Adam Driver: Is he the most talented Hollywood actor of his generation?
“Acting is really about having the courage to fail in front of people.” – Adam Driver
American actor Adam Driver has risen to prominence in the film industry with incredible performances in films such as Paterson and Marriage Story. With multiple awards to his name, including the Volpi Cup for Best Actor, as well as nominations for a Tony Award, two Academy Awards, and four Emmy Awards, many people have referred to Driver as an “unconventional lead” but in just a decade-old career, he has cemented his position as one of the top actors of his time.
Despite an interest in the arts from a young age, Driver did not start out as an actor, instead enlisting in the US Marine Corps shortly after the 9/11 terror attack. “We were attacked. I want[ed] to fight for my country against whoever that is,” he once said. It is strange to think of Driver as a soldier because he spent his teenage years rebelling against his conservative upbringing, climbing radio towers and attempting to set things on fire. While he was so inspired by David Fincher’s 1999 cult-classic Fight Club that he co-founded his own fight club with his friends, he didn’t consider a life as an artist until later. Driver was rejected from the prestigious Juilliard School when he applied for the first time but he made the cut when he auditioned again, shortly after fracturing his sternum while mountain biking and being medically discharged with the rank of Lance Corporal. It was during his time as a mortarman that he realised he really wanted to be an actor, unable to completely accept the mind-numbing conformity that the Marine Corps demanded.
Although he made his Broadway debut in 2010 with a production of Mrs. Warren’s Profession and his feature film debut in Clint Eastwood’s 2011 biographical drama J. Edgar, Driver gained popularity for his performance in the HBO comedy-drama series Girls which ran between 2012 – 2017. Playing the emotionally unstable boyfriend of the lead character Hannah Horvath (played by Lena Dunham), he went on to garner three Emmy nominations for the role. Before finding mainstream success, Driver’s portfolio had some pretty spectacular films on it such as Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln, the Coen brothers’ black comedy Inside Llewyn Davis and Noah Baumbach’s Frances Ha. In fact, Baumbach liked Driver so much that he would cast him three more times in the space of eight short years. For his fantastic work in Saverio Costanzo’s 2014 thriller Hungry Hearts, Driver won the Volpi Cup for Best Actor at the 71st Venice International Film Festival.
There was no looking back for Driver after he was cast as Kylo Ren in the 2015 addition to the Star Wars franchise, The Force Awakens, which became a critical and commercial success. He reprised the role in the next two instalments (The Last Jedi and The Rise of Skywalker) but that is, by no means, the highlight of Driver’s acting career. In 2016, he starred in Martin Scorsese’s epic Silence and impressed the acclaimed filmmaker so much that Scorsese said:
“I can’t tell you the perseverance and the beauty of the performance, and the experience I had with him. He has marvellous screen presence. One of the best, if not the best, actors of his generation.”
That very year, he put in one of the best performances of his life in Jim Jarmusch’s beautiful film Paterson in which he played the role of a bus driver who is also an extremely talented poet. Driver’s work received widespread critical acclaim and he earned several nominations for Best Actor, winning the Los Angeles Film Critics Association Award for Best Actor. It is almost scary to think that Driver hasn’t reached his full potential yet, considering he was worked with some of the best filmmakers around: Martin Scorsese, Jim Jarmusch, the Coen Brothers, Steven Soderbergh, Terry Gilliam and Spike Lee. Playing a Jewish police detective who helps infiltrate the Ku Klux Klan in the latter’s comedy-drama BlacKkKlansman, he delivered yet another powerhouse performance and garnered several Best Supporting Actor nominations including Oscar and Golden Globe nods.
Despite all his early success, 2019 was probably the biggest year of Driver’s illustrious career. He returned to Broadway to star in a Michael Mayer-directed production of Lanford Wilson’s Burn This, earning a Tony Award nomination for Best Actor. Driver also starred in Scott Z. Burns’ political drama The Report and was a part of the ensemble cast of the Jim Jarmusch zombie comedy film The Dead Don’t Die. However, despite all of his achievements, his career’s most important performance came in Noah Baumbach’s family drama Marriage Story. Starring alongside Scarlett Johansson who played his wife as Charlie Barber, an avant-garde stage director who struggles to find a balance between his work and his marriage, Driver pulls on his own memories to deliver a heartwrenchingly personal performance. The actor’s own parents had divorced when he was seven, suggesting that he tapped into something very real and raw for the extremely demanding role. In an interview, he said, “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.” Driver won several awards for his portrayal, receiving Oscar and Golden Globe nominations in the Best Actor category but losing out to Joaquin Phoenix for his work in Todd Phillips’ Joker.
Keep an eye out for some of Driver’s next projects which include Ridley Scott’s The Last Duel, a 14th-century historical epic focused where he will star alongside Matt Damon. The talented actor is also set to appear in French filmmaker Leos Carax’s music drama Annette, finally showcasing his musical skills opposite Marion Cotillard. Driver has repeatedly shown that he is different than most of the actors working today, commanding the screen with his natural presence and demanding the viewer’s undivided attention. Only time will tell whether Driver can continue this streak of strong performances but for now, he certainly deserves to be counted among the best actors of his generation.