THE EYES HAVE IT
AMY ADAMS HAS THE PERFECT PEEPERS
Amy Adams – the starlet with the emotive eyes and down-home charm – seems to exist on a different planet to that of her Hollywood peers. Which isn’t exactly a bad thing.
She’s almost suspiciously un-narcissistic for a Hollywood star; gracious, hardworking and decent. She’s not even on social media. The former highschool gymnast is upbeat and as present as any self-help book would prescribe (and she reads a lot of them).
Adams is far more delicately beautiful in person than she often registers in films, whether it’s the heedlessly optimistic, pregnant, backwoods chatterbox in Junebug, the brutish Lady Macbeth of The Master, or the pouty Julie of Julie & Julia.
But, outside her turn as that con artist in American Hustle, she rarely is asked to play aggressively sexed-up. She was once accused by a writer in Esquire, who was unable to discern what she actually looks like through the characters she plays so deftly, of being “perfectly plain”. Which is a compliment of sorts.
Adams has two films out this week, both of which could add to her current tally of five Academy-Award nominations.
There’s the “these aliens have landed and are they friendly?” mind-bender Arrival, directed by Sicario’s Denis Villeneuve. In it, she plays a linguist tasked with figuring out how to read or write space-person in a hurry.
Her co-star is Jeremy Renner, who plays a physicist on the earthling welcoming committee. The film is notable in part for its Carl Sagan–ish tone of wonder.
Then there is Nocturnal Animals, directed and written by Tom Ford, in which Adams plays a woman who gets an unsettling manuscript in the mail written by her long-gone ex-husband.
Adams is well-known for her big eyes – she even starred as artist Margaret Keane in Tim Burton’s Big Eyes – which are soulful and vulnerable.
Those emotive eyes helped her score her role in Arrival, based on Story of Your Life, by Ted Chiang.
Given that the film sees its characters swing between inter-species interactions (requiring big sets and CGI) and a quieter, personal story, it was, by all accounts, a difficult film to make coherent.
“One of the big challenges was to link both of the extremities and keep tension alive,” says Villeneuve.
In order to do that, he says he “needed an actor with a real wide range and a lot of intelligence to her eyes”.
Tom Ford cast Adams for her eyes, too.
“Since she’s mostly reading,” he says of Adams’s character, “we have to know what she is thinking and feeling through her face. Her eyes – there’s an instant connection when she looks at you. It’s like you’re looking inside her soul. It’s almost unsettling.”
But he didn’t just like her eyes.
“I think American Hustle was the first time a lot of us realised how beautiful she was,” Ford says. “God, how beautiful her breasts are. It was a surprise. It was like: ‘Wow’.” He pauses, considering how that quote might read of Adams’s role as the alluring, cleavage-baring grifter.
“As a gay fashion designer and not a lecherous straight man, I can say that.”
That sort of response makes Adams laugh, even though the role bothered her so much that she cut her hair short after the shoot to exorcise it.
“I got such great reactions to the way my character looked in American Hustle,” she says, shaking her head. “This girl is twisted. She lies to everybody and people love her. People had so many less questions about character development – playing someone who was living a lie within a lie – and so many more about my cleavage.”
Early on, Adams questioned the type of roles she auditioned for – there were ones focused on her looks, and the other ones. It led to a crossroads.
“I used to yell at my manager because I would get brought in to play the model version of me, and the model version of me would always get the part,” she says. “And my manager said to me, ‘You can either chase that (pretty-girl roles) or you can chase something else. What path you do want for yourself?’.
“You realise that me going to an audition where I am standing next to (actor) Jaime Pressly in a bikini is not going to work. I had to realise pretty early on what I wasn’t. But I did chase that other thing.”
Arrival and Nocturnal Animals open Wednesday
Amy Adams in a scene from the new film Arrival. The actor was born in Italy and grew up in a poor Mormon family.