Williams on set?
I’m glad I don’t have to compete! That’s not what I do! For me, it was good fun. I got to watch and figure out where to put my line! Like Ben Stiller and Robin Williams are doing improv, and I just need to say my line and make it make sense. So that’s my biggest goal in those scenes. But I get über-focused. Ben Stiller and Robin Williams were making each other laugh and I was very serious. I think that made Robin laugh even harder, as I came in completely earnest with my line.
So you’re the straight man to them?
I enjoy that! But I think I’m much funnier than Ben off screen! I think Ben would concur. I think I actually am! I love Ben. I had a great time working with him…but I’m definitely funnier off screen! Or I definitely think I’m funnier off-screen. And I’m certain I’m not funnier on screen.
You also have Sunshine Cleaning coming out…
Yes, with Emily Blunt. I think it comes out in March. I play a single mother who is somewhat skill-less unfortunately and looking to improve herself and gets into a crime-scene clean-up business with her sister. But it’s the story of their family and how they’re all struggling to get over the death of their mother.
What is a crime-scene clean-up business?
It’s a legitimate business. Let’s say somebody shot themselves in this hotel room. That would create a blast and a splatter, and you would have to cut out the affected areas and put it into a biohazard container and take it to a biohazard dump. You have to clean it very specifically.
It seems you’re finding a nice balance between indies and studio movies right now?
I’m working at it. It’s important to me to keep things loose. The actors and actresses that I admire the most are not defined by genre. Like Frances McDormand, Meryl Streep and Susan Sarandon…these were women who were a great positive influence on me and my choices.
You were born in Italy, right?
I was born in Italy, in Vicenza. My Dad was in the army. I went back a couple of years ago, and it’s one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen in the world. I loved it so much. It’s weird – it seems to be a part of me. I realised when I went back a lot of my personal aesthetic, what I prefer, is very similar to what’s there. Expensive shoes, wine, pizza – no, I’m kidding!
Did your father being in the military affect your childhood?
We were moved around some but it wasn’t too much because when he went overseas, we stayed back. We did not go to Germany when he went, so that was good. We moved a lot within Colorado but once I hit Junior High, I stayed in the same school.
So how did you earn a living as an actress when you started?
I spent more time doing dinner theatre. I spent eight years doing dinner theatre before I moved to Los Angeles, and I’ve been here now for ten years. I loved dinner theatre. For me, it’s always been a profession. It’s not just a dream or a fantasy – it was how I paid my bills. For me, I didn’t really have the option of losing a dream. It was like, ‘This is how I’ve decided I’m going to earn a living’. As well as having aspirations of art and doing great things, you always have to balance your practical side and your emotional, artistic side. That’s what I think kept it alive. I’m very practical. So I knew that if I had to take a guest spot, I had to take a guest spot – because the rent was due. If I had to do a TV series, I’d do a TV series. I never planned when I moved out to LA that this is where I would be. I’m grateful and happy to be, but this wasn’t the masterplan – ‘and then I’m going to work with Meryl Streep for two films.’
Did you splurge your first big pay-cheque?
It depends. I think your perspective of a large pay-cheque changes over time. So the first time I got what I thought was a large pay-cheque, I got a set of matching towels. I was like, ‘I can now get towels from Bed, Bath & Beyond’, because I’d taken hand-me-down towels from friends and family for so long. So that was a big pay-cheque for me at the time.
So now you must have great towels?
I get them from Target. They’re the best towels in the whole world. They are! Thomas O’Brien towels!
Would you still be acting if you were not successful?
Yeah, I’d still be acting. I think I was on the brink of moving to New York, because I thought, ‘If I’m going to be playing smaller roles, I’d rather go to New York and be on stage and maybe go back to musicals and see where that took me’. Just so I could be more artistically satisfied. And then Junebug happened, and that kept me here. But I still look forward to doing that, hopefully if they’ll have me.
Were you surprised it was Junebug out of all of your movies that launched you?
It is very surprising but I think that’s very common. I think smaller films are willing to take chances on lesser known actresses or people who are known but do not have a bankable known. We’re seeing that this year with Melissa Leo and Rosemarie DeWitt in Rachel Getting Married. And they’ll take a chance on lesser name actresses. So I don’t think it’s that surprising. I, of course, was surprised. It’s always great when those films gets seen and reviewed well. So I was very grateful. But I think it’s a very common path. People will take a chance in independent film with lesser-known actresses.