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Adams' stage roles include the Public Theater's revival of Into the Woods in 2012, in which she played the Baker's Wife.In 2014, she was named one of the 100 most influential people in the world by Time and featured in the Forbes Celebrity 100 list.

During a performance of Anything Goes at the Country Dinner Playhouse in 1995, she was spotted by Michael Brindisi, the president and artistic director of the Minneapolis-based Chanhassen Dinner Theater, who offered her a job there.Soon after, while she was off work nursing a pulled muscle, she attended the locally held auditions for the Hollywood film Drop Dead Gorgeous (1999), a satire on beauty pageants starring Kirsten Dunst, Ellen Barkin, and Kirstie Alley.She is known for both her comedic and dramatic performances, and as of 2017 is among the highest-paid actresses in the world.She has received several awards, including two Golden Globes, and has been nominated for five Academy Awards and six British Academy Film Awards.The 2007 musical Enchanted, in which she played a cheerful Disney Princess, was Adams' first major success as a leading lady.

She followed it by playing naive, optimistic women in a series of films, including the 2008 drama Doubt.

The gig required her to wait on tables before getting up on stage to perform.

Although she enjoyed singing and dancing, she disliked waitressing and ran into trouble when a fellow dancer, whom she considered a friend, made false accusations about her to the director.

Tim Robey of The Daily Telegraph labeled the film a "small, quiet miracle" and wrote that Adams had given "one of the most delicately funny and heartbreaking performances it's ever been my pleasure to review".

Later in 2005, Adams had supporting parts in two critically panned films—the romantic comedy The Wedding Date, starring Debra Messing and Dermot Mulroney, and the ensemble coming-of-age film Standing Still.

Born in Vicenza, Italy, and raised in Castle Rock, Colorado, Adams is the fourth of seven siblings.