Whether she can relate to the people she plays is something Adams always considers before signing on to a film. “I think I’d have a hard time playing somebody who’s just completely vile,” she says.
“One of her great strengths as an actress is that she really understands her characters,” observes close friend Emily Blunt, who plays Adams’s sister in Sunshine Cleaning. “Beyond that, I think the characters very much live in her.”
If that’s the case, then Adams is showing off her slightly less good-natured side in this summer’s Julie & Julia. She plays Julie Powell, a “grouchy, reflective, conflicted, lost woman,” as Adams describes her, who attempts to find meaning in her life by cooking every recipe in Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Ephron sees Powell as somewhat of a departure from Adams’s usually sweet types. “She loses her temper, and sometimes she says irritating things,” Ephron says of Adams as Powell. “She plays not quite a New Yorker, but almost.”
The project reunited her with Doubt costar Streep, who plays Child, though the pair never converge onscreen. Despite having made two films back-to-back with the legendary actress, Adams was reluctant to mine Streep for tips on technique. “What Meryl does and what Meryl is is intangible,” she says. “And that’s what I learned working with her, that there is only one and I can’t ever think, I’m going to be the next, or even, I want to be the next.”
Just what she does want to be is something she’s still trying to puzzle out. Sitting at the Oscars, when not reliving her life in retail, Adams was asking herself that very question. Thus far, she says, “I’ve just sort of floated on the breeze. Now do I need to have some sort of goal? And if so, what is the goal?” At first her lack of clarity distressed her, but in the weeks since the awards, Adams has come to realize that maybe nobody has an answer. “I was thinking that I should feel different at this age—that I should have more figured out,” she says with a little sigh. “Parts of me feel like a 12-year-old girl, parts of me feel like a 50-year-old woman, and parts of me are a 25-year-old, like, whoo-hoo! But in the end, I’m starting to think, the secret is just reconciling all of those parts of yourself and accepting that, okay, so this is life.”