Adam Driver didn’t have to think too hard about whether to accept the lead role in Jim Jarmusch’s lyrical drama “Paterson,” about a bus driver and poet with the same name as his hometown of Paterson, New Jersey. Driver was such a fan of Jarmusch’s movies that he decided to take the part even before reading the script or meeting with the writer-director, he told IndieWire earlier this month at the Toronto International Film Festival.
“Whatever he would have said, I would have said yes to,” Driver said, adding that he once drove an hour and a half to an arthouse theater in Indiana to see Jarmusch’s 2003 film, “Coffee and Cigarettes.” “In my mind, I said that even if I don’t like [the script], I’m going to do it. It was a bonus that I actually thought it was really beautiful,” he said.
Despite his enthusiasm for the project and the fact that critics have been raving about “Paterson” since its world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival in May, Driver says he has no expectations about how the film will be received when it hits theaters in December, just in time for this year’s awards season. “I don’t know how people will respond to it,” he said, adding that he can never tell whether his films will be crowdpleasers or duds. “I have no idea what any of them are until they come out.”
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In the case of “Paterson,” a quiet film that brings the audience inside the mind of Driver’s character while he’s writing poetry, one of the things that attracted him to the project was how Jarmusch wanted to tell a story without drama, conflict or action. “It seemed bold to me that Jim thought the power of thought was cinematic enough that people would be interested in watching that,” Driver said. “Also, the character’s main action in the movie was to listen. I loved that.”
While some actors might not have embraced a role with such little dialogue, Driver relished the opportunity to play a more passive character.
“That’s my favorite thing to do in movies — just listen and not have any lines, especially if you’re surrounded by really great actors like Golshifteh [Farahani] and Barry Shabaka Henley,” Driver said. “I could listen to that all day long.” In the film, Farahani plays Driver’s wife Laura, also the only person to read his poems, and Henley plays a bartender named Doc at a bar that Driver visits five nights a week for a single after-work beer.
Despite the lack of action in the movie, the role of Paterson required a considerable amount of preparation. Driver got his bus license after spending two months training in Queens and Manhattan with the same company that trains real bus drivers. “It just seemed to be a huge part of his character so I wanted to be comfortable doing it,” Driver said. “I feel like you can always tell when someone is in unfamiliar territory, pushing nobs when they don’t know what’s going on.”
While being able to drive and actual bus was an important for the part, the bus scenes were only a small part of the actual shoot. “I got to do it, but it was only for like one or two shots,” Driver said. “But it was worth it.”
“Paterson” will have its New York Film Film Festival premiere on Sunday, October 2.