2012 Nov 16

The Contenders: Amy Adams on the not-so-polite Peggy Dodd

Amy Adams arrives at the Beverly Hills Hotel’s patio doing what she calls her “zombie limp,” the result of a broken pinky toe. Her hair is up, her guard is down and she’s showing off an adorable photo of her 2-year-old daughter, Aviana, dressed up as a purple butterfly for her first Halloween.

It’s a deceptively relaxed moment. In the last 18 months, Adams, 38, has worked with Paul Thomas Anderson (“The Master”), Clint Eastwood (“Trouble With the Curve”) and Spike Jonze (the upcoming sci-fi romance “Her”), played Lois Lane for next year’s “Superman” reboot and starred in the Public Theater’s Shakespeare in the Park production of “Into the Woods.” Next up: A reunion with her “Fighter” director, David O. Russell.

But, for now, let’s focus on Peggy Dodd, the strong, steely woman pulling the puppet strings in “The Master” as the wife of cult leader Lancaster Dodd. It’s a role that has put the three-time Oscar nominee back into the awards-season conversation.

Without showing that toughness as Charlene in the “The Fighter,” do you think you’d have been considered for Peggy?

David [O. Russell] broke down some perceptions people had about me by casting me. I tend to be a polite person, and before that movie, my body of work featured characters that skewed toward naivite.

The nun in “Doubt.” The princess …

I love the princess! Had I never had the chance to break out of that, I’d still love the princess [in “Enchanted”]. I had some other opportunities, but I couldn’t quite convince people. Which I understand. I’m not going to show up and swear and punch you in the face or spit to prove I can get down and dirty.

You didn’t do any of those things in “The Master,” but Peggy Dodd still managed to raise the hairs on the back of my neck.

I had a hard time liking Peggy. I’ve never been able to say that about one of my characters. As I was playing her, I liked her. I understood her. But as a witness to her as a filmgoer, it’s the first time I walked away and thought, “I’m not sure how I feel about her.”

There’s a stillness to her. You get the feeling she never misses anything.

Paul wanted me present on set even when I wasn’t involved in the action or dialogue of the scene, which was sometimes frustrating in the time-management aspect of life. But it was so informative as to who Peggy was. She’s a watchdog. She’s suspicious. Her sensors are always up.

Which affords you the opportunity to deliver some serious stink-eye looks.

Yes! It’s like “uh-oh.” And Paul handles it with such subtlety. Like when Laura Dern’s character really admires the Master, and there’s a moment when she’s talking, you see I’m just not as on board with her enthusiasm. “You’re gracious and you’re being a friend, but you’re also a threat and I need to watch you.”

There’s also that look of disapproval on your face when, in the middle of the Master singing and dancing, all the women in the room appear naked.

When Freddie is drunkenly imagining that? I wasn’t thinking Peggy knew he was seeing her naked, though. That was a very surreal evening, I must say. Nobody was self-conscious about being naked because we were acting as if we had clothes on. It was beautiful.

And then we go straight to the Dodds’ bathroom where Peggy … well … how do we put this … exerts her dominion over her husband.

Again, that was so informative. When she’s done and rinses her hand and then reaches over him to grab a towel. There’s something just so get-it-done about it. [Laughs.] Not warm. It wasn’t the act that I found so telling. It was the reaction.

It was a revealing glimpse of the private Peggy.

And the private Peggy is very different from the public Peggy. The dinner table scene where I’m telling him we shouldn’t necessarily have Freddie with us anymore? Because it’s in front of the daughter and son-in-law, I’m still very polite and telling him what I think without telling him what to think. But in private, I’m telling him what to think.

She’s a woman you don’t want to cross.

She definitely scared me. Charlene in “The Fighter”? I liked her. I want to take her out for a beer. But I don’t want to hang anywhere near Peggy Dodd.


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