Amy Adams: When You Wish Upon a Movie Star

Amy Adams plays a princess in the movies, but in real life she's no Sleeping Beauty. In fact, she's not sleeping much at all. "I'm having insomnia," Adams says. "It's not the falling asleep. It's the waking up, and then you're up." Fame can be unsettling, and Adams is just getting her first big taste. Her movie "Enchanted," Disney's delightfully fractured fairy tale about living happily ever after in the real world, opened in November to boffo reviews and box office. Suddenly there's talk about Oscars and sequels—and doubt. Make that "Doubt," one of two upcoming movies in which she's set to star opposite the mighty Meryl Streep. Is it any wonder that Adams can't sleep? "I drew a picture of myself in the third grade of what I would be when I grew up," Adams says. "I had red hair and, oddly enough, I was in a very nice gown. Oh, no! I've got red hair and wear nice gowns. I've fulfilled all my childhood dreams. Now what?"

Adams, 33, first landed on Hollywood's radar after playing a pregnant Southern belle in 2005's independent film "Junebug," which earned her an Oscar nomination. Since then, she's been compared to just about every talented redhead in history, especially Lucille Ball and Julia Roberts. They're fair comparisons, actually. In most of her roles, she's perky and upbeat with a touch of screwball—Julie Andrews meets the Little Mermaid. When you spend some time with her, she does give off a little-princess vibe, like when she talks about her bouncing ponytail in "Charlie Wilson's War." "I called my mom after we shot it, and I said, 'Has my ponytail always bounced from side to side when I walk?' " Adams says. "I think there are elements of my personality that are very cartoonish."

She must mean a Pixar cartoon, because the real Adams also has plenty of shading and depth. She grew up in Colorado as one of seven children in a Mormon family (though she's no longer a member of the church). She trained to be a dancer, which is how she fell in love with theater and acting—but not with celebrity. She's refreshingly self-effacing, so much so that she seems genuinely uncomfortable talking about herself. "It's a tough thing losing your anonymity," says Philip Seymour Hoffman, Adams's costar in "Doubt" and "Charlie Wilson's War." "You can't be private in public. But it takes a person with a good head on their shoulders to deal with it, and she's in the right place to deal with all that." For instance, Adams suggests, semi-jokingly, that it would be easier to be interviewed if she could talk about herself in the third person. "Have you seen 'Beaches'? When CC [Bette Midler] does the interview she says, 'CC feels things deeply.' I always flash to that." Then she imitates Midler's thunderous voice: "Amy has insomnia!"

At one point, playing with the zipper on her boots, she stops talking altogether. She's describing the upcoming "Sunshine Cleaning," a dark comedy in which the happy actress plays her first depressed character, a desperate single mom. "Sorry, I went into my own head," she says. "I was thinking about one of the days where the cameras stopped rolling and I just could not stop crying. It was a point at which the character was being honest about herself and what she was and wasn't. It really struck a chord. Am I doing it right? I don't think all success and failure is judged by a career. I'm not married. I don't have children. Sometimes I wish I read more books than scripts. Did I choose the right road?"

It will be hard to make a U-turn now. For all her ambivalence about stardom, Adams is committed to the work of acting. "She's meticulous like a conservatory actor, but at the same time she doesn't have a lot of pomp and circumstance to her," says her "Junebug" director, Phil Morrison. For "Doubt," a story about two nuns who wrestle with accusations about sexual abuse in their parish, she's still in what she calls "fact checking" mode. That means she's hanging out in church pews and glued to archival footage of the Sisters of Charity as if it's "Dancing With the Stars." She'll need all the divine intervention she can get when it comes to sharing the screen with Streep—twice. After "Doubt," the two will pair up again for "Julie & Julia," in which Adams plays a fledgling cook who becomes fixated on Julia Child (Streep). Adams says she gets nervous just thinking about keeping up with Streep, but Hoffman doesn't think she has anything to worry about. "She's going to be around for a very long time," he says. "You can see that through the films she's picked in the last two years."

Adams's roles aren't a calculated decision—no one in his right mind would have predicted that playing a princess who sings to rats would lead to talk of an Oscar nomination. She says she just gets bored easily: "I love doing stuff that you haven't seen before. I'm bound to fail. But as painful as it would be in the moment, I'm looking forward to it. It'll be a relief to get it over with." And to think, most princesses—and actresses—only want to live happily ever after.

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