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On Thursday, night eight of the 28th Santa Barbara International Film Festival, Amy Adams was presented with the Cinema Vanguard Award, which honors “risk-takers,” at Santa Barbara’s historic Arlington Theatre. The 38-year-old, a best supporting actress Oscar nominee this year for The Master, seemed to be a bit down as she quietly answered questions about her life and career during a 90-minute interview with moderator Pete Hammond before she was presented with her award. She later acknowledged, though, that she has “horrible stage-fright,” which cannot have been helped by the fact that the audience consisted not only of roughly 2,000 festival-goers, but also her Master writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson and co-star/fellow Oscar nominee Joaquin Phoenix.
The most striking thing about the evening was a recognition of just how far Adams has come in a relatively short period of time. Born on a U.S. Army base in Italy — the middle of seven children — it wasn’t that long ago that she was waitressing at Hooters (“I turned 18 and I did wear the outfit … Some guy’s offering you $250 to take your shirt off — now I get offered a lot more!”), greeting at the Gap, and performing at a dinner theater in Minneapolis. She got her big break when a Hollywood production, Drop Dead Gorgeous (1999), came to film in Minnesota and she scored a small part in it. She then moved out to Los Angeles, hoping to find more work opportunities, but she struggled mightily and even considered quitting the business and joining the Peace Corps after 9/11 left her questioning the value of her chosen profession. Eventually, she realized that she should just live the best life that she could live, and it was not long afterwards that she scored her first blockbuster and the film in which she would give a performance that put her on everyone’s radar.
Adams has had a killer decade. Over the last seven years, she has scored four Oscar nominations, all in the best supporting actress category: for Phil Morrison‘s Junebug (2005), John Patrick Shanley‘s Doubt (2008), David O. Russell‘s The Fighter (2010) and now The Master. She has also been a part of numerous hits — among them Steven Spielberg‘s Catch Me If You Can (2002), Adam McKay‘s Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby (2006), Kevin Lima‘s Enchanted (2007), Nora Ephron‘s Julie & Julia (2009), Shawn Levy‘s Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian (2009) and James Bobin‘s The Muppets (2011). And even in films that were not widely seen or were only mediocre, such as Mike Nichols‘ Charlie Wilson’s War (2007), Christine Jeffs‘ Sunshine Cleaning (2008) and Robert Lorenz‘s Trouble with the Curve (2012), she was always on her game. At this point, her body of work encompasses everything from a nun to a princess to a bartender, as well as dramas, comedies (“I try to play it as serious as possible”) and musicals (which she loves). Her versatility is virtually unmatched among her contemporaries.
It is a further testament to her abilities that she has worked more than once with several of the most talented people in the business: Philip Seymour Hoffman (Charlie Wilson’s War, Doubt and The Master), Meryl Streep (Doubt and Julie & Julia), the aforementioned Russell, Christian Bale (The Fighter and an upcoming film) and the aforementioned Phoenix (The Master and an upcoming film). Adams said during her tribute that she never dreamed that she would get to be an actress who works “with those kind of people.” She indicated that scenes that she has shot with Hoffman and Phoenix are among the most special of her career because “when you have that intimate connection with someone you’re not intimate with, it’s a very special thing.”
Over the course of the last few years, Adams said, “I realized you can still be a human being and have flaws and still be in movies, and that your flaws are what make you beautiful… I just wanted to do a good job.” She no longer struggles as she did when she first came out west, but she remembers the person that she was when she did. “I look back sometimes, and I’ve missed her from time to time,” she confessed. “There’s something to the hunger that informs you and drives you.”
Adams laughed when recalling her scenes in Catch Me If You Can, in which she played a naive young girl who is preyed upon by a hoaxster: “I was in pigtails. I mean, come on — who wants to kiss Leonardo DiCaprio in pigtails? I mean, that wasn’t sort of my Titanic fantasy!” But she began crying while talking about Junebug, in which she plays a woman who suffers a miscarriage: “That one’s really specifically personal to me for a lot of reasons — not that I’ve lost a child, but … a lot of women have come up to me and shared their stories with me since I did that … Having had a child, I can’t imagine that pain. But they said Ashley [Adams’ character] spoke words to them that meant a lot to them.”
She said that she was not as different from the character that she plays in The Fighter as some think, submitting, “I think people who don’t know me look at that and go, ‘Whoa, that’s Amy Adams!’ But people who know me go, ‘That’s Amy.'” And she revealed that the character she played in Trouble with the Curve, who struggles to overcome a strained relationship with her father (Clint Eastwood), “was probably the closest to home that I’ve ever come in my roles,” adding that she felt “very vulnerable” during the making of it.
She laughed with everyone else after a clip of The Muppets was shown, noting, “At any given moment, you’ve got a bunch of grown men at your feet [but] you really do forget that [the puppets] are being manipulated by humans.” There was a bit of an awkward moment when it was noted that there will be a Muppets sequel and she was asked if she would be returning for it, to which she replied, “They didn’t ask me.”
Eventually, Anderson, who doesn’t attend many awards ceremonies, came out to share a few words about Adams and then present her with her award. He noted that she is a timeless sort of actress who would have fit in perfectly in a classic film from, say, 1947 — something she had disputed earlier in the evening, joking, “My mouth is crooked and they would never have accepted me in that era” — and he provoked laughter from her and everyone else by insinuating that she is a drug addict and adding, in a reference to a scene in The Master that was lost on some audience members, that she is the person to go to “if you ever want a hand-job delivered with maximum efficiency.”
In accepting her award Adams said, “I didn’t expect tonight to be what it was.”
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