Saturday 17 August 2019

Silence steers Adam Driver to new heights

Adam Driver has rapidly moved from drama school graduate to megastar but he's always 'starting over'

Going places: Adam Driver with his wife Joanne Tucker. Photo: Matt Baron
Going places: Adam Driver with his wife Joanne Tucker. Photo: Matt Baron
Adam Driver with Lena Dunham in his breakthrough role in Girls

Anne Marie Scanlon

I thought my son was going to burst with excitement the day I went to meet Adam Driver, better known to my nine-year-old as Star Wars baddie Kylo Ren.

For older readers let me try to put this in perspective. Go back to when you were about 10 and imagine your mother announced she was off to chat to Darth Vader. (Admit it, part of you wouldn't want her to go, because as baddies go, Darth Vader was up there.)

As baddies go, Kylo Ren is far worse than Darth Vader. In Star Wars: The Force Awakens, in one of the most shocking moments in cinema history, Kylo Ren killed his own father, the beloved and iconic Han Solo (Harrison Ford.)

How do you feel about being the man that killed Han Solo I ask? "I feel good about it!" Driver laughs but then adds in a more serious tone, "I thought about it for a couple of months before agreeing to do (the film) because of that plot point."

Adam Driver is a striking looking man. He's 6' 2" tall but looks taller and he certainly doesn't need a mask and a lightsaber to be intimidating. Not that he's even trying.

He's quietly intense and with his rugged good looks and tousled black hair he is a shoo-in for Heathcliff should anyone decide to remake Wuthering Heights.

Now 33, Driver got into acting later in life having joined the Marines soon after the 9/11 attacks.

He completed almost three years before being discharged on medical grounds. It was after spending a year at the University of Indianapolis that he won a place in the prestigious Juilliard school in New York.

Driver graduated in 2009 and has since established himself as one of the foremost actors of his generation.

In 2012 he got the role of Adam Sackler, Lena Dunham's love interest in her comedy Girls and has received three consecutive Emmy nominations for the role.

In Silence, his latest movie, directed by Martin Scorsese, his character couldn't be further from those of Adam Sackler or Kylo Ren.

He plays a Portuguese Jesuit priest who faces torture and persecution in 17th century Japan as he and another priest (Andrew Garfield) seek out their mentor (Liam Neeson).

Driver grew up in the small town of Mishawaka, Indiana, and both his father and step-father were Baptist preachers. I ask him if such a strong religious background helped him inhabit the role of a Jesuit priest. "I'm not a religious person now," he replies. "(but) it's good because I knew a lot about the stories from the Bible." Driver then goes on to say that the story isn't really about faith or religion but about "boundaries".

"I think you can substitute anything. For me the movie is very much about a crisis of faith… It could be anything, like acting, you know.

"You've made a commitment to this thing that you want to do with your life and it's not like that's just it, that you make this commitment and then everything is easy after that - it's full of doubt and wondering what it is you're doing and if you're doing it badly. That part of the story I related to."

I express shock that Driver has gone from drama school graduate to international megastar in seven short years, how could he have a crisis of faith? "You know every project you have a crisis of faith," he replies. "If you're not making the right decision, or you played the scene wrong, or your accent is wrong, or you're too committed to what it is you're doing and ignoring your personal life which inevitably feeds your acting.

"I'm very lucky to get to work with those people but it doesn't stop there, you still have to do the job… You're starting over every single time."

The actor goes on to tell me about working with Scorsese on what has been his pet project for many years. "You know he's accomplished so much in his life and career, he's thought about this movie for 28 years and easily could have been a dictator on set… but because he's good at his job and generous as a person and director he actually doesn't want that. He knows his subject very well and has done all his homework but is a person who gets there on the day and is willing to throw it all away and sacrifice it if there's a better idea. That kind of collaborative energy is inspiring to see in someone especially of his age who has accomplished so much."

The film also stars Irish actor Ciaran Hinds.

"I've been a fan of Ciaran Hinds a long time. I saw him in a play called Seafarer in New York, with Jim Norton. Do you know Jim Norton?" he asks fired up with enthusiasm. "He's brilliant. He was fucking brilliant in that play."

There is no denying that Jim Norton is brilliant and like Driver I've had the pleasure of seeing him on Broadway. Despite Norton's long and illustrious CV, to my mind, his finest moment was as Bishop Len Brennen in Father Ted.

I ask Driver if he's ever seen the show. He hasn't. I urge him to watch it and tell him that the episode entitled Kicking Bishop Brennan Up the Arse is one of the finest half hours of comedy ever made. For the briefest of moments Driver looks quite shocked but then lets out a deep-throated laugh.

(The irony of telling the star of a film about two priests looking for their older mentor to watch Father Ted is not lost on me.)

When Driver stops laughing he is full of praise for Ciaran Hinds too. "He's really great. A really good actor, very generous and so good. He's very nice."

Driver is that very rare thing - an American who has no known claims to Irishness. "We shot a lot of stuff in Ireland for Star Wars which was really fun," he tells me. "Dingle is great, we had a really good time there. It's so beautiful, Ireland, I know that's not a new thought. But I have no family connections."

Despite his incredible successes Driver appears to be his own biggest critic. Is he tortured or is he happy? "It's not like I'm defined by one condition but maybe I'm more weary than I probably should be, maybe I look at the negative outcome as opposed to the positive one," he says before adding "We're all going to die alone."

Are you absolutely sure you're not Irish, I ask him, you certainly sound like one of us. He laughs.

Later my son is eager to read what Kylo Ren was like. - "A right baddie, but Adam Driver seemed quite nice".

Silence will be in cinemas nationwide from January 1

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