“It was traumatic and very emotional to see it up there,” Keane recalled of her first viewing of the film, while sitting next to Adams at TheWrap‘s Awards Season Screening Series presentation of the film at The Landmark Theater in Los Angeles on Tuesday.
Adams played Keane as a young woman who paints children with big, doe-like eyes, many based on her young daughter Jane. She meets and marries Walter Keane (played by Christoph Waltz), a fellow artist, charming and boisterous. When Walter stumbles into selling a piece of Margaret’s artwork while pretending he was the artist, the lie would continued even as the big-eyed children became international sensations.
All the while, Margaret could never publicly take credit for her work and even lied to her daughter about them. Finally, after filing for divorce, she sued Walter for slander and reclaimed her credit.
“I had no idea it would have such an impact on me,” the artist continued about her first-time viewing experience. “The way Amy portrayed me exactly as I was thinking and feeling. I don’t know how she did it, but it just made it all come back.”
Even Keane’s daughter, a young child in the film, was taken back to some of the not-so-good times of her childhood. “She had the same reaction as I did, just total shock,” said Keane. “It just just so real.”
Adams herself was clearly still uncomfortable talking about the process of getting into character as Keane — especially while sitting next to the real person she played on screen.
“I think I’m quite a shy person by nature, and we had that in common,” the actress conceded while describing her first meeting with the artist. “I didn’t want her to feel examined, I didn’t want her to feel pried into or feel interrogated, so we started with the artwork and what that meant. She opened up about her past and shared some fun stories and she was just really engaging and generous.”
The film culminates in a big courtroom showdown between the Keanes, and in order to get to the bottom of who the true artist was, the judge orders both Walter and Margaret to paint a big-eyed child — right there on the spot.
On the big screen, it’s an exciting bit of dramatic flair, featuring some grandstanding from Waltz in particular, but according to Keane, it still couldn’t measure up to real life.
“It was even crazier,” said the artist of the four-week trial that she ultimately won. “They toned it down a little bit. They said people wouldn’t believe it … [During the real trial] people had to be removed from the courtroom, the judge almost hit Walter several times, and Walter was even more obnoxious.”
After “The Fighter” and “American Hustle,” Keane is the third role in a row for Adams who was based on a real life person. She didn’t plan it that way, but acknowledges there is a draw there.
“Real women are drawn so beautifully, we’re all so human,” Adams said. “It’s hard sometimes for writers to capture that, and I think we’re still working to develop really human female roles that don’t have an archetype. I actually haven’t thought about it until we’re now talking about it, but I’ve been lucky to play these women who are vulnerable and strong, bold and shy. It’s something that all women identify with. We’re all human, women and men, and we all have a lot of contradiction, and a lot of depth to us. I’ve just been lucky to get to tell their stories.”