The Greatness of Amy Adams
Who’s the next Philip Seymour Hoffman? Look no further than Amy Adams
Philip Seymour Hoffman’s recent passing triggered many emotions– our own Mike Acker wrote about it here— Hoffman was the defining actor of our generation due to his strong body of work, passion and talent. We mourned not only the loss of a talented human being, but the loss of possibility — who knows how many future performances will never be realized, cut off from us forever? We instinctively knew that his best years were still ahead of him. Nonetheless, once we got past the grief, we asked ourselves the natural follow-up question: who is going to carry the torch?
May I suggest Amy Adams?
Adams possesses many of the same qualities as Hoffman — on-screen magnetism, career arc, character selection, and awards nomination patterns. Let’s break it down:
Both are quintessential “character actors.” As much as I dislike the term (in a film, who isn’t acting a character?), it makes a lot of sense when applied to both Hoffman and Adams. As they are not conventional movie stars, they contribute to a director’s vision in different ways. You aren’t watching them, but the characters they inhabit. There is a high degree of role variance from film to film.
Hoffman can transform into any combination of: good guy, bad guy, burnout, sidekick, playboy, priest, con artist, loner, creep, weirdo. There isn’t a common theme to his roles, other than the sheer intensity and inner conflict that he brings to each one. He often makes “throw-away” roles uniquely watchable, because he simply stands out in the most peculiar of ways.
Hoffman even does comedy. Who can forget “RAIN DANCE?”
Adams is very similar in this respect: Detractors may point to her “bubbly” persona, exhibited in films like Drop Dead Gorgeous, Catch Me If You Can, Junebug and Enchanted. But she has also demonstrated the ability to play a wide range of characters on different sides of the spectrum — both comedic and dramatic, sometimes in the same film. Like Hoffman, she matches the intensity with an equal dose of earnestness. She’s able to infuse into her roles a passion and straightforwardness that resonates with viewers. Whether it’s an expecting mother in Junebug, a real-life princess in Enchanted, a down-on-her-luck platonic best friend in Her, or a conflicted con-woman in American Hustle, Adams has been successful precisely because of her non-ironic approach to her performances.
Check out this scene from Enchanted where her character, straight out of a fairy tale, comes to a self-realization of her negative emotions.
On why he cast Adams, Enchanted director Kevin Lima said: “Her commitment to the character, her ability to escape into the character’s being without ever judging the character was overwhelming. Honestly, I knew in that moment that I could make the film I was envisioning.”
It’s often easy to associate “character acting” as something that requires physical transformation. While Adams has never physically transformed herself like Charlize Theron, Christian Bale, or Robert de Niro, she plays to her strengths by using her everywoman authenticity, and in doing so, defies stereotyping. She is simultaneously everyone and no one.
The one extremely underrated part of Adams’ repertoire is her ability to grasp different accents. Mid-Western, Bostonian, British, and more — she’s always sounded authentic.
Scene-stealing qualities. Even in Hollywood, quality trumps quantity when it comes to screen time. Typically, Hoffman and Adams don’t get all the juicy scenes, but they steal the ones that they’re in and out-do their big name counterparts. This is the hallmark of something great.
Owen Davian in Mission Impossible 3. Andy Hanson in Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead. Scotty J in Boogie Nights. Lester Bangs in Almost Famous. Freddie Miles in The Talented Mr. Ripley. There is just too much Hoffman goodness to fit into one list.
Hoffman’s Owen Davian is the perfect foil to Tom Cruise’s character. He’s there to open the movie with his heavy-set, intense villainy.
One of the best dialogue-turned-monologues ever. “I’ve spent the past three years learning FINNISH!”
In Junebug, there is a pivotal scene where Adams’s character describes the process in which she loses her baby. It’s one of the most emotionally devastating scenes ever committed to film. In one scene, Adams makes the transition from stark calm, to terrifying recollection, and then all the way back again. She even cracks a joke at the end to maintain a facade of strength. At this point, nothing can be the same ever again – not for her and not for us. An incredible range of emotions in the span of a few minutes.
Take a look at Adams as Charlene Fleming in The Fighter. Like the other characters in the movie, she’s down on her luck but not out. Look at the way her eyes stare at Christian Bale’s Dicky Eklund as she musters up the response to his condemnation of her life. The words in the script don’t do her performance justice.
And who could forget Adams and Hoffman together in the “hand relief” scene in The Master? Adams’ character, Peggy Dodd, admonishes Hoffman’s character for his indiscretions while simultaneously giving him a mixture of agony and pleasure. It’s unexpected, it’s raw, it demonstrates the matriarchal power dynamic and Adams pulls it off — pun intended.
They have solid performance backgrounds. Some actors do all their work on the big screen, or possibly for TV. But both Hoffman and Adams had credentials that helped them develop into all-around talents. Hoffman started as a theater actor, and continued to challenge himself in live productions long after he established himself as a force in Hollywood. He had been deeply involved in the New York theater community, even directing plays and personally selling tickets for his production company. As for Adams, she was involved in dance and musical theater at a young age. A Colorado native, Adams did regional theater until she got a call-up to work in Chanhassen, Minnesota. After that, she auditioned for Drop Dead Gorgeous and the rest is history.
It’s clear that they worked hard in a number of performance-related pursuits until they entered the mainstream. They are living proof to the idea that there are no overnight successes in Hollywood.
Career arc and consistency. Actors need to work. Every actor, Hoffman and Adams included, navigated through their share of challenges in order to hit their respective inflection points. As actors try to establish themselves, they will appear in a dud of a movie every now and then, but strong performers rise above the challenge.
Hoffman’s early cinematic breakthrough was in 1992’s Scent of a Woman. He then found himself in a series of unremarkable roles in 90’s movies like Joey Breaker and My Boyfriend’s Back – stuff that’s difficult to revisit and watch, even in the context of a retrospective. It took until 1996 for him to receive critical acclaim again, with Hard Eight. In the same year, he starred in Twister, which to this day is one of his most well-known roles.
From there, there was no turning back. Hoffman’s late 1990’s and early 2000’s run was arguably one of the strongest runs of any actor, and established him as a man of consistency. This run started with Hard Eight and went on to include memorable roles in Boogie Nights, The Big Lebowski, Happiness, Flawless, Magnolia, The Talented Mr. Ripley, State and Main, Almost Famous, Love Liza, Owning Mahoney, and Punch-Drunk Love, amongst many others. Even if we couldn’t quite grasp his name at that time, he proved to be a memorable on-screen presence. Hoffman also defied type-casting.
How about Adams? She hasn’t done nearly as many films as Hoffman (28 to Hoffman’s 54), but they follow a similar pattern of consistency. Her highest-profile early role was in 2002’s Catch Me If You Can. Just like Hoffman, she had a few more unremarkable stints and needed another few years to receive recognition in 2005’s Junebug. From then on, her career went on a strong run. Post-2005, this run includes Enchanted, Charlie Wilson’s War, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, Doubt, Sunshine Cleaning, Julie & Julia, The Fighter, Her and American Hustle. Adams had her share of critical failures, too — think Talladega Nights, Night at the Museum 2, Leap Year and Man of Steel — but those works gave her enough mainstream credibility with viewers, and helped establish her case as somebody who could potentially headline movies.
The great thing about Adams’ run is that it hasn’t ended yet. Since 2005, she’s been doing consistently excellent work, and there’s no doubt in my mind that she can sustain it beyond a full decade.
They are not “movie stars.” Neither Hoffman nor Adams are conventional movie stars, and this works to their advantage. When I think “movie star,” I think of instantly recognizable names that sell movie tickets. Cruise, Depp, Hanks, Damon, Blanchett, Roberts, Streep — these are examples of names that grace movie posters and carry the box office. Hoffman and Adams are in a different class altogether. We never say that we are watching a “Philip Seymour Hoffman movie,” or “an Amy Adams movie,” and that’s fine. We watch them for their performances.
This is a critical point of comparison because both actors display a versatility and malleability that complements their everyman/everywoman qualities. By not having to headline big-budget affairs, they can focus on giving great performances without the weight of box office expectations.
To support my case that they aren’t conventional stars or leads, consider Hoffman’s Academy Award nominations:
2005 – Best Actor in a Leading Role – Capote (Won)
2007 – Best Actor in a Supporting Role – Charlie Wilson’s War
2008 – Best Actor in a Supporting Role – Doubt
2012 – Best Actor in a Supporting Role – The Master
Now let’s look at Adams’ Academy Award nominations:
2005 – Best Actress in a Supporting Role – Junebug
2008 – Best Actress in a Supporting Role – Doubt
2010 – Best Actress in a Supporting Role – The Fighter
2012 – Best Actress in a Supporting Role – The Master
2013 – Best Actress in a Leading Role – American Hustle
While Academy Award nominations aren’t a perfect barometer of achievement, they do represent a form of mainstream recognition. With the exception of Capote, Hoffman’s nominations were all in supporting roles. He’s always receiving less screen time as a complement to the lead actors, though he more often than not steals the show. While Hoffman did win for Capote, that film received far fewer viewers than the other films he’s been in. It’s grossed less than $30M in the USA, which is relatively small.
Adams has received roughly the same number of nominations. Where Adams deviates slightly from Hoffman — these nominated roles are her best films. Junebug deserved every bit of praise it received. Playing opposite Hoffman in films like Doubt and The Master highlighted some of Adams’ best qualities — the ability to elevate the actors around her and work well as part of an ensemble. While she did get nominated for a lead role in American Hustle, but it certainly wasn’t a one-woman show. She played off of Christian Bale and Bradley Cooper’s excellent performances.
The best is (was) yet to come. The most tragic fact of all: Hoffman was a bright star that flamed out far too early. Adams, on the other hand, is making a capable transition from supporting actress to Hollywood leading lady. With every film, she’s building up her body of work. Although she was a dark horse to win the Leading Actress Academy Award this year, the nomination alone was a strong signifier of things to come. She’ll be making an Oscar acceptance speech sooner rather than later.
In terms of upcoming projects, there are a couple big ones for her. Adams will be reprising her role as Lois Lane in the upcoming Superman-Batman film. She’ll also be playing the painter Margaret Keane in Big Eyes. There’s been talk of her playing Janis Joplin in a still-in-development biopic.
Hoffman’s untimely death was tragic, but it serves as a reminder that labels like actor of our generation inevitably require a changing of the guard. I’d like to leave you with this respectful homage to Philip Seymour Hoffman, by none other than Ms. Amy Adams. Game respects game.
Adams is part of the new guard now, and is someone who has learned from masters of the craft like Hoffman. Through her strong work, dynamic range and continued progression as an actress, we can rest assured that his spirit will live on.
James Hsu is a Chinese-Canadian writer currently living in Beijing. Follow him on Twitter at @james_hsu.
4 Responses to “The Greatness of Amy Adams”
This was obviously meant to be a nice piece but it comes off extremely condascending and rather dismissive of one of the best working actresses in the business.
Amy Adams is a movie star. She has been on the cover of Vanity Fair twice and is regularly in women’s magazines with her child. Her clothing choices at every award show are picked apart. Tabloids follow her.
Philip Seymour Hoffman—though I loved him—was heralded in part bc he didn’t look like a star. He was heavy. Adams looks like a Disney Princess. She’s beautiful. She’s also female which means she’s dealing with way different issues in this sexist industry.
Also? Man of Steel a “critical failure.?” Man of Steel may have had mixed reviews but it made $650 dollars at the box office. She was received well in a flawed film. Night at the Museum also made huge at the box office and she was heralded by most critics as the reason to see the movie.
This is a really condascending article.
Hi Kate, thanks for reading and commenting.
I was trying to highlight the fact (perhaps unsuccessfully) that when I talked to friends about Amy Adams, they all said she was great but I felt that critics never really gave her huge props. Hence the motivation to write this article.
In terms of Adams not being a “movie star,” the reason I mentioned it was that in this day and age, most famous people can grace tabloids/magazine covers, and that’s just the way things operate. I stand by my assertion, however, that neither Adams or Hoffman are big box office draws. There’s a difference between being visible in the media versus headlining a movie.
As for Man of Steel – I didn’t say it was a box office failure, but a critical failure. Most folks I know did not enjoy the movie. Now, it’s not possible to pin that all on Adams, I’m just saying that as a whole the movie was not received well by critics. But perhaps she will be known for this movie more than the other “great” movies that no one saw – e.g. Junebug :)
You are right in that Adams is a woman and unfortunately women are held to a different standard in society, and even more so in Hollywood. I tried to compare Adams and Hoffman on their acting merits. I also feel that I was not qualified to speak on behalf on women, but perhaps that omission made the article less accessible for you.
Again, I am a big fan of Amy Adams, and I’m sorry that I came across as anything but an admirer of her.
I AM FROM INDIA ,VERY GOOD ARTICLE REGARDING THE LIFE OF AMY ADAMS AS AN ACTRESS. AMY ADAMS COULD HAVE WON AN OSCAR AWARD FOR HER PREVIOUS PERFORMANCES IN JUNEBUG OR THE MASTER.BUT DEFINITELY SHE MIGHT WIN AN OSCAR FOR HER UPCOMING MOVIE BIOPIC AMY DEFINITELY HAS A MINIMUM OF TEN YEARS OR MAY BE AMY ADAMS IS THE NEXT MERYL STREEP
Thanks for reading!
Next Meryl Streep? Fingers crossed!