Adam Driver, the Original Man

When white phosphorus touches pores and skin, it will probably burn by to the bone. As the particles ignite, they emit a garlic-like odor and soften every little thing of their path. Adam Driver, Marine lance corporal, 1st Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, Weapons Company, 81st Platoon, was conscious of those results when he regarded up at the California sky, throughout a drill train, in the future in 2003, and noticed a cloud of white phosphorus exploding above his head. The solely factor to do was run.

Driver had joined the Marine Corps the earlier yr, when he was eighteen. After highschool, he’d been renting a room in the again of his household’s home, in Mishawaka, Indiana, and mowing the grass at a 4-H fairgrounds. He had imprecise ambitions of being an actor and had auditioned for Juilliard, in Manhattan, as a result of he knew that it didn’t examine grades. When he was rejected, he determined to go to Los Angeles and attempt to make it in the films. He packed up his 1990 Lincoln Town Car along with his minifridge, his microwave, and every little thing else he owned, and mentioned goodbye to his girlfriend. “It was a whole event,” he recalled lately. “Like, ‘I don’t know when we’ll see each other again. Our love will find a way.’ And then: ‘Bon voyage, small town! Hollywood, here I come!’ ”

His automotive broke down outdoors Amarillo, Texas, and he spent almost all his cash fixing it. When he received to L.A., he stayed at a hostel for 2 nights and paid a real-estate agent to assist him discover an condominium (“A total fucking scam”). He walked round the seaside in Santa Monica, calculated that the 2 hundred {dollars} he had left was sufficient for gasoline cash, and drove again to Mishawaka, the place he received his job with the 4-H again. He’d been gone every week. “It was all just embarrassing,” he mentioned. “I felt like a fucking loser.”

After 9/11, he discovered himself crammed with a need for retribution, though he wasn’t certain towards what or whom. “It wasn’t against Muslims,” he mentioned. “It was: We were attacked. I want to fight for my country against whoever that is.” His stepfather, a Baptist minister, had given him a brochure for the Marines, which he’d thrown in the trash. But now he reconsidered. He craved a bodily problem, and the marines have been powerful. “They kind of got me with their whole ‘We don’t give you signing bonuses. We’re the hardest branch of the armed forces. You’re not going to get all this cushy shit that the Navy or the Army gives you. It’s going to be hard.’ ” His determination to enlist was so abrupt {that a} navy recruiter requested if he was operating from the legislation.

He was despatched to a processing middle in Indianapolis for a bodily examination, then to the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego, for boot camp. The first evening, the recruits lined as much as get their heads shaved. A man 4 spots forward of Driver had a mole on his scalp which received shaved off, leaving him bleeding and screaming. Driver was six ft three and lanky, with squinty eyes, a beaky nostril, and ears that caught straight out. Another recruit, Martinez, additionally had massive ears, and he and Driver have been nicknamed Ears No. 1 and Ears No. 2. Basic coaching was as gruelling because it was in the films. “I was allowed one call, and my parents weren’t home,” Driver recalled, “so I didn’t talk to anybody for a long time.”

After two and a half months, he was despatched to Camp Pendleton, in Southern California, the place he educated as a mortarman. In one train, he and one other trainee needed to pound a nerve on one another’s thigh till it was numb. “That’s kind of what the Marine Corps is like,” Driver mentioned. “They’ll just keep hitting it until it’s numb. Until you conform.”

During a simulated battle situation, the mortarmen have been to drive Humvees right into a valley and hearth mortars at a distant goal, to be designated by a white-phosphorus explosion. In a screwup, the phosphorus exploded not over the goal however over the males. Driver heard a increase overhead. Luckily, the wind was blowing, so the poisonous plumes wafted a bit, and the marines sprinted to security.

Later, as Driver was amassing himself at the barracks, he considered the two issues that he actually needed to do in life, and he vowed to do them. One was to smoke cigarettes. The different was to be an actor.

Driver, who’s thirty-five, was telling me this story one morning in June, at an industrial-chic trattoria in Dumbo, over a lemon natural tea. To assist me image the scene, he positioned a saltshaker to signify the goal. His telephone was the panicked mortarmen.

A tattooed waiter got here by for our order, and Driver, who lives close by, in Brooklyn Heights, selected scrambled eggs with spinach. He mentioned that he smoked cigarettes for just a few years after the white-phosphorus incident however stop, roughly, in his twenties. The performing factor caught. In 2012, he received his massive break on HBO’s “Girls,” enjoying Adam Sackler, a mysterious weirdo whom Lena Dunham’s character, Hannah Horvath, visits for booty calls. The character, a peripheral one at first, turned central. Adam Sackler was an odd specimen of boy: as massive as a tree trunk but affected in his tastes, significantly sexual ones. In one episode, he masturbates as Hannah berates him, demanding cash for cab fare, pizza, and gum. It took seven episodes earlier than he appeared outdoors his condominium. When Hannah spots him at a celebration in Bushwick and broadcasts, “That’s Adam,” her pal Jessa deadpans, “He does sort of look like the original man.”

The identical yr, Driver had a small half in Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln,” as a telegraph operator. (He studied Morse code for the function.) I keep in mind being jarred by his presence in the movie: What’s the pervy hipster from “Girls” doing in the nineteenth century? But Driver has a variety and an depth which have remodeled him into one in all Hollywood’s most unconventional main males. In simply six years, he has labored with an astonishing roster of administrators: Spike Lee, Martin Scorsese, Jim Jarmusch, Steven Soderbergh, the Coen brothers. Scorsese, who solid him as a seventeenth-century Jesuit priest, in “Silence,” instructed me that he was impressed by Driver’s “seriousness, his dedication, his understanding of what we were trying to do.” When I requested Lee, who directed Driver final yr in his Oscar-nominated efficiency in “BlacKkKlansman,” why administrators have been drawn to him, he mentioned, “There’s a very simple answer: game respects game.”

Cartoon by Edward Steed

Driver has the bearing of a self-effacing vulture and a face like an Easter Island statue. (Not since Anjelica Huston has a film star so embodied the idea of jolie laide.) Despite his stolid presence, his characters are sometimes thwarted and befuddled—high-strung alpha males pushed by an historical code of valor however tripped up by up to date frustrations, like a Cro-Magnon man airdropped into Bed-Stuy and handed the incorrect individual’s latte. Jarmusch, who solid Driver as a poetry-writing bus driver, in “Paterson,” and as a hapless police officer who fights zombies, in “The Dead Don’t Die,” pointed to his “unusual usualness.” Directors love his peculiar contradictions and his syncopated speech. (When the trailer for “The Dead Don’t Die” was launched, in April, the Internet went briefly gaga over his elongated pronunciation of the phrase “ghouls.”) “He’s very disciplined, and yet he can be absolutely goofy,” Terry Gilliam, who directed Driver in “The Man Who Killed Don Quixote,” instructed me. Soderbergh solid him in the heist comedy “Logan Lucky” after seeing him on “Girls.” “He seemed to be operating with some different kind of compass,” Soderbergh mentioned. “His physicality, his speech rhythms were all unexpected and yet totally organic. You didn’t feel like he was putting on a show or that it was mannered. He just seemed to be from another universe.”

In 2013, a column in Variety posited that Hollywood was affected by a “Leading Man Crisis.” George Clooney, Brad Pitt, and Will Smith have been all middle-aged, and few youthful actors appeared poised to take their place. But, six years later, there seems to be no scarcity of main males. Hollywood is awash in sad-eyed brooders (Ryan Gosling, Jake Gyllenhaal), muscled he-men (Channing Tatum, Dwayne Johnson), subtle gents (Benedict Cumberbatch, Eddie Redmayne), high-spirited underdogs (Michael B. Jordan, Ryan Reynolds), bug-eyed misfits (Rami Malek, Jared Leto), and the interchangeable hunks generally known as the Chrises: Evans, Hemsworth, Pine, and Pratt.


Driver doesn’t match any of those molds. In some methods, he’s a throwback to the off-center film stars of the seventies—Dustin Hoffman, Al Pacino, Jack Nicholson—who blurred the line between matinée idol and character actor and infused their roles with a way of alienation and neurosis. Next month, he stars in two movies, every as a person navigating a tortuous fashionable maze. In Noah Baumbach’s “Marriage Story,” he performs a theatre director whose divorce from an actress (performed by Scarlett Johansson) turns right into a nightmarish, but completely atypical, ordeal. In “The Report,” directed by Scott Z. Burns, he performs the former Senate staffer Daniel J. Jones, who spent years investigating the C.I.A.’s use of torture in the conflict on terror, solely to be stymied by Washington paperwork. Soderbergh, who produced “The Report,” instructed me, of Driver, “He just radiates obsession, and that is what ‘The Report’ needed above anything else: somebody that you believed would willingly lock himself in a room for five years to perform a task that may or may not end up being relevant or even known.”

Then there’s the “Star Wars” reboot, through which Driver performs Kylo Ren, an interplanetary warlord who can’t appear to reside as much as the infamy of his grandfather Darth Vader. During the course of the trilogy, which wraps up with “The Rise of Skywalker,” in December, Driver has managed to transpose the wounded virility of his twenty-first-century characters to the saga’s galactic scale. (The comic Josh Gondelman lately mentioned that he empathized with Kylo Ren, “the only ‘Star Wars’ villain who can correctly rank all the best Death Cab for Cutie albums.”) Kylo Ren is the J. Alfred Prufrock of area: a self-conscious poseur, needled by his personal insecurities. J. J. Abrams, who solid Driver in the function, mentioned, “Kylo Ren feels like he hasn’t arrived. Even as he becomes supreme leader, he is wanting. It’s like anyone you know who thinks that, when he arrives where he’s going, he will feel fulfilled. For Kylo, the hole only gets bigger.”

Baumbach, who has directed Driver in 4 movies, as soon as heard him name performing a “benign rebellion.” He instructed me, “It does accurately describe what he does so beautifully, because he’s both serving the role and the story and the director, and at the same time always looking for other things and pushing back.” Baumbach first solid Driver in a small function, in “Frances Ha,” as a hipster in a porkpie hat. One of his traces was: “Amazing.” “The way Adam says it is like a song: ‘Ah-ma-zinnggg,’ ” Baumbach mentioned. “I always think of that word that way now.”

When I requested Driver about “benign rebellion,” he mentioned, “Sometimes you have to shock yourself out of your rhythm.” I first met him one night this summer season, in his dressing room at the Hudson Theatre, the place he was starring in a Broadway revival of Lanford Wilson’s 1987 drama “Burn This.” He was enjoying Pale, a boorish, coke-addled restaurant supervisor who bursts into the condominium of his late brother, Robbie, and begins an unlikely affair with the brother’s dancer roommate, performed by Keri Russell. “This supposedly was Ethel Barrymore’s dressing room at some point,” Driver mentioned, sporting a Naval Base Coronado hat. “But I can’t prove that.”

On the desk was a poetry assortment by Sharon Olds, which his spouse, the actor Joanne Tucker, had given him as an opening-night present. He confirmed me just a few favourite traces, through which Olds envisages her mother and father as school college students and yearns to cease them from making the mistake of their marriage, however relents: “I want to live. I / take them up like the male and female / paper dolls and bang them together / at the hips, like chips of flint, as if to / strike sparks from them, I say, / Do what you are going to do, and I will tell about it.”

“The language is so great,” Driver mentioned, as he shovelled down a burrito bowl. “Striking sparks between two things—it’s kind of similar to plays. That’s it, right? You have an experience and then you go tell about it in your work.” “Burn This” was extra taxing than he had anticipated. Unlike with “Angels in America,” through which Driver appeared Off Broadway, in 2011, he couldn’t let the language take him the place he wanted to go: “It’s very much about everything that they’re not talking about, which is the death of Robbie and the grief, you know?”

Driver is protecting of his course of and of the enigmas of performing, however he agreed to let me watch his preshow routine, of which the burrito bowl was the first step. When he completed consuming, he went into the lavatory and put his head beneath a operating faucet, whereas we talked about films. “Have you ever seen ‘The Miracle Worker’?” he mentioned mid-dunk. “There’s a scene with Anne Bancroft and Patty Duke where they’re just beating the hell out of each other. Fucking one of the best scenes in film. That’s a non sequitur.” He squirted gel into his hand and smeared it into his shaggy black hair. “With this play, I’ve been really going to town on this shit. I think you’re only supposed to use a handful, but I fucking plow this stuff on.”

As he blow-dried his hair, he talked about his style for Danish-modern chairs; he and Tucker have a knockoff Hans Wegner, and he joked that if he weren’t an actor he may need been a furniture-maker. He sat in entrance of a mirror and wound a bandage round his proper hand. (When Pale first seems, he’s been harm in a bar struggle.) “This bandage for some reason is the part that gives me the most anxiety,” Driver mentioned. “There’s a lot of trial and error over what is the right amount of blood. And the bandage cuts off circulation, so by the time I’m done my fingers are purple.” He drew a crimson trickle on his knuckle with a marker. Then he traced over it in brown. “It’s not a fresh wound,” he reasoned. “It’s, like, an hour or two hours old.”

He stood up. “Now I’ll brush my teeth, because I have to kiss Keri,” he mentioned. On the sofa was a chunk of fan artwork he had obtained at the stage door. During “Girls,” strangers would typically share particulars about their intercourse lives with him. (One man stopped him in the subway and mentioned, “I love that scene where you pee on her in the shower,” then turned to his girlfriend and mentioned, fondly, “I pee on her all the time.”) But “Star Wars” has made him uncomfortably well-known. “This one woman who has been harassing my wife came to the show and gave me a creepy wood carving that she made of my dog,” he mentioned. He and Tucker have a younger son, whose start they stored hidden from the press for 2 years, in what Driver referred to as “a military operation.” Last fall, after Tucker’s sister, who was launching a peacoat enterprise, by accident made her Instagram account public and somebody seen the again of his son’s head in a single image, the information wound up on Page Six. Driver stretched his foot on a foam curler and lamented his lack of privateness. “My job is to be a spy—to be in public and live life and have experience. But, when you feel like you’re the focus, it’s really hard to do that.”

He lay down on the curler and massaged his again; his physique appeared to take up the whole room. His physique is typically considered a riddle of nature. When the play opened, the fashion weblog The Cut convened 4 writers to debate the query “How Big Is Adam Driver in Burn This?” (“I was so flustered by his quads that at one point I spilled all of the contents of my purse on the floor,” one mentioned.) After stretching, he boiled water for his throat-soothing “potion”: half a teaspoon of salt, half a teaspoon of baking soda, and half a teaspoon of corn syrup. At seven-twenty, he raced downstairs to the stage, the place the solid had gathered for his or her nightly struggle name. Russell, who lives in Driver’s neighborhood, was gossiping on the couch about snotty Brooklyn preschools. They ran by their struggle scenes, stomping and kicking and smacking at half pace, as in the event that they have been in a Three Stooges routine.

Driver went again upstairs to shave and to gargle his potion. Because of Actors’ Equity guidelines, I wasn’t permitted to see the remainder of his routine, however he instructed me what would occur subsequent. When the play began, he listened on the speaker system till he heard his cue. As he headed to the stage, his dresser reminded him to place a prop watch in his pocket. He considered the character of Robbie, his useless brother. Sometimes he would image Robbie as the concept of “losing something beautiful.” Or he would take into consideration a mass capturing in the information. Or he would peek out at the silhouettes of the ushers in the theatre and look at them as Robbie. Or he would take into consideration the AIDS epidemic—Robbie is homosexual however dies in a freak boating accident—and challenge it onto the viewers: “Maybe they were all Robbies, and here I am facing them all. And they’re faceless. All these artists who are gone.”


And then he tore by the condominium door onto the stage and delivered a ten-minute rant about parking and potholes and “this shit city”—Wilson wrote it in the throes of an anxiousness assault—as he thrashed round like a wild hen in a cage. “Sometimes everything I’m thinking about helps,” he instructed me, “but every once in a while it doesn’t. And, the minute I get in my head, it’s fucked.”

“Marriage Story” begins after the marriage in the title has ended. Charlie and Nicole, performed by Driver and Johansson, are in a mediator’s workplace, the air between them thick with resentment. The movie is, in some methods, an replace of “Kramer vs. Kramer,” the 1979 drama starring Dustin Hoffman and Meryl Streep—however whereas Streep’s character disappears for many of the film, permitting the viewers’s allegiance to float towards Hoffman, “Marriage Story” toggles between the spouses, as in the event that they’d been granted joint custody of the story. At one level, when Nicole appears to be profitable the battle over their younger son, Charlie tells his lawyer, by tears, “He needs to know that I fought for him.”

Driver’s mother and father divorced when he was seven. Until then, the household lived in San Diego, and Driver has blissful recollections of their life; each Friday, they’d go to the seaside and eat scorching canine. His father, Joe, was a Baptist youth counsellor, and his mom, Nancy, who met Joe at Bible school, performed piano at church. After their break up, Nancy moved Driver and his older sister to her dwelling city of Mishawaka. He mentioned, of “Marriage Story,” “It feels very familiar. Just trying to wrap your head around your parents not being together anymore—and not only that but you’re moving to the Midwest. Like, the first time seeing my father cry, as we’re leaving. It’s just all those very raw feelings that stick with you that you don’t articulate.” After the divorce, Driver’s father left the church, and he now works at an Office Depot in Arkansas. While capturing “Marriage Story,” Driver mentioned, “something I thought about all the time was the things that my dad didn’t do that this guy does in Noah’s movie. The fighting to get custody”—he took a protracted pause—“was moving to me. My dad didn’t do any of this. He didn’t put up a fight.”

Mishawaka was a jolt. “We were living with my grandparents, and that sucked,” Driver mentioned. “I mean, they were nice.” His father had proven him grownup films equivalent to “Predator” and “Total Recall,” however his new classmates talked about “Saved by the Bell.” Nancy received a job as a authorized secretary in South Bend (she is now a paralegal) and reconnected along with her high-school boyfriend, Rodney G. Wright, who drove a cab. With Nancy’s encouragement, he turned a Baptist preacher. He additionally turned Driver’s stepfather.

Driver started to select up on unusual tensions of their spiritual group. At Twin City Baptist Church, the pastor refused to officiate at his mom’s bridal ceremony, since she had been divorced. Around the identical time, a woman in the Youth Department accused the pastor’s spouse of being a lesbian, an assertion that break up the congregation and led to screaming matches that Driver struggled to understand. “I remember this idiot yelling at my mom, saying, ‘No wonder your husband left you!’ ” he recalled. “Only recently did I realize, Oh, I hate organized things, because I feel like I’m missing something. I’m being told it’s one thing, but it’s actually something else.” The household quickly joined one other church close by, the place Driver’s stepfather turned the preacher.

There wasn’t a lot to do in Mishawaka, a blue-collar city that had been devastated by the demise of a Uniroyal plant. As teen-agers, Driver and his mates Noah and Aaron would climb radio towers or set issues on hearth. (“Leaves. Clothes. Tires. Things like that, that you have to really douse,” he mentioned.) They would dumpster-dive behind a potato manufacturing unit and feast on expired chips. They rented films from P. J.’s Video, down the avenue. “Because my parents were religious, we wouldn’t watch any of these movies in the house,” he recalled, so he would go to his mates’ homes and binge on Scorsese and Jarmusch and “Midnight Cowboy.” “I started to form opinions on what was good and what was bad, through conversation with those guys.” The first time he noticed “Fight Club,” he mentioned, “I felt kind of sick. It made me feel very strange. But then I watched it again almost immediately.”

In the woods behind a Kroger grocery store, the trio made camcorder films. “It was, like, John Woo ripoffs, where we’d take plastic guns and paint them black and wear long trenchcoats,” Driver mentioned. “They had no plots. They were just action movies.” The mates additionally began their very own struggle membership, in the discipline behind an occasion area referred to as Celebrations Unlimited. The one rule was: “Don’t hit in the balls.” Driver doesn’t imagine that he was expressing latent anger. “I think it was something that scared me, getting hit, and the challenge in yourself to just turn the volume down on things.” The membership dissolved after neighbors referred to as the cops.

By then, Driver had developed an curiosity in stage performing. In his father’s church, in San Diego, he performed Pontius Pilate’s water boy in an Easter cantata. In center faculty, he auditioned for a play and didn’t get solid, so he operated the curtain. Then he landed a one-line half in “Oklahoma!” (The line was “Check his heart,” spoken by a cowboy as Jud lay dying.) In his sophomore yr, a brand new drama instructor solid him as a lead in “Arsenic and Old Lace.” His lecturers urged him to audition for Juilliard, so he drove to Chicago for regional tryouts. “I didn’t get in, I think, because I wanted to please,” he mentioned. “I had no opinion about what I was saying.”

Cartoon by Roz Chast

Instead, he bummed round Indiana, doing odd jobs. His stepfather had him wheel their lawnmower round to neighbors’ homes and provide to mow their lawns, which he discovered humiliating. He made telemarketing requires a basement-waterproofing firm. He bought Kirby vacuums, or tried to—he doesn’t keep in mind promoting a single vacuum. At one level, he was driving round Chicago in the three-piece swimsuit he wore for church, hawking stress balls and National Geographic movies about whales. “I was basically peddling shit,” he mentioned. He satisfied himself that he may use his performing expertise to entice individuals. During one telemarketing name, he requested a girl if her husband was dwelling. “There was a long pause, and she says, ‘My husband’s dead!’ and started crying and hung up the phone. I felt terrible.”

Joining the Marines gave Driver a way of function and a long way from his conservative spiritual upbringing. “The nice way of saying it is, it’s not part of my life anymore,” he mentioned of the church, although he emphasised that he considers religion and faith to be two separate issues. He is cautious of discussing his mother and father or faith. In 2014, his stepfather instructed the South Bend Tribune, “I don’t agree with everything that he does, but I agree with his work ethic.” His mom didn’t know that he was on “Girls” till the second season, when she came upon from a co-worker.

The pull between religion and apostasy has interlaced his film roles. In “Silence,” he primarily based his character, Father Garupe, on St. Peter. “He’s the only one that’s questioning, and I find that is healthier,” Driver mentioned. “Doubt is part of being committed to something, I think. They’re very hand in hand, and that seemed more human to me. Garupe, in that story, he’s committed, and then at a certain point he’s, like, ‘This is fucking bullshit.’ I feel that with religion. I feel that with acting. I feel that with marriage. I feel that with being a parent. I’m constantly filled with doubt, regardless of what I’ve accomplished. It doesn’t mean anything. You still don’t know how to do anything, really.” He described Kylo Ren, in “Star Wars,” as “the son of these two religious zealots”—which means Han Solo and Leia—who “can be conceived as being committed to this religion above all else, above family.” Part of him nonetheless feels blindsided, as if he’d missed a category and hadn’t but caught up on the wider world. While discussing “Fight Club,” he requested what I considered the film. I mentioned that I hadn’t seen it in years however questioned how it will play in an period when individuals are hyperaware of poisonous masculinity.

“What do you mean, ‘toxic masculinity’?” he requested.

I steered that male aggression is seen as much less purifying now than it could have been portrayed as being in “Fight Club.” “I’d have to think about it,” Driver mentioned. “I mean, I haven’t heard much about toxic masculinity.” He chuckled. “Maybe because I’m part of the problem!”

Hours later, in his dressing room, he was speaking about how his suspicion of dogma formed him as an actor. “For a lot of times in my life, I was told there was a right answer,” he mentioned. “And then, when I got older, I was, like, ‘That’s fucking total bullshit.’ I feel that very much with acting, too. If you knew how to do it, you would do it perfectly every time.” He added, “So anytime anyone tells me, ‘This is the right answer,’ or ‘There’s something called toxic masculinity,’ I’m, like, What? What are you talking about? I’m skeptical of it, because I feel like I was duped for seventeen years of my life.”

In early October, Driver was at Lincoln Center, the place “Marriage Story” was the centerpiece of the New York Film Festival. He had flown in from Brussels, the place he was filming “Annette,” with the French director Leos Carax, and landed at 3:30 a.m. That night, there was a red-carpet première, and at midnight he would fly to England, for the London Film Festival.

Baumbach mentioned that when he was writing “Marriage Story” he had lengthy telephone conversations with Driver through which they mentioned such traditional films as “The Red Shoes” and “To Be or Not to Be.” One of their deserted concepts, a movie model of Stephen Sondheim’s musical “Company,” discovered its means into the script in the type of two musical numbers. (Baumbach instructed me that Driver had lately despatched him {a photograph} of the Mets pitcher Noah Syndergaard, who has a blond, Thor-like mane, with the message “This would be good for something.”)


At midday, Driver was clutching a cup of espresso in a greenroom at the Walter Reade Theatre, earlier than a press convention. The solid trickled in: Laura Dern, Alan Alda, Ray Liotta. (Johansson was caught in visitors.) Liotta, who performs a divorce lawyer, approached Driver. “Hey!” he mentioned in greeting, then struck a reverent tone. “Did you serve?”

“Yes,” Driver mentioned shyly, standing to shake his hand.

“Wow,” Liotta mentioned. “Thank you for your service. Seriously. My trainer was a marine.”

Driver shortly modified the topic. His navy background makes him anomalous in Hollywood; the days of Clark Gable and Jimmy Stewart leaving photos to fly fight missions are lengthy gone. Though his time in the Marine Corps was formative—and gave rise to a nonprofit group he based, Arts in the Armed Forces, which fosters artwork appreciation amongst the troops—it got here to a disappointing finish. After greater than two years of coaching, Driver was getting ready to ship out to Iraq. At the time, he wasn’t enthusiastic about the politics of the Iraq War, he mentioned, nearly his loyalty to his guys. One morning, he and his pal Garcia went mountain biking in Pendleton’s Camp Horno. On the means down, Driver hit a ditch. The handlebars slammed into his chest, and he dislocated his sternum.

Driver’s first sergeant instructed him that he was too injured for the deployment. Attempting to show in any other case, he loaded up on hydrocodone and labored out in the gymnasium, however he made the injury worse. He was honorably discharged, whereas his former platoon shipped out to the southeast tip of Iraq, to run safety missions on the Iranian border. It was early in the conflict, and the unit returned safely. But Driver was devastated. “They had gone and done the thing that we trained to do together,” he mentioned. “And I felt like a piece of shit.”

Driver’s platoon commander, Ed Hinman, had all the time discovered him extra “pensive” than the others. “There was something more going on, I could tell, between his ears,” he instructed me. Hinman mentioned that life after the Marines may be powerful beneath any circumstances. “You go from being in a family to being on your own, without an identity and without a mission. And, if you know it’s coming, that’s one thing. But if you don’t, like Adam, that can be pretty scary.”

Humiliated, Driver drove again to Indiana in a Ford F-150 he’d purchased from an officer and enrolled at the University of Indianapolis, the place he acted in Beckett’s “Endgame” and in the musical “Pippin.” He utilized to be a policeman however was turned down, as a result of he was beneath twenty-one—“Which was ironic to me, because I was a SAW gunner, and suddenly I can’t handle a Glock?”—so he received a job as a safety guard. But he felt adrift, his mission unfulfilled. Then, remembering his brush-with-death vow to be knowledgeable actor, he went again to Chicago and re-auditioned for Juilliard.

Richard Feldman, a Juilliard instructor, recalled, “This very interesting young man walked in the room—big, tall, lanky, with hair partially flopping over his face.” Driver carried out the opening traces from “Richard III,” a up to date monologue he’d discovered at a Barnes & Noble, and, for his musical choice, “Happy Birthday to You.” His performing wasn’t polished, however, to Feldman, he radiated one thing real. Driver was guarding a Target distribution warehouse when he received the name that he’d been accepted. “I ran up and down the truck area, jumping around,” he mentioned. “I was fucking elated.”

In the summer season of 2005, he moved right into a closet at an uncle’s home, in Hoboken. He received a job at Aix, a French restaurant on the Upper West Side, the place he served asparagus to Tony Kushner. He was pretty much as good at ready tables as he was at promoting vacuums. “I’d never heard of broccoli rabe,” he mentioned ruefully. Juilliard was a shock. He’d gone from firing mortars to pretending to be a penguin in improv workouts. He was disdainful of civilian life, sneering at classmates who wore their shirts untucked or arrived late to class. One time, he snapped so sharply at a scholar who had used his yoga mat that he lowered the man to tears. “I was, like, I gotta be better at communicating,” he mentioned. He holed up at the performing-arts library and browse performs by David Mamet and John Patrick Shanley, and located that drama helped him categorical his roiling feelings.

His classmates have been mystified by the hulking ex-marine. Gabriel Ebert, who later received a Tony Award for his function in “Matilda the Musical,” recalled their 9 a.m. motion lessons: “I probably got there at eight-forty-five to stretch, and Adam was already in a full sweat, like he’d been there for at least an hour working out. He brought a discipline to his physical prowess that most of us didn’t learn until well into our second year.” Driver and Ebert received an condominium in Queens, and Driver would run 5 miles to high school day-after-day. He did pushups by the tons of in the hallways and ate six eggs for breakfast (minus 4 of the yolks) and a complete hen, from Balducci’s, for lunch.

Driver met Joanne Tucker, a classmate, throughout his first yr. “She read a lot of books, knew a lot of shit,” he mentioned. “She was very composed.” Her household lived in Waterside Plaza, in Murray Hill, and Driver would go over and eat all their cereal. Feldman, who, in 2013, officiated at their wedding ceremony, instructed me that Tucker didn’t stand for Driver’s holier-than-thou perspective: “She doesn’t take any nonsense.”

Acting wasn’t solely completely different from navy life: each required a staff effort and a way of mission. But when Driver noticed his marine buddies he would poke enjoyable at his comfortable new life, ashamed that he hadn’t joined them abroad. In his third yr, he and Tucker began Arts in the Armed Forces. At Camp Pendleton, the “mandatory fun” had included a skateboarding present and a trivia sport through which you might win a date with a cheerleader. (The “date” was a stroll round the parade deck.) “Even at the time, I was, like, This is nice, but it’s playing to the lowest common denominator,” Driver mentioned. He needed to convey the troops one thing smarter, and present them that theatre didn’t essentially imply males in tights. Feldman instructed me, “Adam was always trying to unite these two aspects of his life that seem to us in contemporary America so contradictory: how can you be a soldier—a marine, of all things—and an artist?”

Driver appealed to the U.S.O., however was instructed that the navy demographic wouldn’t be considering performs, so he went to Juilliard’s president for funding and solicited alumni to take part. In January, 2008, he returned to Camp Pendleton for AITAF’s inaugural present, together with Ebert, Juilliard graduates together with Laura Linney, and Jon Batiste, a jazz scholar from the music division (he’s now the bandleader for “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert”). Ebert recalled, “Jon and I stood in front of a grocery store at Camp Pendleton and handed out flyers for hours. ‘Hey, you want to see some monologues? You want to see some jazz?’ ” Around 100 individuals confirmed up—the competitors was the college-football championship—and watched monologues by Danny Hoch and Lanford Wilson, beneath a marquee that learn “Juilliard Performance: Adults Only.”

“No, not a hostile witness, Your Honor—a frightened armadillo.”

Cartoon by Michael Maslin

During his third yr, Driver was solid in a play at the Humana Festival, in Louisville, Kentucky. Juilliard has a coverage towards college students taking skilled roles earlier than commencement, so he must drop out. Feldman urged him to remain. “I asked him to think about whether he had ever had the chance to finish anything in his life,” Feldman recalled. “He’d left college. He had to leave the Marines, because he got injured. And I challenged him to finish this.” Driver went by each step of quitting apart from delivering his keys—after which modified his thoughts. His fourth yr, he carried out “Burn This” with Tucker and received an agent. He graduated in 2009.


Driver had considered turning into a firefighter if performing didn’t pan out, however his profession took off virtually instantly. In 2010, he appeared in a Broadway revival of Shaw’s “Mrs. Warren’s Profession,” with Cherry Jones, and in the HBO film “You Don’t Know Jack,” starring Al Pacino as Dr. Kevorkian. The subsequent yr, he performed a gas-station attendant in “J. Edgar,” directed by Clint Eastwood, and Frank Langella’s son in the Broadway play “Man and Boy.” He and Langella turned shut. “He’d come up to my country place on his motorcycle, play badminton, help move furniture, do the dishes,” Langella recalled. “Once, at my New York place, I gave him some old suits of mine, and he left, bunching them in his arms, heading for the subway. ‘Take a taxi,’ I said. ‘Nope,’ he said. ‘Too expensive.’ ”

Driver initially turned down the audition for “Girls,” on account of tv being evil (“I was an élitist prick,” he says), however his agent persuaded him. The casting name described Adam Sackler as “a carpenter, incredibly handsome, but slightly off.” Driver confirmed up with a motorbike helmet beneath his arm. Jenni Konner, Dunham’s co-showrunner, recalled the response in the room as ecstatic. “Remember the old Beatles films, where the women are screaming?” she instructed me. “That’s what his audition felt like.” As the present advanced, particulars of Driver’s life would seep into the scripts; in the third season, the fictional Adam lands a task in Shaw’s “Major Barbara” on Broadway, a nod to Driver’s look in “Mrs. Warren’s Profession.” “He was always someone I saw as a rhinoceros, who picked one thing and ran toward it,” Driver mentioned of his character on “Girls.” “He can’t see left or right at all, just sees what’s immediately in front of him, and he chases it until he’s exhausted.”

The first time Driver noticed himself in “Girls,” on Dunham’s laptop computer, he was mortified. “That’s when I was, like, I can’t watch myself in things. I certainly can’t watch this if we’re going to continue doing it,” he mentioned. Many actors decline to observe themselves, however for Driver that reluctance quantities to a phobia. In 2013, he watched the Coen brothers’ “Inside Llewyn Davis,” through which he has one scene, singing backup on a folks music referred to as “Please Mr. Kennedy”: “I hated what I did.” He swore off his personal films, till he was obliged to sit down by the première of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” in 2015. “I just went totally cold,” he recalled, “because I knew the scene was coming up where I had to kill Han Solo, and people were, like, hyperventilating when the title came up, and I felt like I had to puke.”

The administrators I spoke to sympathized with Driver’s aversion. “I think he’s rightly concerned that he would become conscious of himself in a way that would be harmful to his acting,” Soderbergh mentioned. When I spoke to Baumbach, he was nonetheless “in a discussion” with Driver about watching “Marriage Story.” Spike Lee instructed me that Driver did see “BlacKkKlansman,” at Cannes (“It was very, very happy”), however Driver corrected the file: he had hidden out in a greenroom and returned for the closing bow.

In September, I met Driver in Brussels, the place he was capturing “Annette” on a soundstage. He performs a failing comic; his spouse, performed by Marion Cotillard, is an opera singer on the rise. To ease the ensuing rigidity, they take a crusing vacation with their child, Annette, and get caught in a storm. That day’s scenes passed off throughout the squall. In one nook of the studio, half of a life-size sailboat was mounted ten ft excessive on a gimbal, a mechanism that may toss and switch the boat like a mechanical bull, whereas a cyclorama projected a tempestuous curved backdrop round it. Sprinklers would unleash rain and fog, whereas water cannons spewed waves. Also, the movie is a musical, so there could be singing.

Carax, the director, smoked a cigarette in his sun shades, as Driver and Cotillard emerged from a pair of black make-up tents. They rehearsed the scene through which Driver attracts Cotillard right into a drunken waltz on the sailboat’s deck. He mocks her theatrics (“Bowing, bowing, bowing”), and he or she pleads with him in music (“We’re gonna fall, gonna die”), earlier than he flings her offscreen. The movie’s co-writers, Ron and Russell Mael, recognized from the seventies band Sparks, watched on a monitor. “We spoke very briefly to Adam about three years ago, just about the style of his singing,” Ron whispered to me. “We didn’t want it to be Broadway, you know?”

Driver, sporting a pretend mustache, measured the precise distance to spin earlier than accelerating in the last second. “If I’m throwing her, I don’t want to wing it,” he mentioned. There was little leeway for benign revolt. Driver later instructed me, of Carax, “His movies to me feel very much like freedom—like captured chaos—but they’re very, like, ‘Turn here, move left here.’ So it’s like doing math, but then not making it look like we’re executing choreography.”

A crew member yelled, “Silence, s’il vous plaît,” and in got here rain, thunder, lightning, and waves. Between takes, Cotillard sang her traces to herself, whereas Driver stretched his legs on the railing of the boat, like a dancer at a barre. During one take, they slipped and fell. “Are you O.K.?” Driver mentioned, serving to her up, then requested the gimbal operators if the gadget was turned on too excessive: “We did this all yesterday, and we didn’t slip once.”

Like Robert De Niro in his “Raging Bull” days, Driver is thought for embracing bodily feats. For “Silence,” through which Garupe is captured by the Japanese, he misplaced fifty-one kilos, on a weight loss program of chocolate-flavored vitality goo, glowing water, and chewing gum. For “Paterson,” he realized tips on how to drive a bus. For “Logan Lucky,” through which he performs an amputee, he realized tips on how to make a Martini with one hand. “He wanted to be able to do it in a single take,” Soderbergh mentioned.

After Driver and Cotillard had been soaked half a dozen occasions, Carax referred to as a twenty-minute break. “Let’s do a tight twenty minutes,” Driver requested. He dried himself off for the subsequent scene, through which the comic wanders the ship alone, pummelled by waves and singing an ambiguous mantra, “There’s so little I can do.” By the finish, he’s crouched on the deck, his palms pressed to his ears.

They tried it once more, and once more. “Our timing was off,” Driver mentioned after one take, wringing water from his black T-shirt. He and Carax went over the timeline of waves, music, boat rocking, and drunken stumbling. By now, Driver had been singing in a pretend thunderstorm for 5 hours, and he was drenched. But he needed extra. “It doesn’t match up to the music,” he mentioned of the boat actions, leaning over the railing.

Carax steered that that they had what they wanted. “If you already have it, then fine,” Driver mentioned, sounding agitated. “I’m trying to move on, but I don’t understand. And the timing is wrong.” He listened for a second. “All right, then. I’m fine moving on. It’s just unsatisfying.”

Then that they had a revelation: the boat choreography didn’t must match the underscoring. They did the scene another time, a cappella. Finally, for security, they recorded a clear audio monitor of Driver’s singing. Wrapped in a towel, he sang his line repeatedly right into a increase mike, alternately braying and mumbling, after which trailing off right into a near-whisper. “There’s so little I can do,” he sang, dripping and decided. “There’s so little I can do. There’s so little I can do. There’s so little I can do. There’s so little I can do. There’s so little I can do. There’s so little I can do. There’s so little I can do.” ♦


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