B orn Amy Lou Adams, August 20, 1974, in Avi-ano, Italy; daughter of Richard and Kathryn Adams. Education: Studied acting privately in Los Angeles.
Addresses: Office—c/o Sloane, Offer, Weber, & Dern, 9601 Wilshire Blvd., Ste. 735, Beverly Hills, CA 90210.
P erformer and server, Dinner Theatre and Country Dinner Playhouse, Boulder, CO, mid1990s; performer, Chanhassen Dinner Theater, Chanhas-sen, MN, c. 1996-99. Film appearances include: Drop Dead Gorgeous, 1999; Psycho Beach Party, 2000; Pumpkin, 2002; The Slaughter Rule, 2002; Serving Sara, 2002; Catch Me If You Can, 2002; The Last Run, 2004; Standing Still, 2004; The Wedding Date, 2005; Junebug, 2005; Moonlight Serenade, 2006; Pennies, 2006; Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, 2006; Underdog, 2007; Enchanted, 2007; Charlie Wilson’s War, 2007; Sunshine Cleaning, 2008; Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, 2008. Television appearances include: Manchester Prep, 2000; The Last Run, 2004; Dr. Vegas, 2004; and in episodes of That ’70s Show, Charmed, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Providence, Smallville, The West Wing, King of the Hill, The Office, and Saturday Night Live.
Awards: Critics’ Choice Award for best supporting actress, Broadcast Film Critics Association, for Junebug, 2005; Spirit Award for best supporting actress, Film Independent, for Junebug, 2005.
A my Adams teetered on the brink of stardom for several years before delighting audiences in the 2007 Disney fairy tale Enchanted. The Colorado native had spent the better part of the past decade in Hollywood, consistently winning highly coveted roles and earning good reviews for her performances, but never truly becoming a household name or a sought-after studio asset. That changed with Enchanted, one of the top-grossing films of 2007, and Adam’s star-making turn as Giselle. “Adams doesn’t just bring her cartoonish character to life: she fills Giselle’s pale cheeks with blood and feeling,” asserted New York Times film critic Manohla Dargis, “turning a hazardously cute gimmick into a recognizable, very appealing human confusion of emotion and crinoline.”
Adams was born in Italy in 1974 while her father was serving in the U.S. Air Force (USAF). She was born at the Aviano Air Base, and lived at another USAF base near the northern Italian city of Vicenza. The family, which grew to include seven children, returned to the United States and settled in Castle Rock, Colorado. Adams was a middle child, with two sisters and four brothers, and developed a love of performing at an early age thanks to her father’s talent for writing skits for his large brood to perform—but not in public. At Douglas County High School, she was a member of the choir but not the drama club, telling Brad Goldfarb in Interview, “I was terrified to open my mouth! I was always jealous of those kids in high school who were so cocky and acted like they were going to take the world by storm. I loved to perform, but I just couldn’t make that declaration.” Preferring ensemble efforts, Adams was devoted to ballet and dance. She dreamed of a stage career, but gave up ballet as she neared the end of high school. “I didn’t have enough natural talent,” she admitted to Goldfarb. “I probably could’ve danced with a company, but I would have always had to work really hard just to keep a position.”
After graduating from high school, Adams worked as a greeter at the local Gap store and as a waitress at Hooters. She eventually landed a job at the Dinner Theatre and Country Dinner Playhouse in Boulder. “We waited tables and then we would get up and do A Chorus Line,” Adams recalled in the interview with Goldfarb. “The problem was, of course, that the show is performed without intermission, so when are people going to get their dessert? This was always a big problem. I was a really bad waitress, but I had the time of my life there.”
Adams’ talents were noticed by the director of the Chanhassen Dinner Theater near Minneapolis, Minnesota, who offered her a position with his theater troupe. She moved and spent three years there, appearing in musicals like State Fair and Brigadoon before an injury hobbled her temporarily. When she learned that a faux-documentary film about a local Minnesota beauty pageant was auditioning potential “contestants,” she tried out and was cast in what became the cult-favorite dark comedy Drop Dead Gorgeous. Adams appeared alongside a few well-known names, such as Kirstie Alley and Ellen Bar-kin, along with rising stars Kirsten Dunst, Brittany Murphy, and Denise Richards. It was Alley who urged Adams to try her luck in Hollywood.
Adams relocated to the Los Angeles area at age 24, and just a few weeks later landed a starring role in a planned Fox Network series based on the successful movie Cruel Intentions. Adams was cast as the vixenish Kathryn Merteuil, played in the film version by Sarah Michelle Gellar, but once Fox network executives viewed the rather risqué footage of Manchester Prep, as the series was to be called, they ordered it delayed for the fall 1999 lineup and then canceled it altogether. With some added new footage, the project was turned into a straight-to-video release titled Cruel Intentions 2.
Losing a starring role in what looked to be a hot new teen drama was one of several setbacks that Adams experienced during her first few years in Los Angeles. She took television-series guest roles whenever possible, appearing in episodes of That ’70s Show, Charmed, Providence, Smallville, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, among others, and some weeks she went on as many as a dozen auditions. Her first real career break came when director Steven Spiel-berg cast her in Catch Me If You Can, the 2002 thriller with Leonardo DiCaprio as real-life con artist Frank Abagnale and Tom Hanks as the federal agent who tails him for years. Adams was cast as Brenda, the sweet teenager who volunteers at the hospital where DiCaprio’s character begins impersonating a physician, then takes him home to meet her New Orleans district attorney father (Martin Sheen). Adams later told a New York Times writer that she was plagued by grave self-doubts about her level of experience in working alongside DiCaprio, Hanks, and Sheen, and to get through it had to force all negative thoughts from her mind. “You could have driven a truck over me,” she told the paper’s Margy Rochlin, “and had it not killed me, I would have come up as Brenda.”
Adams hoped that her role in a well-received Spiel-berg movie would bring more film offers, but she was dismayed to find otherwise. Between 2003 and 2004, she appeared in just a few projects, among them a forgotten sex comedy called The Last Run and a CBS series that starred Rob Lowe as Dr. Vegas, which was canceled after just one season. In early 2005, however, Adams won rave reviews and a special jury prize at the Sundance Film Festival for her role in a small independent project called Junebug. The quiet family drama starred Alessandro Nivola as George, a young man who brings his new wife back home to meet his North Carolina family. Adams plays his talkative, naïve sister-in-law, who is fascinated by newcomer Madeleine, an British art dealer played by Embeth Davidtz. “Adams’ performance in a role that could have easily devolved into caricature is complex and nuanced,” asserted Los Angeles Times film critic Carina Chocano. “Ashley’s faith and roots provide her with a rudder that Madeleine, for all her worldliness, lacks, and you get the sense that for all of Madeleine’s self-sufficiency and independence, she would drown in Ashley’s place.”
Junebug earned Adams an Academy Award nomination in the Best Supporting Actress category, a race won by Rachel Weisz for The Constant Gardener. For her next role, the Debra Messing romantic comedy The Wedding Date, Adams returned to playing a thoroughly unlikable character, which she had not done since Manchester Prep. “I play Debra’s younger half sister,” she told fellow actress Selma Blair in Interview. “And honestly, they told me that I was too mean. We had to go back in looping and make her nicer.”
The Oscar nomination for Junebug failed to bring any real onslaught of solid leading roles for Adams. After The Wedding Date, she appeared on three episodes of the hit NBC sitcom The Office as Katy, the purse seller, and showed up in a trio of forgettable films in 2006 before taking on a supporting part in Will Ferrell’s Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby. She also signed on as the voice of Polly in the animated feature Underdog.
Adams’ true breakout role came in the Disney blockbuster Enchanted, released in time for the 2007 holiday season. She beat out 300 other hopefuls for the role of Princess Giselle in the animated/live-action feature film, and it was also her first opportunity to utilize her dinner-theater background and sing and dance in a role. Kevin Lima, Enchanted’s director, told Rochlin in the New York Times that Adams was a natural for the job for several reasons, but “what I was struck by is that she looks like a Disney character.” For Adams, it seemed like destiny, too: “I was the dork in high school who was singing The Little Mermaid down the hallways,” she told Entertainment Weekly’s Tim Stack. “So I’m well studied.”
Giselle’s animated sequences take place in the mythical land of Andalasia, where her love for a prince is thwarted by his nasty mother, a powerful queen, who pushes Giselle into a hole that magically transports her to the middle of New York City—at which point Enchanted becomes a live-action film. The PG film’s humor relies on the proverbial fish-out-of-water jokes, while romance comes in the form of a single dad (Patrick Dempsey of Grey’s Anatomy) and his young daughter, who rescue Giselle. “Adams proves to be an irresistibly watchable screen presence and a felicitous physical comedian, with a gestural performance and an emotional register that alternately bring to mind the madcap genius of Carole Lombard and Lucille Ball,” wrote Dargis, the New York Times film critic. Rolling Stone’s reviewer Peter Travers declared that “it’s star-is-born time” for Adams, describing her as the ideal Disney heroine and “the wish your heart makes when you want a storybook princess for the ages. She’s wicked good.”
Enchanted earned $49 million its opening weekend and became one of the top-grossing U.S. domestic releases of the year. That same holiday season, Adams also appeared in Charlie Wilson’s War alongside three Oscar-winners—Philip Seymour Hoffman, Julia Roberts, and Tom Hanks—and gave another well-reviewed performance in Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, released early in 2008. Set in late 1930s London, the period piece recounts a day in the life of a starchy, down-on-her-luck English governess, played by Frances McDormand, who finagles an unlikely assignment as social secretary to Adams’ character, Delysia Lafosse, a vain, self-absorbed nightclub singer busy stringing several men along.
After Enchanted, Adams suddenly found herself very much in demand. She appeared in several starring roles in 2008 and 2009 projects, beginning with Sunshine Cleaning alongside Emily Blunt (Anne Hathaway’s fierce Devil Wears Prada colleague). Adams and Blunt play two sisters who start a crime-scene cleanup business. Adams also appeared with screen legend Meryl Streep in two works: Doubt, based on the John Patrick Shanley (Moonstruck) stage play of the same name about a church abuse scandal in which both women play Roman Catholic nuns, and Julie & Julia, slated for a 2009 release, based on writer Julie Powell’s 2005 memoir about cooking her way through one of food writer Julia Child’s famous cookbooks.
One of Adams’ four brothers, Eddie, followed her out to Los Angeles and had an acting career before taking a job with the TMZ tabloid empire. Her long-time boyfriend is another actor, Darren Le Gallo, whom she met in an acting class in 2001. She maintains, however, that the best training she ever received came from working on the dinner-theater circuit, which she asserted “was great preparation for Hollywood,” she told Rochlin in the New York Times. “Sitting in audition rooms with those catty girls and their little psych-out games? I have worked with some of the meanest people in the world. You can’t do anything to intimidate me.”
Entertainment Weekly, December 7, 2007, p. 10.
Interview, April 2005, pp. 130-36; February 2008, pp. 100-09.
Los Angeles Times, August 3, 2005.
Newsweek, January 7, 2008, p. 96.
New York Times, November 4, 2007; November 21, 2007; March 7, 2008.
Rolling Stone, November 15, 2007.
Star Tribune (Minneapolis, MN), June 17, 1999, p. 4B.
Sunday Times (London, England), April 16, 2006, p. 15.
USA Today, March 5, 2008, p. 1D.
Vogue, August 2005, p. 160.