Like most actors – or, at least, most actors who want to keep getting cast in quality projects – Adam Driver is quick to refer to filmmaking as a director’s medium. In doing so, he reveals a key aspect of his success to date.
“I don’t like being labeled as a certain kind of person or a certain kind of actor,” he told IndieWire in a recent interview. “Hopefully you get a chance to stretch and not stay in one mode.”
It’s easy dismiss such generic statements as aspirational, but Driver’s varied choices back it up. To date, none of his roles look much alike, but they constantly hit the right notes.
In just seven years on screen, the actor has worked with the likes of lauded masters like Clint Eastwood, the Coen Brothers and Steven Spielberg, while also finding the time to act for up-and-comers like Lena Dunham, Lance Edmands and Michael Dowse. Of course, any assessment of Driver’s career to date would be remiss without mentioning his turn as the next big “Star Wars” baddie in “The Forces Awakens,” but it may well be the least exciting twist in a career largely defined by far riskier gambles.
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Driver is no stranger to the awards race – he’s been nominated for three consecutive Emmys for his work on “Girls,” though he’s yet to snag a statuette for his turn as tortured actor Adam Sackler, and he even won Venice’s prestigious Volpi Cup for Best Actor for his role in the totally wild “Hungry Hearts” – but 2016 seems poised to give him the best shot at bringing home some serious hardware. Both the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Los Angeles Film Critics Association have named him Best Actor for “Paterson,” and the Gothams nominated him the same category this year (he lost out to Casey Affleck).
While Driver doesn’t seem like the kind of actor to get hung up on awards, having more eyes on his genre-spanning talent can only be a good thing, especially for a guy who has always made it his business to do different things.
Look no further than the two year stretch between 2013 and 2014, when Driver starred in staggering range of diverse titles: Edmands’ heartbreaking small town drama “Bluebird,” the Coens’ lauded period-set “Inside Llewyn Davis” (he sings, too!), John Curran’s sadly overlooked true story “Tracks,” Dowse’s charming rom-com “What If,” Saverio Costanzo’s utterly unique horror film “Hungry Hearts,” Noah Baumbach’s sharp comedy “While We’re Young” and Shawn Levy’s misbegotten family dramedy “This Is Where I Leave You.” At no point in time did any of these projects put Driver in a box.
In 2016, he has taken his ability to pick projects that boast strong directors and talent-stretching roles to new heights. He kicked off the year with a small but memorable role in Jeff Nichols’ “Midnight Special,” playing with the “sinister government snitch” trope to amusing and emotional effect, but it’s the latter part of the year that really speaks to his range.
In Martin Scorese’s long-time passion project “Silence,” Driver stars alongside Andrew Garfield as a pair of Portuguese priests who attempt to spread their religion to an embattled seventeenth century Japan, while also searching for their missing mentor, Father Cristóvão Ferreira (Liam Neeson). Along the way, their faith is tested in increasingly horrifying ways, leading to crises of both the heart and mind.
Although Garfield is unquestionably the star of “Silence,” Driver’s supporting turn is some of his finest work to date, and his final appearance in the film gives it a wrenching does of emotional heft (and this is already a film rife with emotional heft). It’s a role that will likely become one of his signatures – and who wouldn’t want to be able to boast a Scorsese role as such? – if only because Driver maintains his own unique gravitas and charisma while working inside of its many constraints.
One of those constraints? His oft-buzzed about weight loss – rumors hold that he lost an upwards of 50 pounds – the kind of headline-grabbing stunt that Driver typically manages to shy away from.
While the weight loss was a challenge, Driver maintains that it only helped him to get further into his role – to stretch still more. “It’s helpful in that it relaxes you in a sense, because you’re so tired,” Driver told IndieWire. “You’re not putting anything on top of the scenes that is in excess. You just have energy to listen and be available to people that you’re playing with.”
As taxing as the production was, Driver is much more eager to talk about the easier parts of making “Silence.” And, as seems to be his wont, he was even more eager to talk about his director.
“No one has asked me,” Driver said when asked about the less taxing parts of the gig. “The group of people that Marty assembled and Marty, himself, they made my job easier, full stop. They made my job easier.”
After “Silence,” Driver will be seen in another awards contender that’s about as far removed from Scorsese’s film as possible: Jim Jarmusch’s well-reviewed Cannes premiere, “Paterson.”
In Jarmusch’s film, Driver plays a bus-driving poet who spends his – mostly happy, typically peaceful – days working through his usual routine, including idyllic mornings with his wife, an easy bus route, writing poems at lunch and wrapping it up with a single beer at the local pub. It’s one of the year’s most lyrical, warm-hearted films. And it all hinges on Driver’s ability to embody a character that, on paper, just isn’t that compelling.
“Paterson’s philosophy is a very important thing to him,” Driver said of the eponymous character. “He’s structured his life to have a very strong physical routine, which allows him to float in his art and observe everything around him and not try to control it.”
The film’s relatively low stakes are certainly very different than the kind presented in “Silence,” but Driver took them just as seriously, and the final product is the kind of lovingly made gem that will only grow more respected and admired with time. “‘Paterson’ is beautiful in that obviously it celebrates simplicity and it’s the antidote to heavy action, heavy drama, crisis,” he said. “I think that was a beautiful – and maybe it’s an overused way to describe something – beautiful character to live in for a couple months.”
There’s a workmanlike quality to the way Driver describes his career, and it shows in his chameleonesque ability to blend into the specific demands of the roles that come his way. If he keeps it up, there’s no telling where he’ll wind up in the years to come, except that it will be as unpredictable as ever.
“Silence” will be released on December 23, with “Paterson” following with a limited release on December 28.