Born in Vicenza, Italy, and raised in Castle Rock, Colorado, Adams is the fourth of seven siblings. She trained to be a ballerina, but at age 18, she found musical theater a better fit, and from 1994 to 1998, she worked in dinner theater. She made her feature film debut with a supporting part in the 1999 satire Drop Dead Gorgeous. After moving to Los Angeles, she made guest appearances in television and took on "mean girl" parts in small-scale features. Her first major role came in Steven Spielberg's 2002 biopic Catch Me If You Can, opposite Leonardo DiCaprio, but she was unemployed for a year afterward. Her breakthrough came in the part of a loquacious pregnant woman in the 2005 independent film Junebug.