When Amy Adams read the script for Paul Thomas Anderson’s new movie, The Master, she saw an opportunity to play a character type she’d never played before.
“Somebody who on the surface was very, very mothering, almost genteel, and then underneath, there was this boiling almost rage,” Adams tells Fresh Air’s Terry Gross.
In The Master, the Academy Award-nominated actress plays the forbidding wife of a cult leader. Although she played a tough character in The Fighter, Adams usually portrays sweeter, more princess-like roles, as she did in Enchanted, Junebug and The Muppets.
That may be in part because Adams grew up wanting to be the Sugar Plum Fairy — from The Nutcracker — and fell in love with Disney fairy tales as a teenager. She says the female characters had strength of character, and that she strove to be more like them — “to be kind and optimistic.”
In the limelight now, Adams says she sometimes feels self-conscious.
“I’m much more comfortable speaking through my characters’ voices than my own,” she says.
Adams got her start acting in dinner theater, and returned to the stage this summer in a New York production of Stephen Sondheim’s musical Into the Woods. She’s co-starring in two new movies — The Master and the new baseball drama Trouble with the Curve, with Clint Eastwood.
“[Paul Thomas Anderson] didn’t bring up any specificity as far as it being a cult — or, ‘Go study this religion or read this.’ For me, the way that I work, I didn’t feel responsible for coming up with the history of this religion, belief system, cult, whatever. For me, I always go into the character. So most of my discussions with Paul had to do with my character — where she’s from. She was very highly educated, and it was a time when women didn’t have as many choices of what to do if they were very smart and very educated. It was just a different world. So I just came to the conclusion in doing my own research about that era, that this was a woman who found her power behind a man. And however she had to stay in power she was going to.
“I loved that on the outside the appearance is one thing, and the inside is something completely different. Because I really believe that is life. So to get to create a person who looks one way and acts another — I just don’t know anybody who acts exactly like what they look like. I’m always surprised by people.”
On why she loves playing characters with accents
“I love accents — I wish I could find an accent for every one of my characters. It makes it so much easier when I don’t have to hear my own voice. … Sometimes my own voice can pull me out of the scene on occasion. So when I do an accent, I feel a bigger separation, so I’m going to try to just only do accents from now on. ”
On being more comfortable speaking through her characters
“I love talking, and I love communicating with people and hearing new ideas, but I do get very self-conscious about how I form my own thoughts. And I tend to be somebody who acts from a very instinctual place, and tries to live from a very instinctual place. So on occasion, when I have tried to intellectualize an emotional experience, it’s very hard for me. And so, when I’m able to just get lost in the life of my character, and the emotional truth and reality that they experience, I really enjoy that. And it helps me understand humanity a little bit more.”