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Adams was born in Italy to American parents, as a result of her father's military career. She was raised as one of seven children in a Mormon family in Castle Rock, Colorado. Adams worked as a dancer before appearing in her first film role in the 1999 film, Drop Dead Gorgeous.
Adams subsequently decided on a professional acting career, and appeared in several films, including Catch Me If You Can (2002) and Cruel Intentions 2 (2000). She has also guest-starred in such television shows as The Office (US), Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Smallville.
Adams has received critical acclaim for her role in the 2005 film Junebug. Among the awards she has won for the role are the Special Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival and the National Society of Film Critics award for "Best Supporting Actress". Additionally, she was nominated for the Screen Actors Guild Award for Best Supporting Actress - Motion Picture, and the Independent Spirit Award for Best Supporting Female.