ICYMI: Adam Driver - In Profile

As part of a new, amazing ongoing online feature - ICYMI - we'll be showcasing some of the finest in-magazine features from Total Film issues gone past.

You know, ICYMI (in case you missed it).

Next up, a fascinating chat with one of Hollywood's hottest up-and-coming actors, Adam Driver.

He’s the hipster-du-jour star of Girls who Hollywood’s A-list directors are clamouring to work with, he’s about to hook up with Martin Scorsese and he's just been announced as Star Wars: Episode VII ’s big bad…

Clear the road for Adam Driver.

It’s 8am, LA time, and Adam Driver is in LAX Airport when Total Film is patched through to his phone. “They have coffee and granola here,” he says, which explains why he sounds so perky.

He’s about to catch a flight to New Orleans to start work on Midnight Special , the new film from Take Shelter ’s Jeff Nichols, one of a half-dozen new movies the in-demand Driver has on an increasingly crowded slate.

If the name isn’t familiar, the face surely will be. Think Greta Gerwig’s hipster flatmate in Frances Ha and folk musician Al Cody in the Coen Brothers’ recent Inside Llewyn Davis (delivering the ‘uh-oh!’ backing vocals on the ‘Please Mr. Kennedy’ number).

He’s had small roles for Clint Eastwood ( J. Edgar ) and Steven Spielberg ( Lincoln ). And, most famously, is Lena Dunham’s volatile boyfriend Adam in the HBO phenomenon, Girls .

Now in its third season, Girls has already won a BAFTA, two Golden Globes and, for Driver, an Emmy nomination in the supporting actor category. Is he surprised by its success? “I don’t know what to make of it. I don’t sit back and think about it.” He simply cites the show’s willingness to go deeper, to explore more.

“That’s always something that’s been running since the very first episode: how can we make it better? That ambition hasn’t really gone away.” Arriving in cinemas next month is John Curran’s Tracks – playing a real-life National Geographic photographer sent into the Australian Outback – the 30 year-old Driver is keenly aware that his anonymity is eroding.

“I also look strange anyway,” he reasons. “I can’t hide a lot of my features. So I stand out, I guess!” ‘Strange’ may be a little harsh. Try striking: at 6ft 3in, with that dark mop of hair, prominent nose and deep-set brown eyes, there’s something dark and dangerous about Driver that’s made him an unlikely heartthrob.

Yet if Driver has become the embodiment of late-twenties angst though his role in Girls , he’s not quite the urban hipster you’d imagine. Born in San Diego, California, he was raised from the age of seven in Mishawaka, Indiana. With his mother a paralegal and his father a preacher, his school years were strict.

“I did a couple of plays, but I got grounded a lot because of bad grades,” he explains. Graduating from high school in 2001, he was just figuring out what to do with his life when 9/11 happened. “All my friends were like, ‘Let’s join the military!’ and I was the only one who actually did.”

Enrolling in the Marines, his military career was short-lived; breaking his sternum in a mountain bike accident three months before his unit was set to head to Iraq, Driver wound up getting discharged.

Rather than bemoan his loss, he knew exactly where to go next. “I wanted to pursue acting when I got my civilian privileges again.” Winning a place at the prestigious Julliard drama school in New York, his truncated spell in the military had inspired him.

“You have all this confidence – civilian problems seem pretty small. I learned the basics, so [I thought] if the worst comes to the worst I could live in Central Park or find some way to survive on the street.”

At least his basic training prepared him for the harsh conditions he endured for Tracks , which was shot in the Flinders Ranges in South Australia. “All my friends got really excited to list all the things that can kill you in the desert. It came down to the very air – just being outside was going to kill me! Everything. Trees, plants, the sand, having to talk to people. All of it. So when I got there, and I was surviving a bit, I was really happy!”

Based on the best-selling book by Robyn Davidson, Tracks stars Mia Wasikowska as the author, who set out on a remarkable journey in 1977. Trekking 1,700 miles from Alice Springs to the west coast of Australia, Davidson spent nine months travelling across one of the toughest deserts in the world with just her dog, four camels and – occasionally – Driver’s photographer Rick Smolan for company.

It’s a stark reminder of how travel was before the days of cell-phones, GPS and Google Maps. “I loved that,” says Driver, eagerly. “I’m very scared of technology anyway. Even this phone call, I just think the government is listening in! So, yeah, that played into all my neuroses in a good way.” It’s also a film that places an emphasis on taking time out to reflect.

“I’m a big fan of boredom,” laughs Driver. Not that he’s had much time for that. He’s just reunited with his Frances Ha director Noah Baumbach on While We’re Young – co-starring with Ben Stiller, Naomi Watts and Amanda Seyfried in a tale of two couples from different generations that become friends.

Then there’s relationship drama Hungry Hearts and Jewish familial tale This Is Where I Leave You , featuring Rose Byrne, Jason Bateman and Jane Fonda – “an insane group of people to work with”. By the time we get to The F Word , a romantic comedy in which he plays Daniel Radcliffe’s best friend, the phone goes dead. Shit.

Luckily, his publicist rings back to re-connect the call. “It was the government,” says Driver, joking (hopefully, or else he really is paranoid). Unfortunately, he is sworn to secrecy on his other two films. All he’ll say about Jeff Nichols’ Midnight Special , is that it’s a sci-fi. “The world will fall apart if I tell you.”

Then comes the big one: Martin Scorsese’s long-gestating adaptation of Shûsaku Endô’s novel Silence , the tale of two 17th Century Jesuit priests in feudal Japan. “I think it’s going to be really faithful to the book,” he says, before clamming up.

After Eastwood and Spielberg, working with Scorsese completes a triumvirat of cinematic legends in just four years. “It’s only afterwards where you go, ‘What the fuck just happened?’” he gulps.

And then there’s Episode VII … Just two days after our interview, Variety published a report that Driver would be playing the Darth Vader-esque villian in J.J. Abrams’ new tentpole. If confirmed, it’s sure to cement him as one of the biggest players of his generation.

One thing Driver isn’t planning is to follow his Girls co-star Lena Dunham behind the camera.

“Hell no,” he exclaims. “I wish I had that ability. I wish I could be articulate about one thought. I have enough of a difficult time trying to handle acting. Adding something on top of it would make my head explode.” And in the middle of LAX, that would not be a good idea.

For more on Star Wars and much more, pick up the brand new issue of Total Film , which is out now , and includes an exclusive look at Godzilla , Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes and Maleficent , plus many more exciting new movies.

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Freelance writer

James Mottram is a freelance film journalist, author of books that dive deep into films like Die Hard and Tenet, and a regular guest on the Total Film podcast. You'll find his writings on GamesRadar+ and Total Film, and in newspapers and magazines from across the world like The Times, The Independent, The i, Metro, The National, Marie Claire, and MindFood.