A princess finds her dark side

If things had gone differently,if she had been less ambitious and risk-averse,Adams might have spent these last few years in one rom-com after other.

Written by New York Times | Published: December 15, 2013 5:01 am

In American Hustle,the latest film by director David O Russell,Rosalyn Rosenfeld (Jennifer Lawrence) plants a lipstick-smearing kiss on Sydney Prosser (Amy Adams),a grifter who is having an affair with a fellow con artist (Christian Bale),who just happens to be Rosalyn’s husband. The kiss caps off a scene of rage-filled accusations and not-so-veiled threats. The possibility that members of the Mafia might kill all three of them only ratchets up the heat.

The kiss,Adams admitted,was her idea. “Rosalyn’s crazy,” she said. “And I thought,‘What’s the craziest thing she could do?’.”

As sudden as it is sloppy,the kiss is equal parts threat and assault. If Lawrence stuck the landing on the kiss,Adams hits about a half-dozen emotions — from shock to fear to rage — with her stunned response.

Sydney “is the most miserable human being I’ve ever played,” Adams said. “She is not — happy. I’m used to playing people that,even if they’re survivors,there’s some sort of light in them.” With a laugh,she added,“I think I like playing happy people.”

Fans of Adams know the type. For many of them,Adams,39,will always be the would-be princess who fell to Earth in Enchanted,or the cheerful Southern wife in Junebug,for which she received the first of four Academy Award nominations.

But over the last several years,she has expanded her range of characters,mixing plenty of light (The Muppets,Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian,Leap Year) with ever-increasing doses of,if not complete darkness,something like it.

In The Fighter,she plays a bartender tough and salty enough to stand up to the greedy,shiftless family of her boxer boyfriend (Mark Wahlberg); in The Master,she is the domineering,largely unlikable wife of a cult leader (Philip Seymour Hoffman). Her role in American Hustle may be her darkest to date. But then,in a couple of months,she’s off to play Lois Lane for the second time.

Not many actresses are given the chance to make those sorts of jumps,and if things had gone differently,if she had been less ambitious or more risk-averse,Adams might have spent these last few years in one rom-com after the next. It’s been her willingness to experiment — and the trust of admiring directors — that has kept her from that fate. If she’s not necessarily the most recognisable name among actresses of her generation — her lack of off-screen antics may contribute to that — she’s still in an enviable position: a woman who can work with Muppets and Clint Eastwood,all while storing up awards.

American Hustle is based loosely on the late-1970s Abscam scandal,an FBI sting operation that resulted in the convictions of several members of Congress. In one scene,Irving Rosenfeld (Bale) and Sydney,a former stripper and Cosmopolitan magazine employee,discover each other at a party,their eyes locking from across the room. “He wasn’t in the best shape,” she recalls,referring to the 50 pounds or so Bale put on for his role in the film.

By contrast,Adams is as sexy and glamorous as she’s ever been,a ’70s-era vision. Before long,the two are nabbed running a loan scam in which Sydney pretends to be Lady Edith Greensly,a classy expat with London banking connections. An FBI agent (Bradley Cooper) enlists them in a small sting that spins out of control. Soon,the mob and congressmen are involved,and one is never sure just who is conning whom.

The fourth of seven kids,Adams still has the air of a person who sang in her school choir. She won’t speak ill of anyone,and still has fond memories of the people who talked her out of quitting the business when she got fired from a few shows. She still calls people “sir” and “ma’am”; the occasional reporter or busboy gets “sweetie.”

It’s a bit of that Amy Adams on display in Her,the latest film from Spike Jonze. Joaquin Phoenix plays Theodore,a man pining for his ex-wife who falls in love with his computer’s operating system,voiced by Scarlett Johansson. Adams plays Theodore’s best friend,in spare makeup,still hopeful about finding love.

Later,Adams will reprise her role as Lois Lane in Batman vs Superman,the sequel to Man of Steel. She knows little about the story,other than the glimpses she gets from her fiancé,Darren Le Gallo,an artist,actor and father of their three-year-old daughter,Aviana. He gets Facebook updates from a Man of Steel website.

ROBERT ITO

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