“It felt like i was in a relationship that wasn’t working.” so says Amy Adams about her rocky past in TV. But her colleague on HBO’s Sharp Objects, Marti Noxon, has a theory: “Amy is a layered, complex actress. Back then, young, beautiful women were supposed to be a type.”
Though she's won two Golden Globes, an Independent Spirit Award and a special jury prize at Sundance — and been nominated five times for an Oscar — Amy Adams could easily forge a second career as a journalist.
For proof, look no further than how she orders a scrambled egg and sliced avocado at breakfast in the Chateau Marmont's lobby restaurant.
As a 20-something server stands by, pen poised in hand, Adams manages within minutes to extract her hometown (Melbourne, Australia), birthplace (Greenville, South Carolina), how long she's lived in Los Angeles (10 months) and a review of the City of Angels. ("It's dirty and smelly," the server says. "But there are great people here.") Wearing blue jeans and a peach blouse, her red hair in a tidy ponytail, Adams smiles radiantly at her, and the young woman basks in the warmth.
"It comes with toast," the server announces, helpfully. "No toast." "Potatoes?" "No potatoes. Just scrambled eggs," Adams says. Before she lets the young woman drift off to another table, Adams offers a fact meant to soothe: "The first year is always tricky."
Adams's natural reportorial skills — her way of listening intently while composing the next question — are used to full effect in Sharp Objects. The eight-episode limited series — debuting July 8 on HBO — is based on the mystery-thriller of the same name by New York Times best-selling author Gillian Flynn (Gone Girl).
Adams plays Camille Preaker, a crime reporter who, having just emerged from a psych ward, is dispatched to her tiny hometown of rural Wind Gap, Missouri, to investigate the gruesome murders of two young girls. Early in the series, Camille toggles between quizzing the Wind Gap locals and indulging in two of her favorite coping mechanisms: draining endless mini-bottles of vodka and engaging in bouts of self-mutilation.
Over the past 19 years, Adams has built a reputation for disappearing into characters across the entire emotional spectrum, from a sweetly innocent chatterbox (Junebug) and a tinkly-voiced fairy princess (Enchanted) to a ruthless con artist (American Hustle) and a linguist working to communicate with aliens (Arrival). But inhabiting someone as psychically wounded as Camille felt new.
"I've flirted with dysfunction in my roles, but I've never delved quite as deep," Adams says. Her character had fled Wind Gap, leaving behind a controlling mother (Patricia Clarkson), a duplicitous half-sister (Eliza Scanlen) and wrenching childhood memories she'd rather forget.
"I've played people with issues, but they've masked them in different ways. Camille is rough around the edges. She's trying, she really is, but she just doesn't do a good job of masking her issues, so a lot of her stuff is brought to the surface."
Surreal. That's how showrunner Marti Noxon (UnREAL, Buffy the Vampire Slayer) says it felt to hear that Adams, who'd read Noxon's script for the first episode, wanted to play the lead and be an executive producer. "To be honest," Noxon says, "I didn't believe it. In my mind, she's one of the few giant movie stars left. So I was like, 'Well, that's never going to happen.'"
In fact, until Adams came aboard, Noxon had envisioned Camille as a more obviously broken character. "But when I started to think about Amy in the role, I got really excited. First of all, she can do anything. Second of all, Amy has a luminescence that's undeniable, and how true to the story is it that all these things about her character are hidden beneath the façade of somebody who has a glow to her?"
In a world where an A-list actor's executive-producer credit is often little more than ego massage, Noxon says Adams went all in. "We ran everything by her: casting choices, production-related decisions, everything. There were lots of meetings where I'd say, 'Well, you don't have to come to this,' and there she'd be. She was always engaged and opinionated, and fought for the integrity of what is a very female story."
In fact, it was Adams who reached out to award-winning French-Canadian director Jean-Marc Vallée (Big Little Lies), with whom she'd long worked on developing a now-defunct Janis Joplin biopic. Vallée says that after reading the novel and Noxon's script, his first response to the invitation to join the team for this scary, twisty tale was, " What? Our little girl-next-door Amy is willing to do this? This, I got to see."
Phoning in from the Sharp Objects editing room, Vallée adds, "Amy's very intelligent and cerebral, and she always has a very good understanding of the characters that she's tackling. She's such a force of nature. So I called her up and said, 'If you're willing to do this and go that crazy, let's go crazy together.'"
"I think that's what Jean-Marc meant — 'Are you sure [you want to do this]?'" Adams explains.
It wasn't just playing such a deeply troubled character, but working with a director whose energetic shooting style requires his cast to have military levels of stamina. He favors a stripped- down crew and very long takes, and he has a habit of doing reverse shots by flipping the camera around, often startling the actors. He directed every episode of Sharp Objects, shooting in 90 days on a stage in Los Angeles, with exterior shoots in Ukiah, California, and Barnsdale, Georgia (standing in for small-town Missouri).
"It takes a lot of endurance to work with Jean-Marc," Adams says. "He's nuts. You just go all day, in all conditions; you don't leave set. It's full-on."
That doesn't mean the experience was unrelentingly grim. "There's an episode where we had to shoot outdoors in northern California," she says, recalling a party scene where all the key murder suspects are guests, each eyeing the other.
"It was really hot and challenging. We all ended up being sunburned because Jean-Marc, he just goes and goes and goes. I was sunburned through my dress. I got an ice cream truck for the extras. I was like, 'You have to give them a break.' But it was one of the few times that the entire cast was together, and I could not stop laughing. We had so much fun."
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This article originally appeared in emmy magazine, Issue No. 7, 2018