Archive: Amy Adams Gets the Junebug and Also Captures an Oscar Nomination
(from brink.com 8/16/06)
In "Junebug"--director Phil Morrison's witty and poignant slice-of life ensemble piece about an uncomfortable homecoming--George (Allesandro Nivola) returns to his parents' home in North Carolina after three years in Chicago. He brings his sophisticated bride Madeleine (Embetz David), and the only person to welcome her to the family is his pregnant, gabby sister-in-law Ashley, who is always cheery despite feeling unappreciated by her in-laws (Celia Weston, Scott Wilson) and neglected by her husband Johnny (Ben McKenzie), George's younger brother.
As played by the effervescent, red-haired Amy Adams, Ashley comes across as the heart of both the family and the film itself. It is a star-making performance that won her a Special Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival and much-deserved Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress.
Q: Do you see a connection between Ashley and Brenda, Leonardo Di Caprio's adoring fiancée, who you played in "Catch Me If You Can."
AA: Definitely--it's the innocence they both have. But they are different people. Ashley's specific so Philip couldn't just cast me because I'd played Brenda, but had me audition to see if I was right for her. I got the script on Friday and had to audition on Saturday I did a couple of scenes, including Ashley's dramatic hospital scene with George. And then I came back and we read everything. We worked a lot during auditions. I went by feel. I knew if I felt like Ashley then I could capture her.
Q: Had you ever known anyone like Ashley?
AA: No, which is good because if I had, she would have started to bother me five pages into the script. Oh, my gosh, this girl won't stop talking! Before I started playing her, I didn't give her a lot of credit. Through playing her, I learned to be more patient with people who aren't like me. Of course, I was able to understand her better once I knew all my lines and we had time to rehearse. Then I could bring more to her. I came at her from an innocent and pure place. I didn't say, "Oh, in this scene I'll do this, and in this scene I'll do that." I wanted to be open and free, because a big part of Ashley is that emotion seems to flow freely through her. So it was important not to bring too much information into the performance.
Q: But didn't Phil Morrison have a "manifesto" for the film, detailing everything about Ashley and the other characters?
AA: Yes, but that wasn't off-putting because he didn't force us to think in a particular way. Phil allowed us to believe whatever we wanted about our own characters and the other characters as well because in life that's the way it is. So if you asked all the actors questions about Ashley and the other characters, everyone would give different responses. He also encouraged us to improvise, although that may have been a way to manipulate us into eventually doing what he wanted. But hey, if it works I'm all for it! Phil also made each of us a folder of poetry for us to think about. It was helpful. Though I didn't actually sit in a scene and think of a poem, it gave me a feel for what he was thinking. I repeatedly read one inspirational poem called "Walking in the Light."
Q: Coming from Colorado, did you meet people while shooting in North Carolina that put you in the right frame of mind to play a Southern gal?
AA: Absolutely. They were very inviting. We spent a lot of time with Phil's family and the family of our screenwriter Angus MacLachlan. There was even a barbecue. Being invited into Phil and Angus's families was important to me because I believed a sense of community is a lot of what Ashley is about. What Ashley seeks is a close family.
Q: When you saw the final version of "Junebug" were you surprised by how big your character became?
AA: When we were on the set, I was just playing her and not seeing the film through the eyes of an outside observer. I didn't really understand the importance of Ashley until I watched the film for the first time. Then I realized that she is the tool Phil uses to invite the audience into the family. I hadn't approached her that way, so I was surprised by how effective she is in that role. I was surprised that she is so much bigger than the rest of the film—does that make sense?—because everything else is hushed. I never felt "I'm going to steal this scene"--I never intended that--but Ashley's loud and talkative in what is otherwise a very quiet film. Ashley is very lonely so she reaches out all the time.
DP: Ashley greatly admires Madeleine. But if you watch the film, Ashley seems perfect and Madeleine is badly flawed. Does Ashley have any flaws?
Amy Adams and Embetz David as Ashley and Madeleine
AA: She was lovely to play, so I tried not to pick out of her flaws. But I think she does. I guess you can say that anything done excessively can be a flaw. She might be too patient, too tolerant, and too upbeat. Those might be good traits, but in this society we don't honor them. But wouldn't it be a great world where you could always be positive and forgive everyone quickly? I would love to live in Ashley's world. I think there is a part of me like her, so maybe I could use her spin in L.A. Maybe it would work if I approached everyone with a big smile and said, "Hey, ya'll."
DP: I expect you to say no, but do you think George is a better match for Ashley than her husband Johnny?
AA: I have an answer to that because I know there is something there between Ashley and George. But I think it's created by her. George was the town hero, the golden boy, and because he's been gone for so long, he is romanticized around the house where his parents and Johnny and Ashley live. It's easy for Ashley to romanticize about him. She looks up him. Angus wrote: "Ashley mistakes George's silence for wisdom." To me, that is really the key to her feelings about him. Even if there is an attraction between Ashley and George, I think a relationship between them would be doomed. Ultimately, Johnny and Ashley are right for each other, they really are. He's the person she is going to fight for.
DP: The relationship between Ashley and Johnny is complex because by the time we meet them, he has stopped being nice to her. He could come across as his being unforgivably abusive and uncaring toward her, so did Phil work with you to tone it down?
AA: He might have talked to Ben individually, but the three of us didn't get together to work this through. Phil was smart to give his individual actors information and then to let it play out without letting one actor know the information he told the other. If he told everyone too much, the scene wouldn't ring true.
DP: Talk about Ashley's key line to Johnny--"God loves you just the way you are, but too much to let you stay that way."
AA: That wasn't in the script. Phil and I attended a Sunday service at the Green St. Methodist Church in Winston-Salem, and the minister said that. Phil was all squirrelly sitting next to me and afterward said we had to find a place for that line. It was important for Ashley to say, I feel, because it lets the audience know she is aware of what was going on, and that Johnny is being so cold to her. It's subtle and not like she's speaking out in protest, but when she says that to Johnny, it's clear that she sees the bad stuff happening around her but has made the choice for patience rather than rebellion. Being weak is really hard for her. She feels she has to be the strong one, and the upbeat one, because that's her purpose in life, what God has given her to do, and she is going to do it. She makes that decision every day.
DP: Ashley is terribly lonely for the man she married, but rather than crying herself to sleep, she masturbates. It's a sad, yet positive image—and very surprising.
AA: It took me surprise when I watched it, too. When Phil and I spoke about the scene, we wanted it in the movie because it was a graphic look at Ashley's loneliness. Prior to filming it, I was very practical. I wasn't going to overreact and tell Phil to shut the set down because we were going to shoot an intimate scene. I said, "Okay, let's just do it." For me it was more, "How can I make it look real when I get in and out of bed?," than worrying about the act. That's what I was thinking, and what I did in bed—I didn't really do it-- was just technical. When I first watched the scene at Sundance I was so uncomfortable because it was so personal and exposing. I couldn't watch it. It was a good time for a bathroom break.
Q: How did you feelt about winning the Special Jury Prize at Sundance that started the buzz about you?
AA: Going there and winning the award were like two different experiences. I had a great time, hung out with the cast, and saw the movie for the first time, which was really nerve-wracking. Then I went home and they called and asked me to come back. I asked why. They said I was invited to the awards ceremony but no one would tell me why. So winning the award was surreal. Because you do a movie like this, an independent film, for the experience. The award was too much for me to accept right away. It took until the next day, when everyone had cleared out of Park City, and I was walking along and thought about what an honor it was to have won. I was overwhelmed. I'll be honest—I cried.
Q: You probably thought how far you'd come since "Cruel Intentions 2," which I assume was a sexy-dirty, rite-of-passage movie for a young actress.
AA: I didn't think it was sexy-dirty, I thought it was funny, tongue-in-cheek. I got the sense of humor. So it surprised me when it started playing on late-night cable—that wasn't what I expected. That was my first job after I landed in L.A. I got it about two months later. I have no regrets about it because I wouldn't be here if I hadn't done that. This is what I think: I think you should be open to whatever film comes to you, but it's important to grow from each role and not revisit the early ones if you don't have to. It's important to move forward, which I've done.