Adams was born in North Little Rock, Arkansas. Her father was a lumber yard owner. She moved to Hollywood in 1988, but now lives in Oxford, Mississippi.
She began her film career in 1977 with a small part in Exorcist II: The Heretic. In 1993, Adams landed her first major film role as Simone in Richard Linklater's Dazed and Confused. The same year, she appeared in the Saturday Night Live spinoff film Coneheads as one of Connie Conehead's friends.
Two years later, Adams appeared in Mallrats, written and directed by Kevin Smith. The two started dating during the film's post-production, and their relationship provided the inspiration for Smith's next movie, 1997's Chasing Amy. Smith cast Adams in the lead role of Alyssa Jones, a lesbian who falls in love with a man played by Ben Affleck. Later, Smith would describe Chasing Amy as a "sort of penance/valentine" and a "thank-you homage" to Adams. In addition to her acting work on the film, Adams wrote and performed the song "Alive" for the movie's soundtrack.
Adams' performance in Chasing Amy earned her both the 1997 Chicago Film Critics Award and Las Vegas Film Critics Society Award for Most Promising Actress, and a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress-Motion Picture Musical or Comedy. From there, Adams was originally slated to play the female lead of Bethany in Smith's next film, 1999's Dogma, but she dropped out of the project after the two broke off their romantic relationship. However, she ...