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As the wife of a beguiling spiritual leader, Amy Adams’ character in “The Master” takes pains to hide her shortcomings. In public, she toes the party line, extolling the virtues of the Scientology-esque religion founded by her husband, played by Philip Seymour Hoffman. And when she suspects her spouse may be cheating, she tells him only that his exploits must never get back to her.
Adams also seems hesitant to reveal too much of herself, staying upbeat but guarded. When she swept into Bemelmans Bar at the Carlyle last month out of a torrential downpour, she was unflustered, skin aglow and swaddled in layers of earth tones. The heavy rain meant there was a chance that one of her Central Park summer performances of “Into the Woods” might be canceled, but the actress remained hopeful it would clear up before nightfall.
“I don’t ever pray for rain because I feel awful for the people who waited in line for so long for tickets,” she said, pulling back her long red hair, which was somehow still dry.
If the 38-year-old is hard to get a grasp on in an interview — deflecting questions with smiles and polite “Oh, I don’t knows” — it’s not much easier to get a sense of her on-screen. And perhaps that’s the goal of any actor.
This fall, she’ll also appear opposite Clint Eastwood in the baseball drama “Trouble With the Curve” as an unflappable rising lawyer whose seemingly perfect life is shaken only by her irascible father.
Since her breakout role seven years ago as a cheerfully naive pregnant woman in “Junebug,” a part that earned her the first of her three Academy Award nominations, she’s become one of Hollywood’s key players, called upon for comedies (“Talladega Nights”), family films (“Enchanted,” “The Muppets”) and edgier indies (“Sunshine Cleaning” and the upcoming “On the Road”). She’s worked twice with Meryl Streep — as a nun in “Doubt” (along with Hoffman) and as an optimistic food blogger in “Julie & Julia” — and played Mark Wahlberg’s character’s feisty working-class girlfriend in “The Fighter.”
It would be enough to make some actors’ heads spin.
“I like to try different things to challenge myself and see where I feel comfortable,” Adams said, picking at a tray of bar snacks. “I do love doing drama, because I really like being able to explore deeper depths of the human psyche. Not that you can’t do that in comedy. I wouldn’t say I like drama more than comedy.”
Despite the similar strength of character her two new roles showcase, they have far different creative elements at play. Paul Thomas Anderson’s 1950s-set drama “The Master” looks at the founding of a spiritual movement through the eyes of a heavy-drinking drifter (Joaquin Phoenix) who takes on a disciple role to Hoffman’s charismatic leader. The film hits theaters in limited release Sept. 14 and is already earning talk of a position in the Oscars race.
In many ways, the religion at the center of “The Master” closely mirrors the philosophy of L. Ron Hubbard’s Scientology, including the use of psychological profiling. Adams, though, echoed Anderson’s stance that the movie has no direct relationship to Hubbard’s beliefs.
“Paul looked at several different movements that happened in the late 1950s, and when dealing with a charismatic leader people will draw whatever parallels they will draw,” she said. “I don’t see this as an expose of any one religion or any one person. It feels more like a character study.”
As the plucky Mickey in “Curve,” which opens Sept. 21 and co-stars Justin Timberlake, Adams’ character is allowed to grow and explore tough emotions, expressing a bit more passion. In it, Eastwood plays a curmudgeonly baseball scout whose failing eyesight compels his daughter to help him on the job, simultaneously confronting their long-strained relationship.
Directed by Robert Lorenz, a longtime Eastwood collaborator, “Trouble With the Curve” had Adams catching fastballs and rattling off obscure baseball facts. Eastwood was especially taken with the petite actress’ comfort level around the ball field. “She can sprint like a guy, wind up and throw a ball like a guy, and take a real swing with a bat. So she was perfect for the part of a woman who isn’t an athlete but who grew up around a sport, who has it in her blood.”
For her part, Adams had to quickly get over any nervousness about working with the icon. “I couldn’t be intimidated by Clint, because I had to play his daughter who was so not impressed by his bad attitude that I had to really take control. He’s actually very warm. He’s very tall and has a great presence and a lot of charm, so it’s easy for people to be intimidated by him.”
Next summer, Adams will tackle another new realm — her first role in a superhero movie, playing Lois Lane in Zack Snyder’s “Man of Steel.”
“I figured the only chance I’d have to be in a superhero movie was ‘Superman,’ because I’m so not that girl,” she said, looking down at her modest maxi dress.
As new opportunities continue to present themselves, the actress acknowledged she is at a crossroads in her life — one where many working mothers find themselves.
“I’d like to focus on more time with my daughter,” she said of 2-year-old Aviana, her daughter with fiancé Darren Le Gallo. “My idea was to work a lot when she was young, and when she started to be more aware of what was going on, I’d do less. She’s a little less impressed with me working all the time now. Her lips are starting to turn down when I leave.”
She paused to pull out her iPhone. “I should show you a picture of her before I leave, because she is not to be believed,” she said, flipping through images of an impossibly adorable towheaded tot.
“But I have scripts I like and people I want to work with. I know this can be a fleeting time, and I want to take advantage of as much as I can. But I also want to move forward and achieve a little more balance. I don’t want to look back with any regrets.”
By Amy Kaufman, Los Angeles Times