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Amy Adams on Talking to Aliens in Arrival

Nov 07, 2016

By: Lynn Barker

In Arrival actress Amy Adams (of Enchanted and Lois Lane in the Superman movies) plays Dr. Louise Banks, a language expert recruited by the military to translate an alien language when huge extraterrestrial “ships” land all over the Earth. Amy had to study with a linguist and learned a lot of cool stuff about communication including the fact that we all need to talk face-to-face, not just on our cellphones, tablets, etc. Even BFFs are becoming more distant cuz we don’t actually talk to each other very often.  Something to think about!

Amy as Louise Banks isn't sure she can speak to the aliensAmy as Louise Banks isn't sure she can speak to the aliensCourtesy of Paramount Pictures

Check out Amy’s comments on female-driven films, fun filming in Montreal and her interesting character in Arrival.

Q: Amy, how did you come to the project?

  • Amy: They sent me a script. No. It sounds so simple, but I read the script and I fell in love with the character. And then I got to the end of it and I had to go back and re-read it again, but really the emotional core of this is what drew me to it, and then meeting with Denis Villeneuve (the director) and knowing that he had the same reaction. Through the sci-fi elements, the political elements, it really is this woman's story and it's a story that she's telling to her daughter and that's a beautiful thing to me.

Amy with her director Denis on setAmy with her director Denis on setCourtesy of Paramount Pictures

Q: That is cool. These days, it's difficult to find a strong female character especially in a sci-fi movie.

  • Amy: You know, anytime you get a character that is as well developed and emotionally vulnerable and yet intellectual with a strength of character, that's a real gift as an actress. It's a gift because it's a reflection of what women are to me. They're not one thing. They're not purely intellectual. They're not purely vulnerable. We're fully fleshed-out human beings and to see that reflected so beautifully was a pleasure and playing it was awesome. 

Amy as Louise goes hand to hand with an alienAmy as Louise goes hand to hand with an alienCourtesy of Paramount Pictures

Q: I know that you worked with a linguist from Montreal. What did you learn about communication and the fact that miscommunication in the past has led to great conflict?

  • Amy: You mean personally what did I learn? I'm still working on that, right? We all are, communication. As a child we learn. I'm watching my child learn how to communicate and learning which words to use. Choosing the wrong words is one of the most beautiful things to watch a child do because you can tell their intent is there and you know what they mean even if they're not using the right word. 
  • And so, being a mom, this film has helped me remember that intent is just as important as content. Sometimes in today's media, intent gets lost inside the content and that's why I think it's so important to have face-to-face communication, and that's what this film reminds me to do. You do have to look at somebody to communicate effectively with them and I hope we don't lose that.

Louise (Amy) tries to figure out the alien languageLouise (Amy) tries to figure out the alien languageCourtesy of Paramount Pictures

Q: There was a linguistics consultant onboard. What sort of preparation did you do to understand what linguistics is all about?

  • Amy: Oh, I had these grand ideas that I was going to know everything about it until I realized that it's actually very scientific and mathematical and anthropological and sociological and there's a reason that people get doctorates and that it takes that long because it's very complicated.
  • What I was grateful to learn was that linguists aren't necessarily proficient in many languages. Some of them are very focused on one particular language and become a master of the history of that language, so that freed me up to not feel like I had to be able to convince (the audience) that I could speak everything fluently. It's the difference between understanding the language and speaking the language.

Louise (Amy) with Ian (Jeremy Renner) tries to translate alien symbolsLouise (Amy) with Ian (Jeremy Renner) tries to translate alien symbolsCourtesy of Paramount Pictures

Q: What was shooting in Montreal like? Any fun off-set experiences?

  • Amy: I loved Montreal. There's this great karaoke bar. I took everybody out. Denis does a mean "Skyfall". He's going to be so mad at me.  Also, I love that Denis' family was there because this film for me, that was the core, is family. He had his family on set and I brought my daughter on set, which I usually don't do, but the set was so calm and so friendly and so familiar that I felt like it was a place that was very welcoming.

Amy as Louise suits up to face the aliensAmy as Louise suits up to face the aliensCourtesy of Paramount Pictures

Q: Because this film was so cerebral, were you able to unwind and leave your character behind?

  • Amy: I learned through the process of another film I worked on that was a little bit difficult, how to separate work from my life and that was really an important lesson for me and I'm really grateful for it. So now, I have a really clear boundary and definition between life and work and I think it's made my experience of work that much more rich. Hopefully the performances speak to that because I really view work in such a special way now. It holds a very special place in my heart.

Q: Can you talk more about your character? She’s such an interesting woman.

  • Amy: Sure. She is every woman in a way and this is a woman's story. No matter what other story we're telling, the core of this from beginning to end is her story, and that helped ground me when we were doing any of the stuff with the aliens. She's never been in a room with aliens. She's never been in a (protective) suit like this. This is all new. And so, just going along and being open to the experience was the key thing.

Amy as Lois Lane with Henry Cavill as SupermanAmy as Lois Lane with Henry Cavill as SupermanCourtesy of Warner Bros.

Q: As an actor, you read the entire script straight through but the story skips around in her life.  Was that a challenge?

  • Amy: There is this traveling in a non-linear way that my character does. I sat down with the director and talked about the journey she's going to take. He kept saying "I want her to feel off-balance. I want her to feel seasick like something's happening and she doesn't know what it is," so I have to bring this depth to the character, but at the same time, has (a certain thing) happened yet? Has it not happened yet? I really loved getting to explore those themes. We did all that work beforehand, so when I got to the set, it was just about finding the right (seasick) stomachache to get through the day.

Louise (Amy) trying to teach the aliens our languageLouise (Amy) trying to teach the aliens our languageCourtesy of Paramount Pictures

Q: You and Jeremy Renner have worked together before. Did that help boost the chemistry when you guys started working on this?

  • Amy: We work very similarly in the fact that we both do a lot of work outside of set and when we get there, we're ready to go. One of the things I'm so proud of is very often, friendship between a man and a woman isn't brought to screen without a heavy sexual energy but I love to see friendship between men and women. Yes, sometimes it leads somewhere and we don't want to play that hand, but I love the friendship that these two characters developed because I think any great relationship is based on respect and friendship and I'm always happy when that gets to be developed on screen.

Louise and Ian make a translation breakthroughLouise and Ian make a translation breakthroughCourtesy of Paramount Pictures

Q: You have played characters that range from Giselle in Enchanted to Lois Lane and many more. As you move forward, is there anything that drives you as to what you want to do next?

  • Amy: I think it's changed over the years. I think being a mom has changed it. I'm really concerned now if things shoot like during the school year, it's hard to bring my daughter out of Los Angeles, so I'm like hey, LA Film Board, let's get some stuff happening in LA. It's hard to let go of projects just because they don't necessarily work for where I live but I'm happy to get to be in that position where I can take some time and make those choices that are best for my family.

Arrival PosterArrival PosterCourtesy of Paramount Pictures

You can see Arrival in theaters this Friday November 11th!


Have Your Say

Do you think it’s still important to see your friends often face-to-face to talk? What would you do if aliens landed and didn’t seem to threaten us? Leave your comments below.