Driving Force

Driving Force

ADAM DRIVER IS LIVING PROOF THAT ACCIDENTS HAPPEN. WHEN AN INJURY HAD HIM DISCHARGED FROM THE MARINES, HE STUMBLED INTO ACTING SCHOOL, THEN ONTO HBO'S GIRLS. NOW HE'S CAREENING HEADLONG INTO HOLLYWOOD'S LEADING MAN STRATOSPHERE. WHAT WENT WRONG?

ADAM DRIVER IS LIVING PROOF THAT ACCIDENTS HAPPEN. WHEN AN INJURY HAD HIM DISCHARGED FROM THE MARINES, HE STUMBLED INTO ACTING SCHOOL, THEN ONTO HBO'S GIRLS. NOW HE'S CAREENING HEADLONG INTO HOLLYWOOD'S LEADING MAN STRATOSPHERE. WHAT WENT WRONG?

Photography: Inez & Vinoodh

Styling: Carlyne Cerf De Dudzeele

Text: Logan Hill

Three years ago on Girls, Adam Driver burst onto the scene as a lanky tangle of explosive compulsions and pervy passions: all id, no chaser. In the final shot of the season two finale, consoling the show’s spiraling star, he emerged as Lena Dunham’s dream man and anchor: sweaty, shirtless, and somehow permanent. “I was always here,” he says.

Not long ago, nobody knew what to make of the six-foot-three kid from Indiana. He’d joined the Marines after September 11 in search of “retribution,” then broke his sternum after 32 months of service, before being deployed to Iraq. He then trained at Juilliard and showed up for his Girls audition carrying a motorcycle helmet: Was this strange kid just a flash in the pan? Another nut job character actor? Or could he really be a leading man?

His role on Girls wasn’t supposed to last for more than an episode; he became a pillar of the show. Driver’s long-term career, which once seemed dubious, now has that same feeling of rock-solid inevitability. Soon, it may be hard to imagine Hollywood without the 31-year-old, who, by the way, is a certified Gap model.

As the raves and breathless comparisons pour in—De Niro! Pacino! Brando!—the world’s best directors are backing them up: Steven Spielberg picked him for Lincoln. The Coen brothers cast him in Inside Llewyn Davis. J.J. Abrams and George Lucas tapped him for their new Star Wars reboot in a role that fanboys hope may be the next Darth Vader, which virtually guarantees global stardom. Meanwhile, Noah Baumbach, the new Woody Allen of Brooklyn, cast him in the wry midlife-crisis drama While We’re Young (opening this month) as the ambitious upstart to Ben Stiller’s fuddy-duddy filmmaker, a role that showcases all of his rangy charm and danger. This fall, he joins heavy hitters Michael Shannon, Joel Edgerton, and Sam Shepard in Jeff Nichols’s Midnight Special.

But those films are all in the can. When I caught up with Driver, he was in a serious mood and packing for his trip to Taiwan, where he will tackle his meatiest part yet: the lead role in Martin Scorsese’s Silence, in which he and Andrew Garfield play two 17th-century Jesuit priests who go to Japan in search of a missionary (Liam Neeson) who has renounced his faith.

LOGAN HILL I can see why Scorsese cast you: your stepfather is a Baptist minister. What’s your take on the film?

ADAM DRIVER It’s about the anguish of faith and how much doubt really plays a part in everything. In our culture, though I feel very divorced from it, there’s an urgent need to know everything right away. Faith is not that—it’s not knowing an answer. Even people who very much believe in God or religion or whatever it is still have doubts. Questioning is part of faith. I’m not a religious person, but that makes sense to me, even with acting.

LH How so?

AD Whenever you think you know the right answer, or think there is a correct way to do something, with relationships, friends, family, it always closes off something. No one knows the right answer about anything, and that’s the great and terrible thing about acting—you never really figure it out.

LH You’re not religious. Is acting your way of making meaning in your life?

AD Definitely. As you get older and life starts to happen more, why not go down to the bottom as much as possible? But there can also be a danger in trying to find meaning in acting, which I’m also learning: that you take it way too seriously, and yourself too seriously. That’s a tricky thing: How do you take it so seriously that your stakes are life and death, but at the end of the day you can let it go? Talking to older actors, they never seem to figure it out.

LH Having worked with some greats, like Daniel Day-Lewis on Lincoln, what have you learned?

AD I learned a lot from Daniel Day-Lewis in just a short amount of time, almost entirely by example. He’s constantly exploring. I’ll never forget that. Dianne Wiest and I did a play [The Forest] and I’ll never forget watching her be torn up by the process. That was both comforting and terrifying, just seeing how fearless she was every night to get it wrong. Frank Langella, same thing.

LH Who else?

AD Even talking to Martin Scorsese, you feel this need in him, this drive to get it better, and the doubts and anguish of putting a movie together. That’s just the shitty part about creating something from nothing. You get the job, then it’s sheer terror and disbelief until it’s over.

LH Speaking of Scorsese, you’re getting rave reviews saying you’re the next Pacino, De Niro, Brando. And calls from directors like Scorsese and Spielberg. How does it feel?

AD It’s a little surreal. I love Scorsese and Spielberg—I probably watch Jaws twice a year. To work with them is a little out of body. It’s obviously extremely flattering, and weird. I’m a straight, white male, and I’ve had more opportunities than other people have, unjustly. And I’ve been lucky on top of that.

LH Hollywood changes so slowly, doesn’t it?

AD It’s so insane to me. That’s why I like being a part of Girls, because it’s such a female-driven show. I see so many actors and friends who are so fucking good—but for one reason or another, because they’re female or African American, there aren’t as many opportunities for them. It’s total bullshit. My wife is an actress. She’s had to audition for, you know, “Blonde Girl #3.” There’s just such shitty writing and not as many opportunities.

LH Girls has been a lightning rod for talk abour your generation. But you feel disconnected from it. Why?

AD It’s not really my job to go to set thinking, “This means something for our generation!” It’s really about, “How do we make all this stuff make sense and be truthful?” But I definitely feel disconnected from my generation. The need to share everything doesn’t make sense to me. Or that idea that you’re somehow not speaking by not texting fast or e-mailing a certain amount.

LH What’s it like to see so many conservatives cry for Lena’s head on a spike?

AD It’s hard for me to say. I mean, I still haven’t seen the show.

LH You don’t watch it yourself?

AD I try not to watch anything because I don’t have control over it. But I get what she’s going for and I’m excited to be a part of that. I’m petrified of the Internet anyway. It doesn’t quite make sense to me, that mass shaming without any empathy…I guess it goes back to being so certain about being right or wrong.

LH Speaking of privacy, I just Googled you and read this shocking headline: “Adam Driver Stocks Up on Edward Hopper Books in Rainy New York City!”

AD Christ! That’s on the Internet now? That was a couple of days ago! No one can buy a book about Edward Hopper?

LH You got married in 2013 to your Juilliard classmate Joanne Tucker. How are you and your new wife negotiating privacy?

AD We’re both figuring it out. I value privacy and it’s impossible to say that without sounding like a total pretentious asshole. Losing anonymity is a real thing and it makes your job difficult because when you are what people are looking at, you start thinking about yourself as opposed to taking things in. And selling who you are as a person doesn’t make sense to me. At the same time, you almost want to figure out a way to leverage some of it and do something good.  My wife and I run a nonprofit, Arts and the Armed Forces, where we do monologues from contemporary American plays and do readings for a diverse military audience. A lot of people are like, “We’ll donate to that if you come take a picture with my niece in front of this bank!”

LH When an Arts and Armed Forces program works, what does that look like?

AD We’re giving them something not military-themed at all, and indirectly exposing them to theater and the arts. This audience hasn’t seen A Doll’s House 13 times. It’s great hearing responses like, “We can’t afford theater.” “This is the first time my husband’s been to a play.” To be involved in that process is meaningful, because I remember how meaningful discovering theater for the first time was to me, not coming from a community, in Indiana, where language and expressing yourself was really important—and watching people I’ve served with not be able to express themselves, and seeing how easily violence came from that.

LH You’ve said you joined the Marines because you wanted “retribution” after September 11 and because you wanted to “be a man.” How has your idea of manhood changed since then?

AD When you’re in your 20s, you’re just fucking angry about everything. You saw Funny People? Adam Sandler’s like, in your 20s it’s “Fuck my girlfriend!” And in your 30s it’s “Fuck the government!” Then in your 40s, it’s like, “I’m hungry!” That’s so true. Life happens, you get married, you get a dog, and suddenly the things that you think are a priority just shift. I guess my idea of manhood has changed because it’s less about you and more about other people.

LH Sounds like being manly isn’t as much of a goal?

AD Yeah, especially in the military, it’s much more about how aggressive you are. I was a completely different person back then.

LH So let’s talk about Noah Baumbach’s While We’re Young. You play Jamie, a Brooklyn documentary filmmaker who lives in Bushwick. I feel like Jamie and Adam from Girls could be stepbrothers, or roommates. Did you see them as similar characters?

AD First, Noah sent it to me a few years ago and I read it and was like, “Yes, I’ll do anything,” because he’s fucking brilliant…Jamie and Adam are both in Brooklyn and in their 20s, but the core of who they are is totally different. Adam is definitely passionate about something and runs full force at it and I guess they share that similarity, but Jamie is more of a networker, a mover and a shaker. Adam is more interested in discipline, and Jamie is more interested in appropriating.

LH In the movie, your character asks Ben Stiller’s character, “Who influenced you?” So, who influenced you?

AD There’s so many people! I’d say Edward Hopper, but you fucking know that shit already! [laughs] De Kooning is pretty inspiring. Cy Twombly is pretty fucking great. Actor-wise…Judd Hirsch is great. Mark Ruffalo is a pretty brilliant guy. Apartamento, do you know that magazine? It’s great. Then there are just performances that are the best I’ve ever seen.

LH What’s the first one that comes to mind?

AD Bill Irwin in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? That was the second play I ever saw on Broadway. I’d never read it before and I was working as a waiter. I got a ticket for 20 bucks. I sat in the mezzanine, way in the back, and it was incredible.

LH In the film, Jamie is asked, “Are you a hipster?” Are you?

AD I think the answer I give in the movie is pretty funny.  “I’m of a certain age and I wear tight jeans…but no.” I’m very boring! I like the idea of staying indoors and not talking at all.

LH Last question: directors often cast you as men driven by some propulsive momentum. Where does your drive come from?

AD Oh, Jesus. There’s something about not being satisfied…I think some of it is probably genetic. I really enjoy the process. Which is a lie, I guess, because I hate the process!  I hate the waiting to actually do the thing. Then while we’re doing it I hate it, because I’m not satisfied. It’s torturous. And you’re trying to find a way to live your life better while you’re doing it, and then your emotions get the better of you—and then you have to sell the things and walk down a carpet in a fancy suit that makes you feel uncomfortable. Or you go to the store and walk out with a bag and somebody chases you! (I remember that day, that guy.)  And you can’t act alone in a room, you know? So you have to rely on other people, as much as talking to people scares the shit out of me. So that’s all bad.

LH And the good part that keeps you going?

AD The collaborative part of it: the brief, little moments where you’re all going after the same thing, and you find something nobody planned. You create something that other people catch on to. Those moments. That’s reason enough to go, “Let’s do that again.”

clothing and accessories LOUIS VUITTON

Credits: Hair Jimmy Paul (Susan Price) Grooming Aaron de Mey (art partner) Manicure Deborah Lippmann (Magnet) Creative movement director Stephen Galloway  (theCollectiveShift) Lighting director Jodokus Driessen Digital technician Brian Anderson Studio manager Marc Kroop Photo assistant Joseph Hume VLM producer Jeff Lepine Stylist assistants Francisco Ovalle Jr.,  Stella Evans, Amira Rasool Hair assistant Lucas Wilson Grooming assistant Tayler Treadwell Tailor Malisa (In-House Atelier) Production Stephanie Bargas, Lauren Pistoia,  Disco Meisch (theCollectiveShift) Production assistants Tucker Birbilis and Izzy Cohan Retouching Stereohorse Location ROOT Studios Catering Dishful

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