Amy Irving laughs on the telephone when asked whether others have commented on the fact that it’s disorienting to see her playing the mother – and not the daughter – as she does in Max Mayer’s “Adam.”
“Yeah, well, life happens,” Irving says. “Time goes by.”
So, instead of playing Beth Buchwald (a role filled by Rose Byrne), love interest to the title character in “Adam”, Irving plays Beth’s mother, a woman with troubles of her own to deal with. Irving, 55, and finishing a summer run in the Hamptons in Tennessee Williams’ “The Glass Menagerie,” says she wouldn’t have it any other way.
“Right now, I’m doing Amanda Wingfield in ‘The Glass Menagerie’ and it’s so much better than playing an ingénue role,” Irving says. “About 25 years ago, I played Laura, with my mother playing Amanda. Now I’m playing the best role of my life so I have zero complaints. I love it. I have a passion to do theater.”
In “Adam,” Irving plays the mother – married to Peter Gallagher as an ethics-challenged attorney – to a daughter who falls for Hugh Dancy, as a young engineer who happens to have Asperger’s syndrome, a strain of autism.
“I liked that she wasn’t a clichéd angry wife – she was able to keep her cool,” Irving says. “She’s someone who had a wisdom.
“To tell the truth, I took the role because Leslie (Urdang, one of “Adam”’s producers) was Joan Micklin Silver’s assistant on ‘Crossing Delancey.’ I had sent her a script I translated from Portuguese and said I’d like to do this at Vassar (where Urdang was involved with Mayer in New York Stage and Film). And they did a full production. It even moved to New York. So when she said Max was directing his first film, I didn’t even read it – I just said yes. Well, yes, of course, I did read it. Plus it was shooting in New York. So I said yes because I respect them. They’re smart, talented people.”
Irving admits that her memories of actually acting in “Adam” are somewhat blurry: “I shot it right after my honeymoon, so I was high-as–a-kite happy. So a little bit of that part of the performance may have been unconscious. When I saw the movie, I thought it was funny and touching and moving. Max had talents I had no idea he had. The movie walks a fine line of tone. I was pleased to be a part of it.”
Because the title character suffers from Asperger’s, it’s easy to pigeonhole the film, but Irving dismisses that idea.
“I don’t see it as a film about Asperger’s,” she says. “It’s about two people who come together, about the difficulty in relationships, with insecurity and fear. Max is using Adam as a way of indicating what we all live with. I knew nothing about Asperger’s – I’d heard the word. I only know what I see Hugh do and what I learned from watching the film.”
Irving, who got her start at the age of nine months in a play directed by her father, the late Jules Irving, always assumed she’d have a stage career. She studied at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts and American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco.
But her breakout role as good-girl Sue Snell in Brian De Palma’s “Carrie” (1976) launched a film career that carried her through the 1980s: “The Fury,” “Voices,” “The Competition,” “Honeysuckle Rose,” “Yentl,” “Crossing Delancey.” With her pale blue eyes and mop of curly brunette hair, she was everyone’s favorite leading lady. And her favorite leading man? The late Rex Harrison, with whom she acted in a Broadway revival of George Bernard Shaw’s “Heartbreak House.”
“Rex Harrison was heaven,” she says. “He smelled better than any man I ever met. When they called him sexy Rexy, well, it was true – he just smelled divine. He was 75 at the time. I loved that man. We had fun.”
It was around that time that Irving scaled back her career to raise two sons: Max, from her first marriage to Steven Spielberg; and Gabriel, from her second marriage to Brazilian director Bruno Barretto, who she divorced in 2005. She married director Ken Bowzer, a long-time friend of her brother, in November 2007.
“I spent my time being a mom,” she says of putting her career on hold for long stretches. “Either you want to be a great mother who also acts or you want to be a great actress and let someone else raise your kids. My kids turned out great. Moms are the ones who instill self-confidence. I have such a close relationship with my own mother (actress Priscilla Pointer).”
She has found meaty roles are harder to come by once an actress passes 40: “It’s harder for older women. If I were in France, I’d probably be working all the time. But you go through phases and stages.
“I’m not opposed to TV. The only thing I’m opposed to is moving to L.A. I don’t want to leave New York. My husband and I love it. I find L.A. a hard place to live. You’re in your car all the time, you don’t interact with people and it’s a one-note town. It doesn’t have the four seasons. I’m an East Coast girl.”
Irving’s younger son is in his second year of college, which makes Irving and Bowzer empty-nesters – but it wasn’t a difficult transition, Irving says.
“Because I’m a newlywed, an empty nest is not too bad,” she says slyly. “This is my third – and final – marriage. I’ve learned a lot. And I pinch myself because I feel so lucky.”