‘David O Russell said to me: “You are so not the princess type”‘
Amy Adams has ditched the ingenue roles for unforgettable turns in classy awards fodder from big-name directors – and now she has worked with Clint Eastwood in Trouble With the Curve
It’s an absolutely archetypal American face; you can read a multitude into it. Look long enough at Amy Adams’ pre-Raphaelite cascade of orange-red hair, her pale complexion – with its susceptibility, no doubt, to freckles and sunburn – the upturned chin, the tough-cookie set jaw, and the slender sloping nose, and soon enough you will discern the possibilities: Anne of Green Gables, Annie, if she was still young enough, or one of Willa Cather’s doughty Nebraska Plainswomen – Thea Kronberg, perhaps, from The Song of The Lark – Dorothea Lange’s Migrant Mother, eyes fixed for ever on the middle distance, or any number of western farmwives or lady-gunfighters. Take names from Henry James or Edith Wharton – Daisy Miller, Undine Spragg – and Adams can be imagined embodying them all with ease and subtlety. In her most recent movie, Trouble with the Curve, she’s the estranged daughter of another American icon, Clint Eastwood, no less, while in her most impressive – and unsettling – performance in several years, in Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master, she is the womanly power behind the throne of yet another American archetype – Philip Seymour Hoffman’s avuncular, alcoholic religious fraud Lancaster Dodd.
Twelve years ago, Adams played the lead in Cruel Intentions 2; she was suddenly lucky second-string Hollywood cannon fodder with a string of teen comedies and horror spoofs behind her, and the usual Young Hollywood TV guest-credits – That 70s Show, Charmed, Providence, Smallville, and a memorable arc as Jenna Fischer’s redhead doppelganger on The Office. Ten years ago, she finally scored big, nabbing the showy part of girlfriend to then It Boy Leonardo DiCaprio in Steven Spielberg’s Catch Me If You Can. Nine years ago, the phone hadn’t rung once since Catch Me If You Can, and she was thinking about jacking in the thespian life altogether, until a little no-budget movie named Junebug came her way.
And look at her now: The Master is the second movie in which she has held her own in opposite Hoffman, the actors’ actor of our age, and she has already made two movies – Doubt and Julie and Julia – with Meryl Streep. She earned one Oscar nomination for Junebug and another for David O Russell’s The Fighter (she’ll get another for The Master, you watch), and will soon be working once again with Russell, a director uninterested in letting his performers settle into any comfortable groove. Next up, Superman’s girlfriend in Man of Steel. It’s all happening.
And yet, she says, she sometimes forgets who she is, and how famous. “I still think I’m like the poor girl from Colorado who worked three jobs to buy a car. That’s still my mentality, so I’ll be walking down the street, and I forget what I do and who I am. And someone will come up to me and say hi, and I’m thinking, I must know you, and I realise that, no, I don’t know them and they don’t know me. At all! Really, I’ve only been in the public eye since – in a bigger way – really only since Junebug and Enchanted, and I was already 30, 32 by then so I’d already had a whole life when nobody cared at all about me. I was more used to that.”
You get that feeling when you meet her. She’s open, welcoming, warm, more concerned about your comfort than her own (“don’t sit there with the hot sun in your eyes … try here”), and today she’s happier to be here than she sometimes is on these occasions. An assistant lays down a fat pile of posters for the movie and she asks: “Am I supposed to sign these at the same time – because I can multitask!” She looks up, leaving the Sharpie and the signing until later. “Sometimes you’re doing this and you’re revisiting a movie that wasn’t that great an experience when you made it, or there were conflicts with people you didn’t like or whatever. This one is nice to talk about, though.”
In Trouble with the Curve, she plays the estranged daughter of crotchety baseball scout Clint Eastwood, who tags along on his scouting tour when his eyesight starts to go, and tries to repair their relationship. So, given that Clint Eastwood occupies roughly the same space in the American psyche as the faces on Mount Rushmore and the dollar bill, how was it to be up close all of a sudden?
“He’s very warm and generous, and there’s a great humility about him. I’ve worked with people who project a lot more sort of masculine intimidation naturally – and that’s not him at all. I think also, having worked with all these people on his crew together for so long, he’s not at all guarded with them on set, so it makes the day go quickly and efficiently, and gets you through a lot of set-ups. There’s a bit of shorthand between people when they’ve worked together for that long – you feel like you’re being allowed into his family. That really helps if you’re playing a role like Mickie and you have to be this daughter confronting her father, which is not easy to do if you feel intimidated. And I wasn’t at all intimidated. When you could really make Clint laugh, he gets a really teethy laugh and it’s so rewarding to get one of those. I always felt a certain sense of victory if I could get him to laugh like that.”
And it’s a movie about athletes in which Adams competently knocks a number of pitches off into the wide blue yonder. I suspect tomboy tendencies in her youth. Did that come naturally?
“Not at all! Though I do come from a family of athletic people. I just don’t have a propensity for catching balls. My hand-eye coordination is terrible, so I had to train a lot. But I do love being, I won’t say it … it’s that line from Grease: ‘If you can’t be an athlete, be an athletic supporter.'” She titters away.
“Learning how to catch, how to pitch, how to swing, I worked with a coach. It was really empowering, cause I’ve never been good at it. I realised I just was afraid of getting hit in the face with the ball. Wisely so, I guess, given that my current profession calls for people with intact faces. Oh God, this … it’s like a minefield of balls-in-the-face jokes …”
She was an army brat until she was nine. How did that affect her?
“It definitely makes you a little bit more transient, which can turn out to be a good quality in life, and in fact has helped me in what I do. When you’re picking up and moving it does create … well, I can sleep anywhere, which is really useful, it turns out, on movie sets. But what it really does is teach you how to adapt and change and fit into a new group or school, and that really is a lot like turning up to a new movie project and finding your place.”
Ten years after beginning to make her mark, Adams still trails behind her the residue of innocence and naivete that gathered around her after she appeared in Junebug. Followed shortly after by her winning turn as an animated Disney princess cast into a cynical live-action Manhattan in Enchanted, Junebug limited perceptions of Adams’ gifts for a couple of years.”
Junebug was a small independent movie about what “back home” means to southerners. Adams played Ashley Johnsten, a Georgia girl so naive and innocent, so impossibly kind and sweet, that literally one ankle or elbow in the wrong place from Adams would have brought the entire movie to a calamitous halt. One is astounded that a figure so unworldly can be delivered with such absolute, unironic conviction – you leave the movie remembering almost nothing except her performance.
“I felt so free in that role. There were no consequences. I never knew if anyone would even see the movie. I wasn’t even sure at that point that I was going to continue acting. There was no studio nosing about. It was the most free I have ever been as an actor ever. You can’t go back to a time like that.”
Junebug was surely what earned her Enchanted, which largely thanks to Adams (and her equally gung-ho costar James Marsden) was an instant Disney classic, resting on the absolute conviction she gave to a character who talks to butterflies and believes you can make someone love you by singing at them. By now, with Catch Me, Junebug and Enchanted, she had played three eye-catching naifs in a row – which didn’t reflect her own view of her own abilities. “If you hold those characters up next to each other, similar as they are, there’s no way that they belong in the same world. But you really have to be careful you don’t become the go-to girl for that kind of thing.”
David O Russell to the rescue, then. “He met me and he said: ‘Oh you are so not a princess type – we’ll have to do something about that!’ He said: ‘I just want to expose that side of you, and give you the opportunity to shed the whole princess thing, because that isn’t who you are – it’s just one aspect of the work you’ve done.'”
In The Fighter, Russell gave Adams Charlene, the hardscrabble working-class Irish-American bartender who takes on boxer Mark Wahlberg and, better yet, the grotesquely toxic matriarchy that he calls a family. I remember she has a tonne of siblings.
“There’s six others – we are a baseball team!”
So she can fight? How many brothers?
So she can fight!
“Oh sure, but trust me, the sisters, the girls, we give just as good as we get in a family like ours!”
In one much talked-about scene in The Master, Adams, playing the imperious and scary wife of religious charlatan Lancaster Dodd, delivers a ferocious Lady Macbeth-like dressing-down to her husband as she furiously masturbates him over a bathroom sink. “That scene was in the script from the beginning. It was actually one of my favourite scenes upon reading it because it helped let me know who the character was, and how much control and the lengths she will go to to maintain it … Yes, people tend to remember that moment.”
The Master and the masturbator. Ladies and gentlemen, Amy Adams could be acting at this level for another 40 years. Plenty of archetypes to get to yet. I cannot wait.
• The Trouble with the Curve is released in the UK on 30 November