A few years ago when Jim Jarmusch called, Adam Driver was ready to act even before he’d read the script. That was the measure of his regard for the cult Indie film director. The film Paterson about a bus driver who writes poetry was universally loved. And the bus driver was as unlikely a sex symbol, as the ex-Marine himself. And yet, Driver is compelling in Paterson as the common man facing everyday challenges with courage and humor and verse.
Contrast that with playing the pusillanimous urban whiner in the TV series, Girls, and you see two sides of the coin. Yet it was that character and the immense popularity of that series that has turned Driver into a millennial sex symbol. His recent turn in Star Wars: The Force Awakens boosted him higher.
Now he’s back in the always entertaining Steven Soderbergh’s offbeat comedy/drama, LOGAN LUCKY, in which the string-bean Driver and his much shorter, stockier co-star, Channing Tatum, play two fairly silly, bad luck brothers trying to steal $14 million during the course of the Coca-Cola 600 race at the Charlotte Motor Speedway. Daniel Craig co-stars as the cerebral thief who masterminds the robbery.
It’s fun. It’s hilarious. It’s perfect for summer.
It’s a vehicle for Driver, the latest lap in Driver’s race to stardom. How does fame strike Driver? Personally, he seems more like his character in Paterson, the poet who distrusts poetry. That is, a man indifferent to celebrity, who, like the great Garbo, prefers to be left alone. As long as when he is working people are watching. . . of course.
“I don’t have any control over that,” Driver says. “I know that the TV gig has struck a chord with a lot of people and I’m happy to be finding a lot of good roles now. The attention is very nice and flattering even if it’s all been pretty surprising to me.”
The rangy Lincolnesque actor, who mesmerizes audiences, has certainly been keeping busy of late. In addition to Logan Lucky, he will be seen later this year in the indie satire The Meyerowitz Stories which attracted critical acclaim at the Cannes Film Festival in May. Then, in December, he returns as Kylo Ren in Star Wars: The Last Jedi before starring in Terry Gilliams’s long-delayed film The Man Who Killed Don Quixote set for release in 2018.
He grew up a devout Baptist, His stepfather is a minister in Mishawaka, Indiana. He sang in his Church choir while growing up that conservative Midwestern environment. He joined the U.S. Marine Corps at 18 in patriotic response to the 9/11 attacks. He served two years, no combat. A mountain bike accident that resulted in a broken sternum brought an abrupt end to his military service.
After his Marine days were over, he was accepted to the prestigious Julliard School (Robin Williams went there too) in New York. Juilliard focused his energies. Girls marked his acting breakthrough and series creator Lena Dunham often cites his performance as one of the keys to the success of the show.
Adam Driver lives in the Brooklyn Heights neighbourhood of New York City together with his wife, Joanne Tucker. And his dog. Which was a birthday present from his wife.
Q: Adam, your career is skyrocketing these days. How do you relate to all your success?
DRIVER: It feels strange, sometimes. It’s happened very fast and I didn’t really see it until you find people coming up to in the street and wanting to talk about Girls and then suddenly you’re getting offers for movie roles. I’m still trying to process how my life has changed. I was very nervous when things began to take off and I noticed that I had lost my anonymity and even some of your friends react to you differently.
I’ve been working a lot lately and that’s probably helped calm me down and made it easier for me to be oblivious to the attention. It’s not a bad thing, to be recognised, really, at least if you believe in the work you’re doing.
Q: What made you want to be part of Logan Lucky?
DRIVER: I’m a big admirer of Steven Soderbergh’s work and especially since he had said that he wasn’t going to direct films anymore it was exciting to get this chance to work with him on this film.
I also thought it was a very good story and a good script and obviously there are a lot of great actors involved as well. So it wasn’t a difficult decision.
Q: What’s the biggest advantage of the kind of recognition you now have as an actor, especially after getting the role of Kylo Ren in Star Wars: The Force Awakens?
DRIVER: It gives you the chance to work with directors you’ve always been interested in, now I have a chance to do that. There are more things available to you. Financially, it’s way better than doing an indie movie. (Laughs).
But at the same time, money is never the only to reason to take a job and I’ve never really plotted out my career in those terms. It’s important though to do the bigger films because of the kind of creative and financial freedom it brings you. That’s obvious.
Q: Do you feel that landing the role in Star Wars was a very big break for you in that respect?
DRIVER: I also feel like I’ve lucked out in the franchise world I lucked out. On the first one (The Force Awakens), J.J. [Abrams] was directing, and on the most recent one (The Last Jedi), Rian Johnson was directing. So, the type of horror stories I’ve heard about typical Hollywood blockbuster franchises, I can’t relate to any of that, because the people in charge, the directors I’ve been lucky enough to work with at this point, have a very specific vision.
They’re all about breaking it into moments, and solving those moments, and that leads to the next moment. So even though the scale of it is bigger, it’s not really different from working on anything smaller. Other than, maybe the catering is better. The amenities are better. But that doesn’t work its way into the movie. No one is going to watch Star Wars and think, ‘Oh! those guys got to stay in better trailers! (Laughs)
Q: You’re perhaps best known, and will always be known, for your character Adam Sackler in Girls who was very flawed and not always easy to like. Have you found out over the years that people, as they often do with actors, assumed you’re playing an extension of yourself?
DRIVER: I wish they wouldn’t! (Smiles) I got rid of my impulsive and aggressive tendencies when I joined the Marines but I can still draw on that kind of energy for my character. Also, I’m pretty serious when it comes to anything I put my mind to and my character is unfocused and aimless a lot of the time.
But Lena (Dunham) is a very good writer and she’s created some incredible emotional layers that are very interesting to throw yourself into. I know guys ilke that in New York and I helped Lena build my character but he’s not very close to who I am.
Q: Much has been made of your joining the Marines at a young age?
DRIVER: It was a way of testing my manhood and also partly a response to 9/11 and wanting to prove myself. I was living with my parents and didn’t know what to do with myself and joing the Marines was incredibly inspiring. I enjoyed the discipline and physical regimen that the training imposes on you.
I also thrived on the atmosphere that came with being a part of a very tight-knit group of guys your age who are training for a common purpose. You’re bonding over the fact that you’re quite possibly facing death once you’re sent out on a mission. I really wanted to go over there (his unit was about to be deployed to the Middle East – ED). I was ready for that.
Q: How did the military change you personally?
DRIVER: It forces you to grow up. Suddenly you’re training for very real and serious duties and you’re part of a team of guys. You learn to work together and treat your fellow man with respect. You feel inspired by that and when I got out I felt like a very different person with a lot more purpose.
Q: After your discharge, you applied to and were accepted at Julliard?
DRIVER: After (two years of intense military training), you develop a fearless mentality. Nothing is going intimidate you and acting was my next challenge. My Marine training was actually good preparation for Julliard – you develop an interesting perspective on human behaviour when you watch people under those circumstance. Also, once you’ve committed to the idea that you are going to be part of combat unit, acting is pretty easy by comparison. It also keeps things in perspective.
Q: You’ve said that you approached your studies at Julliard with the same intensity as you approached your Marines Corps training?
DRIVER: When I was at Julliard, it bothered me when I saw people slacking off and not taking their studies seriously. I didn’t have a problem letting them know what I thought about that… But I also saw that it wasn’t appropriate to get angry and yell at people. People are people. I can’t force my way of military thinking on them.
Q: You’ve also co-founded the theatre group Arts in the Armed Forces which puts on productions for troops and people working in the armed services. Did you do this out of some guilt or regret about not being able to ship out with your Marine unit due to your mountain-biking injury?
DRIVER: I had for a long time, especially right afterwards, a lot guilt about not being able to go overseas with the guys I had trained with and become very close to. I felt that I hadn’t done my duty in some way.
That was a big part of why I wanted to do something that would also serve the men and women who are serving my country in the military. I thought it would be a good idea to try to help entertain military service people and make their lives a little more enjoyable. That was my way of giving something back to the military.
Q: Getting back to your time on Girls, what do you think was it about Lena Dunham’s Hannah character that connnected in a dysfunctional way with your character?
DRIVER: Hannah challenges him to be a better human being and see himself more clearly. She was willing to stick by him even though he behaved in an atrocious and humiliating way towards her especially the beginning of their relationship.
Q: Was it a very intense environment on the set during your scenes with Lena?
DRIVER: (Laughs) No. We got to laugh a lot and there were several times on the set where I can’t help but burst out laughing at what Lena (Dunham) is doing in some scenes.
Q: Were the sex scenes ever problematic?
DRIVER: No. They’re graphic at times but it’s meant to convey what sex is like when you’re not trying to sanitise it or romanticise it. Lena is trying to be as authentic and truthful to what people of our generation are experiencing and it’s much easier to portray sexuality in that way than to glamourise the way TV or film often does when it shows sex scenes.
We all attack the sex scenes just as much as we do scenes that aren’t sexual, and hopefully that’s what people are responding to: that there is storytelling happening in the sex, and sometimes it’s good to take risks where the lines are blurry. I know a lot of people just didn’t know how to swallow it, and there’s so much dialogue about…Hopefully we leave to the viewer to debate. I don’t think anyone is trying to do anything for the purpose of offending.
Q: You come from a religious background and your stepfather is a Baptist minister. Have they seen Girls?
DRIVER: I’ve warned them about Girls and they found out about from friends because I didn’t tell them about it in advance. I’ve explained that it’s better for them to avoid that aspect of my work. I tell them to watch Lincoln or Inside Llewyn Davis instead. (Smiles)
Q: You’re a married man now. How has your wife reacted to your sudden fame?
DRIVER: My wife has changed way that I dress. She makes me dress nicer than I want to dress. I feel like I perpetually dress like a 14-year-old boy, and she makes me stand up straight and wear clean clothes! (Smiles)