Amy Adams is Sister James, an uncomplicated nun trying to live a simple life. The trouble is, in John Patrick Shanley’s “Doubt,” she’s stuck between two Catholic gladiators and trying to figure out which of them is speaking the truth.
“She comes in and thinks she’s in ‘The Bells of St. Mary,'” notes writer-director Shanley, “but finds out that she’s in a Hitchcock movie.”
Sister James, a teacher at St. Nicholas school in the Bronx circa 1964, finds herself caught between Philip Seymour Hoffman’s charismatic and affectionate Father Flynn and Meryl Streep’s cold and unfeeling Sister Aloysius, who accuses Flynn of molesting an altar boy.
“They introduce the idea of doubt into her mind,” the actress says, “something she doesn’t want to deal with at all.”
Sister James’ reasons for her calling to the cloth, Adams says, were very true and honest. “The world to her is a very innocent place,” she says.
The experience causes Sister James to face something quite uncomfortable — uncertainty — but with it comes personal growth.
“When the idea of doubt and suspicion is introduced, it creates a conflict within her,” she explains. “She’s a woman of great character and ideals who is placed between these two figureheads of the past and the present. She’s in the position of having to choose.”
Adams, who was Oscar nominated in 2006 for her role in the indie “Junebug,” similarly found herself literally sandwiched between two icons of the acting world — Streep and Hoffman — during several lengthy battle scenes between the two characters, a potentially intimidating experience for anyone.
“It was wonderful to sit in between these actors during those scenes,” she recalls. “Whatever uncertainty or insecurity that created in me, I just tried to channel into the character and not apply it to myself as an actor. I tried to use it and bring that to the moment.”
In dealing with not knowing where the truth lies, Adams says, Sister James becomes a better person for enduring the experience.
“It makes her stronger, because certainty is, at times, the most absurd emotion we can have. It leaves no room for growth. She doesn’t lose her ideal, she just goes forward with a different take on it. It’s a very common journey for everybody, but especially for the innocent.”
Favorite film this year
“I haven’t really seen enough to know, but I’m looking forward to seeing ‘The Wrestler’ and ‘The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.'”
“I told you I prefer doubt and uncertainty, and now you’re asking me to be certain!”
“I draw inspiration from people, from true stories.”