Junebug (2005)

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Amy Adams as: Ashley Johnsten
Directed by: Phil Morrison
Written by: Angus MacLachlan
Selected Cast: Embeth Davidtz, Ben McKenzie, Alessandro Nivola
Release Date: January 2005 (Sundance Film Festival)
Genre: Comedy / Drama
MPAA Rating: R

A dealer in outsider art threatens the equilibrium of her middle-class in-laws in North Carolina. Madeline is a go-getting art gallery owner from Chicago, recently married to George, a near-perfect Southern beau. When Madeline needs to close a deal with a reclusive North Carolina artist, George introduces her to his family: prickly mother Peg, taciturn father Eugene, cranky brother Johnny, and Johnnyâ??s pregnant, childlike wife Ashley, who is awe-struck by her glamorous sister-in-law. Madeline’s presence exposes the fragile family dynamics as hidden resentments and anxieties surface.

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Amy’s Role

In the role that established Amy as a define talent in Hollywood and garnered her an Oscar nomination, Junebug sees Amy as Ashley Johnsten. Amy delivers one of most powerful and honest performances of her career thus far as she plays the part to perfection. While the film is quiet and subdued Ashley is very talktative and loud. Ashley’s charm comes from the fact that Amy made this character loveable, heartbreaking and multi-demensional. When Amy delivers the line “God loves you just the way you are. But He loves you too much to let you stay that way.” it sums up Ashley’s personality as she wants nothing more to be hopeful and happy even when the times aren’t. Ashley is a refreshing spark to the movie and one could argue that the film would have lost it’s intentions if the character was played by any other actress. You will certainly be the winner after witnessing her amazing, touching performance.

Quotes
“I don’t think that in the film, the actor should direct themselves. I think that’s a mistake. I think that it happens, and I think there is a reason it happens because not all the directors do take the responsibility, and therefore, an actor having worked more — but with a character like Ashley, it’s different because she is an emotional character not an intellectual character. An intellectual-like-Ashley would have gotten in my way…”
“I’m not going to do everything intentionally to create something because I think that would create a falseness to the emotional honesty to the character…”
“Phil [director] gave us poems that he had pulled for Junebug . There are a couple that he separated and that I loved that he gave to me for Ashley. He also then pulled poems for each character for us to read. It was really great.”
“I think a lot of it was about cynicism and I think Ashley was inspiration enough. She is so full of love and life and acceptance and all of these things that I think our smarter self protects us, because it can leave you open and vulnerable. For me, it was exciting for me to get to that part of myself and honor it in a way that I don’t get to in everyday life. It’s always hard to intellectualize a emotional prospect, but the great thing was I did get to go earlier with Phil and spend time in North Carolina together. He gave it such a personal sense being from the south, and he really infused us with the sensibility and provided the poems. He was also really great about encouraging me to be Ashley as Amy. There would be times where it would feel a little scary or… I didn’t trust her, and I think Phil helped me to trust her.”
“It never scared me [as] something that maybe seemed unnatural. I embrace it, because I don’t think any of us are natural. I think what’s created as naturalism in films is actually false. You could sit here and listen to Phil and I talk and it definitely doesn’t seem natural.” (laughs hysterically)
“I think the roughness and imperfections in people is what we do fall in love with. We very rarely fall in love with the presentation of a person. I think it was important for Ashley to show her imperfections.”
“I had to audition. Actually it was very specific because I had to capture something, it was the hospital scene with Alessandro. Then I came back and we basically read every scene from the movie. We worked a lot in the audition process.”
“We spent a lot of time with Phil’s family. There was a barbecue they invited us to. I think the sense of community has a lot to do with what my character is about. I think being invited into Phil and Angus’ life was important for me anyway. It really helped me understand Ashley’s ties to the region and to the family.”
“I wasn’t looking at this film as an observer. I didn’t really understand the importance of Ashley until I watched the film for the first time. I was just playing her, so I tried to come at it from a very innocent and pure place.”
“It just turns out that she is loud and talkative in a very quiet and subdued film.”
“The interesting thing is I definitely think Ashley has flaws. Anything to an excess can be flawed. She might be too patient or too forgiving. She was just lovely to play so I tried not to pick out the flaws.”
“There was something that Angus wrote: “Ashley mistakes George’s silence for wisdom,” and that was really key to me in what she feels about him. Phil was good in letting us believe what we believed, because in life, everybody believes something different and everybody’s perceptions about people are different. Since George is gone all the time, they can romanticize that he’s anyone you want him to be. He was the town hero. That’s why Madeline’s so exciting. She actually lives up to and exceeds her expectations. But Ashley’s very lonely and that’s why she reaches out all the time.”
On the line “God loves you just the way you are, but God loves you too much to let you stay that way.”:
“That was not in the script originally. Phil and I had attended church at Greene Street and a preacher said that at some point. Phil got really talky and squirrelly and afterward he’s like, “We’ve got to put that in the movie somewhere.” To me it has become such an important part of the movie because I feel it lets the audience know that my character knows what’s going on.”
On the masturbation scene:
“Well, in the doing of it, I’m very practical. I’m not going to shut the set down. For me, it was more about how can I make this look real. That being said, when I first watched that, I was so uncomfortable. But Phil and I talked about the scene and we really liked it in there, because female masturbation works in a different way than male masturbation and I thought it was sort of appropriate for what was happening. You can feel her loneliness.”
“When I went to Sundance, I had a great time and I got to see the movie for the first time, which was really nerve-wracking. Then I went home and they called and said, “Are you available to come back tonight?” I was like, “Why?” But they said they can’t exactly say why. Winning the award was really surreal, because you get into doing a movie like this for the experience of doing it. It took me to the next day when everyone had cleared out of Park City and I was walking along and I was like, “Oh my gosh, that’s amazing, that’s such an honor.” I think I cried a little.”
“I had done Junebug and then after that I finished my obligation on a television show and I was really considering moving to New York and pursuing theater. Because I was like, ‘I don’t know if LA and I are a good match, I’ve been out here for so many years and I’m still not happy, I’m still not, sort of fulfilled as an artist, what can I do?’ … Then it premiered at Sundance and things changed.”
“It’s a lot of pressure. I’m never going to play Ashley again. I think, ultimately, people loved Ashley. Whether they love me as an actress remains to be seen. So it is a lot of pressure, but not something I can’t handle. It’s a good challenge.”
“They have been working on it since 1992,” says Adams. “I think that there were a lot of actresses who were going to be Ashley before me. But for whatever reason it didn’t happen — thankfully for me.”
How did Phil Morrison, the film’s director, find you for this movie?
“He’d seen me in Catch Me, but my being around for the casting was basically a fluke. I was in the midst of shooting what I will now refer to as “That Television Show,” [both laugh] and I was supposed to be in Las Vegas; but the studio sent me home because they weren’t going to use me for a few days. I was angry about that, but as it turned out, I had the audition for Junebug that weekend.”
“She’s really innocent, the sweetest girl you’d ever meet. Like, you feel sorry for her because she’s so nice.”
“It was surreal. I’ve never won anything performance-based. For me, winning is getting a job.”

(on her Sundance win)

“The challenge in portraying Ashley, says Adams, was “to make her fun, and to create a character without creating a caricature, and to keep her grounded. There were so many challenges: to capture her spirit, to capture her thought process and have that register, because you almost see it on her face. She doesn’t have a lot of inner monologue; everything is shown. You know what she’s feeling; you know what she’s thinking. So I really had to just let go and sort of let things flow through me, and a lot of times as actors we’re so tempted to control it, and manipulate it, and kind of massage it into something. That works for so many roles, but with Ashley, I couldn’t do that. I had to just let her come in, and let it go out, and keep her open.”
“I had only gotten the script on a Friday, and the audition was on a Saturday, and it was a lot of material they wanted, because Ashley talks—a lot. So it was a lot of material to memorize…. I knew that there was so much more to be done than I could do overnight [preparing for the audition],” she says, adding with a laugh, “I sometimes think that if I can do the work overnight, I’m not sure I should be doing the role.”

Character Quotes
“God loves you just the way you are. But He loves you too much to let you stay that way.”
Madeleine: “I was born in Japan.”

Ashley: “You were not!”

Madeleine: “I even bite my toenails.”

Ashley: “You do not!”

“I can’t sit down! I’m too excited! “
“I wonder what she looks like. I bet she’s skinny. She probably is. She’s skinnier than me and prettier too. Now I’ll hate her. Oh, I can’t wait!”
“I hate hospitals, but it wasn’t really all that scary. All the needles and stuff. It wasn’t that bad. I’ll tell you what the scariest thing is to me – the scariest thing to me is Johnny. It is. He didn’t say nothin’. Not one word. At least I don’t know what it is, and I think he really did want it, too. Just a boy – you know how I know? I heard him tell your pa to paint the cradle brown. You just wouldn’t put a baby girl in a brown cradle. You just wouldn’t… I don’t know what he’s thinkin’. It’s not my fault! And all that time and all that stuff I got and all those months, it was just all for nothin’! And those fucking doctors, they think they know everything but they don’t know anything! They don’t know anything! Oh, I don’t understand! I don’t understand. Why would God let this happen? Why would he? I just wanted something good to come out of all this. I mean it… I really mean it. “
“All I really want is for Johnny to love me like he did in high school.”

Trivia & Facts

• Filmed in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, USA.

• Amy was nominated for multiple Best Supporting Actress awards in last 2005-2006. Including the 2006 Academy Award nomination. She lost out to Rachel Weisz for The Constant Gardener at that ceremoney but Amy did win Breakthrough Film Artist at the Central Ohio Film Critics Association, a Florida Film Critics Circle Award, Gotham Award, Independent Spirit Award, National Society of Film Critics Award, San Francisco Film Critics Circle, Southeastern Film Critics Association Award, Special Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival, Vancouver Film Critics Circle Award, and Washington DC Area Film Critics Association Award!

• Embeth Davidtz was chosen as a replacement at the 11th hour and arrived on set the day before principal photography began.

• For the house in which most of the film takes place, two real houses in Winston-Salem were used, one for internal shots and another for external ones. Filming was simplified by the fact that the two houses were down the street from each other. The same house that was used for the external shots was also used for the basement/garage scenes. The exterior house also housed the makeup department.

• In the scene where Ashley does her sit up exercises, director Phil Morrison used a split screen, combining the performance of a real pregnant woman with Amy Adams’ head.

• Alessandro Nivola missed the reference to his character singing a hymn when he read the script, and was unaware that he had to do so until a few days before his “singing scene” was scheduled to shoot. He only had a few days to rehearse, and his singing in the scene is recorded live, as the budget did not allow for it to be recorded on a sound stage.

Reviews

“Now here is the question: How important is Ashley and Johnny’s baby to George? (Johnny, of course, is nowhere to be found, certainly not at the hospital.) If he were in Chicago, George would certainly not fly down to be at the hospital. But when he moves into his family’s house, he follows its rules. This leads to a scene of incredible power between Ashley and her brother-in-law, in which we see that Ashley truly is good, and brave, and sweeter than peaches. Small wonder that Amy Adams won the Sundance acting award.

Junebug is a great film because it is a true film. It humbles other films that claim to be about family secrets and eccentricities. It understands that families are complicated and their problems are not solved during a short visit, just in time for the film to end. Families and their problems go on and on, and they aren’t solved, they’re dealt with.” – Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun Times

“Madeleine is greeted with unreservedly open arms only by Ashley (Adams), Johnny’s extremely pregnant young wife. Partly due to her character’s generosity of spirit, but mostly due to her own charisma, Adams dominates pic with her appealing portrayal of a nonjudgmental optimist savvy enough to recognize the shortcomings of others, but sweet enough to offer encouragement, not condemnation. “God loves you just the way you are,” Ashley tells Johnny at one point, “but too much to let you stay that way.”” – Joe Leydon, Variety

“Amy Adams took home an acting award at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival for her performance. It’s eye-opening and heartwarming – the actress radiates such joy, even in the face of tragedy, that we find ourselves smiling when she’s on screen. It would be easy to turn Ashley into a caricature, but Adams never comes close.” – James Berardinelli, Reel Views