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Amy Adams has played a Disney princess, a puckish Amelia Earhart, an innocent young nun and a blogging Brooklynite who wants to follow the recipe for being Julia Child.
But she takes a more steely turn in her latest role in The Master, which has just opened in New York and Los Angeles. The film, written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, also stars Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman.
Adams plays Peggy Dodd — a kind of Lady Macbeth to a charismatic spiritual leader, played by Hoffman, who shares striking similarities with Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard. But if you ask Hoffman or Adams if the film is really about Hubbard and Scientology, the answer is no, absolutely not.
"It's not about Scientology. It isn't," is Adams' response to what she says is "the most-asked question" about the film. "It's a hot-button topic; it gets people talking."
Adams talks with NPR's Scott Simon about developing her character, playing against type and co-starring with Clint Eastwood in her other new film opening this month, Trouble with the Curve.
On developing a back story for her character, Peggy Dodd
"I tend to try to fill in the blanks as much as possible for myself. One of the things that I really thought about was [that] a long time ago, I read a book called The Feminine Mystique. In The Feminine Mystique, [Betty Friedan] talked a lot about women's roles in World War II and how that translated post-World War II. Their roles were a little less traditional than they'd been before, and then when the men came back, they sort of went into the background again.
"And I saw my character as somebody who was very focused on education, was very educated, very smart, but given the climate, she felt like she was more powerful behind a man than in front of a man."
On why Peggy Dodd is not a blind follower of her husband's religious organization
"Yeah, she's not blind at all. And I think that she is a true believer. She is somebody who sees the positive result and really believes in the positive outcome of this ... philosophy. ... I mean, I could see as an outsider how one would see the blind faith. And there are times in the film when she's very dismissive of Joaquin Phoenix's character. ... It actually breaks my heart for him. ... Because when someone does believe something so truly, sometimes it does shut out an empathic response that could be there and should be there."
On playing a character who's neither dewy-eyed nor puckish
"It was both a relief and challenging ... in that this woman has to be perceived by the outside world as being somewhat meek. She's not somebody who would embarrass her husband by stepping to the forefront in a public way. So in some ways, there are similarities to other characters that I've played. But there's a steeliness in her that really was a lot of fun to play.
"I mean, I can be really steely, maybe not to such effect, but I'm definitely not always warm and cuddly and sunshine and lollipops, so it's nice to sometimes get to bring that to a role. Although I do love playing characters with a sunny disposition — it just takes a little bit more energy some days."
On co-starring with Clint Eastwood in the upcoming film Trouble with the Curve — and on his surprising speech at the Republican National Convention
"To be fair, I have not seen the speech, I did not watch the convention. Clint was a very warm and inviting person. He's very loyal, and he's just a genuine human being. I mean, he's definitely his own man, so nothing Clint would do would surprise me; he's his own man, you know?"
On why she's excited to play Lois Lane in Zack Snyder's upcoming Superman reboot, Man of Steel
"I grew up with Margot Kidder, and I was so affected in a positive way by Margot Kidder's portrayal of Lois Lane, and I would just hope that girls can go see ... themselves in Lois Lane a little bit. Not that I don't like, you know, black latex or vinyl ... [but] it's nice to see a powerful woman who is ... a reporter, and just more pedestrian, so to speak, in a superhero film. And she's sort of an everywoman, and I like that a lot."