Christian Bale and Bradley Cooper may have top billing in American Hustle, director David O. Russell’s madcap seventies crime epic, but it’s the film’s knockout dames, Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence, who ultimately steal the show. Adams plays Sydney, the lover and partner of conman Irving (Bale), while Lawrence plays Rosalyn, Irving’s wife, who’s poised to spoil his deal with crazed cop Richie (Cooper). Together, they prove why they’re two of our finest actresses, inhabiting roles unlike any either star has played before.
When we caught up with Adams (who continues to fascinate us with the unexpected grit beneath her sunny persona) and Lawrence (whose mix of humor and bemusement only makes her more compelling), both women were more than ready to talk about crafting their characters, dancing with Cooper, and their incredible shared kiss.
On David O. Russell’s knack for creating hyperreal yet completely realistic stories:
AMY ADAMS: Not everything in reality is subtle and slow. When I lose my cool, it is over the top. That’s how we are as humans. What David really does, I feel, is exemplify reality. He finds moments in people’s lives where this so-called “pushed” reality is the truth for these characters.
JENNIFER LAWRENCE: Sometimes real life can be so dramatic and so awful that it’s actually kind of funny. But, above anything else, David’s characters are so incredible, and you have so much emotional freedom, that sometimes what’s on the page turns into something completely different as David’s yelling these ideas and you’re on your toes.
On the best part of playing the rare, well-developed female role:
AMY ADAMS: My favorite part of the process was playing with the vulnerability of my character. She has this veneer, this physicality, and this power, but if I don’t ground that in any true emotion, it’s not going to be that much fun to play, because there are no layers. David always makes sure that his characters are multidimensional and that his women, specifically, are multidimensional. Playing with those dimensions is just a thrill as an actress.
On their kiss, which Adams came up with and Lawrence knocked out of the park:
AMY ADAMS: I feel like Jennifer really made that contribution. I came up with the idea, but she executed it in a way that felt purely driven from character. It didn’t just feel like a moment in which two girls are going to kiss onscreen. It was from somewhere emotional. I mean, she killed it. And that laugh she gives after? I mean, come on now. Genius. I didn’t tell her do that. All I thought was, “What if she plants one on her?” And Jennifer did that in a brilliant way that sells it comically and dramatically. It never feels like it shouldn’t have been there. It feels so organic. And that’s all due to Jennifer.
JENNIFER LAWRENCE: [Whispers] Thanks, Amy.
On getting down with the song and dance of American Hustle:
JENNIFER LAWRENCE: David came to me before we started shooting, and he said he had a vision of Rosalyn wearing yellow cleaning gloves and running through the entire house singing [Paul McCartney’s] “Live and Let Die.” And I thought that sounded incredible, but how’s it going to make sense? I’m usually so stupid with these things. I’m just like, “Yeah, I’ll dance, I’ll sing, whatever!” But I think this song [signifies how] Rosalyn is so angry, and she’s at this point where she’s been lied to for so long. And she’s getting to this point in her marriage, which she’s been fighting for for so long, where she’s finally ready to just let it die. So it was just a really great, crazy moment. I threw my neck out, actually.
AMY ADAMS: I was trained as a dancer, and dancing with Bradley was awesome. He’s such an amazing dancer. It was so much fun.
JENNIFER LAWRENCE: You should have danced with me.
AMY ADAMS: There’s still time!
On using sexuality to get into character:
AMY ADAMS: One part of how I storytell has always been through my body. I find a character through movement. And one of the things that struck me once I had the wardrobe and I knew that Sydney was going to be a sexual being, was the thought of people who also had an elegance with their sexuality and the power expressed through their sexuality. So for me, dancing, again was kind of how I started to feel Sydney. I thought about Ann-Margret and Syd Charice and these women who seemed like they were in control because of the way they moved their bodies.
On playing female cons who are constantly juggling fact and fiction:
AMY ADAMS: It was a very delicate balance. Sydney is a girl who says she wants to be anyone other than who she is. And that’s where we meet her. She’s already at a point of reinvention. She meets Irving, and he presents to her who she wants to be. He sees her as smart and intelligent and as a lady. She loves him and feels found. And then he betrays her. That’s not cool. [Laughs] But I think there are moments where she’s not sure how she feels, and she’s starting to believe her own lies. Maybe things could work with Richie, and maybe she does like him. And it was a really interesting dynamic to play a woman who’s not so much torn between two guys, but between truth and a lie. I think she really just wants somebody to see the truth of who she is. I think every girl knows how that feels—she’s just a little crazy about it.
JENNIFER LAWRENCE: It really just comes down to a study of people. It’s all of these things that I’ve been doing since I was little that were useless—just watching people and studying them and being able to mimic their body language and things like that. And being able to find a person. What kind of person are you playing? How do they move? How do they walk? Between “action” and “cut,” for me, it’s almost like meditating, in a weird way. Like, if I’m cold, in between “action” and “cut” I’m not. Or if I’m in physical pain, in between “action” and “cut” I’m not. I’m in a completely different frame of mind. It’s a high.