An occasional theater performer and singer, Adam Driver signed up for the United States Marines and spent nearly three years training for overseas combat before being honorably discharged. After leaving the Marine Corps, he attended the famed Juilliard School.
The three times Emmy nominee gained wider recognition for playing Kylo Ren in the Star Wars sequel trilogy lms The Force Awakens (2015), The Last Jedi (2017), and the upcoming The Rise of Skywalker (2019). He earned nominations for the Golden Globe and the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for playing a police detective in the black comedy BlacKkKlansman (2018). In 2006, he founded Arts in The Armed Forces that brings high-quality arts programming to active duty service members, veterans, and their families around the world free of charge. We met with the actor in Los Angeles.
Let’s say you nished a lm with a wonderful
script and a wonderful director. What goes
through your mind until the rst screening
when you have an audience’s reaction? Do you
think of how many times you would have played
I try to train myself to forget it as soon as it’s over. I try to be distracted by other work or something else. Because at a certain point, my favorite part of working on something is when we are working on it, we are collaborating on it, and making it. Then, what it is, I feel like I don’t have an ownership over anymore, it’s not my thing, it’s the director’s. So it’s hard for me, it’s also why I don’t watch the movies that I am in, because I can’t -in a sense it has nothing to do with me at that point. And I feel like my tendency would be to try to make it something else or have regret. Why did you use that and that’s not what I thought was operating or I am glad that thing was operating, it would just get in the way I think of playing scenes in the future, so then it’s a weird process because a year or two years later, people kind of respond to this thing that you did two years ago in a basement somewhere. By that time, I’m kind of disconnected from it, I only remember it as we were making it and don’t experience it as this end result thing. Not even just in terms of that they don’t relate to it, but they’ve grown into something else and it’s like “I wish I could change it, but I can’t because it’s final.” That regret I have no interest in revisiting.
Does this mean that you do not take some
credit for the performance because it was very
much how it was written and how the director
You can act in a room as much as you want alone, but you are relying on the lighting, you are relying on dialogue, you are relying on someone else’s perspective that you trust, you are relying on other actors who maybe come in with a better idea that you didn’t think of. The sets, the costumes, there are so many things that are telling the story. It would be an illusion for anyone to say that they have 100 percent credit or reason why; I’m such a small part, I don’t know the percentage of how it divides up, but I would say it’s pretty even.
If you get an award for a performance, are you
are going to say it’s partly yours?
Exactly. You are there representing a whole group of people who aren’t lucky enough to get a platform to say whatever it is. You are there representing the movie and not yourself, in my opinion.
Some directors are very strict with lines, they
want you to read the lines as they are written.
Does that limit you in terms of if you want to do
something different or improvise?
Some directors are very, very visual and they give you the end result and it’s up to you to kind of ll in what that means or find the journey to get to the story that they are trying to tell. I know this from theater, that the play is the play, the words are written as they should be, but the intention behind it is open. I know, again from theater, there’s no right answer. So, you can say the same line, but maybe there’s a different thought that you have, and it changes the intention of the line. And sometimes you can leave a set with regret because you didn’t get the opportunity to do it ten times, you killed it, and now you are actually open to having a better idea.
I’m doing a movie with Leos Carax right now (Annette) who is an amazing director and the lines are uid, but how you move in a scene is incredibly strict. I also find that incredibly freeing, it’s just a different way of working. And as regards the director, acting is a service industry, I am here in the service of the director. So, I do, I try to adjust my way of working to help him tell his story and I don’t want to impose my way of working on the set because I feel like it limits me in options. And that’s not my job to make a decision about what is the correct way to play it, that’s director’s and the editor’s job.
Star Wars: Episode IX is not just another Star
Wars movie, it is probably going to be the last of
this saga. What does that mean to you, saying
goodbye to the saga, and what did it mean to
you to be a part of it and to say goodbye to your
It’s a fact that hasn’t hit me yet. It’s been six years of my life. And I don’t think it will really hit me until it comes out in this month. On a similar answer from earlier, when these things are done I try to put them out of my mind as much as possible. I’ve only had the experience twice, once with this show called Girls that went on for six years and another time with Star Wars, for that character. I know I had to put it in the back of my brain somewhere, because I knew we were going to do three. But this time I don’t have to revisit it anymore, so that has been a thing I don’t think I’ve computed yet.
How does an actor become a Marine? Or how does a
Marine become an actor? Were you already an actor
when you joined the Marines.?
I always wanted to be an actor, and the Marine Corps was in a sense some of the best acting training I ever had. Because you are isolated with a group of guys who are under an incredible amount of stress and I learned a lot of how to be on a set, this idea of team effort from being in the Marine Corps, and the idea of shared credit. Obviously the stakes of a movie set are different than the stakes of being in the Marine Corps. But you have a role and you have to know your role within that team and you are all there to accomplish a mission that is bigger than any one person. And there’s someone leading it and when they know what they are doing, what you are doing feels active and relevant and necessary and when they don’t know what they are doing, it feels like a waste of time and dangerous. So, I don’t look at it as such a departure; again, it’s a service industry, it’s about a group of people trying to accomplish a thing that’s bigger than themselves...
Clint Eastwood always says he chooses movies to learn
something, and his movies are so different. What have you
learned or taken away for yourself?
I consider that getting a chance to make a movie is an incredible opportunity; someone is paying millions of dollars, we are away from our family, in a hole, not necessarily a hole, but isolated somewhere to work on this thing and someone is going to lm it and it’s going to last forever, so it better be worth it. You have to kind of show up and give everything. Because I know what the potential of that could be, you are making a document that maybe could reach someone who is in a part of the world that has nothing to do with you, and that’s my experience with lm and cinema being in a small town in Indiana and watching Scorsese movies or Fellini or Godard, something that really like opens your imagination. Films are so democratic and they can nd their audience.
Talking about vulnerability, how important do you think that
is for an actor?
I don’t think of being vulnerable, for me it’s more a question of empathy. That’s the great thing that I like about being an actor, is that it forces you to be empathetic, it forces it to be part of your life that you have to look at someone that you maybe have no interest in or have nothing that you relate to and nd a way in. Whereas often in jobs you don’t get that exercise, no one is going to give you three months to think of someone else’s perspective.
Your latest movies are Marriage Story (2019) with the
experienced director Noah Baumbach and The Report (2019),
Scott Burns’s directorial debut. How differently did you
approach your work when working on these different sets?
They are different people, so they set different boundaries; we had more time with Noah’s movie, so things were more considered. I knew about Noah’s movie from the beginning, we had conversations, so we already landed like having a better sense of what it is we were trying to do. Scott’s was faster and there were just different circumstances in which we were shooting. So, I try to not have a way of working that I impose on those sets, I let them set the pace of how it is they want it to go. But again, they are two completely different people and you can’t really divorce the films from the filmmakers. So, the tone and the characters are entirely different.
What I find interesting about your movies -I have seen so many now- is that you have this comedic talent. There is so much humor in your performances, I find.I don’t think of them as this is a comedic movie. I feel like I’ve been lucky to work on things that are true to life and we don’t live in a genre, so we can’t, we don’t necessarily play them, but if it would be a genre, it would be comedy. But I think I’ve just been lucky working on things that I feel are very human and those things naturally have humor in them. But I don’t think it’s any ability of mine, it’s the writing, it’s the directing, it’s so many things that I am the last part of.