Promptly at noon, Amy Adams knocks on the door of a penthouse suite at the glamorous Sunset Tower Hotel, in West Hollywood, and shimmers in with the happy, hammy air of an actress who riffs at the drop of a hat. She’s dressed simply, in a white cotton peasant-style blouse, old jeans, and sandals; her light-auburn hair is loosely brushed and falls to her shoulders. She has aquiline features and perfect porcelain skin, but it’s the way she moves—dramatically, with that sense of theatuh, as she would say—that really marks her as the actress she is.
Outside on the balcony, we take in the wide view of L.A., undulating out to the Pacific. Our eyes come to rest, inevitably, on the humongous black-and-white image of Jennifer Aniston endorsing Smartwater that occupies the entire side wall of the Hyatt hotel, just across Sunset Boulevard. Twelve stories high, she seems pumped up to this size by the endless tabloid coverage of her personal life.
This is a sad thought for any writer embarking on a story about Amy Adams, wholesome star of last year’s magical Disney movie musical Enchanted, for since its great success ($339 million worldwide), transforming Adams into a top-tier star with a reported income of $l4.5 million last year (ninth among Hollywood actresses), she has embarked on no whirlwind romances, let alone taken after certain Hollywood bad girls by staggering glassy-eyed out of clubs at four a.m. or getting arrested for drunken driving on Pacific Coast Highway One. This, she’s assured disingenuously, is just great. She seems to have …
“Not gotten caught?”
Maybe that’s it.
“There’s still time,” she says sweetly.
With a boyfriend of six years who just became her fiancé? No way.
“But you know,” Adams says, taking in the city view with a sweep of the hand bearing her new engagement ring, “I’ve been here for 10 years. I’m just grateful I didn’t have to spend my early 20s in front of paparazzi cameras.”
In those days, Adams worked eight shows a week in dinner theater in Minnesota. Ten years later—she’s just turned 34—she’s experienced enough to be very, very pragmatic about her hard-earned success, and to feel it happened just when it should have.
“Of course it’s always easy to talk on the other side of it,” she says, catching herself before she turns too serious. “Had you seen me at 27, I would have been like … ” Curtain rises on barroom floozy, alone, stage right: “ ‘Let me tell you, I got stories for you!’ ”
Cheery, unpretentious, and, she admits, so focused on her work that phone messages from her friends go unreturned for days, Adams is, as Enchanted proved, a triple threat—singer, dancer, and comedienne. In that, she’s a bit of a throwback: think Rita Hayworth or Ginger Rogers, queens of the movie musical at its peak. Yet she’s a serious dramatic actress, too: her poignant performance in the sleeper independent film Junebug (2005), as a small-town southern belle whose wide-eyed optimism is sorely tested, won her an Oscar nomination and a place in the pantheon of young American actors who matter.
In a sizzling film version of John Patrick Shanley’s Tony- and Pulitzer-winning Broadway play, Doubt (2005), coming out in December, Adams plays another character whose faith is shaken. Young Sister James is horrified when her mother superior (Meryl Streep) suspects their parish priest, Father Flynn (Philip Seymour Hoffman), of making physical advances on one of their Catholic-school boys. The movie, written and directed by Shanley, has scenes of sustained dialogue in which Hoffman and Streep do brilliant battle. One of its several revelations is that Adams—the “fulcrum” between these two giants, as Shanley puts it—more than holds her own. She shines.
“Her accessibility was what first struck me—she’s so present,” says Streep. “That’s what I felt from seeing Enchanted. When she came to work, I wasn’t disappointed. She was so open, no guard, no nothing.” Yet, as Streep noted in rehearsal-room readings, the newcomer knew her craft. “She’s a very, very skillful actress. She’s deft. She has all those things we should know about but that we’re not supposed to talk about—technique. Everyone has a different approach, but she was very, very well prepared. I have to tell you: it’s not common with younger actors.”
Streep’s Sister Aloysius is tough and cynical, world-weary; Adams’s Sister James is the beatific innocent, still radiating faith in humanity in general and Father Flynn in particular. “It’s breathtaking, her radiance,” Streep says. “It made it very simple for Sister Aloysius to look at her and imagine her own untrammeled self before the world had gotten to her, and to feel protective of her.
“This is hard to talk about without disabusing the director [Shanley], who thinks she is pure as the driven snow,” Streep adds with a laugh. But, for all of Adams’s guilelessness, “there’s a gigantic intelligence dictating what line she won’t cross, and where she will go off. She’s got a shape in her mind for the arc of this character’s life, a little map for where she’s going to go.
“I was just very impressed,” says Streep. “She’s the real thing.”
Perfect fit as she was for Sister James, no one thought to call Adams for the role when the script started circulating last year. Emily Blunt, her co-star in Sunshine Cleaning—an independent movie that stirred buzz at this year’s Sundance Festival—read it and declared she’d found Adams her next film. “Amy was by far the best person for that part,” says Blunt, explaining her hunch. “She has a glow of innocence that isn’t naïve, just positive and determined. That, and I wanted to see those eyes peeping out from underneath a nun’s headgear.”
“I didn’t audition—I hounded!” Adams admits. “I hounded [producer] Scott Rudin and John Patrick Shanley for months!” Another actor was attached to the part, so Adams was told to forget it. Still, she flew to New York and called Shanley with the old ruse that she was already there on other business, and could they just meet for coffee? “I’m a tenacious person, but I’m not usually that sort of dog-with-a-bone,” says Adams. “But I just loved Doubt. I loved the delicacy of it.”
“We met at the Cupcake Café on 18th Street,” recalls Shanley. They didn’t talk directly about the part, though both knew why they were there, and Shanley knew, in moments, that he’d found his Sister James. “Her natural, deferential charm and openness were traits the character needed to have,” he says. “And she had the look for it, and was self-effacing, as Sister James was—and smart as a whip.”
It was a case of be careful what you wish for: once she had the part, Adams started worrying—a lot—about whether she had the chops to carry off those long scenes with two of America’s greatest actors. Shanley remembers her saying, “I just have to come out of this alive!” After Enchanted, she’d worked with Hoffman in Charlie Wilson’s War, but not closely. (He played the embittered C.I.A. agent who knows what America should be doing to thwart the Soviet Union in Afghanistan; she’s the perky assistant to Tom Hanks’s Congressman Wilson.) Streep she’d never met.
To gird herself, Adams went back to the play and matched it line by line against the script to see what was in and what was out. “There was a lot of dialogue for my character that was left out [of the script],” Adams explains. “Which was fine—it wasn’t stuff that needed to be said. But I wanted to know that it had been said, so I knew what the intention was.” Adams was still gripped by stage fright as the other two read. She didn’t realize that, across the table, Streep was quietly impressed by her preparation: “She knew the play better than I!”
The film, like the play, leaves open the question of whether Father Flynn did take liberties with one of the boys. As he’d done with the play’s leading man, Brian F. O’Byrne, Shanley confided the answer to Hoffman—the priest has to know what he himself has done, after all—but kept it from Streep and Adams. That way, their doubts would be real and unresolved. “Which was great,” Adams says, “because even in front of the camera it forced me as an actress—and as a person!—to really watch him to see: Did he? Did he not?”