Movie Interviews
6:06 am
Sat September 15, 2012

Amy Adams: A Steely Wife Stands Behind 'The Master'

Originally published on Wed February 20, 2013 12:57 pm

Amy Adams has played a Disney princess, a puckish Amelia Earhart, an innocent young nun and a blogging Brooklynite who wants to follow the recipe for being Julia Child.

But she takes a more steely turn in her latest role in The Master, which has just opened in New York and Los Angeles. The film, written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, also stars Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman.

Adams plays Peggy Dodd — a kind of Lady Macbeth to a charismatic spiritual leader, played by Hoffman, who shares striking similarities with Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard. But if you ask Hoffman or Adams if the film is really about Hubbard and Scientology, the answer is no, absolutely not.

"It's not about Scientology. It isn't," is Adams' response to what she says is "the most-asked question" about the film. "It's a hot-button topic; it gets people talking."

Adams talks with NPR's Scott Simon about developing her character, playing against type and co-starring with Clint Eastwood in her other new film opening this month, Trouble with the Curve.


Interview Highlights

On developing a back story for her character, Peggy Dodd

"I tend to try to fill in the blanks as much as possible for myself. One of the things that I really thought about was [that] a long time ago, I read a book called The Feminine Mystique. In The Feminine Mystique, [Betty Friedan] talked a lot about women's roles in World War II and how that translated post-World War II. Their roles were a little less traditional than they'd been before, and then when the men came back, they sort of went into the background again.

"And I saw my character as somebody who was very focused on education, was very educated, very smart, but given the climate, she felt like she was more powerful behind a man than in front of a man."

On why Peggy Dodd is not a blind follower of her husband's religious organization

"Yeah, she's not blind at all. And I think that she is a true believer. She is somebody who sees the positive result and really believes in the positive outcome of this ... philosophy. ... I mean, I could see as an outsider how one would see the blind faith. And there are times in the film when she's very dismissive of Joaquin Phoenix's character. ... It actually breaks my heart for him. ... Because when someone does believe something so truly, sometimes it does shut out an empathic response that could be there and should be there."

On playing a character who's neither dewy-eyed nor puckish

"It was both a relief and challenging ... in that this woman has to be perceived by the outside world as being somewhat meek. She's not somebody who would embarrass her husband by stepping to the forefront in a public way. So in some ways, there are similarities to other characters that I've played. But there's a steeliness in her that really was a lot of fun to play.

"I mean, I can be really steely, maybe not to such effect, but I'm definitely not always warm and cuddly and sunshine and lollipops, so it's nice to sometimes get to bring that to a role. Although I do love playing characters with a sunny disposition — it just takes a little bit more energy some days."

On co-starring with Clint Eastwood in the upcoming film Trouble with the Curve — and on his surprising speech at the Republican National Convention

"To be fair, I have not seen the speech, I did not watch the convention. Clint was a very warm and inviting person. He's very loyal, and he's just a genuine human being. I mean, he's definitely his own man, so nothing Clint would do would surprise me; he's his own man, you know?"

On why she's excited to play Lois Lane in Zack Snyder's upcoming Superman reboot, Man of Steel

"I grew up with Margot Kidder, and I was so affected in a positive way by Margot Kidder's portrayal of Lois Lane, and I would just hope that girls can go see ... themselves in Lois Lane a little bit. Not that I don't like, you know, black latex or vinyl ... [but] it's nice to see a powerful woman who is ... a reporter, and just more pedestrian, so to speak, in a superhero film. And she's sort of an everywoman, and I like that a lot."

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Amy Adams has played a Disney princess, a puckish Amelia Earhart, an innocent young nun and a blogging Brooklynite who wants to follow the recipe for being Julia Child. But she takes a more steely turn in her latest role in "The Master." Amy Adams plays Peggy Dodd, a kind of Lady Macbeth to a spiritual leader, played by Philip Seymour Hoffman.

The film has won awards and acclaim at the Venice and Toronto Film Festival and opened this week in New York and Los Angeles. The film also stars Joaquin Phoenix and it's written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson. Amy Adams joins us from our studios in New York. Thanks so much for being with us.

AMY ADAMS: Of course, thank you for having me.

SIMON: And I've read a couple of interviews now, for example, with Philip Seymour Hoffman in which he says, I don't care how many similarities there seems to be between this film and L. Ron Hubbard and Scientology. It's not a film about Scientology. Don't talk to me about Scientology. He says everything except, what's Scientology? I never heard of it.

ADAMS: Yeah.

SIMON: So is this film about Scientology?

ADAMS: No. It's not about Scientology. It isn't.

SIMON: Do you have a straight face when you say that?

ADAMS: I'm smiling. But I'm smiling because it's, like, the most asked question, so I'm smiling. And I understand. It's a hot-button topic. It gets people talking.

SIMON: Well, and I mean, instead of auditing, there's processing, instead of L. Ron Hubbard, you have the guy played by Philip Seymour Hoffman who has some superficial or maybe not so superficial similarities in the resume.

ADAMS: Well, Paul Thomas Anderson as openly talked that he was inspired by several different religions and sort of charismatic leaders that were establishing religions or organizations post-World War II.

SIMON: Let me ask about your character, Peggy Dodd.

ADAMS: Sure.

SIMON: Because we don't we much of a backstory or hear much about how Peggy Dodd and the spiritual leader played by Philip Seymour Hoffman met. When you're doing a role like this, do you fill in those blanks or do you just look at the words and invest them with something else?

ADAMS: I tend to try to fill in the blanks as much as possible for myself. One of the things that I really thought about was a long time ago, I read a book called "The Feminine Mystique." In "The Feminine Mystique" she talked a lot about women's roles in World War II and sort of how that translated post-World War II. Their roles were a little less traditional than they'd been before, and then when the men came back, they sort of went into the background again.

And I saw my character as somebody who was very focused on education, was very educated, very smart, but given the climate, felt like she was more powerful behind a man than in front of a man.

SIMON: Which is what we see in a couple of scenes.

ADAMS: Um-huh.

SIMON: We have a tendency when we're talking about a - I'll use a loaded phrase - a religious cult or...

ADAMS: Sure.

SIMON: How do I say this nicely?

ADAMS: You can say this organization.

SIMON: And organization.

ADAMS: Organization. I think that's nicer.

SIMON: All right. You know, to use a term like blind followers and, in fact, maybe that's the case. But you take a look at your character, for example, Peggy Dodd, you think the last thing she is is blind.

ADAMS: Yeah, she's not blind at all. And I think that she is a true believer. She is somebody who sees the positive outcome of this philosophy so I didn't - I mean, I could see as an outsider how one would see the blind faith. And there are times in the film when she's very dismissive of Joaquin Phoenix's character, that it actually breaks my heart for him.

And I didn't have that experience shooting it, but witnessing it, that's something that struck me. Because when someone does believe something so truly, sometimes it does shut out an empathic response that could be there and should be there.

SIMON: Was it a relief, a challenge, both, to play a character who's not dewy-eyed and innocent? Of for, you know, for that - I mean, Amelia Earhart isn't dewy-eyes and innocent, but you know, puckish.

ADAMS: No, I know I what you're saying. It was both a relief and challenging. I mean, in that this woman has to be perceived by the outside world as being somewhat meek. She's not somebody who would embarrass her husband by stepping to the forefront in a public way. So in some ways, there are similarities to other characters that I've played. But there's a steeliness in her that really was a lot of fun to play.

I mean, I can be really steely, maybe not to such effect, but I'm definitely not always warm and cuddly and sunshine and lollipops, so it's nice to sometimes get to bring that to a role. Although I do love playing characters with a sunny disposition, it just takes a little bit more energy some days.

SIMON: You've got another film coming out this month.

ADAMS: I do.

SIMON: "Trouble With the Curve."

ADAMS: Yes.

SIMON: And your co-star is Clint Eastwood...

ADAMS: Yes.

SIMON: ...man a lot of people saw at a political convention recently.

ADAMS: So I've heard. I did a lot of hot button topics in my life right now that I have no responsibility for.

SIMON: Thank you. Well, I, of course, was going to touch one more hot button. You understand we're in the news business.

ADAMS: Of course, of course.

SIMON: People who work with Clint Eastwood, who have worked with him, absolutely rave about him.

ADAMS: They - yeah.

SIMON: Is the man speaking at the convention talking to an empty chair the man who co-starred with you in that film?

ADAMS: To be fair, I have not seen the speech, I did not watch the convention. Clint was a very warm and inviting person. He's very loyal, and he's just a genuine human being. I mean, he's definitely his own man, so nothing Clint would do would surprise me. He's his own man, you know?

SIMON: And you're going to be Lois Lane?

ADAMS: Yes. We've already shot that and it was - I can't wait to see the finished edit. I have not seen any footage.

SIMON: Now is that a little intimidating?

ADAMS: Sure. Sure it is.

SIMON: A lot of people have grown up knowing one Lois Lane or another, you know, be it Terry Hatcher or...

ADAMS: Margot Kidder.

SIMON: Yeah.

ADAMS: I grew up with Margot Kidder, and I was so affected in a positive way by Margot Kidder's portrayal of Lois Lane, and I would just hope that girls can go see, you know, see themselves in Lois Lane a little bit. Not that I don't like, you know, black latex or vinyl, it's nice to see a powerful woman who is, you know, a reporter, and just more pedestrian, so to speak, in a superhero film. And she's sort of an everywoman, and I like that a lot.

SIMON: Ms. Adams, very nice talking to you. Thanks so much.

ADAMS: You, too. Thank you so much. Have a good day.

SIMON: Amy Adams stars in a new film, "The Master" later this month. She's also in "Trouble With the Curve." Speaking with us from New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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