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SAINTLY, SWEET AND SAUCY: SHE'S ALL THAT

THE BALTIMORE SUN

WASHINGTON - -Southern belle. Fairy-tale princess. Nun. Pioneer aviatrix.

Is there any role Amy Adams can't play?

Maybe. It's hard imagining her as a victim in the next Friday 13th sequel, or as a lethal cyborg in the Terminator franchise. But just about everything else seems possible, especially after her star turn as a saucy Amelia Earhart in the summer-blockbuster in waiting, Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian.

"I don't know that there's a better actress in her generation," says Smithsonian director Shawn Levy, who was in Washington on Thursday evening for the movie's world premiere at the Smithsonian's National Air & Space Museum. "I mean, there are other big female actors, but someone who can do Doubt and Julie & Julia, and Night at the Museum 2, all in the same year? Her range is almost unparalleled. It's a huge part of why we feel that this movie is even better than the first."

Adams demurs when Levy's praise is repeated. "Aww, he's the best," she says. "Shawn was an amazing director to work with."

Others also praise Adams. "I was just very impressed," no less an authority than Meryl Streep, Adams' co-star in the forthcoming Julia Child biopic, Julie & Julia, told Vanity Fair last year. "She's the real thing."

Castmates in Smithsonian, a virtual who's-who of male comedy stars, seem similarly impressed, and perhaps a little smitten. Star Ben Stiller says she "couldn't have been better" as Earhart. That role is meant to both sass up things considerably ("Her character is Amelia Earhart, by way of Katharine Hepburn," Levy explains) and serve as a romantic interest for Stiller's character, a former night watchman who alone knows why museum exhibits come to life after sundown.

And when, during a Friday news conference, someone asks Adams how it feels to be so hot "right now," co-stars Robin Williams and Ricky Gervais practically howl with laughter. "Right now?" Williams screams with mock incredulity, suggesting that the success of the woman sitting to his right is not exactly new, or something that won't last. "Right now?"

Adams laughs as well, joking that she's decided to put all her money "into shoes." It may not be an especially witty comeback - "That's why I leave the jokes to the boys," she says - but it brings down the room.

"Right now, I'm having a good time," she adds, keeping with the theme of the moment but turning serious and just a tad introspective. "I'm just trying to enjoy it, to work with so many amazing people. I'm just sort of counting my blessings."

In person, Adams seems smaller and slighter than she does on-screen, her auburn hair set off by a pale-as-can-be complexion. She's quick to smile, although she seems happy enough to just blend into the background. Then again, when you're working the news media alongside a comedic posse that includes Stiller, Williams and Gervais, as well as Hank Azaria and Owen Wilson, it's easy to be overshadowed.

Still, when it comes to her body of work, the 34-year-old actress isn't overshadowed by anyone. After spending about five years on the fringes of movies (Psycho Beach Party and the straight-to-video Cruel Intentions 2, both released in 2000) and TV (guest spots on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Smallville, The West Wing), she got what appeared to be her big break in 2002, cast alongside Tom Hanks and Leonardo DiCaprio in Catch Me If You Can. But there was never much buzz about either the film or her role.

Instead, it was the shoestring-budget Junebug, in which she played a sweet-tempered southern gal whose optimism knows few bounds, that announced her presence to world. Nominated for an Oscar as the best supporting actress of 2005 (she lost to The Constant Gardener's Rachel Weisz), Adams was poised for major success.

It came two years later, with her starring role in Disney's Enchanted as a fairy-tale princess come-to-life in New York. Her underrated performance - making perpetual sweetness-and-light bearable, much less appealing, is no small feat - was ignored at Oscar time, but fans young and old loved it.

Two roles playing characters whose sweetness and naivete is at the forefront could have typecast her forever - just ask Julie Andrews, who, at least as far as the public is concerned, never quite moved past the double whammy of Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music.

But Adams was lucky enough to make her next big splash in the ultra-serious Doubt, as a nun whose absolute faith is shaken when a parish priest is accused of abusing a young boy. The role led to another supporting-actress Oscar nomination (she lost to Vicki Cristina Barcelona's Penelope Cruz), and Adams' reputation as an actress of genuine range was secured.

Happily for her, that reputation knows few limits. To a generation of youngsters, she's a Disney princess; even Stiller says Enchanted is the favorite movie of his daughter, who was thrilled when Dad arranged for her to have tea with Adams. For the Vanity Fair profile in November, Adams was dolled up to look like 1940s sex-symbol Rita Hayworth, in poses definitely not made for the kids. And yet, nobody blinked when she was cast as a nun in Doubt.

Sexy and saintly. There's a combination that doesn't come along every day.

Now, in Battle of the Smithsonian, Adams gets to play saucy. It's about time, she says. "I think I'm not very princess-y in real life," she says. "I think Amelia's a little bit closer to home, as far as my own personality."

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