It’s not often that an actor has the benefit of having a face-to-face meeting with the character she’s playing. But for Amy Adams, who portrays the girlfriend of Micky Ward in David O. Russell’s “The Fighter,” meeting the real Charlene gave her a taste of the person behind the script.
“She was very polite to me, but she wasn’t impressed that I was some actress from Hollywood,” Adams says of their visit during production. “She was like, ‘Why are you wearing fishnets? Did they make me a whore?’ ”
Charlene’s ribbing disarmed Adams, who’s best known for sunnier roles like her Oscar-nominated turn in 2005’s “Junebug,” which put her on the map in Hollywood, or the princess-out-of-water in 2007’s “Enchanted.” But her gritty role in “The Fighter” is the first of several films that are destined to break the perceived mold of the last five years. She just completed four days on the set of Walter Salles’ “On the Road,” playing a Beat generation muse loosely based on the ill-fated wife of William S. Burroughs, and she’ll star as the titular troubled songstress in ” Janis Joplin: Get It While You Can,” directed by Fernando Meirelles.
Even though playing a Southern Comfort-swilling, raspy-voiced singer is against type for Adams, she shrugs off the notion that she’s focusing on finding more complex parts, saying she’s always looking for something different.
“I understand how people find the commonalities in the characters I’ve played,” she says. “But I never thought I was stuck in a rut, so I didn’t feel like there was anything to get out of.”
In fact, when Russell gave her 20 pages of “The Fighter” to read, he didn’t ask her to audition.
“I love auditioning, actually. [But] sometimes when you have to really prove [yourself], you’re now acting for the wrong reasons. You’re not just interested in playing the character. And him never doubting that I could be Charlene was huge,” she notes.
Though Adams was one of the last actors to sign on to “The Fighter,” she had the benefit of working with two people who were fully immersed in the script. Russell and Mark Wahlberg, who produced and stars in the film, had spent a great deal of time researching Ward and his brother, Dicky, played by Christian Bale. The film also stars Melissa Leo as the brash family matriarch.
“I didn’t have the luxury of a lot of time. Everybody was so close to the material that they swept me into it,” she says.
At first, she found it challenging to immerse herself in Charlene’s straightforward attitude, but once she let go of her natural people-pleasing characteristics and took a little advice from Russell, Charlene was front and center.
“He said, ‘Being the toughest person in the room is knowing when to talk. You don’t have to prove it to anybody.’ It’s been such a great lesson for me in my life,” she says.
And as different as Adams might be from Charlene, the actress says that she identifies with parts of Charlene’s personality.
“I’m a little scrappy,” Adams admits. “We present ourselves differently, but I did feel a certain kinship for her.”
While Adams’ character “boils underneath,” the frenetic family dynamic Russell creates in the film stands in stark contrast, which made shooting fun for her.
“He wanted it to feel real,” Adams says. “He wasn’t like, ‘My line, your line, my line, your line.’ He’d say, ‘If it gets muddy, we’ll worry about it later.’ The hardest thing was just tempering all the energy.”
The actress hasn’t stayed in contact with Charlene, but she was glad to be able to speak with her.
Although she says she doesn’t like to talk about her roles until she’s on set, she had already started researching her next role as Joplin and believes Joplin’s energy will guide her.
“It sounds so weird to say, but Janis was a big personality with a lot of spirit. I put it in her hands. You have to surrender at some point,” she says.