Dancy, the son of a prominent British moral philosopher and a University of Oxford graduate, said he was interested in taking on the role of a person with the autism spectrum disorderbecause "there is something paradoxical about trying to empathize your way into somebody" who has a hard time demonstrating empathy because of his condition.
"There was never a point where I felt in my comfort zone," he said. "But it is a good way to work. It enforced a kind of discipline that I wish I always had. It was an unusual and complex person to portray and very different to anything I had attempted before."
Both Dancy and his costar, 30-year-old Australian actress Rose Byrne, have quietly been building careers on offbeat and interesting choices.
Dancy has played opposite Helen Mirren as the Earl of Essex in the HBO series "Elizabeth I" as well as a tortured, alcoholic young man in the ensemble film "Evening." Byrne is perhaps best known for her role as the besieged and fresh-faced law firm protégée Ellen Parsons, sharing the screen with Glenn Close in the TV drama "Damages."
"Hugh is very analytical -- he starts from his brain, while Rose is the opposite," said Mayer. "She is very smart, but she is an impulsive, spontaneous, feeling creature who lets her body respond to a situation. She came in and opened the windows and let in some light and air into this young man's life -- and that is what Rose is like as a human being."
Byrne, who has the doe-like, chocolate brown eyes and long eyelashes reminiscent of 1960s Italian star Claudia Cardinale, said she related to the story about two people trying to find a connection in an often uncaring world. The film, set in New York's Upper West Side, speaks to how all people are in some way hobbled emotionally. But "Adam's" gentle tone was a refreshing contrast to the sharp darkness of "Damages."
"This was so different. There is humor in the script, which I really wanted to explore," said Byrne. "It was really a lot of fun."
Nancy Utley, president of Fox Searchlight, is hoping that "Adam," which will be released in New York and Los Angeles on Wednesday, will offer a counter-programming choice to the assault-the-senses summer popcorn pictures. "We thought a more sophisticated audience would appreciate an alternative like that," she said.
"Adam," which won the Alfred P. Sloan award at this year's Sundance Film Festival, a prize given to a feature film that focuses on science or technology as a theme, won't be launching either actor into the celebrity mainstream. But for both Dancy and Byrne, fame isn't the end all when it comes to picking projects.
"You don't want to temper your choices for fear of becoming a household name, but I think diversity in a career is important," said Byrne. "I feel lucky that I have worked consistently and I still have a completely anonymous private life."
Adds Dancy, "You have to be very clear about why you are doing something like this. The most elusive thing for an actor is any kind of control over his career. . . . You have to have a realistic acceptance of the odds and how they are stacked against you. It makes me all the more grateful about how it's worked for me."