The star of ENCHANTED just keeps on rising – but as she tells ELLE, Amy Adams hasn’t always led a fairy-tale life. Interview by LUKE CRISELL
You wouldn’t know it to catch sight of her from across the room – the restaurant of the Four Seasons Hotel in New York, where she’s sitting by a huge window – but Amy Adams, best known for her role as Princess Giselle in Disney’s feisty fairy tale Enchanted, is currently one of the most sought-after stars in the world. Despite her signature red hair, the 34 year old is not immediately recognisable and it’s this that’s clearly thrown off the small, bespectacled man who, having mistaken the actress for an associate, is currently trying to foist a script (about fighter pilots) on her. He’s apparently unaware that he’s conducting an impromptu meeting that many producers and directors in Hollywood would kill for. As I approach, Adams looks up, her wide green eyes flushed with relief. She looks at the man across from her, and then at me again. ‘I knew it! I thought this felt wrong,’ she says, passing the script back across the table to the stranger. ‘I’m sorry, you’ve got the wrong person.’ Hastily, she gets up, and we walk quickly to a table on the far side of the room. ‘He said he was waiting for Amy,’ she says as we sit down, glancing furtively over my shoulder at the man. ‘And I said, “Well, my name is Amy, but I don’t think you mean me.” I hope he is waiting for someone else and didn’t just figure out I was staying here and hang around in the lobby.’
Up close, Adams is pretty, of course, but not distractingly so. She is wearing a sparkly sweater, jeans and boots, and says she doesn’t know who designed any of them. A stream of people walk past without staring, although a couple perform subtle double takes. Today, her hair is tied back – a far cry from the flowing Titian mane in Enchanted. Surprisingly, though, she is a natural blonde. The now-signature red was the result of a blunt conversation with a director. ‘“You with blonde hair?” he said. “You’re so ordinary.” It’s brutal, but you get used to it,’ laughs Amy. ‘He talked me into dying it red and, when I did, it released me from the stereotype of being a blonde. And it made a lot more sense with my personality. Suddenly I was regarded very differently. I went to an audition afterwards and the feedback was, “She looks really grounded.” I think it was the hair.’ As superficial as it was, the advice certainly hasn’t hurt Adams’ job prospects. After working in Hollywood for over a decade, appearing in such unremarkable films as Cruel Intentions 2 and TV shows including Smallville, she now finds herself hugely in demand. Her career has the enviable balance of slow-burning, low-budget hits (Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day) and studio spectaculars (the all-singing, all-dancing Enchanted). Perhaps because Adams did not come to fame quickly, she possesses none of the foibles evident in those that have. Instead, hers is an understated elegance that seems to have set her on a course for longevity, rather than the evanescence of those who, say, fall out of cars at the weekend; one imagines Adams gets in them and drives, sedately, to the grocery store. This year will see her star in festival favourite Sunshine Cleaning with Emily Blunt; Doubt, the film adaptation of John Patrick Shanley’s critically acclaimed play; and Julie & Julia, based on US celebrity chef Julia Child’s memoir. That’s quite a year for an actress who, eight years ago, was playing Cousin Beth in Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
Amy Lou Adams grew up in the small town of Castle Rock, Colorado, the middle child of seven. ‘It was as average a family as you can be with seven kids,’ she says, unwrapping a cough sweet, offering me one and, when I accept, being careful to hand it to me so that our fingers don’t touch (‘I won’t have you getting sick, too’). ‘We were mostly “middle” children in our family. If you’re not the oldest or the youngest, you’re in the middle. It was an interesting way to grow up, but it was the only way I knew. There were definitely times I wished I could get rid of the whole lot of them, you know? It was hard to find private time.’ I ask if she’s in regular contact with them. ‘Yes,’ she says, smiling. ‘Although they would probably disagree. I have one brother who’s sore with me and just left me a funny message: “I talk to my siblings more than this, Amy, and though I understand you’re very busy, we’re all busy. Phone calls usually get returned.’’’ Until she was 12, when her parents divorced, Adams was raised a Mormon. ‘It didn’t actively affect me, but there are principles that you learn, definitely. The Mormon religion values cheerfulness and positivity, so I think that definitely stuck with me – to be cheerful, for better or worse. And obedience. I try not to break the rules too often.’
Such an upbringing was perhaps the catalyst for the quiet niche Adams has carved out for herself in Los Angeles. She lives in West Hollywood with actor Darren Le Gallo, her boyfriend of six years (an engagement ring sparkles on her finger), eschewing LA’s nightlife in favour of cooking dinner for friends. ‘We live in an era where celebrity is so accessible, you can’t recreate the mystique of old Hollywood,’ she says. ‘But they [the paparazzi] have no interest in following me around, thankfully. I always look the same.’ Adams says she is interested in fashion but is not an expert. ‘For the red carpet, I love everything from the extremely modern, like Proenza Schouler, to very classic, like Oscar de la Renta. And I love couture, but, being short [5ft 4in], I can’t wear everything that I love. I have to be realistic. There are designers like Giambattista Valli, who make these amazing pieces of art, and I put them on and look like a lampshade.’
Adams’ army-man father was an aspiring singer, doing turns in local nightclubs, and Amy found herself drawn to entertaining from a young age. ‘The performing arts were available to me,’ she says, ‘but I never really associated that with Hollywood or New York until I was much older.’ She started acting in dinner theatre, where patrons dine and then watch a performance, usually of a show recently on Broadway, given by the people who had just been serving the food and drinks. Eventually, she found her way to LA. ‘There were a lot of false starts. I got a television show and that was the most certain I’ve ever been that things were going to change – they didn’t.’ She sighs. After a number of guest spots and bit parts, Adams was cast in 2002 as comely, braces-wearing nurse Brenda in Steven Spielberg’s Catch Me if You Can. I thought things were going to get a little easier then,’ she says. ‘They didn’t. I can’t put my finger on it. I wasn’t ready. I probably had opportunities and I probably blew them.
‘It was a lot of hard work to get here, and now that I am here it’s still a lot of hard work,’ she says. ‘But it’s nice to have scripts and characters available to me that only three or four years ago would never have been. Before, I spent more time trying to get work than actually working. The audition process was so brutal and I was getting burned out. I’m sure there are people who look at me now and go, “Ugh, I wish I could have that luxury of not having to go through the audition process.” But I’ve definitely had to pay my dues.’
Adams first garnered mainstream attention when she was nominated for Best Supporting Actress at the 2006 Oscars for her performance as Ashley, a heavily pregnant Southern belle in Junebug. It proved to be a moment of realisation. ‘Leading up to it, I was a disaster,’ she says. ‘I had questions of self-worth. I was nominated with Catherine Keener, Frances McDormand, Michelle Williams and Rachel Weisz [who went on to win the award for The Constant Gardener] – all people I really respect. But on the day of the Oscars I had a blast. I was just so happy to be there.’ The following year, she appeared in Charlie Wilson’s War, with Julia Roberts and Tom Hanks, and in Enchanted, a brilliant reinterpretation of the classic fairy-tale formula, complete with talking chipmunks, a wicked stepmother and Prince Charming. Two years after her nomination, Adams was back at the Oscars. But this time she was on stage, on her own, singing a song from the film. ‘That’s the thing in my life that I’m the most proud of,’ she smiles. ‘But it was also the scariest. When I did the red carpet, every interviewer asked, “So, are you dying?” and I was like, “Leave me alone, you people are cruel. Yes, I am dying, are you happy? I’m shaking in my Louboutins.”’
With Doubt, Adams will further secure her place in the top tier of Hollywood. Set in 1964, the film is about a nun who confronts a priest she suspects of abusing a pupil. Adams plays an innocent nun caught between the two chilling powerhouses of Philip Seymour Hoffman and Meryl Streep. ‘Working with Meryl, you can’t give into the intimidation,’ she says. ‘Not that she is intimidating, but her reputation is.’ She landed the role after Emily Blunt, her co-star in Charlie Wilson’s War and Sunshine Cleaning, suggested she read the script. ‘Emily is like the English version of me,’ Adams says. ‘My sense of humour is similar to hers. I get in trouble with my representatives – they’re like, “You can’t go in [to meetings] and sell another actress!” And I’m like, “Yeah, but how great would she be in that part? They should really hire her.”’
Despite the nine-year age gap (Blunt is 25), Adams doesn’t wish she’d found fame as early as her friend. ‘Ten years ago, I wouldn’t have been able to handle it,’ she says. ‘I would have gone crazy. It would have been too overwhelming, too confusing. I had the opportunity in my twenties to build friendships and meet a really great man. I’m not struggling to find my identity. That’s grounding.’
Time is getting on and Adams has a plane to catch. ‘Usually I’m a hugger,’ she says, ‘but I’m not going to get you sick. Maybe next time.’ Out of the corner of her eye, she notices that a woman has arrived at the table of the man in the corner. ‘She doesn’t look anything like me!’ she exclaims. ‘How could he have got us confused? Still,’ she says, ‘I’m glad someone came.’