Amy Adams Interview – DOUBT

     December 21, 2008

Written by Steve ‘Frosty’ Weintraub

Already playing in limited release and expanding on Christmas Day is John Patrick Shanley’s movie “Doubt”. The film stars Meryl Streep, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams and Viola Davis and it’s based on his play with the same name. Here’s the synopsis:

It’s 1964, St. Nicholas in the Bronx. A vibrant, charismatic priest, Father Flynn (Philip Seymour Hoffman), is trying to upend the school’s strict customs, which have long been fiercely guarded by Sister Aloysius Beauvier (Meryl Streep), the iron-gloved Principal who believes in the power of fear and discipline. The winds of political change are sweeping through the country, and, indeed, the school has just accepted its first black student, Donald Miller. But when Sister James (Amy Adams), a hopeful innocent, shares with Sister Aloysius her suspicion that Father Flynn is paying too much personal attention to Donald, Sister Aloysius is galvanized to begin a crusade to both unearth the truth and expunge Flynn from the school. Now, without a shred of proof or evidence except her moral certainty, Sister Aloysius locks into a battle of wills with Father Flynn, a battle that threatens to tear apart the Church and school with devastating consequences.

As you might imagine with this cast, the acting is top notch across the board. In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me if a few of them get Oscar nods.

Anyway, I recently participated in roundtable interviews with most of the cast and the one below is with Amy Adams. During our interview she spoke about making “Doubt”, working with the amazing cast, what’s up with an “Enchanted” sequel, “Julie and Julia” and a lot more. Also, she tells a very funny story about running into a little girl and what she had to do to keep Princess Giselle alive in her eyes…

As always, you can either read the transcript below or listen to the audio by clicking here. Again, “Doubt” opens everywhere on Christmas Day.

Question: How are you?

Amy Adams: I’m well, thanks. How are you?

Good. It’s funny, Viola just told your story about working hard for a long time and…

Amy Adams: Ah, she’s…

Viola’s hoping she can make it.

Amy Adams: She’s awesome.


Amy Adams: How about that woman. I mean right?

Yes, and she talked about how like she had three weeks of shooting just for one scene. How much rehearsal did you have for obviously a much more…?

Amy Adams: Three weeks. We all had the same amount of rehearsal time. Yes, it was a pretty intense rehearsal process for me, so.

Did you have the same Meryl terror before you started the movie?

Amy Adams: I did in the sense, only in the sense that I wanted to be a good scene partner for Meryl. I wasn’t scared of her. I was scared of myself. I wanted to make sure that I was bringing, you know, you want to be good for Meryl, you know, and for Philip, you know, these are two people that I respect greatly and you just want to, you want to be a hundred percent for them and be present.

What was your back story on your character because, you know, she’s obviously the youngest of the nuns in this group? Why is she there? Was she just like an orphan or maybe…?

Amy Adams: I love that. I should have used that.

I mean did she just kind of grow up in the church and, you know, I don’t know, I mean what were your ideas about her?

Amy Adams: Well, I’m not going to give it away.


Amy Adams: I’m not going to give it away, but I will tell you that there were, we had wonderful access to nuns that joined at that time and would have been Sister James’ age. Sister James was actually there, Sister Peggy was our technical advisor and that was John Patrick Shanley’s first grade teacher who was a Sister of Charity and wore the bonnet. So I had access to a number of the Sisters who really gave me a lot of information about the choices that were available at the time, why they chose, how their family reacted and it really, really helped me understand some things. And one of the things I think when watching the film, because John Patrick Shanley, like the writing is just so clean, you don’t know all of the rules. I mean my character is not supposed to talk back. My character is not supposed to question, my character is supposed to listen and you have a vow of silence in the morning that lasts until after the first mass. I mean this is not, you know, you don’t get together and like question your faith and question the priests. I mean this is huge and it’s completely inappropriate and it’s very difficult for her, and yet she can’t help but wrestle with these ideas. And also the… I’ll keep going. Do you guys have any questions? Because I’ll take up the whole time talking about it because it’s fascinating. There are things I didn’t realize that you weren’t allowed to leave and you weren’t allowed to leave by yourself. If you had a doctor’s appointment, two of them went together. If somebody was sick in your family, you weren’t allowed to leave. So, you know, when my character says I can’t leave my class, it’s not like I can’t leave my class! But no, I really can’t leave my class, I’m not allowed to leave because my brother’s sick, you know, you know that. And so there’s such a great sense of isolation and being sort of trapped in the situation and in this world for her through the story. Okay, I’m done for the most part.

Had you ever seen Doubt as a play?

Amy Adams: Yes, I had. I had and I really loved it. I remembered it but I remember being moved by it and I remember talking about it, but it was kind of like that gift of not really remembering the performances exactly though. I was glad that I didn’t. Although I probably could have stolen some things from Heather as she’s really good.

Can you talk about how you actually came to the project, like was it a phone call? Because you’ve been in a lot of successful films recently, have you reached that point where you’re no longer auditioning and that it’s sort of being offered to you?

Amy Adams: It’s different with every project, but with this project I sort of chased it. I did not audition but I did meet with John Patrick Shanley and Emily, poor Emily, I talk about her all the time. Emily Blunt, I was working with her and she brought the idea to me. She had read the script. I had not read the script, and she said, ‘I know what you’re doing next. You’re doing Doubt,’ very enthusiastically. And I read it and I was just like, ‘You’re right. I really want to do this.’ I’m like, ‘You don’t want it?’ And she’s like, ‘Oh I’m not right for that but you…’ So it was actually Emily who brought the idea to me.

And when you got, when you heard about it was anyone attached to it yet or…?

Amy Adams: Someone had been offered the part. That did not deter me just because it’s very common in our industry for people to come in and out of projects based on their availability and personal reasons and whatever. So I just wanted to put my name in the hat, so I kind of pursued it.

Well it’s curious, it seems like also Philip and Meryl had been attached when you heard about the project or…?

Amy Adams: Yes, they were attached.

So when you hear that they’re attached, is that one of those, you know, a little extra effort to try to get on?

Amy Adams: I’m sure. I mean that would be, if you get presented with an opportunity to work on a Pulitzer Prize-winning piece with Meryl and Philip and John Patrick Shanley, the writer, yeah, that sounds like a pretty undeniable opportunity.

Is there also a choice there that you can make in order to kind of move away from a potential stereotype like some of the films that you’ve done?

Amy Adams: I didn’t look at – I’m not that sort of plotted. I probably should be. I tend to respond to characters. I respond to material. The actors that I admire sort of defy genres, they’re not sort of assigned to any one genre, so of course that’s always been something in the back of my head that I don’t want to only do this or only do that. So I work on keeping myself flexible in between genres.

How did it feel to wear the habit?

Amy Adams: Great, I loved that. I know, you probably don’t believe me but I did. I loved it. It lacked all vanity and it was comfortable and I didn’t have to worry about my gut. I could just eat what ever I wanted. It was great. It was like doing Junebug again.

Did you shoot Julie and Julia yet with Meryl or is that coming up?

Amy Adams: Yes.

You’ve already shot it?

Amy Adams: We shot it directly after Doubt. I went straight into it.

And how different was it and was there a period of adjustment of getting into different roles and playing that with her?

Amy Adams: Well we don’t actually have any scenes together in that.


Amy Adams: So there was a period of adjustment just in coming from a very sort of quiet, examining role to somebody who’s like sort of grouchy and confused and kind of just modern, you know, in that sense. There’s always a period of adjustment when you’re going from project to project but we had rehearsal time on that as well, so I was grateful for that.

So Viola was talking about how intimidated she was to work with Meryl beforehand. I’m not sure if you were intimidated by Meryl but have you found yourself intimidated by other peers, working with them still even after all the success you’ve had?

Amy Adams: Every time. I mean you go into a project with such, you know, you don’t know these people. You don’t know. You don’t know what it’s going to be like. And I’ve been really fortunate because everybody’s been fantastic and generous and open and welcoming and I’ve never felt like an outsider on sets with Tom Hanks or with Meryl Streep. I mean I think there’s a reason these people are where they are and that’s because they are, they’re pros and they’re going to make sure you’re doing your best work by doing their best work. And yes, I mean there’s definitely an intimidation factor that you put on yourself. It’s not them that does it, but I think Viola probably agrees with that. You really build it up in your head and think like, ‘Oh my god, Meryl Streep, she’s not going to like me. I want Meryl to like me.’

Sort of what she said…

Amy Adams: Yes, you do, it’s Meryl Streep. Everybody wants Meryl to like them, you know? she’s Meryl. And I already know Philip doesn’t like me, so I’m okay with that. You can ask him about that. No, no, no, Philip’s awesome.

Enchanted did incredibly well worldwide and since then there’s always been talk about them trying to make a sequel of that. So have you heard anything about that? Is that something you would be interested in?

Amy Adams: I’ve heard about it, there’s nothing in place yet and there’s no a script so I’m always someone who makes the decision based on the script so I’m excited to see a script. I’d be open to it. I had a great time working on it and I love the character, so sure I’d be open to it.

It’s kind of weird that a movie does that well and they haven’t started the script on Monday morning, the weekend after.

Amy Adams: I think they were as surprised, I think they were surprised. I mean they’re like, ‘Oh, people like the movie?’ I think Disney was surprised. I hate to say that because they were really supportive, but I’m not sure they knew that it was…

That was big numbers, they…

Amy Adams: Yes, they knew they had something sweet and special and they were very respectful of it but I think it surprised them.

So what are you, I know that in February and March of next year there’s a ton of projects getting ready to go before the cameras. Have you already thought about what you’re going to be doing next?

Amy Adams: Yes, I have some stuff in development and I’m playing around with ideas and reading scripts but nothing has swayed it yet.

How do kids react to you now after Enchanted. I mean do they recognize you?

Amy Adams: Their parents recognize me and then the parents say, ‘Guess who that is.’ And the kid goes, ‘Ah-ah’. And then I’m, ‘Oh I better put on the voice,’ because they look at me in my sweats in the hotel elevator, I’ve just come back from working out and I’m like, ‘Don’t tell them. You’ll ruin the fantasy for them.’ So I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to explain to the little girls that I’m in disguise. They’re like, ‘Ooh, oh Okay.’

They must be…

Amy Adams: Yes, they do because I’m telling you there was a three year old, I thought I’d ruined her life.

Oh no.

Amy Adams: She looked at me and she said like, ‘You’re not Giselle.’ I was like, ‘Come here…’ In the airport, I was like I had to because I mean really it was like her entire fantasy world had been shattered and I’m like, ‘Oh no, I can’t be responsible for her loss of faith and belief.’ So I told her that I was in disguise so the wizard couldn’t find me. And I spoke in a Giselle voice, which I can’t do because I’m kind of working, getting rid of a cold. I can’t help it. They’re so cute and when they look disappointed I’m just like, ‘Oh I know, I don’t look good without mascara! I agree with you. I hundred percent agree, I do look a little scary.’

Where do you think your character is at the end of this movie with her faith, because obviously we know Meryl’s, Sister Aloysius has kind of gone, she’s obviously going through now this doubts of her faith. And I’m just wondering for your character, do you think she is also kind of having some doubts about her choice and her faith itself?

Amy Adams: No. I believe that she has changed but her faith and compassion remains intact. And I think that’s what I found so beautiful about her is that she’s a little smarter about people but God is the same to her and her faith is the same. But I think she definitely is a little older and a little wiser and I think she’s, at the end she’s ready to start thinking for herself. I think she’s allowed herself to be influenced and she recognizes that, both by Father Flynn and by Sister Aloysius, and it’s made her not know want to believe, not about God but about people, and it makes her not trust her instincts anymore about people. So when we leave her, I think when Sister Aloysius says, ‘I have doubts,’ it is the biggest…it’s the first time in the film when she is relieved. She sees herself, she finds the common ground with Sister Aloysius finally and that allows her to be compassionate and to offer her a hand of compassion and of friendship. And I imagine they become very close friends. I have this whole like, they become confidents and friends and I imagine as Sister Aloysius gets old it’s Sister James that’s finding the fork for her.

And she’ll be holding her down the hallway.

Amy Adams: And helping her down the hallway. Yes, I think her spirit of compassion is, and that’s one of the things I loved about this character.

You know Viola was talking about how she had to shoot that one scene so many times.

Amy Adams: Yes.

Now I was curious, were there any particular scenes that John put the same sort of focus on for you, whether it was the scene at the end or, you know, scenes that you felt like you were doing everything you could to get it pitch perfect?

Amy Adams: You know, he was very… We did do scenes, we didn’t do them a ton of times. The only thing that took at lot of takes and it was because it was at the end, we shot in block shooting in the office so we’d shoot everything in one direction and then go to the side and then, you know? So, and we were working on like a ten-minute scene/thirteen-minute scene, the one with Frosty the Snowman. We did my confrontation with Sister Aloysius at the end of, I think, two days after, at the end of it. It’s like, ‘We’re hour twelve and we’ve got to be done in like a half an hour and go,’ and I kept messing up the words. And I don’t mess up words often so I don’t really have the skills to get myself back on track. So we did have to do, we did about eleven takes and I have to tell you, the most brilliant thing about that was that Meryl Steep was on the other side of that camera just serving it to me every time. Not an ounce of frustration, not a once of impatience, no judgment, no like, ‘Oh, I would have had this in two.’ None of that. She was so supportive and she so understood the challenges for an actor to sort of do their emotional high point at the end of two days without the build up. We just stepped into it. It wasn’t as though we did the whole scene leading up to it. It was like, ‘Okay, now pick it up. He’s gone and go.’ You know, it’s a difficult thing and so that for me was the one that took the longest but I think that was my own personal, I wanted to get it word for word and perfect and right.

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