Oscar nominee Amy Adams to receive Vanguard Award tonight

With four Oscar nominations to her name, Amy Adams may finally be in line to grab that golden statue next month. Her performance in Paul Thomas Anderson’s “The Master,” as the wife of a Scientology-style guru, has again raised her profile. Ms. Adams has a broad range and means serious business.

When she sits down at the Arlington tonight to receive the Cinema Vanguard Award, it will be the first time Ms. Adams has watched her career unspool in front of her and a crowd.

“I’m not really sure what to expect,” she says. But she’s not afraid of seeing any of her lesser works. “You know, it all adds up to experience. Not everybody’s trajectory is the same. I value mine and where it’s led me.”

Ms. Adams was cast in “Drop Dead Gorgeous” in 1999 and headed to Hollywood looking for her break. It didn’t happen for years. In 2002 Stephen Spielberg cast her in “Catch Me If You Can,” and even the director was sure that would be her breakout role. It wasn’t.

She jumped over into the small indie feature “Junebug” in 2005, and only then did the nominations and exposure start to build. She starred in “Enchanted,” after being cast because of her fresh face and its resemblance to other Disney princesses, and that led to more work. Her supporting role in “Doubt” earned her, like “Junebug” a best supporting actress nomination.

“The Fighter” earned Ms. Adams her first best actress nomination, and “The Master” is her second in that category. And 2012 was also the year of two other completely different roles: as Clint Eastwood’s estranged daughter Mickey in “Trouble with the Curve” and as one of the lead humans in “The Muppets.”

“I think I auditioned more than anybody I know … except for Jessica Chastain,” Ms. Adams said. “I saw her at a lot of auditions. We both tested for a show together years ago, and neither of us got the job. And I’m glad to see where she’s at now (starring in “Zero Dark Thirty”) because it reminds me of what I went through.”

So how did that breakthrough finally happen?

“I felt like I didn’t belong here in L.A.,” she said of her time after “Catch Me If You Can.” “I thought I would wind up going back into theater. I thought maybe I could find a niche. And then I did ‘Junebug,’ right at the time I was changing my contract for the TV show I was on. I was having this epiphany while working on that film.”

It was as if once she decided to give up and stop trying, that everything changed. She can’t explain it either.

Her role in “The Master,” as a fierce and confident support of her husband’s abilities, could not have been possible without the freedom that Mr. Anderson gave her, she says. He looked for moments in her performance to focus on, to bring them from out of the background.

“When I was working I was so caught up in (my character) Peggy that I didn’t have empathy for Freddy (Joaquin Phoenix’s character). “But when I watched the film I had more empathy for him and his path. For me that was the big surprise of the film.”

Ms. Adams’ year looks bright, and not just because it’s awards season. She plays Lois Lane in the next Superman film and is prepped to play Janis Joplin in a biopic.

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