Playing Kylo Ren, the grandson of one of the most-famous villains in movie history – ‘Star Wars’ Darth Vader – has made all the pitfalls and career changes for Driver worth it.
As he reveals to RSNG, he wouldn’t have made it to Hollywood without the mountain bike injury that forced him to leave his band of brothers in the US Marine Corps. ‘The confidence that being in the military gave me was unbelievable – if I hadn’t left on medical grounds I may still be in there,’ he says.
The 36-year-old, ‘Logan Lucky’ and ‘BlacKkKlansman’ actor’s story is as unusual as it is inspirational, but he has never given up on a career in an industry that had at one point seemed ‘unrealistic’…
RS What did your experience in the Marines tell you about yourself? Do you bring that to your art?
AD ‘Now that I have got to this stage in my life and have been an actor for enough time to be able to reflect, I would say that this is the industry that I always longed to be in.’
‘For a long time I thought that was the Marines, and I might still be there now were it not for circumstances out of my control.’
‘What I will say though is the armed forces were so valuable for me as a way of giving my life purpose and structure. I know that’s quite a cliched way of talking but it was totally true for me, as I was coming from a place where I didn’t really know what the next thing was.’
‘Being in that kind of civilised environment really strips you of any apprehension. So, when you come out after your service and you’re almost a free person again, you have that locked in your armoury.’
‘For example, the city of New York can be quite an intimidating place for an actor to go to, especially for the first time. But I was able to use the mentality of almost going for broke and that if I wasn’t going to be successful in the entertainment industry, then I was going to be fine and just get by somehow.’
‘The confidence that being in the military gave me was unbelievable and I really think it’s the best thing I could have done. If I hadn’t left on medical grounds, which was tough, I may still be in there.’
‘People imagine the toughest challenges in life involve getting past obstacles but it’s much more difficult dealing with something that’s been taken away’
RS Was that the toughest challenge you’ve ever faced?
AD ‘The prospect of living a plain, boring, frustrating civilian life again was terrifying. I joined the Marines because I felt detached and aimless, and no sooner was I there that realised I loved it.’
‘Then I broke my sternum on a mountain bike accident, something that wasn’t even related to my training. So, they dropped me into a different unit in which you would never go overseas and that left me so devastated. I was training on the broken sternum and it just wouldn’t heal.’
‘That meant that I got medically separated, so all of my friends went, and I had to stay. It did leave me quite low and usually when you join the military, the original thing that makes you feel you want to join is the camaraderie.’
‘Once you are there with the other guys who you are serving with, it turns into a very strong group; and once you can’t show up with those guys, it kind of hits you really hard.’
‘People imagine the toughest challenges in life involve getting past obstacles that are put in your way, but it’s much more difficult dealing with something that’s been taken away – the emptiness of that.’
RS You bring an interesting aspect to Kylo Ren in that you show us the void that he expects to be filled by his ambitions – is that a difficult trick to pull when playing a villain?
AD ‘I think there have been a lot of movies recently where the human side of these characters is coming through in the narrative. Perhaps that’s a byproduct of having so many prequels, sequels and whatever – scriptwriters are looking to bring much more characterisation into the plot and play on the emotional side of things.’
‘I don’t think it matters whether you’re playing a villain or a good guy – ambition is what it is and we can all relate to that.’
‘I’m not that reflective in what I do – I’d be too affected by the things that haven’t worked out the way I planned – just move on’
RS Was the ambition you felt for the Marines coming from the same place as wanting to make it in the movies?
AD ‘I think so. I’d thought about both for a long time.’
‘I once made a road trip to Los Angeles, because so many people had gone there with just their car and then had been able to make a career out of absolutely nothing. In fact, my car broke down outside Amarillo, Texas and I had to walk 10 miles, and a lot of the money that I did have was spent on repairing the car.’
‘Then, I didn’t even get to LA. I was in Santa Monica and I spent all the rest of my money staying in youth hostels and an agency who said to me that if I gave them all of my money, they would find me an apartment. So then, I am in that situation and I couldn’t call my parents and tell them that I had no money.’
‘I had $200 and I was there for about 48 hours after having driven from Indiana, which took four days. So, I just turned right around and went right back. That was really embarrassing because I had made a huge fuss to everyone there about me leaving.’
‘I’d even said goodbye to my girlfriend and said that I didn’t know when we would see each other again.’
‘In the car, I had everything there. I had a mini-fridge – I mean, as soon as I turned 18, my parents told me that I was paying rent and that I had to get a job. So, I was doing that – working and paying rent, so I just took all of my stuff with me and drove towards LA and that’s how it played out, haha!’
RS You’ve been quoted as describing acting as benign rebellion – what did you mean by that?
ADAM DRIVER, ACTOR ‘This is quite a flashback, haha! I brought this phrase up a few years ago and because it seemed to be something which stood out from interviews that I have done in the past, but people keep bringing it back up. Don’t worry, I did mention those two words together in a sentence form at one point…’
‘So, all I would say that I meant about it came from a conversation that I had with the director Noah Baumbach – I have recently done a movie called ‘Marriage Story’ with him.’
‘He brought it up about me saying that ‘benign’ rebellion’ in the press conference for another film of his I worked on ‘While We’re Young’.’
‘Apparently I said that because I was talking about the paternal relationship between an actor and director, and that actors are sometimes looking to be told that they are doing the right thing, as if for confirmation and also, if I’m not receiving that from a director, then I start to rebel in some way.’
‘So, my point being that I will always try to prove myself to a director who I respect, but also prove myself to myself, because I know that I have what it takes to do the right thing and I will strive to find it within me.’
RS You famously hate to watch your own performances – is part of that aversion a belief that it might affect how you act in the future?
AD ‘I don't like to watch myself, true. It's hard to describe it, sometimes I pick which of the parts that I am offered almost on impulse. Every movie feels different, but every movie represents a line in the sand that I think you have to move on quite quickly as an actor.’
‘Remember, even when you’re doing press for a movie, that one is long in the can and you’re probably working on something different by then. By the same logic, going back over something you’ve completed months or even a year before doesn’t make sense to me.’
‘I’m not that reflective in what I do; I can’t afford to be or I’d be too affected by the things in life that haven’t worked out the way I planned. My perspective is just to move on.’
WHAT NEXT? Watch the final trailer for Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker.
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