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Telluride: How Amy Adams went from dinner theater to Hollywood star

by Darby Maloney | The Frame

The Frame's John Horn interviews Amy Adams about her career ahead of a screening of her new film "Arrival" at the 43rd annual Telluride Film Festival. Keith Ladzinski for KPCC

Among the movies at the 43rd annual Telluride Film Festival is "Arrival," a sci-fi film directed by Denis Villeneuve ("Sicario") and starring Amy Adams. 

She plays a mother and an accomplished linguist who, when a mysterious pod arrives in Montana, is called upon to help the government communicate with whoever is inside it. In Telluride, Adams is also being honored for her entire body of work which includes five performances that have earned her Oscar nominations ("Junebug," "Doubt," "The Fighter," "The Master," and "American Hustle").

The Frame's John Horn spoke with Adams about her career and found that it was her formative years in dinner theater and a fateful conversation with Kirstie Alley that led her to Hollywood. 

Below are some key highlights from their talk. To hear the full conversation click the play button at the top of this page or get The Frame podcast on itunes.

INTERVIEW HIGHLIGHTS

ON GETTING STARTED IN DINNER THEATER:

I discovered I loved singing and I loved theater. I did literally have to discover my voice because anytime I was asked to say a line or sing a solo I would just choke. I don't have a big voice anyway which is something I work on as an actress but I would literally not be able to speak. Doing dinner theater helped me overcome my stage fright. It helped me be able to breathe in order to give performances. Things that seemed like it would be easy but it was a big challenge for me when I first started.

It also teaches you an amazing work ethic. Because when you're in theater everyone's kind of responsible for themselves. You're responsible for your hair and make-up. You're responsible for your props. You are responsible. In film it took me a long time to let people do that for me and then I realized by me doing it, it made their jobs harder. So that took a little while to get used to. But yeah, it was the best training ground and I loved it very much.

ON REALIZING SHE COULD WORK IN FILMS:

"Drop Dead Gorgeous" was my first feature film that I ever did. I was in Minnesota working at the Chanhassen Dinner Theatres which is awesome. So I booked ["Drop Dead Gorgeous"] while I was doing "Brigadoon" and they were nice enough to let me out to do the film. And when I was on it I sort of realized that film was a possibility for me and I hadn't thought of it before.

Of course I thought of it but I thought that's something movie stars do; I'm just a dancer at a dinner theater. And it opened up that this is a world that maybe I could participate in -- not because I was special -- but because it took the same craft I've been doing. Like, Oh I've been doing this all along. I didn't put it together. It was before social media and reality television.

ON A FATEFUL CONVERSATION WITH KIRSTIE ALLEY:

I kind of like very nervously went up to Kirstie Alley and I was like, Um, I was thinking of maybe moving to LA. And she's like, Oh yeah, you should do it. You're young. You're funny. You'll work. That's like all it took. I was like, I am young and funny. I will work. This will be great. I never thought it was going to be the struggle it is for everybody and for me.

ON HER EARLY YEARS IN HOLLYWOOD:

I had auditioned for like any film you saw in the late '90s early 2000s. It didn't matter what part it was. I went out for everything. I said just, send me out for everything. I don't care if I'm right. I needed to work. Because I needed to learn how to do it. I wanted to explore every role and I didn't want to get stagnant in my craft. And when you're not hired as an actor you can go to acting class or try to do plays but there's nothing like someone saying, Action, and you have to do it. You have to do it right when "action" happens.

ON THE TIMING OF "JUNEBUG":

When I did "Junebug" I was actually getting fired from a television show simultaneously called "Dr. Vegas." And uh, they thought I wasn't sexy enough as Rob Lowe wrote about in his book. I was like, Oh well I knew that but nobody told me but then I found out it was true. [laughs] It was, I think, the third television show I'd been let go of. So I was really thinking I wasn't going to be doing this anymore. I thought the industry was telling me it wasn't going to happen. And so I said, Ok, well sometimes when the world and life speaks to you, you have to listen. And so if I'm fighting for something that doesn't belong to me then it's going to create unhappiness. And I was just seeking my own happiness.

ON THE ROLES SHE GETS NOW:

Honestly as I've gotten older I feel like the roles have gotten more interesting which is so exciting. Because everyone told me like, Oh, forty's coming. And I'm like, forty is awesome! This is the best time. I've gotten to do this film ["Arrival"] when I was 40 and I got to do another film ["Nocturnal Animals"] when I was 40. I love what's happening.

 

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