With his unusual looks - a long nose and no traditionally handsome features, Adam Driver stands in stark contrast from the normal leading men. Yet, within a mere decade, Adam Driver has vaulted himself from nowhere to the leading man of his generation. Whether you know him as Kylo Ren, the emotional Adam Sackler in HBO's Girls or as the thespian in auteur-driven films, it's clear that Driver's got way more range than the typical "I play myself in every movie" type of actor. Just who is Adam Driver, and how did he become the most in-demand actor in Hollywood?
Raised mostly in his mother's hometown of Mishawaka, Indiana, Adam Driver spent much of his formative years as most normal people do: going from interest to interest and figuring life out a little at a time. Perhaps due to his stepdad being a Baptist minister, Driver was naturally raised that way and sang in the church choir. He also participated in his school's production of Oklahoma!, because his friends were "doing it and it looked fun". He says of the experience in a 2017 interview with The Guardian: "They auditioned for Oklahoma!, so I did. And I got a part in the chorus. I remember being backstage, and it seemed like a community that was a bunch of weirdos, and I liked that part of it. I also felt that I was kind of OK at it. I tend to get frustrated with things that I don't pick up right away."
Driver's High School Yearbook photo
A self-described misfit, he told M Magazine in an interview that he spent most of his youth climbing radio towers, setting things on fire, and like many in 1999, co-founded a fight club with friends, after watching the 1999 David Fincher flick. After high school, Driver worked many gigs: including stints as a door-to-door salesman selling Kirby vacuum cleaners, a telemarketer for a basement waterproofing company and Ben Franklin Construction. He already knew he wanted to perform: it was around this time that he first applied to the Juilliard School for drama, but was however rejected.
With nothing happening for himself in his life and the events of 9/11, Driver enlisted in the Marines and got assigned to Weapons Company, 1st Battalion, 1st Marines as an 81mm mortarman. After two years and eight months of service, Driver dislocated his sternum while mountain biking. That resulted in a medical discharge from the Marines. He left with the rank of Lance Corporal. Despite not being much of a jock in high school, Driver relished his experience in the military. He says: "There's something about going into the military and having all of your identity and possessions stripped away: that whole clarity of purpose thing. It becomes very clear to you, when you get your freedom back, that there's stuff you want to do." Eventually, Driver would start the nonprofit organisation Arts In Armed Forces, which puts on theatre performances for military personnel to widen the type of entertainment offered to troops.
With just about nothing to lose after his discharge, Driver applied to Julliard again. After a year studying at the University of Indianapolis and working at a warehouse, he did so with no plan B. It was during this period at Julliard that he would meet his wife, Joanne Tucker.
Breakthrough: Eastwood, Spielberg, Baumbach, Girls!
After graduating, Driver began acting in Off-Broadway and Broadway productions, while balancing gigs as a busboy and waiter like any aspiring actor. His breakthrough finally arrived in 2011, as he made his feature film debut in Clint Eastwood's J. Edgar. The next year, he followed it up with roles in Steven Spielberg's Lincoln and Noah Baumbach's Frances Ha. Certainly a few directors you'd want to work with.
His real breakout role would come in 2012 with HBO's Girls. The Lena Dunham vehicle would dominate social media chatter for years to come with its raunchy content. Driver himself was often a topic of discussion as the often nude, emotionally unstable, hypersexed Brooklyn carpenter. However, that's not something Adam himself would be familiar with since he isn't on social media.
Working with the Cream of the Crop
In his young career, Driver's filmography already reads like a hall of fame list of directors. To remind ourselves, we have:
· Clint Eastwood (J. Edgar - 2011)
· Noah Baumbach (Frances Ha - 2012, While We're Young - 2014, The Meyerowitz Stories - 2017, Marriage Story - 2019)
· Steven Spielberg (Lincoln - 2012)
· The Coen Brothers (Inside Llewyn Davis - 2013)
· J.J Abrams (Star Wars: The Force Awakens - 2015, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker - 2019)
· Jeff Nichols (Midnight Special - 2016)
· Martin Scorsese (Silence - 2016)
· Steven Soderbergh (Logan Lucky - 2017)
· Spike Lee (BlacKkKlansman - 2018)
· Terry Gilliam (The Man Who Killed Don Quixote - 2018)
What makes Adam Driver such a desirable actor to work with for directors? For starters, he seems to be able to exhibit a high degree of control over his performance, no matter the role. He blends in seamlessly in ensembles like Girls, Logan Lucky, The Dead Don't Die, and Star Wars, yet can be magnetic when he needs to be the singular presence on screen. One great example is in Paterson, where he's often doing nothing more than thinking and listening. The range is ridiculous: from a charming swindler-hipster in While We're Young, to a low-key unassuming scientist in Midnight Special. He can even do both in the same film: see BlacKkKlansman, where he goes from measured cop to raucous pretend-racist in the high-stakes undercover situation. Adam Driver is a chameleon in the sense that in a Hollywood where they are four chiselled good-looking leading men named Chris, there's only one Adam Driver. He's a contradiction that seems to be ever-present in the media: films every year, fronting campaigns for Breitling and even appearing in Vogue with a little lamb draped over him for an Annie Leibovitz shoot. Yet he's super private (he managed to hide the existence of his son for over two years) as we learned from his walkout from a Terry Gross interview on the Marriage Story press tour, as he is awkward about seeing or hearing himself perform.
Adam Driver in his Oscar-nominated Marriage Story
This quote from that 2017 Guardian interview explains his ability to become a blank canvas for directors pretty well. When asked if the success of The Force Awakens had done anything to his self-confidence, he answered: "No, because that's not what I was after when I started to be an actor. It would if that was my goal. I know people think that if you're an actor, it's your goal to be famous and wealthy. Surely you want to be famous and wealthy! And there are great things about that part of it – it frees you up to do other things. But part of my job is being anonymous and I think being able to live, to observe more than to be observed, is important. [Being famous] seems counterintuitive to my job. It's a weird dynamic when you walk into a room, and there's an image people project on to you. My problems compared with global issues, or anybody else's, are very small. Even that I have time in my day to think about the existential."
Watch Adam Driver on CATCHPLAY+:
- Two Jim Jarmusch movies of different flavours: Adam Driver plays a bus driver and poet in the tiny universe of Paterson, and brings the deadpan laughs playing a small-town police officer facing a zombie attack in The Dead Don't Die.
- The Coen Bros' Inside Llewyn Davis has Adam Driver in the small role of "Cowboy" Al Cody... where he sings a song that'll take you to OUTER! SPACE!
- Noam Baumbach's While We're Young, which sees Driver playing Jamie Massey, a young filmmaker who moves in next door to Ben Stiller's accomplished moviemaker.
- Steven Soderbergh's comeback film Logan Lucky, a heist comedy. Adam Driver plays Clyde Logan, who lost his hand fighting in Iraq.
★ Chinese New Year Treat ★