From Girls to Star Wars, Adam Driver has put his foot down to achieve a fast-paced career. His next role - in Jim Jarmusch’s Paterson - might be more sedate, but it’s no less powerful. Ella Walker finds out more
In a solemn - yet teasing - voice, Adam Driver is explaining what he tells kids when they ask him why he kills Han Solo in Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
“’He had to die. You’ll learn about it someday; we all die, we all die alone. Mommy’s not going to be there, daddy’s not going to be there’,” he breaks off, cracking into laughter. “It gets dark really quickly! And then they walk away crying and I feel better about myself.”
He grins, his face elastic with mirth.
The San Diego-born actor was best known for starring in Lena Dunham’s hit HBO show, Girls, before being cast as Jedi gone astray, Kylo Ren, in the first of the new round of Star Wars films.
“I remember watching the premiere and getting very nervous when that bit happened, that people were going to be like, ‘Get him, he’s right there!’ but they seemed to take it well,” says Driver, who surprisingly didn’t receive any hate mail for killing off Harrison Ford.
In fact, it seems being in Star Wars doesn’t automatically mean your world implodes.
“Nothing much has changed,” he says, almost apologetically. “Same person, I hope. Getting places is a little more difficult, but other than that, it’s the same.
“I have a great core of people in my life, who have always been in my life pre and post-Star Wars, so all the other stuff is just noise.”
His hair is still Kylo Ren length, brushing his shoulders, but instead of grappling with an unwieldy and much-loved franchise, the 33-year-old is currently starring as the lead in cult director Jim Jarmusch’s latest film, Paterson, which is about a bus driver called Paterson, whose bus route, confusingly, is in Paterson, New Jersey.
“The script was a formality almost,” says Driver on signing up to the project. “I would have done anything that Jim was involved in - no matter what the size - but liking the character was an added bonus.”
Gentle and sanguine, the movie follows a week in Paterson’s life as he wakes up next to his wife, drives his bus, grimaces at his churlish dog, sips a single drink at the same bar every night, and writes poetry in snatched moments in between.
“The story is of someone who has structured their life so they can almost walk through it on autopilot,” he muses.
“Paterson has the same path to go every day to work, he eats his lunch, he’s structured everything so it allows him to float when it comes to writing poetry. It makes him more present in a way, because his body’s on autopilot, so he can take in smaller details.”
Driver’s own day-to-day existence, he says, is far more “chaotic” than Paterson’s. “I wish mine was more regimented, as his is, you know? A lot more travel is in my life.”
And, a lot less poetry too...
“I tried to write poetry during this process and it was all bad, it was terrible,” he admits, with a laugh.
Can he remember any of it?
“No! Nor would I want to!”
However, unlike Paterson, Driver did get on with his surly canine co-star.
“I love the dog,” he says, then pauses, laughs nervously and breaks the news that the dog has since passed away...
“I love working with dogs and kids, because you have no idea what they’re going to do, they’re so unpredictable, but me and Nelly, we got on famously.”
Driver, who lives with his own dog and his wife, actress Joanne Tucker, in the Catskill Mountains in New York State, joined the United States Marine Corps following 9/11, but missed being deployed to Iraq after he was discharged on medical grounds for breaking his sternum.
He ended up at the University of Indianapolis before transferring to Juilliard, where he met Joanne, and began his acting career.
Since then he’s appeared in everything from blockbusters (Star Wars) to indie sci-fis (Midnight Special) and mainstream feel-good films (How I Live Now).
“What I love about acting is it’s such an amazing, rare opportunity to get into a room with a group of strangers that you’re forced to be intimate with in a short amount of time.
“They’ve all decided to make a commitment to not be with their families, to do this thing, and someone’s paid a lot of money for us all to be in one spot to tell a story that’s bigger than any one person, that hopefully an audience will respond to and keep with them for a long amount of time. What a great opportunity that is to not take for granted.
“That’s what I like about it, creating with a group of people.”
This summer he filmed the “bittersweet” finale of the sixth and final series of Girls and says the cliche of it being like a ‘family’ on set very much applies.
He puts the show’s success down to Dunham trusting her audience implicitly.
“A lot of people dumb it down, and she was very much after presenting three-dimensional female characters; I think she did that,” he explains. “The opportunities women get in acting are few and far between, compared to what men get offered. To have a platform where she champions a lot of strong female characters is great.”
Next he’s set to star in Terry Gilliam’s Don Quixote (“It’s been delayed...”) and Martin Scorsese’s Silence, which is due for release in the New Year.
“Scorsese’s like the tip of the spear as far as directors go,” buzzes Driver. “He could very much be a dictator on set, and be like, ‘OK, I’ve accomplished so much in my career, this is what we’re going to do, I’ve been thinking about this movie for 28 years, I’ve figured it all out’ - but it’s the exact opposite.
“He knows so much about the subject he’s working on, but he’s willing to throw it all at the window on the day and sacrifice for a better idea, and that humility and collaborative spirit is pretty inspiring to see in someone at his point in life.”