Welcome to mid-November, unofficially called “Amy Adams Month” by film distributors and fans alike. Actually, it may be her year. With two gripping roles in a double feature of sophisticated, unconventional prestige films, Adams could soon be double-dipping for yet another Oscar nomination, her sixth.
Not bad for a national treasure who was launched to Hollywood’s A-list by the Chanhassen Dinner Theatres. Or an A-list leading lady so down to earth that when she recently returned to Minnesota for a close friend’s wedding, she set up the dinner tables and moved the chairs.
Those new roles represent a fresh path for an actress who proved that she could tackle countless characters since she started her first official acting gig for audiences digging in to servings of chicken breast and Minnesota wild rice dressing. She was discovered as a novice stage performer by Michael Brindisi, president and artistic director at Chanhassen.
“I got to work there for three years, made a lot of great friends and learned a lot. I had worked at other theaters in Colorado and Michael brought me into Minnesota. A member of the cast had gotten hurt so I came to fill in for a couple of weeks, then ended up coming back and being a full-time actress and singer/dancer there.”
Brindisi met her at a theater performance in Boulder. “It was a good cast, but this girl in a little cameo role was just jumping off the stage. Just radiating.” He quickly brought her to Minneapolis and cast her in her first big-time production as a tap-dancing pig.
“She is a superstar with a kind of variety and range that I saw happen right in front of me. Really a great actress, great singer, dancer, always incredibly funny. And super-nice, too. She’s good in everything; I’ve never seen her make a bad movie. And I make claim to having discovered her,” he laughed.
Adams, born in Italy, raised in Colorado and based in Los Angeles, says “Minnesota is my adopted home.” Talking by phone from L.A. last week, she was as interested in learning how the local fall weather was going as in promoting her latest career landmarks.
In Denis Villeneuve’s “Arrival,” opening Friday, Adams plays a linguistics professor recruited by the military to communicate with mysterious, newly arrived extraterrestrials and defuse a conflict that could lead to the end of the world. It’s a film where her dialogue is sparse, but her flickering expressions of confusion, curiosity and concern are eloquent. Less than two weeks later (the 23rd), she returns in Tom Ford’s “Nocturnal Animals” playing an upscale Manhattanite who receives from her ex-husband what may be a violent book manuscript — or his outline of a revenge plot against her.
“I’m so lucky,” Adams said. “I really love both films. They’re so different. They’re each unique stories about very different women allowed to play out in a thoughtful way by each director. It’s an embarrassment of riches, really.”
The list of top-ranked film directors who have recruited her over the past two decades is a Who’s Who of cinema: Steven Spielberg, Spike Jonze, Tim Burton, Mike Nichols, Paul Thomas Anderson, Nora Ephron and David O. Russell. Still, she doesn’t take her high position on the industry’s Must Hire roster very seriously. “There are some that I can’t work with,” she joked. “I keep trying. They won’t return my phone calls.”
Adams has a diverse portfolio. She has played dewy-eyed innocents in her indie breakthrough “Junebug” (her first Oscar nomination) and the Disney films “Enchanted” and “The Muppets.” She transformed into hard-as-nails cynics in “The Fighter,” “The Master” and “American Hustle.” She went toe to toe with Clint Eastwood in “Trouble With the Curve,” Leonardo DiCaprio in “Catch Me if You Can” and Meryl Streep in “Doubt” and “Julie & Julia.” She made Lois Lane the only living, breathing human in “Man of Steel” and “Batman v Superman.”
Zack Snyder, director of both comic book sagas, praised her as “one of the most versatile and respected actresses in films today.”
“Arrival” is unlike anything else in her résumé, she said. “It was like nothing I had seen before and I found myself very emotionally connected to it in a way that was unexpected. That’s neat.”
Entering her 40s and recently having a daughter has affected her outlook on what kind of stories she’s interested in telling.
“Absolutely, I feel like a very different person than I did even 10 or five years ago. My connection to the character in ‘Arrival,’ ” a warm, scholarly mother contemplating her relationship with her daughter, “might have been deep, though it would have had a different tone to it. Now I feel very linked to her and I think motherhood plays a large part of that. The story has a deep emotional undercurrent that leads to a revelation as well.”
In that film and “Nocturnal Animals,” she said, “I do see parallels in the messages about life and love, what we keep and what we let go.”
Much of what Adams learned in Minnesota still applies.
“Putting on a show is a ton of work and the work ethic involved in being there eight shows a week, and rehearsing for other shows while performing at night is a huge amount of energy. You learn a lot about working around the clock, how to approach a role. And also I made a lot of friends and counted them at that time as my family.”
She also got her first film roles while here. “I made a lot of friends shooting ‘The Chromium Hook,’ ” an uproarious black-and-white, short “mocudramedy” about “the hook-armed man” who stalks the woodsy small town make-out spots or just might be an innocent man with an arm prosthesis.
After that was shot but still in editing, she moved up to “Drop Dead Gorgeous,” a youth beauty pageant lampoon in which she played beside Kirsten Dunst, Ellen Barkin, Denise Richards, Allison Janney and Kirstie Alley, who “basically said, ‘You’re young, you’re funny. You’ll work [in movies].’ I thought, ‘Oh, that sounds simple.’ Working on that film gave me courage to move out to Los Angeles and give it a go.”
If there are any other would-be beginners needing advice, she recommends: “Don’t be focused on the result. Build a life, don’t build a career. And check in with your hometown, or surrogate hometown.”