Junebug

SOUND BITES
Which director would you like to work with that you haven’t before? “I just saw ‘Walk the Line’ so I’m a little obsessed right now with James Mangold. I’ve also always wanted to work with Alexander Payne. I love his sensibility and his love of the absurd.”

How do you as an actor balance commerce and art? “It’s a tough balance but I try to look at the bigger reason why I’m doing something. For example, I did a television show that didn’t last and wasn’t what I wanted to be doing at the time, but I made some of my best friends on it.”

Up next: “I just did the NASCAR movie that Will Ferrell stars in. I have other stuff in the works, but I prefer to let the ink dry on the contracts first.”

There’s a tradition of finely drawn, regionally specific indie films that launch major actresses — think Renee Zellweger in the Texas-set “The Whole Wide World” or Ashley Judd in the Florida panhandle tale “Ruby in Paradise.” Phil Morrison’s North Carolina-set “Junebug” could be such a film for Amy Adams.

Previously best known for holding her own as Leonardo DiCaprio’s young fiancee in “Catch Me if You Can,” Adams lights up the dysfunctional household she inhabits in “Junebug,” director Phil Morrison and writer Angus MacLachlan’s look at a freighted weekend with a small-town Southern family.

Adams plays the unnervingly cheerful Ashley, about to give birth after marrying her gloomy, rage-filled high school sweetheart (“The O.C.” co-star Benjamin McKenzie). With the breathless, kooky rhythms of her particular take on the local dialect, and the avid curiosity that beams from her saucer-sized eyes, Adams comes across as both a naive, chattering teen and a strong, enduring spirit.

At Sundance, where the film world premiered in January, Adams was singled out for a special jury prize for acting. “I was stunned,” she says. “Not just by the prize, but by the movie that Phil had made.”

The cast had taken a chance on Morrison’s first-time feature, shot in 21 days on a budget below $1 million. “We did it because we loved it, but that doesn’t always translate. This movie exceeded my expectations,” she says.

A Colorado native, Adams arrived in the Winston-Salem area 10 days before the shoot to begin absorbing local culture and speech patterns, and got further cues from co-star Celia Weston, a native.

About her grasp of this particular Southern character, Adams says, “A lot of her sensibility comes from her religious beliefs. If she has the ability to be patient and kind, then she sees that as her duty. She’s focused on what other people need.”

In one standout scene, Adams moves her character from heroic resilience to utter despair and back again as she confides her feelings to her beloved brother-in-law (Alessandro Nivola) after a devastating event.

“That was a little scary but I really trusted Phil,” says Adams. “We wanted it to be real, and I think real emotions are like that, all over the place and messy.

“My philosophy is that I walk into a film to tell somebody else’s story. Phil and Angus were so specific and so passionate that I felt I should try a lot of things and really go where Ashley needed to go.”

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