PARK CITY, Utah — Most people know Joey Lauren Adams as the raspy-voiced ingenue who stole Ben Affleck’s heart in “Chasing Amy” nine years ago. But since then, the actress, 35, has been working steadily on endeavors both on- and off-camera.

She’ll appear next in the Jennifer Aniston-Vince Vaughn comedy “The Break Up,” and only last week her screenwriting and directing debut, “Come Early Morning,” premiered as part of the dramatic film competition at Sundance.

The subtle, beautifully produced film centers around the commitment-phobic Lucille (Ashley Judd) and the demons she battles while dealing with everyday small-town life. The film, shot in Adams’ hometown of North Little Rock, Ark., was “emotionally autobiographical, though none of the events actually happened,” Adams says. Locations included her favorite places, such as her neighborhood bar and her grandmother’s house.

“I wanted it to be true to my experience growing up, an honest portrayal, because most Southern films I see tend to stereotype,” she says.

When she began the script six years ago, she intended to star in the film, but quickly realized it would be difficult to relinquish control to another filmmaker. “I knew if I were on set with some director and he were to say, ‘Why don’t you say one of those funny country sayings?’ that it would be hell, so I would rather try to make the movie and fail but at least do it my way,” she explains. After that, casting Judd came naturally (with the help of A-list producers, including Julie Yorn). “I did want to use Southern actors, especially for the lead, and it just felt right with Ashley,” she says.

Indeed, even though Judd wears Blue Cult jeans, Michael Stars tank tops, Frye boots and minimal makeup throughout the film, it’s hard to take your eyes off of her. The casual dress code is a welcome respite for most actresses, but Adams, dressed for her interview in a Kelly green cableknit sweater, jeans and fingerless gloves, relished that privilege during the film’s five-week shoot.

“For me, doing the hair and makeup and wardrobe is sort of stifling. It was so great to go to set and not ever worry about appearance,” she says. Instead, the self-admitted “control freak” focused on channeling her experience in front of the camera into directing her stars, who also included Diane Ladd and Tim Blake Nelson. “Having acted for 17 years, I knew the language on the set. It’s an energy that I don’t think any amount of film school can teach you,” she says. While Adams admitted that part of the attention on her film may stem from her pre-existing fame, she adds, “It’s not a bad thing; I don’t think the two can be separate.”

This story first appeared in the February 2, 2006 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

And she’s still not immune to the stress that any filmmaker goes through. “At first you get caught up in the reviews and whether or not the movie sells and that’s such an awful place to be,” says Adams. “I just got back to that place where I’m proud of the movie and whatever happens, happens. My job is done, but the story goes on.”

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