Amy Adams goes from sweet to strong

Actress Amy Adams (above) on artist Margaret Keane, whom she plays in Big Eyes. -- PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Actress Amy Adams (above) on artist Margaret Keane, whom she plays in Big Eyes. -- PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Actress Amy Adams on artist Margaret Keane, whom she plays in Big Eyes (above). -- PHOTO: GOLDEN VILLAGE
Actress Amy Adams on artist Margaret Keane, whom she plays in Big Eyes (above). -- PHOTO: GOLDEN VILLAGE

Golden Globe winner Amy Adams goes from playing naive girls to confident women

Early in her career, Amy Adams made her mark by playing sweet, naive characters, but in recent years, she has gravitated towards more confident women - just because "it felt better".

And do not contradict the actress by suggesting she was merely "Superman's girlfriend" in the 2013 superhero flick Man Of Steel, as one reporter recently did.

"I've always been lucky in that I haven't had too many roles I felt were sort of subjugated to men's sexuality..." Adams remarks, at which point an older male journalist interrupts her and says: "Superman's girlfriend? Come on!"

The affable actress is flustered for a second, but is not about to let that go.

"Who? That is not… she's not 'Superman's girlfriend' - she's Lois Lane, she's a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter, she has a very serious job!" she says, feigning outrage.

"Being Superman's girlfriend is the icing on the cake of a beautiful life that she has built for herself," she continues with a smile.

The 40-year-old performer has been on a hot streak of late, earning rave reviews and Oscar nominations for portraying steely-eyed characters such as a slick con artist in American Hustle (2013), the wife of a cult leader in The Master (2012) and a boxer's spunky girlfriend in The Fighter (2010).

She explains the appeal of these roles as she talks about her latest movie, Big Eyes, which opens in Singapore tomorrow.

In it, she plays real-life artist Margaret Keane, whose husband, Walter, took credit for her iconic paintings - depicting waif-like women and children with hauntingly large eyes - until Keane stood up for herself and exposed him as a fraud.

Earlier this month, the film earned Adams her second Golden Globe for Best Actress in a musical or comedy.

Speaking to Life! and other press in New York shortly before the win, the actress - who collected the same honour for American Hustle last year - says she finds herself increasingly drawn to strong-willed female characters, especially now that she has a four-year-old daughter who might watch these movies some day.

When she first read the script for director Tim Burton's Big Eyes, she thought about turning down the part because it initially struck her as a story about a woman being victimised.

Then she re-read it and eventually got to meet the now 88-year-old painter, who gave the actress an unexpected perspective on this true story, which was revealed in 1970 when, during a radio broadcast, Keane decided to tell the truth.

It turns out that her husband had convinced her that no one would take a female artist seriously, so even as her paintings became hugely popular and widely reproduced in the 1950s and 1960s, she continued to put his name on them.

But rather than blame everything on the man - whom she divorced in 1965 and then sued, dramatically winning a 1986 case in which a judge ordered them both to recreate one of the paintings in court - Keane "took ownership" of what had happened, says Adams.

"I felt that was really impressive. She didn't feel victimised. She said, 'I don't know how I let this happen to me', instead of 'I don't know why he did this to me'. She really took responsibility and said, 'Yes, I was manipulated, but I lied over and over again and couldn't get out of the lie.'"

By Keane's account, Walter told her the authorities would take her daughter away, take her money and put her in jail because she lied too.

"So she felt complicit and still feels complicit," adds Adams.

It was the complexity of this character and story that she found so compelling - something that was also true of her other Golden Globe-winning role as Sydney Prosser in American Hustle, who uses her sex appeal to manipulate both her coconspirator and the federal agent trying to catch them.

For the actress, the intriguing thing about Prosser - who was also based on a real person, albeit loosely - is that "she was body-confident but very damaged".

"There is something about playing a woman who gets power from her sexuality - I hadn't done that before."

As for Charlene in The Fighter, which earned Adams one of her five Oscar nominations to date, "I was playing someone who could really defend herself - like, she'd get in a fight if she needed to".

"I like playing those girls," says the actress, who is currently in talks for the lead in another biopic, this one about legendary rocker and wild child Janis Joplin.

If that happens, the days of playing innocent, slightly clueless young women - as she did in her breakout films Junebug (2005) and Enchanted (2007) - would appear to be firmly a thing of the past.

However, these more mature roles also mean that Aviana, Adams' child with her 40-year-old actor fiance Darren Le Gallo, might have to wait a bit longer before she gets to see a lot of her mother's works.

For now, films such as American Hustle are too adult and Man Of Steel too violent, she says.

"And I want my daugher to find my movies as she decides to find them. She knows what I do - she's got a pretty keen understanding of make-believe.

"And that's what I tell her I do, 'Just like how you play a princess, I'm playing Margaret Keane.'"

stlife@sph.com.sg

Big Eyes opens in Singapore tomorrow.