Editor’s Note: This story was originally published on August 8, 2021. It has been updated on March 7, 2022.
Adam Driver walking out of a 2019 “Fresh Air” interview because he didn’t want to watch his own singing performance in “Marriage Story” sums up the sort of self-effacing, craft-obsessed style he’s made his brand, which is surely a word he’d wince at. It was also a gesture anyone who’s had to see themselves replayed on camera, or hear their own voice played back to them, could relate to vicariously.
The Emmy- and Oscar-nominated actor doesn’t seem to love reveling in the spotlight — which is part of what makes him so continually refreshing — so much as throwing himself into engulfing, ferocious, and always entertaining roles. He’s reserved in televised interviews (see his sit-down with Stephen Colbert circa “Marriage Story” days as an example) but explosive in front of the camera. Watching a Driver performance can feel, at times, like witnessing an aria of pain slowly spilling out.
One of his most recent films, “Annette,” was no exception. He plays a toxic, button-pushing comedian working under the moniker “the Ape of God” who deliberately sets out to alienate his audience with Holocaust jokes and hurled insults. In one scene, he acts out the pretend murder of his opera-singer wife (played by Marion Cotillard), strangling the microphone and then performing CPR on it. His role in Leos Carax’s zany musical also calls upon the actor to sing, something he demonstrated considerable pipes for previously in Noah Baumbach’s “Marriage Story,” the 2019 film that earned him a Best Actor Oscar nomination as one half of a splitting couple.
Whether in indies that demand a more patient approach or in glossy blockbusters like “The Last Jedi” that require big, emotive strokes of acting, Driver is always fully immersed in the part. He won us all over in HBO’s “Girls,” his breakout role, as an introvert uncomfortable in his own skin, and went on to break out of his shell in movies for directors like Baumbach, Spike Lee, Terry Gilliam, and Martin Scorsese. He brings a monklike concentration to all of his performances, and in terms of ranking them, there’s a bounty of greatness to choose from. But we’ve done our best to, below, highlight his finest work.