'Awards Chatter' Podcast — Amy Adams ('Vice' & 'Sharp Objects')

One of the most respected actresses of her generation, a five-time Oscar bridesmaid, reflects on how years in dinner theater gave way to a career in screen acting, how her career has been divided into noticeable phases and how she navigates dark parts like the two she played in 2018.
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Amy Adams

"Of course I wanted to do it because I was like, 'This is impossible!'" So says actress Amy Adams, with a laugh, in reference to her latest role as former first lady Lynne Cheney, opposite Christian Bale's Dick Cheney, in Adam McKay's dark comedy Vice, as we sit down at the offices of The Hollywood Reporter to record an episode of THR's 'Awards Chatter' podcast. The 44-year-old redhead earned her sixth Oscar nomination for the performance (among living performers who haven't yet won an Oscar, only Glenn Close has more noms). Vice also marks her third big-screen collaboration with Bale, who is also nominated for the film, following the two features they both did for David O. Russell, and she says, "It's a rare gift to have an unspoken ease with a scene partner. That takes time. I'm always impressed with him."

Over the 14 years since Adams first worked with McKay — on the comedy Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, in which she crawled across a table to make out with Will Ferrell — she has come to be regarded as one of the finest actresses of her generation, with a résumé that includes not just the six nominations for Academy Awards, but nine for Golden Globe Awards (two of which resulted in wins), six for SAG Awards and 11 for Critics’ Choice Awards (four of which resulted in wins). Adams has given at least one standout performance almost annually. And in 2018, she gave two — not only in Vice, but also as a self-sabotaging journalist investigating a murder on the HBO limited series Sharp Objects, of which she was also an executive producer, and for which she won a Critics' Choice and was nominated for Golden Globe and SAG awards. "I'm so lucky," she says. "Just so, so lucky."

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Check out our past episodes featuring the likes of Steven Spielberg, Oprah Winfrey, Lorne Michaels, Barbra Streisand, Justin Timberlake, Meryl Streep, Robert De Niro, Jennifer Lawrence, Eddie Murphy, Gal Gadot, Warren Beatty, Angelina Jolie, Snoop Dogg, Jessica Chastain, Stephen Colbert, Reese Witherspoon, Aaron Sorkin, Margot Robbie, Ryan Reynolds, Nicole Kidman, Denzel Washington, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Matthew McConaughey, Kate Winslet, Jimmy Kimmel, Natalie Portman, Chadwick Boseman, Jennifer Lopez, Ricky Gervais, Judi Dench, Quincy Jones, Jane Fonda, Tom Hanks, Amy Schumer, Jerry Seinfeld, Elisabeth Moss, RuPaul, Rachel Brosnahan, Jimmy Fallon, Kris Jenner, Michael Moore, Emilia Clarke, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Helen Mirren, Tyler Perry, Sally Field, Spike Lee, Lady Gaga, JJ Abrams, Emma Stone, Ryan Murphy, Julia Roberts, Trevor Noah, Dolly Parton, Will Smith, Taraji P. Henson, Sacha Baron Cohen and Carol Burnett.

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Adams was born in Italy because her father, who served in the U.S. Army, was stationed there. One of seven children raised strictly Mormon, she left the church and moved around a lot after her parents divorced when she was 11, attending high school in Colorado, then relocating to Atlanta to focus on dance, and then moving back to Colorado, and later to Minnesota, when opportunities arose to perform in dinner theater. "It was my training ground," she says of those years. "It's a training not only in your craft, but in work ethic, and it's a great place to start." While in Minnesota, Adams learned about a local casting call for the film Drop Dead Gorgeous (1999). She landed a part, which led to an on-set interaction with Kirstie Alley, who advised her to move to Los Angeles. "I thought only movie stars acted in movies," she says, "and I wasn't a movie star, so I couldn't wrap my head around that I could work in the film industry." But Adams — who was blonde at the time — and her brother drove out west, and she began landing jobs.

Adams' first years in the business included what she calls a "cheerleader-bitch phase," guest-starring parts on numerous programs on The WB and a failed TV series that was recut into Cruel Intentions 2. A small but memorable part in Steven Spielberg's Catch Me If You Can, opposite Leonardo DiCaprio, looked to be her big break, but instead it was another three years before she landed the role that actually was. What happened in the meantime? "I just had a crisis of confidence," Adams admits. "I couldn't accept that I belonged in that company. I didn't believe it. It's not that I believe it now; I just stopped worrying about where I belonged and I just started focusing on the work. I was too caught up, I think, in being something or being somebody or achieving something or having 'made it,' and I wasn't focusing on the work that I needed to. I stepped away from being anything, and just went back to being an actress, and that's when everything clicked for me."

Adams was at a low point when she went off to make the low-budget indie that wound up putting her on the map. With her 30th birthday approaching, she had recently been cast in a network TV series, Dr. Vegas, opposite Rob Lowe — only to be let go to clear the way for a sexier actress. Now on the set of Junebug, in which she played the supporting part of a sweet pregnant woman, she shared with a co-star fears that she would not even be able to make rent. "I was broke," Adams acknowledges. "I thought I was gonna have to move out of L.A. I was concerned." Instead, a few months later, Junebug, and specifically Adams' performance in it, proved a sensation at the Sundance Film Festival, to the extent that she was awarded a special jury prize. "I just felt a whole shift in my energy, in my own acceptance of my work," Adams says. "I had been ready to walk away. It's that whole thing, 'If you're ready to let something go, then once it comes back to you it feels different' — and I had been ready to let it go."

Junebug led to a string of additional plum parts — at that time, mostly as "innocents," to use Adams' term. Prior to its theatrical release, she was cast in Talladega Nights and Enchanted; after its release, she wound up landing a best supporting actress Oscar nomination, which led to the last of those sorts of parts: the nun in Doubt (2008), opposite Meryl Streep (with whom she would also share credits on 2009's Julie & Julia) and Philip Seymour Hoffman (they worked together on 2007's Charlie Wilson's War and 2012's The Master), which brought her Oscar nom No. 2. "I never felt limited," Adams says of that phase. "I didn't see that the character from Doubt was the same as the character from Enchanted. But I could see where people were like, 'Maybe this is what she does.'" So Adams welcomed the observation from Russell, after a general meeting with the filmmaker, that she had more to offer in films, and that he would find a vehicle for it. "I just wanted to challenge myself outside of that and play to different sides of my own psyche and personality. I was definitely looking for something that felt 'other.'" The result was the part of a bar girl in 2010's The Fighter, opposite Bale and Mark Wahlberg, which led to Oscar nom No. 3. "It was a great growing experience for me," she emphasizes.

The Fighter led to a stream of other multi-layered roles in important films, such as Paul Thomas Anderson's The Master (Oscar nom No. 4) and Russell's American Hustle (2013, Oscar nom No. 5), again opposite Bale. American Hustle proved a far less pleasant collaboration between the actress and the director than The Fighter — Adams has said Russell drove her to tears regularly, and, it was subsequently revealed by the Sony hack, she and Jennifer Lawrence were paid considerably less than their male co-stars. "I was playing a very different character," Adams also grants. "It was a more heightened experience." She adds wryly, "I think David might be 'a Method director,'" continuing, "I think it was after American Hustle that I kind of made the decision, 'If I can't leave work at work, I can't work.'" She still leaves open the possibility that she might "someday" be agreeable to doing a third film with Russell.

Adams says that another 2013 film in which she appeared, Spike Jonze's Her, marked a turning point for her. "I like hiding in characters," she says, "so when he brought different things about me into that character, I had to let go of worrying about what people thought about this Amy in order to give him that kind of authenticity" — and, as a result, she says, she stopped caring about criticism. That, as it happens, may have contributed to something that happened the next year on the set of Tim Burton's Big Eyes: "That film marked the first time I found my voice as an actress when I wasn't performing. I was able to offer ideas, I was able to say, 'I think I know how to fix this,' 'I know why it's not working,' 'Can I try this?' Whereas before, I don't know why, I just didn't speak up. And it was really interesting: playing a character that didn't have a voice, I found mine. And that's the first time I really thought I wanted to be a producer, because people heard my ideas, and we tried them and they worked."

What followed was a series of characters that demanded that Adams go to dark places — but that were too good to turn down: Tom Ford's Nocturnal Animals and Denis Villeneuve's Arrival (both 2016), and then Sharp Objects, for which, at her recommendation, HBO hired Jean-Marc Vallee, with whom she had been developing a Janis Joplin biopic, even before he made another HBO limited series, Big Little Lies. "I wasn't going to do it at first," Adams reveals. "I didn't want to go to that headspace. I was like, 'I have a kid!' I was in the middle of playing a really intense role [for Arrival], and I just couldn't wrap my head around how I would play her and still be a functioning human being." Nevertheless, she talked it through with Vallee, she says, "and then I thought, 'How could I not do this?'" (That doesn't mean it was easy or fun; "I cried more off-camera than I cried on-camera," she says.) Then came Vice. And then The Woman in the Window, a highly anticipated literary adaptation about an agoraphobic woman who thinks she has witnessed a murder, which will be released next year and, rumor has it, could return Adams to the Oscar race. "That was a tough one [too]," she says. "I'm hoping to have some fun — I've been a little dark lately!"