By accident or design, Amy Adams has taken on a series of increasingly high-profile roles in films where her characters were the buoyant, bright center of a world that was besieged by some form of darkness. But if audiences have begun to see her as the same shiny happy character in every film in which she appears, Adams razes those expectations in 'The Fighter,' offering a mesmerizing turn as the tough-talking bartender, Charlene, who helps Mark Wahlberg's Micky Ward turn around his life and fulfill his destiny in the boxing ring. The role isn't just an about-face for the actress's public persona, it's a triumphant demonstration that her previous characterizations were, ironically, just like this one -- an act, and a brilliantly believable one at that.
We sat down with Adams at the Los Angeles press day for 'The Fighter,' where after two days of interviews she nevertheless rallied for a showdown with our stalwart reporter. In addition to talking about the appeal, personally and professionally, of Charlene, she examined the collaboration she shared with her co-stars and director, David O. Russell, and reflected on the prospect of being typecast -- and transcending those expectations -- as an actor.
What's the most important part of tapping into a character like this? Is it a physical transformation or getting down that accent?
She's not somebody that comes to the forefront. For me it starts with an emotional connection, so talking to David [O. Russell] about who she was. He had spoken to her, and he had a lot of information about who she was, and just from talking with other people about her, he really knew a lot about her. So it was kind of filling me in on who she was, why she was that way, what her background was. That's always where I start, and then you can put the character on top of that. The accent was important to me because I knew we would be working in Lowell and with Mark, so I wanted to get that right so I worked on that. But it's a culmination of all of those things that you hope comes together when the camera rolls -– that you're able to let go of all of that preparation and just be present and be that person.
How easy was it to fall into creative lockstep with both Christian Bale and Mark? They seem to have very different approaches to acting from one another.
Absolutely -- they're very different people. But the great thing about acting is that everyone has their own way of getting there, but when the cameras roll, we're all in a scene together, so how you get there isn't as important as being there. That's always what I think, so I don't care how anyone wants to prep for their role as long as when that camera rolls and there's action, we're all together. And for the most part I've been lucky, because for the most part that's how it's been. Nobody's a slacker, I've worked with really great people, they all show up 100 percent on every take whether the camera's on them or not. So I've been really lucky.
There's a great scene where Dicky shows up at Charlene's house to talk to her.
How great is Christian in that scene? You don't know if he's going to hit me – and I probably deserve to be hit!
How do you two decide that it's not until he stops yelling that you start to listen to him? Is David responsible for those sorts of choices, or do you just discover it in the moment?
It's all a matter of discovery. I remember specifically on that day we tried it a lot of different ways, and it just started to click in. you can tell when it clicks in and it's there and it's real. Working with Christian, you get that anyway, but when you're able to lose yourself with another actor like that, it's kind of remarkable, and that's why you do it -– to have those moments of reality, and to feel that and to know that you're telling a true story.
There's an interesting dynamic between your character and Mark's. She says that he doesn't need anyone to speak for him, but it seems like he does.
Well, because I'm doing it. Exactly. And that's sort of what Charlene has to come to realize, that everything that she's telling him to be, he's being when he stands up to her and says, "this is what I want!" She's like, are you kidding me? And he says, "you sound just like them." She has to be like, fuck, he's right. But then of course that pisses her off so she's got to get out of there (laughs).
How do you make sure that your character is grounded and assertive and yet isn't putting herself in front of Micky –- or that her intentions are pure?
What it is, and I probably think it's what Christian would say about Dicky -– I don't want to speak for anybody –- but everybody loved this guy, and wanted the best for this guy, for Micky, and so that's kind of where we were all coming from. Charlene wanted the best for him and loved him and knew what he was capable of -– and that's kind of how everyone else was too; they all had their own dog in the fight, so to speak. So for Micky to be able to get to where he got to, they all had to come together and create an environment where he could succeed.
The trailer for 'The Fighter' has sort of a sports-movie structure to it, but the film is obviously much more than that. Is there anything you can do as an actor to distinguish a film from the more familiar conventions of the genre it falls into?
I try to leave that up to the director. I mean, if I'm worried about how they're going to market the film, then I'm doing something really wrong as an actress. I've got to focus on the character and how the director sees the character, because at the end of the day, they're going to take what I do and cut it together and make whatever kind of film they want. So if they wanted it to be a boxing movie, just simply a boxing movie, they could have cut that movie together, but David always had a vision for what this movie was really about. It's a story about redemption, a story about love, a story about family, and David always knew that, so I really trusted him. He was like, I don't want you to just be the girl. He was like, you're your own fighter. He really, really challenged me to be so much more than maybe I even saw in the role initially, so that was exciting.
This character has a dramatically different energy than many of the characters you've played before. Was part of the appeal of playing this character that difference, or was it anything conscious?
Well, it wasn't at first, because I said yes before I really knew who Charlene was. I'd met with David O. Russell and wanted to work with him, and we'd had a bunch of like false starts working together, and with Mark as well. I met with Christian when they tested Batmans -– I was like the reader, so it was just a great opportunity to go and work with these great people. And then I was able to read the rest of the script, because he was only able to present me with 20 pages, because they had been working on Charlene. He was going to beef her up a little bit. And I was like, oh my God –- I get to play this bad ass who stands up for her man! I was really excited, and David knew where he wanted her to sit, like physically; he saw her as being grounded and being very still, and being someone who could spring at any moment, like you weren't sure what she was thinking at any given moment. That was fun to play.
Do you have to be careful as an actress with your choices? The character type you play in films like 'Enchanted' is so singular that it's hard to imagine another actress playing that role, but it seems like you run the risk of becoming typecast because of your success.
Well, I think people like to put people in boxes. It makes it easier for you, and then you understand that person –- or you think you do. I haven't thought about it. I like to do a variety of things, and I felt like I have done a variety of things that have sort of gotten more attention or been more commercially successful that have all had people been like, oh, there's so much light [in that character], but really I don't see how Julie Powell of 'Julie and Julia' is anything like Gisele from 'Enchanted' (laughs).
But I have in the past played very energetic characters, and I can see how they're similar, but to me, I guess maybe I usually see how things are different, and that's why I'm attracted to them. I don't think anyone's going to confuse Charlene with 'Enchanted,' but it's not something I do intentionally. I feel like if I'm doing something to try and prove something to anybody, I'm going to fail. I've got to do it because I love it and it speaks to me, and if I can't find that in a tough role, I'm not going to do it. I was offered other tough roles, but I thought that she had such heart and I really understood where David was going with her – and that he wanted her to have that vulnerability underneath all of that toughness. It's just a very interesting role for me.