Amy Adams on her singular career and her latest role, in Ron Howard’s Hillbilly Elegy.
Few actors can stand shoulder to shoulder with Amy Adams. The six-time Academy Award nominee has delivered many extraordinary performances over the course of her career, from her breakout in the 2005 indie sensation Junebug, to her portrayal of Lynne Cheney in Adam McKay’s 2018 political biopic Vice. She’s captivated critics and audiences in Enchanted, Doubt, The Fighter, The Master, American Hustle, and Arrival — not to mention her striking turn in the Southern Gothic miniseries Sharp Objects, which she also produced.Yet Adams remains grounded. She’s confident, committed to doing the work, but not necessarily Method. “I think sometimes the character comes with me a little bit more than I intend it to,” she says. “It seeps into my being a bit.”It’s true that she seems to effortlessly inhabit the roles she chooses, including her latest, starring opposite Glenn Close in Ron Howard’s Appalachia-set drama Hillbilly Elegy. The film is based on the best-selling memoir by J.D. Vance, and is adapted for the screen by Vanessa Taylor (The Shape of Water). Adams plays Vance’s mother, Bev, a career nurse and single parent struggling with substance abuse and the scars of extreme trauma.Her approach was shaped by time spent on set with the real-life Bev (who is now in recovery). “She’s very energetic and colorful and a big personality, ” Adams says. “I think her true desire was to be the best mother she could be, the best nurse she could be. And life got in the way.”
Robe dress by Erdem
Krista Smith: You’ve played real-life figures previously in your career: Lynne Cheney in Vice, Charlene Fleming in The Fighter, among others. Do you feel an added sense of responsibility with these kinds of roles?
Amy Adams: I’m always sensitive in how I approach them. I never see my characters as good or bad. I try not to judge them. I’m trying to dive into the humanity and find the depth, the reasons behind who they are. I don’t want to talk about what I found; I want to keep that part of it between [us]. The tricky part is not wanting to use their story to further my narrative as an actress. But understanding that we’re approaching it with artistic license, that has to be tricky for them. It has to be hard. Charlene, I remember being like: “I didn’t swear that much, and I never wore fishnets to a fight.”
The love of complicated families, with family members who have differing experiences, carries you through different times in your life.”
Ron Howard has done so much over the course of his career — as a director and a producer and a mentor. What was your experience working with him?
AA: There’s Ron Howard the person and then there’s Ron Howard the director. He’s so gracious. All day long he’s constantly thanking people, whether it’s craft services or the extras coordinator, the casting assistants, the P.A.s, myself. He’s constantly thanking people for showing up and being committed. He really pays attention to the experience that people are having on set. That is a beautiful thing. But as a director, he is challenging in the best way. He wants to find the layers and the depths of the scene, and he likes to stay in it.
Blouse by Tory Burch
You’re the middle child of seven. When you grow up with that many siblings, how do you find yourself and what you want to do?
AA: We did a lot of activities, but it was sort of like majority rules. If three of the kids were good at track, we were all doing track. I’m just not competitive in that result-oriented way. I’m competitive with myself, but I don’t feel like winning is winning. That didn’t fit in very well in my family.
I’ve learned along the way to embrace being someone who likes to read a book by a tree.”
Do you ever second-guess your choices?
AA: No, actually. With the films that have “performed well” — either critically or commercially — and with the films that didn’t, they’ve all provided something to my life. There’s something that I learned by doing them. I don’t have a single film where I’ve gone, I shouldn’t have done that. Nor is there a part that I passed on, that I watched someone else achieve great success with, where I thought I should’ve done it. I feel like we’re all on our own path.
Dress by Silvia Tcherassi
Watch Hillbilly Elegy
on Netflix now.
Listen to Amy Adams
on More Like This: A Queue Podcast now.