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.

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.