In “American Hustle,” all of the characters — grifters, FBI agents, shady politicians, all involved in the notorious Abscam operation of the 1970s — are trying to be something they’re not. It’s like acting. But for Amy Adams, who plays Sydney, a con artist who pretends to be English, first to fleece people out of art then to stay ahead of the feds, it’s more than that.
“She wants to be anyone than who she is. And that’s where you meet her. She’s already at a point of reinvention,” Adams explains. Sydney falls instantly in love with Christian Bale’s equally duplicitous Irving Rosenfled. “She meets Irving and he presents to her who she wants to be. He sees her as smart, he sees her as intelligent, he sees her as a lady. She feels found. And then he betrays her. That’s not cool.”
Sydney winds up in league with Bradley Cooper’s overzealous FBI agent. To Adams — who also appears in this season’s Spike Jonze film “Her” — this is about more than just revenge. “I think there are moments in going back and forth [between them] in which she’s not sure how she feels,” she says. “She’s not torn between two men so much as she’s torn between truth and lying. Is she going to believe a lie she herself helped create, or is she going to believe the truth? The truth hurts; the truth is a lot harder.”
Getting into those ‘70s dresses helped get her into character, but it’s more than that. “I was trained as a dancer. It’s always been how I tell stories, through my body. I always find movement in a character,” she says. “I knew she was going to be a sexual being. I thought about people who have an elegance with their sexuality, a power through their sexuality. It was through dancing that I started to feel her. I thought about Ann-Margret and Cyd Charisse, these dancers who were in control because of the way they moved their bodies.”
“Hustle” director David O. Russell has a checkered history with actors. George Clooney felt “Three Kings” was so difficult he swore off working with Russell ever again. The director was scandalized after it got out, with video proof, that he blew up on Lily Tomlin on “I Heart Huckabees.” And yet actors flock to him, no less because he’s since directed three of them (Bale, Melissa Leo and Jennifer Lawrence) to Oscars, and others (Adams included) to nominations. He also has a reputation for pushing them to extremes.
But Adams sees it differently. “I feel [David] exemplifies reality. He doesn’t push it. He shows reality,” she claims. “Not everything in reality is subtle and slow. When I lose my cool it is over the top. In life, Amy is over the top at times. That’s how we are as humans. He finds the moments in people’s lives when this extreme is the truth for these characters.” And he does something else. “David always makes sure his characters are multidimensional, and his women — thank you, David — are multidimensional.”
Inevitably, much ink has been spilled over a brief, lipstick-smearing kiss that Jennifer Lawrence, as Bale’s jilted wife, plants on Adams. It was Adams’ idea. “I feel like Jennifer made that contribution,” she says, though. “I came up with the idea, but she executed it in a way that felt driven purely by the character. It didn’t feel like a moment where two girls are going to kiss onscreen. It was from somewhere emotional. She killed it. And the laugh she gave after? Come on. Jennifer executed it in a brilliant way that sells it comedically and dramatically. It doesn’t feel like it shouldn’t be in there. It feels organic.”