Amy Adams Doubted That She Had “It”

November 21, 2016

“During my 20s and early 30s, when I wasn’t really working, I realized, OK, I’ll just focus on my work, I don’t have a Thing.” –Amy Adams

Arrival and Nocturnal Animals actress Amy Adams spoke with The Guardian recently about how focussing on her work has served her well through the course of her career.

Adams prefers to keep her private life out of the public view as much as possible, and she believes this separation of work and home is helpful for her acting. “I think the more people are concerned with me, the less they can invest in my characters,” she said.

Adams continued, “My husband and I are very quiet people. Whereas some people–Jennifer Lawrence, let’s say–she just has the kind of energy where she walks into a room and everybody notices. I don’t think that it’s a desire for attention, that’s just the nature of her being. I can disappear really, really quickly in a room.”

Although she’s now content with this aspect of her personality, she used to wonder if this quality amounted to a deficit in the world of acting. But as her career evolved, the now 42-year-old A-lister has come to view her ability to “disappear” as an asset. “Before I almost felt like it was a deficit, because I thought to be an actress you had to make people pay attention to you, and that’s just not my energy. It took a long time to be okay with that because you would see people receive a lot of opportunities based on something intangible, and it’s frustrating. But during my 20s and early 30s, when I wasn’t really working, I realized, okay, I’ll just focus on my work, I don’t have a Thing.”

While Adams did receive attention for her role in Catch Me If You Can as Leonardo DiCaprio’s love interest, the part proved to not really launch her career considering she didn’t work for a year afterwards. She’d get close to landing roles, only to be disappointed when they’d fall through. As a result, she thought maybe she didn’t have “it.” She wondered if she should quit pursuing acting on screen. “I thought maybe I should move to New York, maybe I should do something else…like maybe this just wasn’t a good fit,” she once shared. But she soon was offered a part in the low-budget independent film Junebug. She was cast as a young, pregnant wife named Ashley. And as fate would have it, playing Ashley earned her an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress. Adams would go on to receive more Oscar nominations for future roles in Doubt, The Fighter, The Master, and American Hustle. Indeed, she is celebrated for her ability to pull off a broad range of roles including comedies, dramas, and musicals.

Adams attributes becoming a mother with feeling “more raw and more open to empathy, and that helps.” But moreover, she insists that motherhood has helped how she processes her work. “I used to have a dysfunctional relationship with my work, where I was bringing home all my insecurities and expectations, and if I felt a director didn’t love what I did, it would just plague me. That had to change,” she admits.

Specifically, she refers to her time on the set of David O. Russell’s American Hustle. While playing the part of Sydney–a role for which she would go on to receive a Golden Globe, she explains, “[Russell] didn’t necessarily make me cry; I cried. The experience of playing that character struck me in a strange place, and that’s heightened by David’s energy, yeah. So I couldn’t bring that home….I remember looking at my husband and saying, ‘If I can’t figure this out, I can’t work any more, I’ll have to do something else. I don’t want to be that person, not for my daughter.’ So I figured it out….It’s not that I don’t find my work important. It’s just that I now know, at the end of the day, I’ll be back home reading stories to my daughter.”

It’s all but impossible to deconstruct and define the curious blend of talent, individuality, charisma, and luck that makes up the elusive “It” factor. But when Amy Adams doubted she had “It,” she simply dedicated herself to the work at hand: the craft of acting. She’s also proved to be flexible over the years, adapting in the ways that pertained to her particular personality and journey. And look at all she’s been able to accomplish!

Amy Adams on Taking Risks

December 12, 2013

amy-adams-american-hustle.jpg“I have worked with some of the meanest people in the world. You can’t do anything to intimidate me.” –Amy Adams

When financial experts recommend that people diversify their wealth, it is to protect their clients’ assets over the long run. An actor’s career, on the other hand, often accommodates safety in finding a pocket, or the familiar groove, of a type. Discovering that your essence neatly fits into a marketable compartment of “the girl next door,” “the bad guy,” “the white-collar professional,” or “the class clown” can certainly help break through industry barriers, and can translate into real–and hopefully prolific–roles. It is a blessing to have a type; and yet, over time it can feel like a bit of a curse. If you’ve played the part of poker-faced doctor for the hundredth time, you might just start fantasizing about portraying drug-addicted, volatile degenerates every once in a while. But, alas, it’s not always so easy to do. Consider all the actors who have made a career based on their type: Jason Statham, the uber bad ass; Adam Sandler, the loveable halfwit; Woody Allen, the sex-starved introvert. No doubt, it’s good work if you can get it; and there’s an allure to staying in character, so to speak, for these actors. And let’s be real; not everyone can boast a diverse career like Ben Kingsley–ranging from peaceful Gandhi to Sexy Beast’s psychopathic Don Logan so utterly convincingly. “As an actor there’s no autonomy, unless you’re prepared to risk the possibility of starving,” Kingsley once said–and he surely took his chances.

Well, following in Ben’s courageous footsteps is Amy Adams. You might immediately associate Amy with her roles as the would-be princess from Enchanted, the talkative and sunny Southern wife in Junebug, the sweet nurse from Catch Me If You Can, or the mechanically-apt school teacher from The Muppets. These roles make perfect sense for the strawberry-blonde who often plays cheerful, optimistic if naive characters. “I think that I’ve always been attracted to characters who are positive and come from a very innocent place. I think there’s a lot of room for discovery in these characters and that’s something I always have fun playing,” Adams said.

But her acting portfolio is breaking the mold with a tough-as-leather performance in The Fighter, portraying the domineering and unpleasant wife of a cult leader in The Master, and her latest–and darkest–role to date: Sydney in American Hustle. Sydney “is the most miserable human being I’ve ever played,” Adams said. “She is not—happy. I’m used to playing people that, even if they’re survivors, there’s some sort of light in them. I don’t know that she has that, necessarily.”

Taking such a wide turn in the image she’s capable of portraying didn’t come out of nowhere. Indeed, in many ways, the risks she’s taken in her career have come in response to her fears. What kind of fears? Well, for example, Adams said to Elle UK“[After 2002’s ‘Catch Me If You Can’] I choked. I felt this pressure to suddenly be this level of actress that I wasn’t confident enough to be. Being an actress hasn’t made me insecure. I was insecure long before I declared I was an actress … I had an existential crisis at the Oscars, sitting next to Sean Penn and Meryl Streep and being like, ‘What am I doing here? I don’t belong here.’” Indeed, during a red carpet interview at the 81st Academy Awards, Amy claims to have suffered from extreme stage fright and claustrophobia, which she has fought vigilantly to overcome. In response to her growth, just this year the Santa Barbara International Film Festival honored Adams for her overall risk-taking capabilities, describing her as, “One of the gutsiest and most gifted actors working today.

“The only thing that allows you to be a risk taker is somebody who tells you that your fears are pointless, really. And tells you that really the only thing that fear indicates is… it’s a risk worth taking…. I’m a fearful person, and I think being brave means working through your fear; it doesn’t mean not having it,” Amy shared.

As for Amy’s next role? She will reprise her role as Lois Lane in Zack Snyder’s Batman vs. Superman, the sequel to Man of Steel. Guess she’s determined to keep on mixing it up!

Questioning If You Belong

October 17, 2013

Have you ever felt consumed by the feeling that you don’t belong while you were waiting amidst a group of auditioning actors, or on the set of a commercial or film? You know that feeling when you look around and it appears that everyone has a rapport with one another, and they all seem to be both experienced and confident in their abilities–meanwhile you’re feeling consumed with awkwardness and self-doubt. Like school kids sense they don’t fit into the smart class, or in the athletic or cool-kids click, adults are certainly not immune to such sensitivities in the work force. Unfortunately, doubt can pop up every now and then and disrupt your ability to adapt to new situations, and inhibit you from doing your best. Well, as much as you may feel convinced that you are alone in your feelings of loneliness and insecurity at that moment, you really are not alone. After all, many of the most successful actors have admitted to feeling they don’t belong at times during their careers. Jessica Alba, for example, once revealed in Cosmo“I was always insecure about belonging and felt that my success was probably going to go away, so I’ve overcompensated.”

So what’s to be done when you want to bolster your sense of belonging?

Actors may doubt if they are sufficiently creative, original, talented, skilled, or confident as they navigate their careers. First of all, try not to be so hard on yourself. As Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “Nobody can make you feel inferior without your consent.” So make sure to challenge that kind of self-talk. Take stock in what makes you unique and give yourself credit for each of your strengths. Make sure you appreciate the special person that you truly are, including all your gifts, and thoughts, and acknowledge the good work you’ve done to get where you are today. And research has shown that if you are feeling detached from a particular group, just by finding even one or two others who you feel comfortable with fosters a sense of belonging that helps to bring out your best. Sure it’s common sense, but it can really help you to shine.

th-2Also, be sure to plan ahead when you know you’ll be experiencing a transition, and give yourself some extra nurturing and perspective. In other words, don’t be caught off guard when you’re about to venture onto the terrain of a new project. It can be helpful to remind yourself that your role models felt unsure of themselves when they were starting out and persevered regardless. So, reread those passages from their biographies to remind yourself that moments of doubt are par for the course. Doing so can increase feelings of belonging and improve your performance. Michelle Williams said in an interview with Another magazine“Every day feels like the first day, and every day you think ‘They’re going to fire me; I don’t know what I’m doing; I don’t know how to do this; I don’t know why I’m here, Everybody’s going to find out.’ But the comforting thing is everybody feels like that, every actor that you talk to says ‘I have no idea what’s going on…’ the feeling is a very common one… if it felt safe it wouldn’t feel exciting.” Indeed, it can be argued that feeling like a misfit has the potential to inform your performance by making your character more vulnerable and relatable. 

amy-adams-jpgIf you can really internalize that the actors or role models you most admire in fact did struggle, you’ll have a better chance of accepting your own struggles and believe your aspirations are attainable. And doing so can make you feel that you belong in their company. Amy Adams said to Elle UK“[After 2002’s ‘Catch Me If You Can’] I choked. I felt this pressure to suddenly be this level of actress that I wasn’t confident enough to be. Being an actress hasn’t made me insecure. I was insecure long before I declared I was an actress … I had an existential crisis at the Oscars, sitting next to Sean Penn and Meryl Streep and being like, ‘What am I doing here? I don’t belong here.'”

Social psychologists have documented how corrosive this self-doubt can be: eroding our motivation, reducing our expectations, even compromising mental resources that we could otherwise apply to adapting and focusing on our work. The feeling of not belonging has the potential to become a self-fulfilling prophecy. So, it’s wise to take it seriously. Remember, if you find yourself auditioning or if you find yourself on set or on the red carpet or at an awards ceremony… you belong! It’s that simple; indeed, it’s axiomatic.