Amy Adams stars in two of the year’s biggest films—Tom Ford’s Nocturnal Animals and Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival. In the former, she plays a glamorous gallery owner named Susan, and in the latter, the actress plays Dr. Louise Brooks, a linguist recruited by the US government to communicate with aliens who have landed on earth. While these two films couldn’t be more different in terms of genre–and, naturally, costuming–they demonstrate Adams’ versatility and range. Here, she talks about why she was eager to take on these challenging roles, how being a mother has changed her acting, and more.
Your fans may not have expected you to be in a film like Arrival, but you’re actually a huge sci-fi fan, right? I am a fan of sci-fi in all sorts of manifestations, like I’m a huge fan of Star Wars, which I consider sci-fi even though it has a fantasy element, and I really love Close Encounters and ET. What I love about it is it creates a universe in which there’s endless stories, because there’s so much known and it’s that fiction part of the science fiction that gets to be exciting. It allows you to imagine spaces and places that we haven’t seen before.
How did they approach you with the script? They had sent it to me, and per my usual I’m like, “I don’t want to read anything right now. I want to take a break and be a mom,” but I read it and I was like, “I’m gonna take a break after I do this film” because it was so good. The script was so beautiful and really was compelling. It had me in the first 15 pages. Then I got to the end and had to immediately go back, reread it, and kind of reabsorb how to approach the way they tell the story.
A lot of the film was shot with green screen, which you haven’t done much of. Were there aliens on set? What was it like? There were none. We mostly just had these puppeteers, which I was really grateful for because they ran around behind looks like a white scrim and moved for us. So instead of it just being sort of an X to stare it, it became something that felt very organic and that was really helpful. And when I put my hand up [to connect with the aliens], I have my hand up on Plexiglas to make it appear that I’m touching something… but our job as actors is to create that which doesn’t exist. Whether it’s a relationship between characters, or imagining that this sort of shadow behind a scrim is an alien–-it’s all something that’s been manufactured out of imagination and out of a desire to tell stories. I think it’s all sort of an exercise in imagination.
The scenes where you’re a mom were so powerful. I wonder if they would’ve been as powerful if you did not have a child in real life. I think it would’ve changed them. I think I would have made assumptions about how one speaks to a child. I feel like being a mom helped me have a different type of empathy, a different type of compassion, and when you speak to someone and you’re telling them something very hard, especially a child, when it’s very tempting to sort of let the drama take over, but when you’re a mom or a least the way that I mother, if something hurts me or if something is painful to me I don’t want her to see that. So there’s a withholding you do as a parent. I call it crying in the closet, where you’re like, everything’s really great and then you go in the closet and weep and get it out of your system because you really want to be solid for your child. I think I really felt that with [my character] Louise and her relationship with her child. She wanted to provide joy and love, but without her own grief affecting her daughter’s experience.
Emma Stone, Natalie Portman, Michelle Williams and More Are the Best Performances of the Year
Stone wears Chloé tunic; Wolford leggings; her own rings. Beauty: Covergirl. Affleck wears Louis Vuitton jacket and shirt.
Portman wears Dior dress; Mish New York earrings. Beauty: Dior. Negga wears Carolina Herrera dress; Lalaounis earrings. Beauty: Laura Mercier.
Adams wears Prada shirt; Djula earrings. Beauty: Giorgio Armani. McConaughey wears Burberry shirt.
Driver wears AG T-shirt. Mortensen wears Alternative Apparel henley.
Williams wears Louis Vuitton dress and bodysuit. Beauty: Nars. Edgerton wears Burberry T-shirt; Rolex watch.
Kidman wears Chanel dress; Tiffany & Co. earrings. Beauty: Chanel. Ali wears Simon Miller T-shirt.
La La Land
“My real name is Emily Stone, but when I started acting, that name was already taken by another actress, so I had to come up with a different one. For a 16-year-old, picking a new name is an interesting prospect, and back then I said, ‘I’m now going to be Riley Stone!’ So, for about six months I was called Riley. I landed a guest spot on Malcolm in the Middle, and one day they were calling, ‘Riley! Riley! Riley! We need you on set, Riley!’ and I had no idea who they were talking to. At that moment, I realized that I just couldn’t be Riley. So I became Emma. But I miss Emily. I would love to get her back.”
Sonia Rykiel sweater; Commando briefs.
“I was attracted to Gold because it reminded me of my dad. He loved shady deals. He’d much rather do a shady deal with fun people than a good deal with a bunch of straight-asses. He invested in diamond mines in Ecuador, and there were no fucking diamonds there. It was a scam, but he loved that. That’s the spirit of my character, Kenny Wells. There’s a little poem we have in the movie—‘Bird With No Feet Sleeps in the Wind.’ And that’s it: If Kenny, or my dad, gets the money or not, does it really matter? Would he change? No. Not that guy. These are people who are going to con, finagle, and boot-scoot their way in the side door. They never had the front-door entrance to the American Dream.”
AG jacket; Current/Elliott T-shirt; Levi’s jeans; John Hardy bracelet (right); Ann Demeulemeester boots.
Arrival and Nocturnal Animals
“Tom Ford became my muse on Nocturnal Animals. My character, Susan, was very personal to Tom, and so I based my interpretation on him. Tom would ask on set, ‘Why is Amy using her hands like that?’ And I said, ‘I’m copying you, Tom!’ I used him. I used him up.”
Gucci shirt; Djula earrings.
“Playing Jackie Kennedy is scary. I was nervous at first, and I started by doing a lot of research. The biographies on her are all a little bit trashy, but the transcripts of her interviews with the historian Arthur Schlesinger were really helpful. He taped everything, and you can hear Jackie’s voice. Her intellect and her wit and what she’s bitter about are immediately apparent. At the same time, I was going to costume fittings and makeup tests. When I put on the Jackie wig, the physical and emotional sides came together. The hair itself is so iconic that once you have it right, you can start to see Jackie. I don’t really look like her, but I felt like I was in her skin.”
Paterson and Silence
“Silence is the story of two Jesuit priests on a journey from Macao to Japan in search of their mentor, a priest who may have renounced his faith. When Martin Scorsese asked me to come to his house to talk about the movie, I already knew that for 28 years it had been his passion project. We talked about Silence, but when Scorsese starts a sentence, ‘When we were shooting Raging Bull…’ you can’t help but say, ‘Yeah, okay, tell me everything.’ So we talked for a long time, and finally he asked me if I would be willing to lose weight for the role. It made sense: How can you play a 17th-century persecuted priest while eating great meals? So I lost around 51 pounds. The weight loss was only bad in that, you know, I’d try to figure out how to play a scene and I had no ideas, because I was so damn hungry. Then I’d have a scoop of peanut butter and suddenly everything turned on!”
Dior Homme jacket; Rag & Bone Standard Issue T-shirt and jeans; Rolex watch. On model: Wolford stockings.
Hell or High Water
What was your first audition? My parents were both actors. I had just graduated from college, and my father had gone in for an audition for Gilmore Girls. He told the casting directors, “My son is back in town. Will you have him in for a reading?” So it was nepotism at its best. I can’t remember the role—maybe a boyfriend to someone? I got my start playing boyfriends, husbands-to-be, and princes.
In Hell or High Water you play a kind of modern Western antihero. You don’t speak much. When I read the script, the image that came to mind was of a man on a porch squinting through harsh sunlight into the distance, but not talking. I have a lot of similar memories of my father, where we are sitting next to each other and not saying much. Westerns have a stoic silence I’ve always appreciated. These days, we have so many distractions. I have minor ADD, so if anything grabs me and keeps me from petting my dog or collaging or just daydreaming, I immediately pay attention.
Brunello Cucinelli sweater; Sandro trousers; Loewe shoes.
Michael Kors henley. Model wears Araks robe; Stella McCartney Lingerie bra; Fifi Chachnil briefs; Falke stockings; Gianvito Rossi shoes.
“When I auditioned for the part of Mildred Loving, I had to sort of disappear into her character. Usually, I don’t create a costume for an audition, but this time I wore a summer dress. I knew that coming in the door looking like this woman would have an impact. A year later, I learned I got the part. At the premiere at the Cannes Film Festival, I walked up the steps of the Palais in full makeup, and I walked down the steps with mascara dripping. It was such an emotional experience. All I could think was that I needed to blow my nose before it dripped all over my frock.”
Prada top and skirt; Fabiana Filippi top (underneath).
“I’m a pretty good actress. You could say that, right? Well, to play Katherine Johnson, a mathematician who figured out a way to get NASA astronauts into space, I had to be believable as a math expert—and I failed math in college. Precalculus looked like Chinese to me. Even with two tutors, I still failed. So God has an incredible sense of humor, because now I am playing a mathematician! Even on set, they would have a professor there to try and teach me. I said, ‘Show me what I have to write and I’ll memorize it, because I’m not gonna get it.’ Take that, math! I won: I became an actress.”
Monse shirt; La Perla bra; Forevermark by Natalie K earrings; Jimmy Choo shoes.
Rules Don’t Apply
“I never knew Howard Hughes, so I’m able to take liberties, to allow my imagination to go to work. I like to quote Henry Ford, who said, ‘History is bunk.’ I like to quote Winston Churchill, who said, ‘History will be kind to me, because I intend to write it myself.’ And, in Rules Don’t Apply, I quote Mr. Hughes himself. He said, ‘Never check an interesting fact.’ ”
Jeffrey Rüdes sweater.
Manchester by the Sea
“I used to love movies that made me cry, and now all movies seem to make me cry. I don’t like that so much. I have my own things to cry about. I remember being young and sitting on the floor in my father’s apartment watching The Elephant Man on his black and white TV. When the Elephant Man did his speech—‘I am not an animal’—I started sobbing. That’s a tearjerker. That film made a superstrong impression on me. It set a certain standard in my mind of what was possible.”
Louis Vuitton pants; Falke socks. On model: Alexander Wang sweater.
A Monster Calls and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
“Recently, I seem to be doing a lot of dying onscreen. Lizzie, my character in A Monster Calls, has cancer, and I became obsessed with the way someone’s voice changes as their body deteriorates, and how they change the way they hold their body. Cancer patients would tell me things like, ‘You become obsessed with painting your nails, because your body is out of control.’ It became harder and harder to play Lizzie. I don’t think I’m going to die anymore.”
Giorgio Armani dress; Djula earrings; Tacori ring.
Allied, It’s Only the End of the World, and Assassin’s Creed
“It might sound weird, but I always cry at the end of Step Brothers. I’ve seen the movie 10 times, and it still touches me at the end, when Will Ferrell sings. You don’t expect to cry watching that type of comedy, but I always do.”
Burberry trenchcoat; Loro Piana sweater; Chopard earrings.
Hell or High Water
“I remember doing an interview years ago and being asked if I was one of those actors who takes the part home with me. I answered, ‘No. Not really.’ My wife happened to be in the room, and she started to laugh. Apparently, I had been playing a terrible person—a killer or someone who buries people alive or something—and she definitely noticed. I wasn’t fun to live with.”
Boss coat; A.P.C. jeans; the Frye Company boots.
“When I was cast in Slumdog Millionaire I was 17. At our first major screening, I walked the red carpet in my school shoes and a terrible suit I found on the high street, in London, with my mum. My costar, Freida Pinto, was very beautiful, very glamorous, and they said, ‘We can’t have this kid walking the red carpet with her! He’s spoiling the whole picture!’ So they gave me a new suit and fixed me up. It was a bit like Pretty Woman.”
Hermès sweater; Frame Denim jeans.
The Edge of Seventeen
Where was your first kiss? My first kiss was actually onscreen. I was in a graduate-thesis film called She’s a Fox, and I had to kiss two guys in it. I think I was 12. I was very nervous. One of the guys was shorter than me, and he had to stand on an apple box… Awkward! He told me, “I’m going to pretend I’m kissing my mom!” I was pretty sure that’s not the thing you say before you kiss a girl, so I looked at him and said, “Okay, I’m going to pretend I’m kissing my dog!”
Where was your first real-life kiss, then? At my house, by my front door. Which kind of sucks, because every time I walk through my front door I think about it. The kiss was a little messy, and I looked at the guy and said, “No, no, you can do better.” That’s not what you’re supposed to say, but I said it anyway.
Max Mara bralette; DKNY pants; Cartier earrings; Jimmy Choo shoes.
Max Mara bralette; DKNY pants; Cartier earrings.
The Witch and Split
You say you don’t like watching horror films—so what’s it like for you to act in them? I’m a real scaredy-cat. I’m not good at being frightened. But I do like acting in a horror movie, because I get to feel so intensely. You put yourself in these extreme emotional situations, and it wears you out in a great way. Afterward, I go home and get a good night’s sleep. The work chills me out: I’m a lot more stable since I’ve been in scary movies.
What frightens you? Revolving doors. I worry they’ll cut me in half. Strangers will see me tense up and hold my hand as I’m going through them. I’m constantly worried that I’m not going to make it through the door alive.
Gucci jacket, shirt, and pants.
Midnight Special, Elvis & Nixon, and Nocturnal Animals
“Doing a sex scene is just like having sex, except without any of the pleasure. The horror, fear, anxiety, sadness, and loneliness of sex is all there to enjoy—but none of the happiness.”
Saint Laurent jacket, shirt, and tie; Tiffany & Co. watch.
Hacksaw Ridge and Silence
“The majority of my process in playing a priest in Silence was praying. I’d never really prayed before, and I developed a relationship with a power greater than myself—call it God, call it love, call it what you will. It became very natural to me, and I realized that we’re all praying all the time. There’s that human impulse to worship and to long for a connection to the divine. Unfortunately, in our culture we are driven to worship things that are false and empty. I had a year of exploring this idea of what we are truly longing for and how we actually go to the places that can feed that longing. We all get glimpses of eternity every day. It’s just a question of whether we’re looking up from our iPhones long enough to notice.”
Alexander McQueen jacket and pants; A.P.C. shirt.
Maggie’s Plan and 20th Century Women
What is your karaoke song? It’s the nerdiest one ever: “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” by Billy Joel. It’s one of those songs that if you were a certain kind of teenage girl—me!—you thought knowing all the words would help you get a boyfriend. And then, about 30 seconds too late, you realize that it won’t. But it remains my song. I had the same thought about “Modern Major General,” by Gilbert and Sullivan. I thought guys were looking for a girl who could memorize a lot of names, but they didn’t care about that. They just cared about getting a hand job or something.
Do you have a cinematic crush? I would have to say Melanie Griffith in Working Girl—the first time she meets Harrison Ford at the bar. She’s all done up and she tells him, “I’ve got a head for business and a bod for sin.”And young Harrison Ford…what a dreamboat! But it’s her I truly love. She’s so compelling and funny. She’s sexy without being plastic. I think a lot of people miss seeing women that way.
Proenza Schouler dress; Guidi boots.
Were you a dramatic child? Yes, I used to stand in front of the mirror and try to make myself cry. I would also try different accents. I was living in an imaginary world, usually with Michael Jackson. He was going to rescue me! I used to draw pictures of me and Michael getting married, and I would send them to his fan club. I would imagine Michael waiting for me at the gate of my school, eager to whisk me away to a happier world.
Why Michael Jackson? I imagined myself as a Peter Pan kind of character, and Michael represented that existence. He was my guy.
Miu Miu coat, sweater, shorts, and shoes.
Manchester by the Sea
“As a little kid, my first love was IMDB [the data bank for movies and television]. I would memorize the birthdays of child actors. I really wanted to be an actor, and I related to the kids in the industry. But now that I think about it, memorizing their birthdays is not cute at all—it’s a little serial killer–ish.”
Prada sweater; Brooks Brothers boxers.
What was your favorite birthday? When I turned 40, my husband, Keith [Urban], drove me up to the top of this small hill in Australia and sat me down. He had put together this huge fireworks display. It was just for the two of us! It was sexy.
What is your pet peeve? When people say they will do something and they don’t. And I know it’s terribly demanding, but I don’t like it when my husband doesn’t answer his phone. I have to keep calling and calling, and I get anxious. Does that make me high-maintenance?
What movie has made you cry? Last year I saw Room, and I was absolutely devastated by it. I’m raw as I get older. I have to be careful what I let in.
Where was your first kiss? This is crazy: We were playing hooky from school. I had my first kiss while watching The Shining. Is that not weird? And we did a few things other than kiss too! I didn’t see a lot of the movie.
Chanel sweater, dress, shorts, and shoes; Bulgari earrings.
And when did you film Nocturnal Animals? Was that before or after? Nocturnal Animals I filmed after. It was about a month after I wrapped I started getting into Nocturnal Animals.
So you didn’t take a break then either? No, no I didn’t take a break. It was enough of a break to let go of Louise and let go of my free eating habits to get into Tom Ford, because going from wearing t-shirts and fatigues into like a Tom Ford vision of me was a challenge. But I didn’t say no. I was like, “Oh wow, okay, let’s do this.” I loved it. I loved that everything felt so hard, and that she had such a veneer about her. And I loved that you could see the veneer. It was not sort of like the makeup grew out of her skin, it was like it was on her. I liked that.
What was Tom Ford like as a director? Tom is meticulous as a director. He creates these beautiful, lush environments that we get to exist in but then, you know, when we’re on set he allowed us to, you know, play and take time and, in a way he became my muse, because [my character] Susan kind of grew out of something that’s personal to him. So I really felt that from him and I used him, I used him up. He was like, “Why is Amy using her hands like this?” And people were like, “Really, you don’t know why Amy’s doing that?” I was like, “Oh, yeah. I’m copying you, Tom.”
And he has a way of standing. Like even sitting here. He would never sit like that for an interview. I don’t think he even sits like that at home, you know? He always is postured and it’s beautiful to witness.
And also even his clothes. There’s something about them that’s very regimented almost. Yeah, but I do love like the woman that he created for me to be. I thought, would it be really that hard to maintain her in life? And then I tried for like two days and I was like, “Yeah, no. Way too hard.” I can’t even iron my clothes like that. I can’t. I can’t do it. But I appreciate it.
What was your favorite birthday? I think 40 was pretty great. We had a party, a big party, and I don’t throw parties that often and my husband and I had a joint birthday party. I know people never believe it when actors say this, but I don’t like all that focused attention on me, especially in a large group. It makes me uncomfortable.
You’re happier when you’re in character? Happier when I’m in character or when like I get to share. I love people, so getting to share intimacy with one-on-one or great conversations,, but you put me in a group and suddenly I am not very effective. I was at a thing last night and somebody was like, “Oh, well you should come away from the wall and like do your thing.” I’m like, “This is my thing, actually.” I found a great spot in a corner so, pretty happy about that.
Can you still people-watch? Do you have to put on glasses? I don’t really even have to put on glasses. I just take the makeup off and kind of look how I look. I think maybe because I’m kind of petite so maybe that allows a certain amount of invisibility. I’m not sure, but I’ve always had this ability. People don’t believe me.
I love watching people, like being a voyeur is how I sort of get inspiration for characters so it’s important to me and I think if you sit like Tom Ford, you sit up and you have good posture and you look really nice, you sort of invite attention. I’m not saying Tom expects to be looked at, but it’s different than if you sit here like this and just take in the world, which I need to actually not do that ’cause I threw my back out this summer and, yeah, I should probably sit up straight.
All-American Beauty Amy Adams Never Gets It Wrong
Adams arrives at the New York City premiere of her film Junebug, where she received her first Oscar nomination. Adams kept her red locks pinned back, with a pink lip and subtle smoky eye.
With her signature style of tousled waves, rosy cheeks and a neutral eye, Adams attends the screening of Enchanted in 2007.
Rocking a faux up do with her locks loosely pinned up and a berry lip, Adams arrives at the Fine Romance Benefit in 2008.
Adams keeps it sleek and simple with a long ponytail, a subtle smoky eye and a bright pink lip at the 61st Annual DGA Awards. (2009)
Staying true to style, Adams arrives at the Orange British Academy Film Awards with tousled bouncy curls and a classic winged eye in 2011.
At the 2012 On the Road screening in Hollywood, Adams arrives fresh faced with a playful top bun up do.
Exuding old Hollywood glam, Adams keeps her short red locks softly tousled, with a gold eye and dark red lip and the LACMA Art + Film Gala (2013).
Adams elevates her classic up do with braids and rocks a bronzed glow at the Golden Globe Awards in 2014.
At the 20th Annual Critics’ Choice Movie Awards, Adams keep its short and simple with a high ponytail, a classic winged eye and a bright red lip.
Adams attends Toronto International Film Festival Premiere for her new film ‘Arrival’, with a sleek low ponytail and a golden smoky eye. (2016)
Amy Adams Loves a Bold, Colorful Gown on the Red Carpet
arrive Amy Adams at the 17th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards at The Shrine Auditorium on January 30, 2011 in Los Angeles, California.
Amy Adams arrives at the 83rd Annual Academy Awards at the Kodak Theatre February 27, 2011 in Hollywood, California.
Amy Adams arrives at the 15th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards at the Shrine Auditorium on January 25, 2009 in Los Angeles, California.
Actress Amy Adams arrives at the 2010 Vanity Fair Oscar Party hosted by Graydon Carter held at Sunset Tower on March 7, 2010 in West Hollywood, California.
Amy Adams attends the 80th Annual Academy Awards at the Kodak Theatre on February 24, 2008 in Los Angeles, California.
Amy Adams arrives at the 81st Academy Awards at The Kodak Theatre on February 22, 2009 in Hollywood, California.
Amy Adams arrives at LACMA Art + Gala at LACMA on October 27, 2012 in Los Angeles, California.
Amy Adams arrives at the 2012 Vanity Fair Oscar Party hosted by Graydon Carter at Sunset Tower on February 26, 2012 in West Hollywood, California.
Amy Adams arrives at the 85th Annual Academy Awards at Hollywood & Highland Center on February 24, 2013 in Hollywood, California.
Amy Adams attends the 2014 LACMA Art + Film Gala Honoring Barbara Kruger And Quentin Tarantino Presented By Gucci at LACMA on November 1, 2014 in Los Angeles, California.
Amy Adams arrives at the 19th Annual Critics’ Choice Movie Awards at Barker Hangar on January 16, 2014 in Santa Monica, California.
Amy Adams arrives at the 71st Annual Golden Globe Awards at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on January 12, 2014 in Beverly Hills, California.
Amy Adams attends the Oscars held at Hollywood & Highland Center on March 2, 2014 in Hollywood, California.
Amy Adams attends the 73rd Annual Golden Globe Awards held at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on January 10, 2016 in Beverly Hills, California.
Amy Adams attends the 2015 Vanity Fair Oscar Party hosted by Graydon Carter at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts on February 22, 2015 in Beverly Hills, California.
Amy Adams arrives at the 17th Annual AFI Awards at Four Seasons Hotel Los Angeles at Beverly Hills on January 6, 2017 in Los Angeles, California.
Amy Adams attends the 2017 Vanity Fair Oscar Party hosted by Graydon Carter at Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts on February 26, 2017 in Beverly Hills, California.