Of all the punches thrown in The Fighter — and it’s a boxing movie, so there are many — none is more memorable than the one Amy Adams smashes into another woman’s face. Turns out the 36-year-old Adams, best known for playing sweethearts, princesses, and nuns, has an entirely plausible, nasty right hook. Who knew? Well, no one, and that’s why the David O. Russell film, opening today and accruing Oscar buzz by the minute, comes at such a pivotal moment in Adams’s career. Fresh off the flop romantic comedy Leap Year, the two-time Oscar nominee had been settling into a rut — a well-regarded, Meryl Streep co-starring rut, but an always-cast-as-the-nice-girl rut nonetheless. In The Fighter, Adams plays Charlene, the tramp-stamped girlfriend of Mark Wahlberg’s boxer, and a tougher, sexier, more potty-mouthed character than she has played since breaking out in 2005’s Junebug. Will it be enough to alter perceptions of Adams’ “type”? Can the seemingly inevitable awards nominations move Adams further up the A-list? Or has the actress, at 36, gone as far as she can? We asked industry insiders these questions to answer our ever-nagging question: If Amy Adams were a stock, should you buy, sell, or hold?
Stock History: Adams had been a working actress for half a decade (biggest credit: one of Leo DiCaprio’s girls in Catch Me If You Can) before she turned in her Oscar-nominated performance as a bubbly young wife in the small indie movie Junebug. Thanks to that film, she was able to secure the lead role in the film that made her a star, the live-action musical fairy tale Enchanted, which grossed $212 million worldwide. Since Enchanted, Adams has reliably alternated between mainstream comedies (Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian, Julie & Julia, Leap Year) and more highbrow fare (Sunshine Cleaning, Doubt , for which she was also nominated for an Oscar), thus establishing herself as an actress capable of taking on both commercial and serious parts. It’s the serious-actress chops that allowed Adams to ride out the failure of January’s execrable romantic comedy Leap Year unharmed. The first of her movies since Enchanted to rely entirely on her star power (as opposed to two-time co-star Meryl Streep’s), Leap Year made a paltry $32 million, just enough to recoup the $19 million budget.
Peers: While younger, higher-profile actresses like Natalie Portman (29), Anne Hathaway (28), and Scarlett Johansson (26), are offered gigs first, Adams regularly vies for parts with the likes of Elizabeth Banks (36), Rachel McAdams (32), Keira Knightley (25), and Bryce Dallas Howard (29).
Market Value: A casting discussed during The Hollywood Reporters’ recent Best Actress roundtable is instructive: Hilary Swank told a group of women, including Adams, that she had coveted a part in screenwriter Alex Kurtzman’s buzzed-about directorial debut, Welcome to People, but hadn’t been offered the role. A few awkward questions later, it was revealed that Adams had been offered it instead. But she had turned it down to spend time with her newborn daughter, and it eventually went to Elizabeth Banks. So, to recap, Swank wanted it, Adams was offered it, Banks got it. Some variation on this story, with a McAdams, a Johansson, or a Knightley thrown in, likely happens to Adams all of the time: She may not always get or take the part, but she is constantly in the conversation. And since she can go serious or comedic, there are few roles she can’t be considered for. Her two upcoming projects reflect this range. She’s playing the female lead in the new Muppet movie with Jason Segel, will have a supporting part in Walter Salles’s adaptation of On the Road, and has a project with Zach Galifianakis in development. (Sadly, the rumor that Adams is attached to play Janis Joplin in a Fernando Meirelles—directed biopic proved just as outlandish as it sounded.)
What Hollywood Thinks: One top talent agency partner says the only thing that really matters: “I have to give her credit, because I never thought she was a real movie star, but she’ll make a picture go, she will green-light a film.”
How she can maintain that power is another story. “It’s not rocket science: Work with good directors,” says another talent agent, adding, “The problem is, there are so few of them, and the competition is so intense. I know she tested for Cameron Crowe’s We Bought a Zoo with Matt Damon — but didn’t get it. [The role went to Scarlett Johansson.] Annie [Hathaway] and Scarlett are always ahead of her, but she’s in the mix on everything else with Banks, Knightley, and McAdams … probably [Bryce Dallas] Howard, too.”
Another agent isn’t totally sold on Adams’s recent choices. “She sees success in big comedies. That said, I can’t believe she’s doing the Muppets movie [instead of Kurtzman’s film]; it’s preposterous,” he says, before acknowledging that the decision indicates that “now she’s at a point where she can do whatever she wants.”
A publicist is even more enthusiastic. “I’m a huge fan. She’s very talented, and has a lot of opportunities, but more importantly, I respect the choices she’s made. I appreciate people who like to step outside of what you normally expect of them. Like, The Fighter is a very different role for her. I think every time she goes out, she does something really interesting. From a publicity standpoint, that means she has an interesting story to tell. I think the PR on her as been exemplary, because I am aware that she’s (a) in this new movie, (b) that it’s a different role for her — plain, dressed-down, no vanity there — and (c) I’m anxious to see it. I have no idea about her personal life — I think she has a child? … I think — but I have no idea and no interest in finding out. So for all those reasons, I wish I represented her!”
The Analysis: If Adams were a decade younger, the sky would be the limit in terms of her career trajectory. The lady can act, sing, pick a part, green-light a film, and there is no evidence that she’s a head case. Not only is she an Oscar-caliber actress, with Enchanted she showed she’s a box-office-friendly one too. She’s the sort of blue chip, highbrow actress who doesn’t need to be a big box-office draw to continue to get good work (as a comparison, see Elizabeth Banks, who works steadily and regularly competes with Adams, but has never had a hit on the scale of even the $94 million–grossing Julie & Julia), but she’s always got a sequel to Enchanted up her sleeve, just in case.
But Adams is not a decade younger. That means it’s unlikely she’ll ever be quite as sought after as her younger colleagues (Portman, Hathaway, Johansson). But if anyone can run the gauntlet that is female aging in Hollywood, Adams seems positioned to do so. Her decision to appear in The Fighter for much less pay than usual looks like it will cash out in a number of ways. All the critical hype will wipe away any residual bad taste from Leap Year by scoring Adams awards nominations. (And if it underperforms, she won’t be blamed; the ad campaigns all center around Mark Wahlberg and Christian Bale.) Plus, at 36 it’s an absolutely essential time for Adams to show people she is capable of playing grown-up, sultry parts. Hollywood is notoriously cruel to women heading into their forties. To thrive in them, Adams needed to — and did — demonstrate that her range extended beyond playing ingenues, parts she will be aging out of in the next few years anyway.
The Bottom Line: She may not have another fifteen years on top, but for right now, you could hardly do better.