Enchanted, Disney’s blockbusting mix of live-action and animation, musical and romantic drama, earned multiple Best Song nominations from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which meant that there would be three overblown production numbers included in the show and the film’s enchanting star, Amy Adams, would be featured in one. Preparing for such appearances can reduce performers to little more than visual ciphers.
But Adams downplayed the glitz and the need to belt it out, which I’m not sure her voice is equipped for in the first place. She simply drew in audiences and the cameras with her natural charm.
During interviews for her latest film, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, a full week before the Oscar telecast, she entered the room and worked the same magic without the benefit of the bright lights and makeup. Adams could best, and most accurately, be described as a true, old-fashioned all-American girl next door.
She told a cute story about working in a Gap back in the day. She wanted to work in the storeroom, but was pushed out front because she was “the only one who will literally talk to everyone who walks in the store.” There is definitely an ease and accessibility to her that can be captivating.
Lee Pace, her Pettigrew co-star, offered the highest and most direct praise of Adams during his interview session when he defined his role as simply “showing up each day and falling in love with her.” His character, Michael, is her pianist, a young artistic dreamer just out of jail with little thought of anything other than music and his songbird, Delysia (Adams), who cannot seem to juggle all of her romantic and professional opportunities without the rather fortuitous aid of Miss Pettigrew (Frances McDormand). The role requires someone with the ability to sweep everyone off their feet without actually being able to control it.
The perky Adams would seem to have as many balls in the air as Delysia. The Oscar nominee’s (for her performance in 2005’s Junebug) credits include the broad comedy of Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby and the slick, upscale fare of Catch Me If You Can as well as appearances on The Office and The West Wing.
That Adams has proven thus far to be able to navigate this fine line between more mainstream projects and the art-house circuit showcases her naturally free spirit and a dedication to the craft of finding her way into her characters and their stories.
“It’s the physicality, which (for me) comes from being a dancer,” she says. “That’s how I always approach roles. I try to figure out how do they feel, it’s all very tactile for me. And with watching a lot of older movies, you see the same thing because it’s all closely related to stage performances. That’s the style of acting — it’s very intentional, what I try to do. With someone like Frances in Pettigrew, there was so much opportunity and permission to go there.”
As light and airy as she can seem in Enchanted or even in Pettigrew, she never lets audiences forget that these characters are counterbalanced by dawning expectations, growing discovery of themselves in a larger context, which is why viewers and critics alike are quick to single out her performances for special recognition.
But she is most proud of the opportunities she has had to work opposite the likes of McDormand in Pettigrew and Meryl Streep in John Patrick Shanley’s recently completed film adaptation of the Pulitzer Prize-winning play Doubt as well as Julia & Julia, which is currently filming.
“I’ve been thankful that I have the kind of personality that’s not too proud,” she says. “I want to learn. What I take away are the professionalism and the joy of the craft still.”
She relayed a telling anecdote about McDormand on the set of Pettigrew that speaks directly to her own code and a lesson she will not soon forget. Adams always seeks to be on set as soon as called, but found that McDormand constantly beat her, which she found more than a little confounding. She finally asked her veteran co-star how she always beat everyone to the set, and McDormand told her, “I never leave.”
Just like that, Adams said it all clicked. “She never leaves, and from that point on, I didn’t either.”
Chances are Adams won’t be leaving the spotlight anytime soon either. Her golden day in the sun will last quite a bit longer. (tt stern-enzi)