Richard Madden and Amy Adams on Nude Scenes and ‘Acting as Therapy’

Daniel D'Addario

Richard Madden and Amy Adams sat down for a chat for Variety’s Actors on Actors. For more, click here.

Amy Adams and Richard Madden are famous for on-screen virtue — Adams has played a crusading linguist in “Arrival,” a good-hearted nun in “Doubt” and a fairy-tale princess in “Enchanted,” while Madden’s first big role after the heroic Robb Stark on “Game of Thrones” was the Prince in Disney’s “Cinderella.” This year, both plunged into moral ambiguity as trauma survivors trying to solve dark mysteries, Adams on the Southern noir “Sharp Objects” and Madden on the British counterterrorism thriller “Bodyguard.” 

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AMY ADAMS: First of all, my husband wanted me to make sure and tell you how brilliant you are. We were discussing the level of commitment to that particular level of tension and how impressive it is that you’re able to hold that tension. How do you do that? I know it’s a big question, but that takes a toll, I imagine.

RICHARD MADDEN: It’s hard because I’m not a Method actor in any way, but you kind of can’t come out of it between takes or at night, because I get home and I’ve got eight hours till I’m back in makeup again. I can’t get happy again because I need to bring myself all the way down. It’s just a constant level of anxiety; it gets destructive, actually.

AA: When I had my daughter, I was a lot more like that. I couldn’t come out of characters. I went through a particularly challenging shoot, and what I realized is, I’ve gotta figure out how to come out of it or I can’t do it. 

RM: What’s your secret? 

AA: Just making the decision, and then it takes practice, you know? But usually it hits me at about two in the morning.

RM: I still really struggle, because you want to shake it off and get rid of it, but you’re so deep down that rabbit hole. It took me a few months after I finished “Bodyguard” to get myself back.

AA: I understand that. It’s funny because watching “Bodyguard” I was like, “I so identify with this character only because I’m just paranoid and anxious.” 

RM: And then that’s going into using your own paranoia and anxiety for things.

AA: I try not to use my experiences. I work really hard not to carry past experiences around with me on a daily basis, so to access them for work feels like I’m trudging into stuff I want to work through. I try to create a space for my characters where I can live and use my relationship with pain or anger or fear or anxiety, but I don’t use my own experiences. Does that make sense?

RM: Yeah. I’m very much against actors using acting as therapy. But I’ve gotten in my way a lot on jobs where I don’t access my own things, and you end up not kind of doing the job you should because you can’t access those things. With “Sharp Objects,” what drew you to choosing that character, that path, those things you have to engage with?

AA: I think the fact that I wanted to run from it is what made me want to do it. This seems like a place I should explore if I feel like there’s no way I could get there. 

RM: If I’m not good enough to do it, that’s the job I should try and do?

AA: The worst I’m going to be is bad, so I can live with that. Or maybe I couldn’t.

RM: Executive producing “Sharp Objects” and having your own production company, how does it affect your relationship with the performance?

AA: I didn’t have a production company when I produced “Sharp Objects”; that drove me in that direction. I’ve always been somebody who looks at the big picture
of anything I’m working on. I always want to serve the story, and to get to do that in a different way and to get to use my voice and my experience to improve the experience for everyone around me became something I was really excited about.

RM: We both had intimate scenes within our TV shows, which are kind of messed up — our need for intimacy and our manipulation of the other person and what we’re taking from them. How do you get your head into that?

AA: Whiskey. No, I didn’t drink at all except once, and that was because I felt the character had to come from such a raw place and her need had to be there. That was scary for me to go to a place of that deep dysfunction. And intimacy is so personal. It’s not easy. None of it’s easy for me. But what about you? 

RM: I felt so vulnerable doing this.

AA:  And it’s not the nudity. It’s being open.

RM: I always find that there’s something when you’ve not got your clothes on, when you are in bed with someone, there’s a way you speak to each other, there’s a side that you expose that we just couldn’t do if we were both fully dressed in bed. 

AA: Well, I was fully dressed, which was interesting.

RM: But that’s even harder to do the thing that you’re supposed to do when you’re naked but you’re clothed and hiding something that’s going on.

AA: I have to confess, when I first met you, I was like, “That Richard is so nice. What else has he done?” I sort of binge-watch, so there are no seasons of “Game of Thrones” for me, there’s just one long epic. What season did you leave?

RM: I died at the end of Season 3. It was such a hard thing to finish because from first pilot to my death was five years. But five years was a great time to be on the show. It helped me so much with my career and experience. I learned a lot from shooting 30 hours of television. You really start to learn the trade doing that. And then I was thankful to leave it. The actors on it now must be 11 years into playing these characters. Give these guys some medals, because that is a marathon.

AA: What do you want to do next?

RM: I’d like to explore things that are a bit not Romeo. I’ve spent 10 years playing different versions of Romeo, from Robb Stark to literally playing Romeo twice onstage, once when I was 21, once when I was 30. I’ve played a lot of these good guys that bad things happen to, and “Bodyguard” was my first real experience of this moral space that isn’t so clean-cut as good guys and bad guys. I want to delve into that. 

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