Amy Adams bares all about 'American Hustle's' emotional scenes

Amy Adams bares all about 'American Hustle's' emotional scenes
Amy Adams is nominated for an Academy Award for lead actress for "American Hustle." (Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times)

Amy Adams is scrolling through pictures on her mobile phone, looking for a selfie she sent fiancé Darren Le Gallo while making "American Hustle."

"There," she says, handing the phone off. On screen is a picture of Adams, without makeup, her eyes as red as her hair. "I sent this to him with the message: 'So this is my day. How's yours going?'"


Adams took the shot midway through the 16-hour marathon she spent filming a scene in which her character, Sydney, a steely, sexy con artist, confronts her lover, Irving (Christian Bale), about the authenticity of his devotion. Adams calls the sequence the "most emotionally complicated scene I've ever played in my entire career," which, given a resume that includes five Oscar-nominated turns — "Junebug," "Doubt," "The Fighter," "The Master" and now "Hustle" — is no small judgment.

We sat down with Adams recently to talk about that scene and two others she shares with her Oscar-nominated co-stars — Bale, Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence — in the film from David O. Russell. She didn't have selfies for each one, but the 39-year-old actress did offer plenty of insight into her creative process.

'I want to believe we were real.'

After being taken into custody for alleged fraud, Sydney returns to her apartment, washes off her makeup and proceeds to tell Irving that they need to get out of town. When Irving questions her plan, she questions his devotion — hitting him and crying, before regaining control and telling him she's going to get close to FBI agent Richie DiMaso. "And I'm going to be very, very convincing," she tells Irving, baiting him. "Maybe I do like him. Maybe I like him ... a lot."

"That scene kind of messed with me," Adams says. "I remember when David sent me the script, I read it and thought, 'Oh no. This is going to be really hard.' Originally, it was even longer, with more crying and Irving sweetly trying to convince me to stick with the plan.

"We ended up working on that scene for 16 hours from beginning to end. I was very stripped down, which, for this movie, I have to be careful how I say that. Bare. Sydney had been putting on so many personas up to that point. Even the person Irving met was a bit of a persona. So it's a moment where she's very raw, very vulnerable.

"David asked if I was willing to go without makeup. That never bothers me. But I have a tendency to overcomplicate things as an actress, and Sydney is all over the place here. She doesn't know who's telling the truth, and that experience of not understanding what reality is in a moment is terrifying. Let's just say I needed a cocktail when we finished that day."

Doing the 'Hustle' with DiMaso

Making good on her promise to get "real close" to DiMaso, Sydney heads to a disco with the FBI agent, dancing deliriously and winding up in a women's bathroom stall with him. There she lays down the law — she wants to live "for real" — before unleashing a primal scream on the commode. Is she playing DiMaso? Caught up in the moment? A bit of both?

"What was so much fun about playing Sydney was the back-and-forth wondering, 'Is she lying or is she for real?' Here, she never loses sight that she's manipulating Richie, but I do think she starts to believe her own lie and think, 'Maybe this person could really see me.' She doesn't have a healthy relationship with her sexuality. I think that's obvious. And that scream? I actually threw out my neck doing it.

"I did enjoy that moment of escape for Sydney. David throws in a lot of things. Dancing with Bradley was one. Also, I didn't know my character was going to be a stripper until the night before when he said, 'Would you be open to shooting this?' And I was like, 'Uh ... OK. But you've got to let me see it.

"I was born in the '70s, so there's some very strange things in my life left over from that period. My aesthetic for art. My love for macrame ... though not that crocheted swimsuit Sydney wears. Gosh, I would never ever wear that swimsuit in my real life!"


'He doesn't love you. He loves me.'

Sydney and Irving's wife, Rosalyn (Lawrence), meet for the first time in a hotel bathroom, after circling each other like sharks during an important dinner. The two women lay into each other with accusations and epic truth-telling. The confrontation ends with Rosalyn planting a long, aggressive kiss on Sydney's mouth.

"I freaking love that scene!" Adams enthuses. "I love so much about it! It's always, 'The kiss, the kiss, the kiss.' I understand the fascination, but the power play, this toxic intimacy, something you don't see between two women very often, is what I really love.

"Again, we shot at the end of a very long day, me with that crazy permed hair — just like Richie's, by the way, which is a middle finger to Irving — and that sequined dress that's like a piece of fabric that's somehow draped over and covering me enough for us not to get a really bad rating. And David says, 'Let's do one as scripted and then just let it fly.' And there's such great tension. We are both so desperate. We're two tigers. And, oddly, we see ourselves in each other.

"I suggested the kiss to David, because we needed a reason for Sydney to let Rosalyn leave the bathroom. Rosalyn had to do something to stun her, to checkmate her. And Jennifer just killed. When somebody gets, 'The other actress is saying you should kiss her,' it could be a little awkward. But Jen's like, 'OK.' And she found a way to make it perfect. Except for the lip gloss. The first take, I heard her laughing and I look in the mirror and I looked a little like Bozo. So we lessened the lip gloss for the second take. I was still stunned."