Adams at an event for Nocturnal Animals in 2016
Amy Lou Adams
August 20, 1974
|Residence||Beverly Hills, California, U.S.|
Darren Le Gallo (m. 2015)
Amy Lou Adams (born August 20, 1974) is an American actress. Known for both her comedic and dramatic performances, she has been featured three times in annual rankings of the highest-paid actresses in the world. Her accolades include two Golden Globes, and nominations for six Academy Awards and seven British Academy Film Awards.
Born in Vicenza, Italy, and raised in Castle Rock, Colorado, Adams is the fourth of seven siblings. She trained to be a ballerina, but at age 18, she found musical theater a better fit, and from 1994 to 1998, she worked in dinner theater. She made her feature film debut with a supporting part in the 1999 satire Drop Dead Gorgeous. After moving to Los Angeles, she made guest appearances in television and took on "mean girl" parts in small-scale features. Her first major role came in Steven Spielberg's 2002 biopic Catch Me If You Can, opposite Leonardo DiCaprio, but she was unemployed for a year afterward. Her breakthrough came in the part of a loquacious pregnant woman in the 2005 independent film Junebug.
The 2007 musical Enchanted, in which Adams played a cheerful princess, was her first major success as a leading lady. She followed it by playing naïve, optimistic women in a series of films such as the 2008 drama Doubt. She subsequently played stronger parts to positive reviews in the sports film The Fighter (2010) and the psychological drama The Master (2012). In 2013, she began portraying Lois Lane in superhero films set in the DC Extended Universe. She won two consecutive Golden Globe Awards for Best Actress for playing a seductive con artist in the crime film American Hustle (2013) and the troubled painter Margaret Keane in the biopic Big Eyes (2014). Further acclaim came for playing a linguist in the science fiction film Arrival (2016), a self-harming reporter in the HBO miniseries Sharp Objects (2018), and Lynne Cheney in the satirical film Vice (2018).
Adams's stage roles include the Public Theater's revival of Into the Woods in 2012, in which she played the Baker's Wife. In 2014, she was named one of the 100 most influential people in the world by Time and featured in the Forbes Celebrity 100 list. She is married to actor and artist Darren Le Gallo, with whom she has a daughter.
Amy Lou Adams was born August 20, 1974, to American parents Richard and Kathryn Adams, when her father was stationed with the United States Army at the Caserma Ederle military complex in Vicenza, Italy. She is the middle of seven children, with four brothers and two sisters. After moving from one army base to another, Adams's family settled in Castle Rock, Colorado, when she was eight. After leaving the army, her father sang professionally in nightclubs and restaurants. Adams has described going to her father's shows and drinking Shirley Temples at the bar as among her fondest childhood memories. The family was poor; they camped and hiked together, and performed amateur skits usually written by her father and sometimes by her mother. Adams was enthusiastic about the plays and always played the lead.
Adams was raised as a Mormon until her parents divorced in 1985 and left the church. She did not have strong religious beliefs, but has said that she valued her upbringing for teaching her love and compassion. After the breakup, her father moved to Arizona and remarried, while the children remained with their mother. Her mother became a semi-professional bodybuilder who took the children with her to the gym when she trained. Adams has compared her uninhibited early years with her siblings to Lord of the Flies. Describing herself as a "scrappy, tough kid", she has said she fought frequently with other children.
Adams attended Douglas County High School. She was not academically inclined, but was interested in the creative arts and sang in the school choir. She competed in track and gymnastics, harbored ambitions of becoming a ballerina, and trained as an apprentice at the local David Taylor Dance Company. She disliked high school and kept mostly to herself. After graduation, she and her mother moved to Atlanta, Georgia. She did not go to college, which disappointed her parents, and she later regretted not pursuing higher education. At 18, Adams realized she was not gifted enough to be a professional ballerina, and found musical theater more to her taste. One of her first stage roles was in a community theater production of Annie, which she did on a volunteer basis. To support herself, she worked as a greeter at a Gap store. She also worked as a waitress at Hooters, but left the job after she saved enough money to buy a used car.
Adams began her professional career as a dancer in a 1994 dinner theater production of A Chorus Line in Boulder, Colorado. The job required her to wait on tables before getting up on stage to perform. She enjoyed singing and dancing, but disliked waitressing and ran into trouble when a fellow dancer, whom she considered a friend, made false accusations about her to the director. Adams said, "I never really knew what the lies were. I only knew I kept getting called in and lectured about my lack of professionalism." She lost the job but went on to perform in dinner theater at Denver's Heritage Square Music Hall and Country Dinner Playhouse. During a performance of Anything Goes at the Country Dinner Playhouse in 1995, she was spotted by Michael Brindisi, the president and artistic director of the Minneapolis-based Chanhassen Dinner Theater, who offered her a job there. Adams moved to Chanhassen, Minnesota, where she performed in the theater for the next three years. She loved the "security and schedule" of the job, and has said that she learned tremendously from it. Nonetheless, the grueling work took its toll on her: "I had a lot of recurring injuries—bursitis in my knees, pulled muscles in my groin, my adductor and abductor. My body was wearing out."
During her time at Chanhassen, Adams acted in her first film—a black-and-white short satire named The Chromium Hook. Soon after, while she was off work nursing a pulled muscle, she attended the locally held auditions for the Hollywood film Drop Dead Gorgeous (1999), a satire on beauty pageants starring Kirsten Dunst, Ellen Barkin, and Kirstie Alley. Adams was cast in the supporting part of a promiscuous cheerleader. She felt that her character's personality was far removed from her own and worried about how people would perceive her. The production was filmed locally, which enabled Adams to shoot for her role while also performing Brigadoon on stage. Encouragement from Alley prompted Adams to actively pursue a film career, and she moved to Los Angeles in January 1999. She described her initial experience in the city as "dark" and "bleak", and she pined for her life back in Chanhassen.
In Los Angeles, Adams auditioned for whatever parts came her way, but she was mostly given roles of "the bitchy girl". Her first assignment came within a week of her relocation in Fox's television series Manchester Prep, a spin-off of the film Cruel Intentions, in the lead role of Kathryn Merteuil (played by Sarah Michelle Gellar in the film). Following numerous script revisions and two production shutdowns, the series was canceled. Adams later said that a controversial scene in which her character encourages a girl to masturbate on a horse was the primary reason for its cancellation. The three filmed episodes were re-edited and released later in 2000 as the direct-to-video film Cruel Intentions 2. Despite a negative critical reception, Nathan Rabin of the A.V. Club wrote that Adams plays her "alpha-bitch role with vicious glee largely missing from Sarah Michelle Gellar's sterile take on the character".
Adams next had a supporting role as the teenage nemesis of a movie star (played by Kimberly Davies) in Psycho Beach Party (2000), a horror parody of beach party and slasher films. She played the part as a homage to the actress Ann-Margret. From 2000 to 2002, Adams appeared in guest roles in several television series, including That '70s Show, Charmed, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Smallville, and The West Wing.
Following brief roles in three small-scale features of 2002—The Slaughter Rule, Pumpkin, and Serving Sara—Adams found her first high-profile part in Steven Spielberg's comedy-drama Catch Me If You Can. She was cast as Brenda Strong, a nurse with whom Frank Abagnale, Jr. (played by Leonardo DiCaprio) falls in love. The film raised her confidence. Despite the film's success and praise for her "warm presence" from Todd McCarthy, a critic for Variety, it failed to launch her career. She was unemployed for a year after its release, leading her to almost quit film acting. Adams instead enrolled in acting classes, realizing that she had "a lot to learn and a lot of self-growth to work through". Her career prospects seemingly improved a year later when she received a lucrative offer to star as a regular in the CBS television drama Dr. Vegas, but she was dropped after a few episodes. On film, she only had a minor role as the fiancée of Fred Savage's character in the little-seen The Last Run (2004).
Disillusioned by her firing from Dr. Vegas, Adams, at 30 years old, considered looking for an alternative career after finishing work on the sole project she was signed to. It was the independent comedy-drama Junebug, which had a production budget of under $1 million. Directed by Phil Morrison, the film featured Adams as Ashley Johnsten, a perky and talkative pregnant woman. Morrison was impressed by Adams's ability to not question her character's inherently good motives. She found a connection with Johnsten's faith in God, and spent time with Morrison in Winston-Salem, North Carolina (where the film is set), attending church. She described making the film as "the summer I grew into myself", and after dyeing her hair red for the part, she decided to not go back to her natural blonde color. Junebug premiered at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival, where Adams won a special jury prize. Tim Robey of The Daily Telegraph labeled the film a "small, quiet miracle" and wrote that Adams had given "one of the most delicately funny and heartbreaking performances it's ever been my pleasure to review". Ann Hornaday of The Washington Post opined that her "radiant portrayal" reflected the film's "deeply humanist heart". Adams received her first Academy Award nomination, for Best Supporting Actress, and won an Independent Spirit Award.
Later in 2005, Adams had supporting parts in two critically panned films—the romantic comedy The Wedding Date, starring Debra Messing and Dermot Mulroney, and the ensemble coming-of-age film Standing Still. Also that year, she joined the cast of the television series The Office, for a recurring role over three episodes. In Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, a sports comedy from Adam McKay, Adams played the romantic interest of Will Ferrell's character, which critic Peter Travers deemed "quite a comedown" from her role in Junebug. She also had a minor role in the workplace comedy The Ex, starring Zach Braff and Amanda Peet.
After voicing in Walt Disney Pictures' animated comedy film Underdog (2007), Adams starred as a highly optimistic and joyous Disney Princess named Giselle in the musical romantic comedy Enchanted. She was among 250 actresses who auditioned for the high-profile part; the studio favored the casting of a bigger star, but the director Kevin Lima insisted on Adams due to her commitment to the part and her ability to not be judgmental about her character's personality. Patrick Dempsey and James Marsden featured as her romantic interests. A ballgown that she had to wear for the film weighed 45 pounds, and Adams fell several times under its weight. She also sang three songs for the film's soundtrack—"True Love's Kiss", "Happy Working Song", and "That's How You Know". The critic Roger Ebert commended Adams for being "fresh and winning" in a role that "absolutely depends on effortless lovability", and Wesley Morris of The Boston Globe wrote that she "demonstrates a real performer's ingenuity for comic timing and physical eloquence". Todd McCarthy considered the role to be Adams's breakthrough and compared her rise to stardom to that of Julie Andrews. Enchanted was a commercial success, grossing over $340 million worldwide. Adams received a Golden Globe Award nomination for Best Actress in a Comedy or Musical.
Following the success of Enchanted, Adams took on the part of Bonnie Bach, Congressman Charlie Wilson's assistant in Mike Nichols' political comedy-drama Charlie Wilson's War (2007), starring Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts, and Philip Seymour Hoffman. Kirk Honeycutt of The Hollywood Reporter praised Adams for being "sweetly savvy" in her part, but Peter Bradshaw was disappointed to see her talent wasted in a role he considered to be of minimal importance.
The 2008 Sundance Film Festival saw the release of Sunshine Cleaning, a comedy-drama about two sisters (played by Adams and Emily Blunt) who start a crime scene clean-up business. Adams was attracted to the idea of playing someone who constantly tries to better herself. Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle considered Adams to be "magical", adding that she "gives us a portrait of raging want beneath a veneer of surface diffidence". In the 1939-set screwball comedy Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, Adams starred as an aspiring American actress in London who encounters a middle-aged governess named Miss Pettigrew (played by Frances McDormand). Stephen Holden of The New York Times drew similarities to her role in Enchanted and wrote that the "screen magic" she displays in such endearing roles "hasn't been this intense since the heyday of Jean Arthur".
Adams next starred in Doubt, an adaptation of John Patrick Shanley's play of the same name. The production tells the story of a Catholic school principal (played by Meryl Streep) who accuses a priest (played by Philip Seymour Hoffman) of pedophilia; Adams features as an innocent nun embroiled in the conflict. Shanley initially approached Natalie Portman for the part, but offered Adams the role after finding her innocent, yet intelligent, persona similar to that of Ingrid Bergman. Adams identified with her character's ability to find the best in people; she described her collaboration with Streep and Hoffman as a "master class" in acting. Writing for the Houston Chronicle, Amy Biancolli commented that Adams "sparks with distressed compassion", and Ann Hornaday opined that she "exudes just the right wide-eyed innocence". Adams was nominated for an Academy Award, Golden Globe Award, and BAFTA Award for Best Supporting Actress.
As with Junebug and Enchanted, Adams's roles in her three 2008 releases were those of the ingénue—innocent women with a cheerful personality. When asked about her being typecast in such roles, Adams said that she responds to characters who are joyful and identified with their sense of hope. She believed that despite certain similarities in their disposition, these characters were vastly different from one another; she said, "Naïveté is not stupidity, and innocent people are often very complex."
The 2009 fantasy adventure film Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian, starring Ben Stiller, featured Adams as the aviator Amelia Earhart. It was the first motion picture to film inside the National Air and Space Museum in Washington. The director Shawn Levy said that the role allowed Adams to showcase her acting range; Adams believed it to be the first time she was allowed to play a confident character on screen. Despite mixed reviews, Adams's work was praised. Terming her "a sparkling screen presence", Michael Phillips of the Chicago Tribune thought that the film "radically improves whenever Amy Adams pops up". That same year, Adams starred in the comedy-drama Julie & Julia as disgruntled government secretary Julie Powell who decides to blog about the recipes in Julia Child's cookbook Mastering the Art of French Cooking; in a parallel storyline, Meryl Streep portrays Child. Adams enrolled at the Institute of Culinary Education to prepare for the part. Carrie RicKey of The Philadelphia Inquirer thought that the film was "as delicious as French cuisine" and found Adams to be "at her most winsome". Both Night at the Museum and Julie & Julia were commercial successes, with the former earning over $400 million.
Adams began the new decade with a leading role opposite Matthew Goode in the romantic comedy Leap Year (2010), which the critic Richard Roeper believed was saved from "truly awful status" by Adams's presence. Her next release of the year—the boxing drama The Fighter—was much better received. Directed by David O. Russell, the film tells the story of boxer half-brothers Micky Ward and Dicky Eklund (played by Mark Wahlberg and Christian Bale, respectively); Melissa Leo played their mother and Adams portrayed Ward's aggressive girlfriend, a barmaid named Charlene Fleming. Describing Adams's part as a "tough, sexy bitch", Russell cast her against type to rid her of her girl-next-door image. The role marked a significant departure for her, and she was challenged by Russell's insistence on finding her character's strength in silence. She enrolled in an exotic dance class by the trainer Sheila Kelley to find her character's eroticism. Joe Morgenstern of The Wall Street Journal wrote that she is "as tough, tender, smart, and funny as she was ethereal and delightful in Enchanted. What an actress, and what range!" She received Academy, Golden Globe, and BAFTA nominations for Best Supporting Actress; she lost the former two to Leo. She expressed a desire to play more dramatic roles in the future.
The Disney musical The Muppets (2011) starring the eponymous puppets featured Adams and Jason Segel in live-action roles. Entertainment Weekly's Lisa Schwarzbaum remarked that the role marked her return to her "comedian-sweetheart" persona. She also recorded seven songs for the film's soundtrack. The following year, Adams played the Baker's Wife in the Public Theater's revival of Stephen Sondheim's musical Into the Woods, as part of the Shakespeare in the Park festival at the open-air Delacorte Theater. It was her New York stage debut and her first theater appearance in 13 years. She agreed to the month-long production to "take on a challenge that seemed insurmountable", though she was overwhelmed and intimidated by it. She prepared with a private singing coach, but her film schedule enabled her to spend only four weeks in rehearsal. Ben Brantley, The New York Times' theater critic, praised Adams's "lucidly spoken and sung performance" but criticized her for lacking "the nervy, dissatisfied restlessness" of her part.
Adams took another "fierce woman" part in Paul Thomas Anderson's psychological drama The Master (2012). She played Peggy Dodd, the ruthless and manipulative wife of the leader of a cult (played by Philip Seymour Hoffman). It marked her third and final collaboration with Hoffman, whom she deeply admired, before his death two years later. The organization depicted in the film was deemed by journalists to be based on Scientology; Adams considered the comparison to be misleading but was glad for the attention it brought to the film. Although not a method actor, Adams believed that the intense role had left her on edge in her personal life. Comparing her character to Lady Macbeth, the critic Justin Chang wrote that Adams's "pertness has rarely seemed so malevolent", and Donald Clarke of The Irish Times commended her for playing the part with "discrete menace". John Patterson of The Guardian noted that a scene in which she chastises Hoffman's character while furiously masturbating him was one of the most significant sequences in the film. Once again, Adams received Academy, Golden Globe, and BAFTA nominations for her supporting part.
Clint Eastwood's sports drama Trouble with the Curve, in which she played the estranged daughter of a baseball scout (Eastwood), was Adams's second film release of 2012. She admired Eastwood's "warm and generous" personality and was pleased with the collaboration. She prepared for the part by learning to catch, pitch, and swing from a baseball coach. The film received mixed reviews, and Roger Ebert took note of how Adams had made a standard role seem valuable. She also played the brief part of a drug addict in On the Road, an ensemble drama based on Jack Kerouac's novel of the same name.
After losing out on the role of Lois Lane in two previous films about Superman, Adams secured the part in Zack Snyder's 2013 reboot, Man of Steel, starring Henry Cavill as the titular superhero. She played Lane with a mixture of toughness and vulnerability, but Peter Bradshaw thought that the character was "sketchily conceived" and criticized her lack of chemistry with Cavill. The film earned over $660 million to become one of her biggest box-office hits. Adams next featured in Her, a drama from the writer-director Spike Jonze about a lonely man (Joaquin Phoenix) who falls in love with an operating system (voiced by Scarlett Johansson); Adams played his close friend. She had unsuccessfully auditioned for Jonze's 2009 film Where the Wild Things Are and was hired for Her after Jonze looked back at those tapes. Adams was drawn to the idea of portraying a platonic male-female friendship, which she believed was rare in film.
Further success came to Adams when she reteamed with David O. Russell in the crime film American Hustle, co-starring Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, and Jennifer Lawrence. Inspired by the 1970s Abscam scandal, the film featured Adams as a seductive con artist, though she played it so that "everything felt justified and it didn't feel like she was just a sexy sociopath". She collaborated closely with Bale to build their characters and made off-screen suggestions to Russell, including for a scene in which she is aggressively kissed on the lips by her lover's wife (played by Lawrence). The work was grueling for Adams, who later confirmed reports that Russell had been hard on her and had made her cry frequently; she said that she feared bringing such a negative experience home to her daughter. American Hustle was acclaimed by critics; Manohla Dargis of The New York Times believed that Adams "goes deeper here than she's ever been allowed to" and wrote that she had successfully "turn[ed] an unpredictable character into a thrillingly wild one". She won the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress in a Comedy or Musical and received her fifth Oscar nomination (her first for Best Actress). Her and American Hustle were deemed by critics to be among the best films of 2013, and they were both nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture.
Following an appearance in the poorly received drama Lullaby, Adams starred in Big Eyes (2014), a biopic of the troubled artist Margaret Keane, whose paintings of "big-eyed waifs" were plagiarized by her husband Walter Keane. When she was first offered the part, she passed on it to avoid playing another naïve woman. The birth of her daughter in 2010 prompted Adams to find strength in the passive character, and she drew upon experiences in her life where she had not stood up for herself. In preparation, she practiced painting and studied the way Keane worked. Keane liked Adams's portrayal of her, and Mark Kermode of The Guardian termed her performance a "potent blend of intuitive fire and sensitive vulnerability". She won a second consecutive Golden Globe Award for Best Actress in a Comedy or Musical and received a BAFTA nomination for Best Actress.
After a one-year absence from the screen, Adams had three film releases in 2016. She first reprised the role of Lois Lane in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, which marked the second installment in the DC Extended Universe after Man of Steel. Despite a negative critical reception for favoring visual effects over a coherent narrative, the film earned over $870 million to rank as her highest-grossing release. In her next two releases—the science fiction film Arrival and the psychological thriller Nocturnal Animals—Adams played "emotionally guarded, fiercely intelligent" women to positive reviews. Based on Austin Wright's novel Tony and Susan, Tom Ford's Nocturnal Animals tells the story of an unhappily married art dealer named Susan (played by Adams), who is traumatized when reading a violent novel written by her ex-husband (played by Jake Gyllenhaal). Adams found little resemblance between herself and her "poised" and "aloof" character, and modeled Susan's personality on that of Ford. Stephanie Zacharek of Time magazine considered the film to be visually arresting, yet thematically weak, but praised Adams and Gyllenhaal for making their character's pain seem genuine.
Arrival, directed by Denis Villeneuve and based on Ted Chiang's short story "Story of Your Life", ranks among the most acclaimed films of Adams's career. The film is about Louise Banks, a linguist (played by Adams), who experiences strange visions when she is hired by the American government to interpret the language of extraterrestrials. She was drawn to the idea of playing an intellectual female lead and connected with the film's theme of unity and compassion. She watched documentaries on linguistics to prepare for the part. Writing for The Atlantic, Christoper Orr deemed Adams's performance to be "mesmerizingly open, by turns uplifting and sorrowful", and Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times believed that the film was a "showcase for her ability to quietly and effectively meld intelligence, empathy and reserve". Arrival was a commercial success, earning over $200 million against a $47 million budget. Adams received BAFTA and Golden Globe nominations in the Best Actress category. Several journalists expressed disappointment over her failure to receive an Oscar nomination for it. Adams played Lois Lane for the third time in Justice League (2017), an ensemble film about the titular superheroes. The critic Tim Grierson of Screen International commented that despite providing "emotional resonance" to the film, Adams's talents were wasted in a thankless supporting role.
Adams returned to television in 2018 with Sharp Objects, an HBO miniseries based on Gillian Flynn's thriller novel of the same name. She served as an executive producer and starred as Camille Preaker, a self-harming reporter who returns to her hometown to cover the murder of two young girls. For the part, Adams gained weight and had to undergo three hours of prosthetic makeup to create her character's scarred body. The actress found herself unable to distance herself from the dysfunctional role and suffered from insomnia. She read A Bright Red Scream to learn about self-mutilation and researched the psychological condition of Munchausen syndrome by proxy. The series and Adams's performance received positive reviews. James Poniewozik praised the complex characterization of Preaker and called Adams's performance "transfixing". Daniel D'Addario of Variety found her to be "operating at the peak of her abilities" and added that with "her voice dropped an octave, slowed to a drawl, and sharpened with distrust, [she] is simply superb".
Christian Bale and Adams teamed for the third time in Adam McKay's political satire Vice (2018), in which they portrayed former vice president of the United States, Dick Cheney, and his wife, Lynne, respectively. She read Lynne's books to prepare; despite disagreeing with her political views, Adams approached the part with empathy and found a connection with her character's fortitude. Vanity Fair's Richard Lawson drew comparisons with Adams's role in The Master; he commended "her usual rigor" but criticized the "lazy rubber-stamp of a man's idea of a woman adjacent to power". Eric Kohn of IndieWire was more appreciative of her for "embodying an underwritten Lady Macbeth with ferocious energy". Adams earned Golden Globe nominations for her performances in both Sharp Objects and Vice; for the former, she received a nomination for the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited Series and for the latter, she received her sixth Oscar and seventh BAFTA nomination.
In 2020, Adams is scheduled to star as an agoraphobic murder witness in Joe Wright's The Woman in the Window, based on the mystery novel of the same name. She will then reprise the role of Giselle in Disenchanted, a sequel to Enchanted, and star in Ron Howard's film adaptation of Hillbilly Elegy for Netflix. Adams will also launch her own production company, named Bond Group Entertainment, under which she will develop adaptations of Barbara Kingsolver's novel The Poisonwood Bible and Claire Lombardo's novel The Most Fun We Ever Had, both for HBO.
Adams met the actor and painter Darren Le Gallo at an acting class in 2001, and they began dating a year later while collaborating on a short film named Pennies. They became engaged in 2008, and she gave birth to their daughter, Aviana, in 2010. Seven years after their engagement, the couple married in a private ceremony at a ranch near Santa Barbara, California. Adams said in 2016 that she appreciates the numerous sacrifices Le Gallo had made as the primary caregiver for their family. They live in Beverly Hills, California. Adams has described her family life as "pretty low-key", and has said that her routine involves going to work, taking her daughter to the park, and having weekly date nights with her husband.
Adams finds little value in celebrity, and maintains that the "more that people know about me, the less they'll believe me and my characters". She attracts little gossip or tabloid attention, and strives to keep a healthy work-life balance. Adams makes an effort to remain unaffected by her fame, believing that it would hinder her ability to play roles with honesty. She has spoken about suffering from insecurity and lack of confidence from a young age and about how motherhood had made her calmer. She frequently breaks into song when stressed at work. Adams has joined other actors in calling for equal pay for women in the film industry, but she finds that actresses are too often asked to explain the gender pay gap and feels the questions should be directed instead to producers.
Having experienced difficulty in her early years in the film industry, Adams works closely with underprivileged students at New York City's Ghetto Film School. Variety honored her for her work with them in 2010. She supports the Trevor Project, a nonprofit organization that helps troubled LGBT teenagers, and served as a presenter for the 2011 event "Trevor Live". In 2013, she launched the book The Beauty Book for Brain Cancer to help raise money for brain cancer charities Snog and Headrush. The following year, she attended a charity event at the UCLA Medical Center, Santa Monica, to raise funds for sexually abused children.
Writing for The Guardian, Hadley Freeman has described Adams's personality as "extremely engaging, serious but with a hint of a straight-talking broad once she gets going". Carl Swanson of New York magazine has called her "suspiciously unnarcissistic for a Hollywood star, gracious, hardworking, and decent to the point of almost not being a celebrity". Alex Bilmes of Esquire wrote that her ability to be "both glamorous movie star and relatable normal person is key to her success".
Adams works closely with her acting coach Warner Loughlin, and credits him for helping her organize and structure her thoughts. She uses an acting method Loughlin teaches, in which she attempts an understanding of her character's psychology by creating the character's back story from the age of three. Adams prefers to work with confident directors who give her space to think for herself. She stays in character while filming, and finds it difficult to detach herself from roles and accents. She is not influenced by the size of a role and is drawn to both leading and supporting parts. She has described herself as an obsessive performer.
Jake Coyle of The Washington Times considers Adams an actress who does not transform herself for her roles, but who inhabits "a character with warmth and smarts while, to varying degrees, remaining herself". Meryl Streep, her co-star in Doubt and Julie & Julia, has said that Adams comes highly prepared on set and possesses "a gigantic intelligence" in developing her character's arc. Paul Thomas Anderson, her director in The Master, has praised her dedication and investment in her projects. Journalists have commented on her "American sweetheart" persona in her roles in the 2000s while taking note of her increased versatility in the 2010s. In 2016, the novelist Stephen Marche named Adams the greatest actress of her generation. Describing her film career in his 2016 review of Arrival, the journalist and critic Anthony Lane of The New Yorker wrote:
The spry benevolence that carried her through a film like Enchanted (2007) has been cross-grained, in recent years, by the stern resolve of The Master (2012) and the snap of American Hustle (2013), and now, in Arrival, her gift for sorrow, her strength, and her instinctive sweetness of temper are rolled into one.
Forbes reported Adams to be among the highest-paid actresses in the world, with earnings of over $13 million in 2014, and in 2016, and over $11 million in 2017. The magazine featured her on its annual Celebrity 100 list in 2014, and also ranked her among the most powerful actresses in the business. Also that year, she was named one of the 100 most influential people in the world by Time magazine. Adams received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2017. By 2017, Adams's films had grossed over $4.7 billion worldwide. Robert Ito of The New York Times believes that Adams's propensity for risky projects prevents her from being a bigger box-office draw.
Stuart McGurk of GQ considers Adams's porcelain skin, auburn hair and her soft, earnest speaking style to be among her trademarks. She was named one of the most beautiful people in America by Elle in 2011, and several publications have featured her red carpet appearances in their listings of best-dressed celebrities. Adams advertised Lacoste's fragrance Eau de Lacoste in 2012, and two years later, she endorsed accessories and handbags of Max Mara. In 2015, she collaborated with Max Mara to design and promote a line of handbags.
Adams's most acclaimed and highest-grossing films, according to the online portal Box Office Mojo and the review aggregate site Rotten Tomatoes, include Catch Me If You Can (2002), Junebug (2005), Enchanted (2007), Doubt (2008), Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian (2009), Julie & Julia (2009), The Fighter (2010), The Muppets (2011), The Master (2012), Man of Steel (2013), Her (2013), American Hustle (2013), Big Eyes (2014), Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016), Arrival (2016), Nocturnal Animals (2016), and Justice League (2017). Among her television projects, she has starred in the HBO miniseries Sharp Objects (2018). On stage, she has appeared in the Public Theater's revival of Into the Woods in 2012.
Adams has been nominated for six Academy Awards: Best Supporting Actress for Junebug (2005), Doubt (2008), The Fighter (2010), The Master (2012), and Vice (2018); and Best Actress for American Hustle (2013). She has twice won the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress in a Comedy or Musical, for American Hustle (2013) and Big Eyes (2014), and has been nominated seven more times: Best Actress in a Comedy or Musical for Enchanted (2007); Best Supporting Actress for Doubt (2008), The Fighter (2010), The Master (2012), and Vice (2018); Best Actress in a Drama for Arrival (2016); and Best Actress in a Miniseries for Sharp Objects (2018).
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