Adam Driver is an actor we just keep seeing more of. Ever since his breakout role in Lena Dunham’s Girls, Driver has quietly been gracing our screens in many different roles, culminating in his blockbuster casting in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Driver’s transition from television to film is something many actors fail to do successfully; arguably this includes Driver’s Girls co-stars, who are still searching for roles in which they are not typecast. As Dunham points out, Driver has played “a million different guys in one year – from lotharios to villains to nerds”. Not only is this something actresses can only dream of, it is also something unattainable for many actors. So what’s so special about Mr Driver?
In this interview with The Guardian, Driver states “people are always talking about my face” and this is absolutely necessary when evaluating his success. Driver’s ‘unusual’ face is his best asset: by avoiding the ‘Disney prince’ brand of handsome, Driver becomes harder to pin down. He’s no all-american hero, with his black hair, pale complexion and large facial features. People don’t look at Driver and think ‘superhero’, but that being said, his height and physique don’t scream ‘nerd’ either. Though this inability to be ‘boxed’ has held some actors back, it has held Driver in good stead – as Dunham points out, he has played “a million different guys”.
Driver’s appearance isn’t his only asset of course, the man is an excellent actor. When acting, Driver is intense, absorbing and fascinating to watch, particularly in his breakthrough roles in Girls. In the character of Adam, Driver was both intimidating and sweet, but most striking and controversial was his acting in some graphic sex scenes. His boldness and shamelessness was confronting and menacing, certainly a risk as an actor, considering how viewers (and casting agents) tend to superimpose character traits onto actors.
Driver becomes even more complex when you look into his personal past. After September 11 2001, Driver says he was struck with “an overwhelming sense of duty, and just being pissed off in general”. He joined the military. His intensity and willingness to throw himself wholeheartedly into his acting work was probably something that helped Driver in his short military career; maybe it was even created there. Pre-9/11, Driver admits to having been a layabout with very little idea of what to do after being rejected from the one university he applied for, and failing the “Hail Mary LA acting odyssey”, in his words.
It seems each time Driver is interviewed, he is asked the same question: “what is the connection between wanting to be in the army and wanting to be an actor?” Driver’s answer is revealing: “You have a group of people trying to accomplish a mission greater than themselves; it’s not about you.” Driver expands on this further in his TED talk, describing how alone he felt when was not able to go to Iraq with his “motley crew of characters” and how he “emotionally struggled to find meaning” in the world as an ordinary civilian. The fact that Driver is so emotionally connected to the method in which films are created, is evident in his aforementioned intensity. Acting isn’t just a job for Driver; he understands the importance in art of being a well-rounded, fulfilled person and his work with ‘Arts in the Armed Forces’—more perhaps than his acting career—is a testament to that.
Though Driver has played many different roles, his body of work falls mainly in American independent cinema, working with Noah Baumbach in both Frances Ha and While We’re Young, and the Coen Brothers in Inside Llewyn Davis. His career looks set to continue in a similar vein, with Driver starring in Jim Jarmusch’s Paterson this week. However, with a few more Star Wars films to come and Scorsese’s Silence later this year, Driver is flirting with becoming an even bigger name in Hollywood.
Whether Driver’s success alone signals a change in what filmmakers are looking for in their leading men is a tad hard to assess. Hollywood has long favoured male stereotypes when anointing its latest breed of superstars, with the biggest names like Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt fitting the strong, silent and handsome mould. There’s evidence that could be changing though with some of the rising stars coming through alongside Driver. Equally quirky in appearance and attitude, the likes of Benedict Cumberbatch and Paul Dano have carved a space in Hollywood for their most mild brand of diversity. He may be standing proud as the villain you love to hate in Star Wars, but it seems unlikely Hollywood are going to smooth out the rough edges that make Driver such a fascinating actor any time soon.