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Amy Adams on Anxiety, Finding Contentment and Her New Netflix Thriller, The Woman in the Window
Article taken from Parade.
Amy Adams never planned to take on so many dark, gritty roles. After all, she first became known for playing sweet and innocent characters in movies such as Junebug, Enchanted and Doubt. “I intend to do something light, but I keep being offered these beautifully complex roles,” says the actress, 46, whose later performances include well-reviewed turns in The Master, Nocturnal Animals and Sharp Objects. “I don’t know what it says about me, that I’m really attracted to the psychology of [people’s] damage,” she told Parade during a recent COVID-safe Zoom from her home in Los Angeles, where she’s been isolating with her husband, artist Darren Le Gallo, and their daughter, Aviana, 10.
Enter her next tense psychological thriller, The Woman in the Window (May 14 on Netflix). She’ll star as Anna Fox, a woman questioning her own reality as she struggles with her mental health and agoraphobia, with an intense fear of being outside her New York City brownstone apartment. When Anna thinks she witnesses a murder while watching her new neighbors from her window, she is forced to confront the traumas of her own life. The film takes on new significance since nearly everyone has spent the previous year in some kind of state of quarantine, peering out of windows themselves. “Given how isolated we’ve all been, I’m curious to see people’s response to the film,” she says. “If it’s more triggering, or if they have more empathy.”
The Woman in the Window, based on the New York Times bestselling novel by A.J. Finn (the pen name of writer Daniel Malloy), also stars Julianne Moore, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Gary Oldman. It was directed by Joe Wright, who is so consumed by detail, he had Adams run up and down the stairs more than 25 times while hyperventilating. Wright “wanted it to feel like a fever dream of anxiety, and that’s what it felt like,” she says.
But making the movie wasn’t all dark and heavy. “Any time you work with me, there’s a blooper reel,” Adams says, adding that her mistakes usually involve her cursing like a sailor when she messes up. When she had forgotten her daughter was on set one day and she messed up a lot, well, that was the day “we started a swear jar,” she says with a laugh.
Adams was hesitant, at first, to take the part. “I was not sure I wanted to dive into that dark of a place,” she says, admitting she’s had her own issues with panic and anxiety in the past. “Playing Anna taught me how far it could go. There were a lot of times where it got a little too close. I had a lot of anxiety in my 20s.”
‘Grease’ Was the Word
Adams was born in Vicenza, Italy, when her father, Richard, was stationed in the U.S. Army there. He is now retired, and her mom, Kathryn, is now a massage therapist. (They divorced when Adams was around 11.) The fourth of seven siblings, she remembers moving around a lot growing up, from one army base to another, then around the state of Colorado before settling in the town of Castle Rock.
Despite how adaptive she learned to be, “I was not a brave child,” she says. “Everything scared me.” For a long time, she refused to learn to ride a bike for fear of falling off. And though she was a competitive gymnast for years, once she started seeing injuries happen, “I just lost all my nerve,” and she turned to ballet and its softer landings. Her siblings would call her the dreamer of the bunch, and used to make fun of her because she was always reading.
She cruised through the age-appropriate Judy Blume and Sweet Valley High books, then moved on to Harlequin romances, historical dramas and a pulp series by John Benton, recounting the true stories of female drug addicts who had gotten into prostitution. “I was 12!” she says, almost surprised at herself. And while the first time she thought about being a performer was watching John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John cavort in Grease (“I wanted to be Sandy pretty bad,” she remembers), she soon became a fan of more classic films like Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo, and its leading lady, Kim Novak.
Despite her fears of physical risks, she was drawn to emotional ones, deeply curious about the world she saw so much of as a child and taking cues from her parents: After her father left the military, he managed electronic engineers at a hospital and sang oldies in restaurants in “sort of a one-man-band situation,” which further piqued Adams’ interest in performing. Her mother was an odd-jobs queen who worked in a gym, became a bodybuilder and delivered newspapers; some early mornings as a teenager, Adams would help her with pre-dawn deliveries. “I would help her load up, then we would drive through the streets and it just was sort of magical,” she says, remembering doughnuts and Mountain Dews from the local 7-Eleven at 4 in the morning when no one was around. “To be in a city at night, it opened my eyes.”
In lieu of college, she moved to Atlanta with her mom after her parents divorced, then to Minneapolis, supporting herself by working odd jobs at the Gap, Hooters and in dinner theater. Then in 1998, she saw Cate Blanchett in the movie Elizabeth. “She sort of set the bar,” says Adams, “the way that she owned the screen.” That performance inspired her to move to Hollywood the following year to pursue acting.
Truly on her own for the first time, anxiety crept in again as Adams fended for herself. She eventually got her big break in 2002 in Catch Me If You Can, playing the young Southern belle who captures the heart of Leonardo DiCaprio’s wily con man. But while the role brought her critical attention, it didn’t exactly launch her career.
“I was auditioning a ton, [but] I was so afraid of failure, I just kept choking and bombing,” she says. Ultimately, she changed her approach. She focused more on roles and characters, not chasing stardom. By the time she was in the 2005 movie Junebug, “I was in a different place,” says Adams. “Working toward happiness and contentment felt more important than working toward success.” As things turned out, it led to success anyway.
She received her first Academy Award nomination—for Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role—for Junebug, a coming-home drama about an art dealer who reconnects with her past on a trip to find a Southern painter. She’d receive five other Academy Award nominations over the next 13 years, for roles in the movies Doubt, The Fighter, The Master, American Hustle and Vice. She also earned well-deserved raves starring in Her, Big Eyes and Arrival. Most recently, she played Bev in the adaption of the controversial bestseller Hillbilly Elegy, directed by Ron Howard, about a man recalling his hardscrabble youth in Appalachia.
But her professional triumphs didn’t put a total end to the nervousness Adams still feels sometimes about revealing herself to the world. “I love the whole idea of acting as allegory—like, you can get to know me through my work,” she says. Which is why for a long time, she wasn’t on social media at all. “It makes me feel vulnerable or exposed.” However, when the coronavirus pandemic began gaining momentum last March—scrapping the intended May 2020 theatrical release date of The Woman in the Window and several other spring and summer films—she opened an Instagram account and partnered with fellow actress Jennifer Garner to raise money for Save the Children and No Kid Hungry with their @SaveWithStories page, on which their celebrity friends read children’s books to families sheltering at home. The initiative went global and wrapped up in November with more than 300 stories on the platform.
As for the personal page Adams started? It’s still not her thing. “I’m a mess on Instagram!” She laughs. “I realized very quickly I was spending time thinking about what I should post, so it just felt like it was taking me out of where I was.” Which, these days, is happily at home, living a private life with her daughter and Le Gallo—whom she met in an acting class in 2001 and married in 2015. And that’s not just due to COVID-19.
After all the moving around Adams did in her youth, “I like to be settled,” she says. “The older I get, the more I just want to be home. I’ve turned into a pretty aggressive homebody.” Pre-pandemic, the family liked hitting the beach, hiking and going out for Mexican food, and Adams spent her free time crafting, costuming and reading with her daughter. What a difference a year makes, however. “I started this with a little girl, and we came out of it with a tween,” she says, all three of their lives revolving around screen time now. They’ve been watching content her daughter enjoys, like Studio Ghibli Japanese animation, the makeup TV show Glow Up and WandaVision. Aviana also creates digital art, sings and plays guitar, bass and drums. “She does Zoom lessons, and has a Zoom band, and they did a Zoom concert,” says Adams, proudly sharing footage of Avi playing drums and singing in her all-girl band, the Troublemakers.
As Adams was forced to spend her own share of time on the virtual meeting app, she was surprised to discover how much it suits her. “Because of my social anxiety, it’s easier to be more social on Zoom than I am in person,” she says. “I check in with people more often.” Her computer screen has allowed her to play an even bigger role in amplifying diverse voices through her production company, Bond Group Entertainment, and working with charitable organizations such as the RightWay Foundation, which helps foster kids aging out of the system find job placement and training.
This past fall, Adams finished filming the screen version of the Broadway musical Dear Evan Hansen, due out later this year, in which she’ll appear alongside Ben Platt, Julianne Moore and Kaitlyn Dever. She’s set to reprise her role as the singing, dancing Disney princess Giselle in Disenchanted, a 10-years-later sequel to the 2007 hit Enchanted, which will film in Ireland. And she will executive-produce and star in an upcoming Netflix TV series, Kings of America, playing one of three women (in her case, a powerful executive) whose lives are intertwined through a lawsuit against the Walmart empire. And she’s developing an adaptation of the young adult novel Willa of the Wood—a book she was reading with her daughter last year.
After a year of COVID-19 and quarantine, and some projects that perhaps edged a little too close to her own anxieties, Adams is ready for springtime and its longer hours of daylight—and more light in general. And she’s enthused about all the bright new projects she’s got lining up, at home and in Hollywood.
“I’m super excited,” she says. “I think that we’ve lived in the darkness. That’s why I’m talking about light so much. I’m really happy to lean into this moment.”
Amy’s Favorite Things
Childhood TV show: “M*A*S*H, which was probably inappropriate. I don’t know how I was able to watch it, but I really got to love it.”
Cartoon character: “Sen in Spirited Away. It’s [animated by Hayao] Miyazaki and my daughter’s really into it, so we watch together.”
Junk food: “Nachos. Because it’s also a meal, so is that junk food? Hard to say!”
Always in the fridge: “Condiments. Hot sauce, but there’s always like a hundred of them. And I like the aminos. I don’t use soy sauce anymore, so those are always really good as a base for a marinade.”
Secret talent: “Costuming. Is that weird? I’m not a good sewer, but I can sew and I make my daughter’s Halloween costumes every year. And I [was supposed to be] hosting the gala for my daughter’s school, so I made masquerade costumes for them.”
Cherish from childhood: “A baby blanket. My parents must have gotten it at, like, the army store. With satin edging. Mine’s sort of the color of oatmeal.”
Favorite expletive that’s not a curse word: “Pook. In Thoroughly Modern Millie there was a woman who goes, ‘Oh, pook!’”
Self-care trick: “Other people do different types of self-care that involves, like, actual self-care, but mine is watching reality television.”
Three guests from history you’d invite for dinner: “Eleanor Roosevelt. And Oprah Winfrey—I would like to see those two talk, I wouldn’t say a word—and who would be good with them…hmmm…because you have to curate a dinner party, right? Maybe Frida [Kahlo]. Let’s throw an artist in there!”
On your nightstand: “Everything. Usually there’s a glass of water. My coffee cup from the morning that I didn’t take down. My earrings that were poking me in the middle of the night. About four or five books to get through. A candle. There is no such thing as minimal in my life.”
Favorite movie quote: “‘Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn’ [from Gone With the Wind]. Let’s be honest, I’d like it if that happened in the first scene—that’s who I want to be.”
Staying fit: “I really got into the YouTube thing. This is my favorite [channel]: MadFit. No jumping, minimal equipment. I think I do have to find a virtual dance teacher because I’m a really lenient instructor for myself. I definitely need an outside influence to push me, because I’m like, That feels uncomfortable, I should stop. I think I’m sweating, I should stop.”