How ‘The Killer Inside Me’ Made It to the Big Screen

It’s taken more than half a century for someone to successfully transform Jim Thompson’s hyper-violent noir classic, The Killer Inside Me, into a feature film, which raises the question: Why are we now ready to watch Jessica Alba’s face get beaten beyond all recognition?

Stanley Kubrick, no stranger to the blood-soaked hallways of the human psyche, once called Jim Thompson’s noir shocker, The Killer Inside Me, “the most chilling and believable first-person story of a criminally warped mind I have ever encountered.” Published in 1952, the novel became a crime genre cult classic, entering the cultural milieu as a delicately vicious piece of Americana packed with voyeuristic kicks.

Now, after an arduous, decades-long trek from the printed page, The Killer Inside Me finally gets the big screen treatment it deserves. Directed by Michael Winterbottom, the film stars Casey Affleck as Lou Ford, a murderous Texas sheriff ’s deputy, Kate Hudson as Amy Stanton, his ill-fated girlfriend, and Jessica Alba as Joyce Lakeland, his equally ill-fated mistress. The film has already provoked intense reactions, most notably from audiences at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, many of whom objected to its graphic depictions of violence against women, which forms the disquieting core of both the novel and the movie. The movie-going public will either soak up its chilling portrait of a twisted lawman, or recoil in disgust.

The incredible brutality of the film, jarring because it exists at the intersection of a Larry Holmes fight and a Revlon commercial, readily accounts for its long path toward adaptation. Within the first 10 pages of the book, the presumably law-abiding Lou, all low-key Southern charm, goes on a routine call to the home of local prostitute Joyce Lakeland. Once inside, the following transpires: “[I] jerked the jersey up over her face and tied the end in a knot. I threw her down on the bed, yanked off her sleeping shorts and tied her feet together with them. I took off my belt and raised it over my head… ” The ellipsis is Lou’s, who revels in the orgasmic sadism—personal and perpetrated upon the trusting soul—to come. On screen, all ellipses are filled in and Joyce becomes tinder for Lou’s reignited “sickness.” After he finishes with her, Alba looks like freshly ground USDA Prime. The close-up camerawork places us inside the brutality; the nuanced nature of Affleck’s performance, often in serene voice-overs, communicates the fragility of Lou’s internal state. Tension is built and ratcheted up as his “No sirs” and “Yes, ma’ams”—and victims—multiply. But why are we watching this madness? What is wrong with us?

Torrential violence aside, The Killer Inside Me has become infamous for the number of times dream casts were assembled, and then dismantled, as productions fell apart. Only one of those many adaptations, the first of which began 10 years after the book’s publication, came to anything: a 1976 rendition starring Stacy Keach, of all people, in the leading role. That version, laughable and ham-fisted, has since been exiled to the VHS bins. What this new one proves is that casting and timing are everything. The film’s production company, Muse, spent 14 years developing the script, presumably waiting for a moment when the stars—to say nothing of the director, money and cultural appetites—were aligned. It is a collection of elements that has bedeviled the adaptations of other literary classics, most notably, On the Road, The Catcher in the Rye and A Confederacy of Dunces. Good luck, Infinite Jest.

image

But The Killer Inside Me is not The Catcher in the Rye. As a nation, we did not wait breathlessly for the silver-screen vision of Thompson’s maniacal deputy sheriff. Even Winterbottom and his longtime producing partner, Andrew Eaton, came across it by accident. The pair was looking for something by another mid-century noir novelist, David Goodis, who wrote Dark Passage. Once they started working on the adaptation, Eaton says, “Michael and I got to the point of no return.”

No return from what, exactly? In many respects, The Killer Inside Me should have been a no-brainer. Thompson’s books have long provided the raw material for bracingly perverse and successful films, such as the 1972 Steve McQueen–Ali MacGraw romantic crucible, The Getaway, and Stephen Frears’ 1990 film The Grifters, which earned four Oscar nominations, one of them for Donald E. Westlake, who adapted the screenplay. With a cult pedigree, scads of A-list interest, lots of juicy parts and dialogue lifted right off the page of a poetic, surreal and highly intelligent work, Killer might have, could have and goddamn well should have been turned into a movie more than 50 years ago. Instead, it arrives this June, in the words of its chilling protagonist, “like a wind had been turned on a dying fire.”

Thompson’s crime novel was originally optioned as a vehicle for Marilyn Monroe, who was meant to play Joyce, the sweet yet complex call girl. The starry cast was to be rounded out by Marlon Brando as Lou and Elizabeth Taylor as Amy. There was also a mid-’80s version with proposed stars Tom Cruise, Brooke Shields and Demi Moore. In the mid-’90s, a post-Pulp Fiction Quentin Tarantino was rumored to be corralling Brad Pitt, Juliette Lewis and Uma Thurman for his re-imagining. In 2003, Andrew Dominik, who directed The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, also starring Casey Affeck, conceived of a cast that included Leonardo DiCaprio, Charlize Theron and Drew Barrymore. There were even more recent rumblings that Maggie Gyllenhaal would play Joyce, with Reese Witherspoon as Amy, the part that eventually went to Kate Hudson, who embodies the character with surprising maturity.

But to look at the original dream team of Monroe, Brando and Taylor—and each of the subsequent proposed rosters—one wonders what took this thing so long to get legs. “There are a number of moving parts that have to come together in any movie to make it good,” says Alba, when asked about the process of bringing the film to life. Indeed, one of the most critical moving parts is casting. “The three actors that we cast were amazing,” attests Eaton. “If any one of them had stepped away, I think the whole thing would have collapsed.” Casting exits have felled many an attempted film adaptation, and The Killer Inside Me is no exception: the first big-screen treatment was shelved when Monroe died suddenly, in 1962. For Winterbottom’s adaptation, the cast was firm, committed and compelled by the text. “I fell in love with the book, as dark and twisted as it is, and that was my primary reason for doing the film,” Alba says. “I was also excited about working with Casey Affeck.”

image

Affeck’s voice is the heart of the film. Voice leads to character, character leads to action and, in the case of The Killer Inside Me, all three led to Affeck, a slender man with a speaking voice as fragile as fresh pie crust. The match between the first-person voice of the novel and Affeck’s tenderly inflected Texas accent, via his almost flute-y register, creates sonic harmony. Brando might have pulled it off, but his was not a climate that could have depicted the novel’s sadistic savagery as graphically as Winterbottom’s production does.

For purists, this version of The Killer Inside Me is a lesson in faithfulness to text. Because the novel reads like a screenplay, it doesn’t take a censor to understand why earlier adaptations couldn’t have been honest re-creations of the novel: Before the ’70s, any director under the aegis of a studio would have likely had to excise or defuse much of the novel’s graphic language and violent images. Take, for instance, one especially grueling scene in which Lou has Joyce reined like an attack dog, yanking her around by a collar he’s fashioned out of a thick belt. This is not popcorn-movie material that goes down easy with an ice-cold soda.

At Sundance this year, Robert Redford commented to Eaton that America has trouble dealing with brutality. But, in truth, we are a violence-obsessed culture, and our movies externalize that aggressive instinct. Kill Bill, anyone? Scarface? Natural Born Killers? Every Halloween-season release for the past 40 years? But what makes The Killer Inside Me so uncomfortable to watch is the personal nature of the violence. We are inured to raging death machines, but having to watch someone’s face get pounded by the knuckles of their lover closes the distance between fiction and fact. Banal violence is often much more frightening than its operatic equivalent. In any case, it is not surprising that what was once underground in the form of a 1950s pulp novel is now decidedly above ground in our post-Tarantino, post-Iraq-and-Afghanistan era.

Given the book’s savagery and the tortured history of its adaptation, Winterbottom and Eaton aren’t exactly sure why their version got off the ground. Maybe it was simply the right time. Or perhaps all that former star wattage was too overpowering for what the text could bear. If we can solve this mystery, there’s a MacArthur genius grant to be had for the person who figures out why Jack Kerouac’s beat manifesto, On the Road, has not yet been transformed into a movie.

I remember going to a casting call for that lm in New York City in the early ’90s. It was a snowy day. For what seemed like endless blocks, the actors lining up outside the studio had their thumbs slung into their chino pockets, posing like the perfect Dean Moriarty and Sal Paradise, turning Kerouac into a verb. Seated at a table was the then-attached director, Francis Ford Coppola. It seemed as if the wheels were truly in motion. The coolest book, the novel people most dreamed of living, was about to be envisioned for the screen. And by a Hollywood demi-god, no less! Cue the hard bop music. Shoplift a candy bar. Fall for a girl who will come along with you. And then… nothing for nearly 20 years.

Until now. The Motorcycle Diaries director Walter Salles is reportedly bringing the book to life. It is the right time. Just like marriage. We were simply waiting for the perfect person to show up.

Nicole Richie: Glam Punk

There is no whir of helicopters or roar of black SUVs in pursuit when I meet Nicole Richie on a sultry winter day in the lounge of the Chateau Marmont in Los Angeles. The room is marked by stillness; when Richie walks in, understated, unadorned and unaccompanied, the only eyebrow she raises is that of comedian Richard Lewis, who is camped out at a nearby table. “He’s always here,” says Richie, and she should know. The Chateau Marmont serves as an adjunct living room to her own home, in the nearby Hollywood Hills. (See our full Nicole Richie fashion gallery.) She comes here often for the same reasons anyone sticks with a favorite haunt. “It’s private, the people are nice—and the food is good.”

Splashed, freeze-framed, wondered about and scrutinized for her style, Nicole Richie is an object of fascination, and for good reason. At 27, she is an icon of fashion, of pop and of the type of fame that spins like an acid-green carousel. The kind of struggles that other young women deal with in the privacy of their dorm rooms or first cheap apartments were, for her, scratched across the sky by the voyeuristic lenses of the paparazzi: breakups, make-ups, run-ins with the law and that famous time in which, her thin frame looked a whole lot thinner. But even as her life grows steady and her boat makes it past the pounding of the surf, we don’t turn away.

Her demeanor today matches her look—both are as sweet in intent as a face painter at Woodstock. It seems impossible that this is the same person who squealed in mock-disgust across five seasons of The Simple Life, the reality series that launched her career and then sent her orbiting the unfathomable known as Planet Hollywood. Wearing faded jeans, a long, soft gray cardigan and a casually wrapped multicolor scarf, Richie could be one of her beloved ’60s rock idols, like Joni, Janis or Jimi. Her blond hair is cut into charming straight bangs that she ruffles with her fingers as she talks.

It’s a far cry from the role she plays in the photos accompanying this story. Wearing fluorescent candy colors and a long wig, evoking the look of ’80s transgender model and Stephen Sprouse muse Teri Toye, Richie reveled in her glam punk transformation. As BlackBook’s muse, she not only resembled Toye, but through the magic of makeup, light and fashion — metallics, shoulder silhouettes, nods to Mugler and Alaïa — she immersed herself in an otherworldly character. “It’s something I could never get away with in real life,” Richie says, “so it’s fun to go on these shoots and really experiment.”

Clearly, Richie’s range of expression goes a lot closer to the cutting edge than she’s been given credit for in the past. “Entertaining is something that I wanted to do since I was 3 years old,” says Richie. She is talking about the job she dropped out of the University of Arizona for, at the age of 20, on a lark. Her best friend, someone called Paris Something, called her up and asked her. Why not? And so, we got to know Nicole and Nicole got to know us, as we thrilled in the weekly vision of two precious babes from Beverly Hills knee-deep in manure, Velveeta and yokels. But like professional wrestling, The Simple Life wasn’t real life. “Listen,” says Richie. “I watch television. I know that things have to be entertaining or else people aren’t going to watch it. The producers were very clear about the characters they wanted us to be. We were fine with it.” And so were we. More prissiness please! Aren’t we about ready for a tantrum?

Off-camera, her relationship with Good Charlotte frontman Joel Madden is reassuringly solid. They adore their baby, one-year-old Harlow. And what ignites her most are her new jewelry line, the charities she and Joel are creating and her acting, which she works at the way everyone else does: one class and one audition at a time.

At the moment, though, there is no way to tell the larger story of her life without acknowledging the acreage of print dedicated to that other Nicole, the one displayed with dizzying frequency across the covers of publications like Star. When asked about how she deals with the waves of headlines, Richie displays no rancor. “We don’t allow tabloids in our house, so we really don’t know about anything unless it is serious.”

So, to address those checkout-line–inspired burning questions about Nicole Richie, in no particular order: Are she and Paris Hilton still friends? “Yes. We’re friends. We’ve known each other since we were little.” Are she and Joel Madden married or engaged? “I’ve never been engaged.” Richie tells the story of the time one of her best friends read that Richie and Madden were planning a wedding and knew this to be false when the article stated that Nicole had decided upon a “Pretty in Pink” bachelorette party: “I hate pink!” And what about that Star cover last December? Is she pregnant? Richie deflects the question, shaking her head and laughing. While she certainly doesn’t appear to be in the family way, two weeks after this interview, Richie confirmed that she and Madden are expecting their second child.

Today, she is slender, with the fine bones and delicate carriage of a dancer. Her complexion blooms with health, a sign that the palaver over Richie’s weight may now be fading into the past. Can Richie, say, finally go to the beach? She smiles. “The beach is probably a place I stay away from. I hate to say that because it sounds like I’m complaining and I’m really not. It’s not like I’m needing a beach. I’m fine.”

She thinks that all of that is “ridiculous,” and it is. Richie shrugs off the drama, saying, “My dad is an entertainer and he was the first person to say, Just blow it off. It’s just what happens.” Part of what protects Richie from the storm winds that blow just outside the door of her home is the environment in which she was raised: the protected space of a private school and close friends, a loving and high-profile family, and a buffer of wealth. To the charge that her success was somehow handed to her by the rarified facts of her life — she went to live with Lionel Richie and his wife, Brenda Harvey-Richie, when she was two, and was later adopted by them—Richie is sanguine. “One has nothing to do with the other. You have to work at it. If everything came easy to me then why am I not an Oscar winner, you know? Why don’t I have five Grammys, an Oscar and an American Music Award? I would skip everything else. I would have made it.”

Remove the cameras and she is very much as she would likely have been, anyway. Family is still her rock. A tight circle of lifelong friends forms her social nexus. “None of whom you would know,” says Richie. And, given what played out in the press with Paris Hilton, one is relieved to hear it.

Yes, we’ll always have Paris. At times, Richie’s relationship with Hilton, which only committed the crime of following the time-honored hilly path of close female friendships the world over, seemed like Richie’s first marriage. And we all know how well Hollywood marriages hold up under the scrutiny of the press. But that all feels so 2005. Richie’s strong connection with Madden, which may not have had the pleasure of an over-hyped, celebrity-strewn wedding, is a partnership of the truest kind, offering a firm patch of land that Richie seems to have needed.

And with her growing family, children are central to her mission, her vehicle for all the attention. Together, Richie and Madden have created the Richie-Madden Children’s Foundation, which supports a wide array of initiatives aimed at helping both children (here and abroad) and mothers in need, including new moms who need help caring for their babies. Theirs is a hands-on approach that shies away from what Richie calls “just writing a check.” For example, the Foundation has set up a baby registry for mothers in Los Angeles so that donations can target specific items a family might need, such as cribs, strollers, high chairs, diapers and more. (Hey, Octomom, you know who to contact!) Says Richie, “The moms are happy because they’re getting exactly what they want, and you are happy because you see that you have definitely helped someone.”

Not all of the past is tedious to revisit for Richie, especially not the year 1960, which she has chosen as the focus of her new line of vintage-inspired jewelry and accessories, House of Harlow 1960. “I’ve always loved fashion,” she says. “And like any girl, especially in her 20s, you change. I experiment with fashion.”

Oversize sunglasses, scarves worn as headbands, cuffs, resorty prints and dresses, sandals so flat they seem barer than bare feet, just like the slip-ons she wears today — it’s all very ’60s. And despite the hours Richie spends trawling flea markets in places as far-flung as Seattle and Phuket, Thailand, or vintage shops in Los Angeles such as Resurrection on Melrose Avenue, her drive to design is not fueled by mere artifacts. Says Richie, who works with design partner Pascal Mouawad on the line, “I have been picking up pieces of jewelry since I was younger, so I have a whole collection to work off.” When asked why she has settled her gaze on the ’60s and ’70s, Richie lights up and says, “Music is my biggest inspiration. I love the music and the lifestyle and the clothes. I just love that time and wish I’d been around back then.”

What about the ’80s, a decade she does know firsthand? She laughs, recalling the less than cutting-edge looks her own wardrobe featured back then. “I don’t have a great relationship with the ’80s. I look back on what I was wearing then and I am so embarrassed.” Oh, Nicole, you were in grade school. Yes, she nods, and adds with perfect timing, “I blame my mom!”

Pursuing an acting career, she says, has become more of a priority than ever. The girl who once spoofed the tiresomely tireless Kelly Ripa in a brilliant parody of a Pantene ad is unequivocal in her hunger for more juicy parts. “Comedy would be my first choice. I love to laugh,” says Richie. She’s on the right track. Anyone who saw her guest-starring role last fall on the international espionage comedy, Chuck, got to see a side of Nicole that must be let out of the box more often. As Heather, the high school nemesis of agent Sarah Walker, Richie ass-kicked her way into one of the most delicious chick-fights in recent screen memory. Chuck and Gossip Girl creator Josh Schwartz, late of The O.C., says of Richie’s appeal, “She interesting to watch, and has a dry wit — very acerbic. There are not a lot of girls who are pretty and funny. God doesn’t always give with both hands. Women root for her.”

It’s not for nothing that strangers hug her in public. “That’s a little intense,” she says. “I’m like, do I just hug back?” We can’t help caring about her, I explain. People know when there is a genuine heart beating under the hot sun of fame. “Whether there are cameras there or not,” Richie says with a warm press of the hand goodbye, “in my life, it is all the same.”
Lionel Richie Tickets

Icons of Cool: The Cool Cats, Emile Hirsch & Jack Nicholson

There is a feral glint in the gaze of Emile Hirsch that conjures up the same spark of the scalawag in Jack Nicholson. Stylistically, the Hirsch that took on Into the Wild is the younger brother of back roads Jack in 1969’s Easy Rider. Both actors seem to belong to a physical and artistic open range. Sure, they will show up for premieres buffed and polished, but those airings are perfumed with an attitude that says flirtatiously, “What do you dare me to do?” Their natural habitat is more blue horizons than red carpet — more open bathrobe and overgrown hair, less creased pants and being on time for brunch.

But where Nicholson’s energies pulse with (barely) controlled animal hungers, Hirsch’s power is quieter, more aloof. We see Nicholson observing the absurdity of the world. But Hirsch is still taking things in, brewing a stiff pot of opinions to be poured out later. And where the icon is now something of a scripted loose cannon, the young upstart is a book waiting to be written. What the two share, however, is an intelligence and certitude that grounds each performance in a complex masculine strength. The boy within melds with the man outside and together they form a compelling presence that shifts with each role, like the roiling surf off the California coast.

Icons of Cool: The Matinee Idols, Justin Timberlake & Frank Sinatra

How best to spend a surfeit of talent is a problem shared by few, but in the case of Justin Timberlake, is a dilemma that grows like his curly hair — overnight and exponentially. He sings, he dances, acts, produces, and then there is the daily task of simply being JT. In his multi-digital existence, Timberlake’s counterpart in the classics is none other than analog icon Frank Sinatra. Whether he was behind the microphone or in front of the camera, the transitions were seamless, his very Frankness evident in every blue-eyed wink.

And now, as Timberlake negotiates his sexy shuffle into adulthood, picking up new fans — the type who weren’t there as screaming teens — he faces the same shifts encountered by Sinatra. How to keep the lamp burning brightly over many years? What to do with those new trends? For instance, what becomes of Frank in the era of the Rolling Stones’ Sticky Fingers? Ol’ Blue Eyes kept it simple and stayed true to his voice, waiting for the times to return to him. Justin is on the right path. Like Sinatra, he has the benefit of style and taste. Timberlake can and will run his own show, and that extends to fashion shows as well, with his William Rast clothing line. And, while this may seem superficial, his increasing wardrobe of crisp shirts, slim-cut suits and those rakish hats only adds to the sense that JT is here to stay.

Icons of Cool: The Playboys, Adrian Grenier & Warren Beatty

As Vincent Chase, the skirt-chasing superstar on HBO’s enduring bro-com Entourage, Adrian Grenier cuts the kind of swath through Hollywood pioneered by Warren Beatty, the original sexual firestarter. But the bond between these two symbols of success extends far past the reach of dark, tousled hair and shirts open to the waist.

Certainly, Beatty is a woman’s man, which is not the same thing as a ladies’ man (although, he has also dabbled in that pool, with equal success). His romantic skill set is legendary and as well-founded in fact as the career of Alexander the Great. He has always been great to look at, wonderful to listen to and cannily astute about his choices. Put him alongside Grenier in the guise of an heir apparent and one begins to see another angle to all of those genetic lottery winnings.

Grenier can’t — and doesn’t — rely on his handsome features alone, just as Beatty’s looks without his brains would have peaked with a stint of Brylcreem commercials. What Grenier throws into relief is the importance of, well, being earnest. Both actors are something they do not need to be: nice guys. One almost gets the sense that they don’t entirely know why people make such a fuss over them. Armed with a lack of self-consciousness, Grenier and Beatty are free to be themselves, organically, which in Hollywood is a state so rare that one wants to stand up and salute it.

Icons of Cool: The Heartthrobs, James Franco & James Dean

James Dean and James Franco share a common given name, and Prince James played King James in a biopic that won Franco a Golden Globe in 2002. The two are now linked forever, but fate dove in before the agents ever placed a call. It was a casting choice far bigger than the triumph of comparable facial features and skin tone: Franco was the right person to star in that portrait because, like Dean, he is too complex, too aggressively artistic to be contained by an 8×10 glossy.

White T-shirts and Levi’s can only tell one part of the story. Like Dean, Franco attended UCLA. Like Franco, Dean had a burning intellectual curiosity. The fluid physicality of their screen work matches supple mental spines. That Franco is not content to stroll languidly from role to role, but is instead also pursuing a Master’s Degree in Fine Arts in poetry, indicates a highly Dean-ian quest for more — more understanding, more craft, more modes by which to speak the truth, more ways to do something. It is fitting then, that Franco is soon to star as another beacon of individualism from the 1950s, beat poet Allen Ginsberg. Howl, a film that traces the chaotic history of one of the greatest American poets, is exactly the sort of movie James Dean would make if he were alive today. Sometimes it takes a long reach to pass the baton.

American Sweetheart Amy Adams Ain’t So Sweet

High above Beverly Hills, a sun the color of a vodka screwdriver gazes weakly into a suite at the Four Seasons Hotel. In walks an Amy Adams that we have not yet met. We’ve seen her in a tiara, a nun’s robe and sensible office attire. Today she is lean in tight, dark jeans, a snug T-shirt and a low-cut jacket. She tosses her signature cherry-drop hair, and thanks to a recent cold, speaks in a sultry, Lauren Bacall rasp. One can’t help but wonder if the rough, sexy speaking voice is the latest twist in a career that is traveling down some fresh asphalt. Maybe she should maintain that louche larynx by screaming in parking lots at midnight. “That would really expand my repertoire of work,” Adams says. “It could change people’s perceptions of me.”

image

Not that there’s anything wrong with the going idea of Adams. The hard-working, singing/dancing/acting 34-year-old, formerly of Castle Rock, Colorado, is a serious study of craft, and a girl who bootstrapped her way up through years of dinner theater into a career that now pays out multimillion-dollar fees. That upturned nose does not lie. Amy Adams, it has to be said, is very nice. The perception of her niceness is at the heart of the unfolding Amy Adams story. Often described as “pure” and “innocent,” Adams finds herself in the curious predicament of having to persuade people that she is prone to behaving badly on occasion. In a town where fast-rising stars employ teams of experts to pressure-wash an image, the job of sullying one offers a rare opportunity to work against the system.

When asked about the Care Bears nature of her press, Adams says, “These are the kind of things I hate when I read them. I am so just like anyone else. It is interesting to be perceived as innocent. Innocent of what? I’m certainly not naïve.” She is less exasperated than she is eager to assert her normalcy. “I misbehave. I just do it in private.” The prevailing urge to cast Adams as the ultimate good girl is understandable. As Enchanted’s Princess Giselle, she was a winning spectacle in virginal white. In 2005’s indie smash Junebug, for which Adams received an Oscar nomination, she played a guileless Southern bride, eager in a sprigged cotton maternity dress. “The sweet girl in Junebug is not who Amy really is,” says co-star Embeth Davidtz. “Amy’s much naughtier than anyone I know. I can’t give you examples because they are so beyond X-rated. She’s got the wickedest sense of humor and says what nobody else would think to say.”

image

Then came 2008’s dramatic powerhouse, Doubt, the screen adaptation of John Patrick Shanley’s Pulitzer Prize- and Tony Award-winning play, in which Adams resumed her saintly image but pushed her acting craft to the next level. In each career-changing role, volleying scene after scene with Meryl Streep, Adams transformed into a trusting young nun, robed in acres of hand-sewn wool. “Her face in that bonnet is like a lamp with those blue eyes coming out of it,” says Shanley, who directed the film. Explaining Adams’ approach to working alongside a superstar like Streep, Shanley offers: “Her goal was just to survive—and not look like a schmuck, and she more than did that.”

Schmuck, never. As her recent BlackBook fashion shoot attests, the girl’s got legs. Adams the actress, whose face is among the most subtly expressive in film, is also able to trigger telling cues through her wardrobe. This month’s Sunshine Cleaning, a hit at last year’s Sundance Festival, stars Adams as a single mom who opens her own crime scene cleanup service. It is a rare “jeans role” for a girl who knows exactly how to wear them. “We went a couple of different ways with my character, Rose. One was the ‘mom jeans’ way, and then there was the pseudo-prostitute version.” Adams decided to take the middle ground, opting for a pair by Lucky Brand. “My justification was that if she could buy them at [discount chain] Ross,” she says, “then it was okay for the character.” Adams also fought for her housecleaning character to wear a pair of khakis. “That was a real battle,” she says. “I said, I’m sticking by the khakis. They can be Dickies, but I am not wearing a dress.”

For Night at the Museum 2: Battle of the Smithsonian, a blockbuster ready to strike in May, Adams plays Amelia Earhart, naturally, in jodhpurs. “Tight jodhpurs,” says Adams. “It’s going to be an Amy Adams butt show. I was like, That’s a lot of information. I’m not known for showing my ass on camera, but there it is.”

image

Bite down on the Amy Adams brand and what you find instead of sweet air is a bar of 70% cacao chocolate. “My friend Sarah calls me a ‘broad,’” Adams says. “And that’s kind of how I would describe myself.” We like this broad. A broad likes her liquor, but would never sell out a friend. A broad is a man’s woman and a woman’s woman, just like Adams. But this good girl’s alter ego is no slice of Hollywood schtick, trumped up to add dimension. She is a bon vivant, not a bad lieutenant, and does not pretend to be otherwise. “I think it’s not just the actions you do,” she says. “It is the spirit in which you do them. I’m about experiencing life.” To that end, Adams goes out on the town and enjoys her cocktails, but with one very important, non-negotiable caveat: “I take cabs. That’s my secret tip.” In other words, you’ll never see a mug shot of Adams plastered on TMZ. “I would not look cute,” she says. “I would definitely cry.”

Okay, so she’s not exactly the Wu-Tang Clan. Adams’ tastes do, however, run to the dive-ier end of the spectrum. For every night she is seen in sleek formal wear at a premiere, there are many more in which she heads out in denim to favorite local Los Angeles bars, such as El Compadre (where she loves the flaming Cadillac margaritas), and West Hollywood’s legendary brawl hall, Barney’s Beanery. “I go to happy hour and play pool with my brother,” says Adams. “It doesn’t end well! We get in trouble with our significant others every time we go.” Her other favorite haunt in town is Cheebo, an inexpensive restaurant within walking distance of the place she rented for the past couple of years (she has since bought her first house). She loves to dress up, just not every day.

Not surprisingly, she brings this down-to-earth quality to her roles and to the rest of her life. Philip Seymour Hoffman says that the only thing that surprises him about his Doubt co-star is “how well she has handled everything that has happened to her.” Emily Blunt, Adams’ onscreen sister in Sunshine Cleaning, describes a working method that never strays from the earthbound: “She manages to capture a character’s heartbeat. She makes brave choices and maintains them, and that’s the hardest part.”

image

Adams goes up against Streep again in the upcoming Julie and Julia, a cinematic cook-off between real-life writer Julie Powell and a fictionalized Julia Child, a role for which Adams boned a duck. Future plans include marrying her boyfriend of eight years, Darren Le Gallo. (Adams is thinking about making it a potluck reception: “Brides across America are cringing!”). When asked what the Amy who arrived in L.A. just more than 10 years ago, and headed for years of tiny apartments and canceled TV shows, would say to the one who has been nominated for an Oscar, and has just wrapped two movies with Meryl Streep, Adams reflects for a moment: “I’d tell her not to worry so much. And to dye her hair earlier.”

If there were still a studio system, Adams’ stock would be less Shirley Temple and more, say, Rita Hayworth. Like her, Adams is a redhead who can swizzle a man’s brains with just one close-up. And just as Marilyn clicked into place when she traded Norma Jean’s mousey brown hair for platinum, Adams’ leap from her natural strawberry blonde to a rich red took her career from zero to 60 in a flash. “It sounds so silly, but if you haven’t made a huge hair color change it is hard to explain. When I dyed my hair red, there was a palpable shift. I didn’t get as much attention as I did when I was a blonde, but I got quality attention.”

Adams is not coy about the larger meaning behind this superficial change. “I have a lot of energy naturally and can be quite vivacious,” she says. “I’m full of vigor. I’m Tigger. I think people read that as being naïve or dumb. But as soon as I became a redhead, people were like, You’re that quirky firecracker. Suddenly, I was a pistol.”

So, with all the calculators and abacuses clacking away in movie studio back offices, no one can predict when “it” will strike. Sometimes, all it takes is a slight twist of the dial. “I do think there is an ‘it’ factor to some people,” Adams says. “Some people have ‘that’ thing and others have ‘this’ thing or ‘a’ thing. Not everyone has the same thing. I spent a lot of time trying to be like other people. I tried desperately.” And yet, her thing is effortless. When informed that she, too, has a thing, Adams looks startled. “I have a thing?” Yes, Amy, you have a thing. “But I don’t have ‘it,’” she says. Um, yes, you do. If “it” is the ability to light up the screen and grab the audience’s attention with every passing thought or subtle gesture, then yeah, she’s got it.

image

Photography by Matthias Vriens, Styling by Elizabeth Sulcer

Kristen Stewart: Books, Boys, and Surviving ‘Twilight’

imageKristen Stewart, star of vampire romancer Twilight, made an appearance in our New Regime lineup. (Also check out our interviews with Twilight star Michael Welch and screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg, plus first reactions after Twilight’s premier weekend.) Here’s a full Q&A with the preciously precocious young lady, where she talks about being Bella, living life as a working actress, and the authority issues that lead her to read Camus, Steinbeck, and Bukowski on her own.

You got your start as a child. Did you always see yourself acting into adulthood? It was never a preconceived thing. It was always arbitrary, I think. Subsequently, I became very passionate about acting. Now, there is no reason for me to stop doing this.

What impact did working with Sean Penn on Into the Wild have on you? It definitely opened my eyes to a different creative process. His direction is very specific, but still, he lets things happen. He just wants you to go for it. Once he picks his characters, he gives you that confidence. Plus, I really enjoyed working with Emile [Hirsch]. He’s such a good friend of mine. That was like a little section of my life. It was very fruitful.

How did that contrast to making Twilight? Well, as much as we all had control over our characters, we were trying to portray something that already existed in book form, so it was very different.

One hates to use the word, but how do you feel about being part of a franchise? I accepted the role of Bella Swan because it was something I felt compelled to do, even though I thought was very ambitious. I knew that we had a devoted fan base, but I thought it was exclusive. I thought it was going to be a cult movie. Well, I was wrong. But it’s good because I’m so used to working on small indie movies and putting so much time into them, and then they never see the light of day.

Do you have a particular movie in mind that you would like to see get made? Right now, people are terrified of making anything to do with the current war because the last two movies about it weren’t successful. But there is this movie that James Woods is trying to make, and it’s having a really hard time because people are so afraid of it, although it really has nothing to do with the war. We’re not saying anything about it. It has no opinion. It’s a coming home story about a girl who goes to war as a Marine and comes home a double amputee. It’s one of, if not the most powerful stories I’ve read in a long, long time. I would do anything to get that made.

What do you like to read? I’m into classic literature. My favorite book is East of Eden. Steinbeck calls it “The Big Book.” It covers fundamental ideas of good and evil. Other favorite writers … oh, it’s so hard when you can only pick a couple of writers. It always seems like you are trying so hard to look like an intellectual.

Lay it on us! I love Camus. The Stranger is one of my favorite books. Kurt Vonnegut. I just read Hot Water Music, which is a collection of short stories by Charles Bukowski. I don’t normally like his work because it’s usually rambling and drunk, but these stories were so good.

Where do you live now? I live in Los Angeles with my family. I haven’t moved out yet.

You are 18 years old, the age at which your peers are going to college. How is your life changing? Nothing is really changing. I have had a consistent working life. I go from movie to movie. That may sound like a lot, but I only ever do things because I need to do them. And nothing is changing. People keep asking how my life has changed since Twilight. I’m pretty low-key. I go completely 100% unnoticed in LA. And as for school, I have a future in academics — it’s just not a conventional, structured one. I can’t deal with the structure. I have authority issues. I don’t like to be told what books to read.

So you follow your own curiosity. Yeah, and I know a lot of actors who say that as a way of making excuses for not going to school, but I’m being entirely honest. I have that thirst, I just don’t need anyone telling me what to do.

It also sounds as if a radical change in lifestyle would not be appealing. No, it wouldn’t! I still don’t know what it’s like not to be able to go where I want. But I don’t think it will be a problem. I’ve always been able to sneak by. Unless you are someone like Tom Cruise, I feel like there are ways to get around that. My love for what I do outweighs the inconvenience. And that is really all it is: an inconvenience.

Who do you hang out with when you are at home? My friends are actors. My best friend is Nikki Reed, who is also in Twilight. And my boyfriend, Michael Angarano, is also an actor. I never thought I would date an actor, but he’s my best friend. I’ve known him since I was 13 years old. I live in the Valley. I’m sort of a typical Valley Girl. We just sit around and play guitar and watch movies and hang out.

Is it helpful to be with someone who understands what you do? Yes, for sure. If you don’t do this, then you don’t get it.

Do you think that you’ve become a different person since you made your first movie? Sort of, but also, think about when you were five years old. Don’t you feel like you’re the same person now? Like you were fundamentally who you are when you were a little kid? We are who we are at five.

The New Regime: Josh Peck

How did Josh Peck, former child actor and Nickelodeon’s teenage “Shecky Greene,” become the newest member in the canon of cool? He walked off — and kept walking — with last summer’s badass, Jazzy Jeff funky slice of a movie, the stoner romance The Wackness. There he was, Josh of Drake & Josh, grown up, thinned out and higher than Bob Marley, holding his own opposite Sir Ben Kingsley. Respect. And Peck, 22, has big plans to abuse his soaring fame. “I’m not going to wait in line for anything,” he says, laughing. “I’ll pretty much emulate Frank Lucas’ life from American Gangster, you know, $50,000 chinchilla coats. It’s going to be obscene.”

Peck’s comedy, honed under the eyes of his mother and grandmother in New York’s Hell’s Kitchen, is drier than two joints worth of cottonmouth. From junior stand-up to movies like Max Keeble’s Big Move, Snow Day and Drillbit Taylor, Peck styled himself as an adult talent just waiting to make the height requirement. Once he got on the Hollywood Tilt-A-Whirl, the first piece of advice on how to ride it came from Peck’s all-time hero, Sir Ben: “He said, ‘Don’t suck.’ It was very Shakespearean.”

All joking aside, Peck is deeply serious about acting. He would love to play a historical figure such as the young Beethoven, and regularly goes head to head with names like Ryan Phillippe and Kieran Culkin. “Those are very talented cats,” says Peck. “The battle for good parts is like Federer playing Nadal. Who can stick it out and make it to double match points? I’m trying to stay in the game without breaking my racket.”

Photo: Patrick Fraser