Amy Adams is the ultimate prestige director bait. It can feel like almost every major auteur in Hollywood has sought her ever-protean talents, from David O. Russell to Paul Thomas Anderson to Nora Ephron to, these days, Adam McKay and Jean-Marc Vallée, who put her at the center of, respectively, a major awards season movie (McKay's Vice, based on the life of ex-Vice President Dick Cheney and his wife Lynne, whom Adams plays) and a major HBO miniseries (Vallée's Sharp Objects, in which she stars as a journalist with a dark past). She may not agree with the beliefs or ideas of every character she plays, but Adams seems to possess an infinite supply of sympathy for them—which might be why she was up for Golden Globes for both Vice and Sharp Objects on Sunday night. Here, she goes deep on the difficulties of playing difficult characters.
How did Vice come to you?
I had worked with Adam McKay, the director, on Talladega Nights... Which was a little different. I played Susan, the assistant, who sorta becomes the little sex kitten at the end, and I crawl across the table and kiss Will Ferrell. [Laughter.] It was fun. I mean, not the kissing. You know what I mean. And I was a big fan of [McKay's 2015 film The Big Short]; I stayed in touch with Adam through the years and said I wanted to work with him again. And they sent me this script and it was one of the best scripts I'd read in a really long time. It tonally was so fascinating and really told a story I hadn't heard told before, and in a way that was so individual and unique. And the character posed such a challenge because, you know, people think they know Lynne Cheney but, um, I didn't know Lynne Cheney, so to get to know her from a point of view of an actress was a privilege because I really got to dive into her past and get to know her as I would any character.
Was it more or less or difficult to play somebody who's living?
I've done it before and I always feel a huge responsibility. Um, we did not meet, so that's something that's interesting too—to be playing somebody and have not met them.
And you don't bear much of a physical resemblance.
Well, it's kinda amazing once you put it all on, because I age from 20 to about 70 in the film. As does Christian [Bale], so that was another challenge is evolving these characters as they mature and as they age, not only physically but emotionally, intellectually, and inside their relationship and what that looks like.
You've been with Christian in other films. And you've been romantically involved with Christian in other films.
Yes. Yes I have.
Does that give you a shorthand for this, or does that make it more complicated?
I think what's great about working with somebody several times, is that there's a shorthand of trust. He knows wherever he navigates the scene I'm right there with him, and I know that wherever he takes the scene is going to be where I want to go. Like, he's so great. I mean he's one of my favorite scene partners ever because he's so invested, he does so much research, and he's so committed. And he has such a joy to his acting. Working with him just sorta sets me free in a way.
Did you do a lot of rehearsals for this?
We didn't rehearse a lot for this. There was a lot of makeup tests. Especially with Christian, because he really had an amazing transformation into Dick Cheney. They were really wanting to get that right so that it wasn't a distraction, and I felt that responsibility with Lynne as well. But, and it wasn't technically a rehearsal, but I would just sorta harass Christian on set to run the Shakespeare scene with me. [Laughs.] There's a Shakespeare scene. I kinda got competitive—I don't know if he knew it—about who would memorize it first. He won. [Laughter.] I don't think anyone's surprised by that.
__[Laughs.] You know, Adam [McKay] is famously liberal. He's fascinated by Dick Cheney but certainly not a fan of his politics. Was it important to remain neutral in the film and try and make it more of a character study, or was—___
Yeah. For me, when approaching the politics of the film, I really just absorbed Lynne Cheney's point of view. It was important to me to come at the character with honesty, whether I agree with her point of view or not. It was funny because I would walk in in the morning—Adam's talked about this—and to sort of get into character I would have these long debates about policy and politics as Lynne Cheney with Adam McKay.
And, uh, I called him many names. [Laughter.] I didn't swear because Lynne wouldn't swear. So I teased him about wearing shorts on set and how that was disrespectful. [Laughter.] I learned a lot about Adam's politics in those, uh, debates. In our morning debates.
He did a ton of research. I mean, he was obsessed.
Oh my gosh. The example I use is there's a scene where we all sit down at a dinner table. Now the scene, you know, it is something in the film and it's used in the film very well, but there was, I don't know, 10, 12 characters sitting down at the table. And Adam gave each of us what was happening in pop culture on that day, what was happening in each of our lives in that sorta period of time.
And so that when we were ad-libbing, he could use anything he landed on because it would be either factually relevant or culturally relevant, historically relevant. I think we ended up talking about American Idol, actually. He was like, "Here's who was on American Idol." It was amazing.
So, let's talk about Sharp Objects. You were amazing in it. I watched every episode like two, three times.
Oh my gosh, and like Patricia [Clarkson], like come on. She's so delicious.
And also Chris Messina, who's great in it. He was the girlfriend role.
He always said that I'm a girlfriend role. But you know what's great about it is because he showed up. You know, he showed up every day, in every scene, invested. He invested like he was the lead of the film.And that's what a great supporting character does, is they invest in the role as if they were carrying the project on their back, and he did that.
Well, also you just totally had his number in the show. That scene—I guess you'd call it a sex scene, but it was more like a power scene.
Thank you, it was scary. I don't think I've ever allowed myself to be viewed in that way on film before. I think playing Camille really allowed me to dive into a place inside my psyche that just didn't give a fuck, you know. The thing is she's not doing that out of being evolved, she's doing that out of being desperate. She has nothing left to give, there's nothing left, you know. And yet she's seeking and still has desire for love and desire for intimacy and so she just needs so much and yet won't let anything in. So it's this complicated push and pull of love and desire and familial intimacy, not just sexual intimacy.
Was it hard to shake her? She looked like she very hard to shake.
You know what's funny? I'm questioning whether to share this.
I'll share. My daughter had an accident.
Oh, I'm sorry.
Two days before I was done filming. She's fine. But it put it in perspective and it made me come out of it in a way that I was not expecting to. Um, we had two days left to film; it was just like establishing shots, so nothing really big. But it made me realize that, um, it just put it in perspective, me being a mother. It made me realize how important it is, especially shooting Sharp Objects, how important it is to be able to shake my experiences to show up for her. However I shake them, whether it's yoga or, you know, prayer, however you shake an experience.
Working through it is so important, at least for me, for my daughter so that she can have a healthy and present mom. And that became my focus coming out of it.
That's great. Let's ask you some fun questions. What was your favorite TV show or TV character growing up?
Oh my goodness. I loved television. I feel bad, I think I let my daughter watch too much TV. But then like I watched a lot and I love TV. I hate to say this, I don't hate to say it. When I was a teenager, I really got into Days of Our Lives. And I really loved, um, there was a character named Jenn. I think it was Frankie and Jennifer, did anybody else watch Days of Our Lives?
Not me. I was an All My Children person. Erica Cane.
Okay, yeah. Well, she was the heroine, but I think, um, I'm flashing to Facts of Life now. I love Jo in Facts of Life. I did. I loved Jo, I loved Blair, I thought she had really good hair, but she wasn't nice.
George Clooney had a part on Facts of Life, that was one of his first jobs.
Yes he did. I do remember that. I loved Family Ties, Growing Pains, a huge crush on Leo during Growing Pains. I think I've talked about that. He was their foster kid during the last season.
So you liked sort of happy situation comedies?
And yet you're so complicated.
Yes! [Laughter.] Um, I like to go to TV to escape. But ya know, there was complicated story lines, like a foster child, that was deep.
It was Leo.
And it was Leo, so.
What was the first album you ever bought or first music you ever bought with your own money?
Oh my gosh, it was REO Speedwagon, it was a single. It was called I think "In My Dreams." Yes. That was the first record I bought. I was into, like, whatever love ballad they sang. Yeah, I liked love songs and then I was really into soundtracks, like Dirty Dancing I listened to over and over and over and over.
What is your karaoke song?
I've talked about this a lot but I sing karaoke like a lot. Like, I don't go out, I don't go clubbing, I go to karaoke rooms. Little private rooms with my friends. I sing everything. But if everyone's like this is the one you put in, either I'm going to sing from Wicked, I'm gonna sing The Little Mermaid.
And has your daughter been indoctrinated into the karaoke room yet?
She's resisting, but slowly. She loves Mamma Mia, and her favorite song to sing is "Bohemian Rhapsody," and she's really good at it. Yeah, but I can't act too excited, because otherwise she'll cut me off.