Adam Driver became a household name after landing the role of Kylo Ren in the latest Star Wars movies. And he subsequently developed into an awards-ceremony staple as well thanks to performances in Marriage Story and BlacKkKlansman. During an interview to promote the latter, however, Driver proved that even A-list Oscar nominees have their insecurities.
Driver was in the middle of a chat with Fresh Air, a show on NPR, when things took a turn for the unexpected. The star was on the show to talk about his turn in Marriage Story, the Noah Baumbach-directed drama in which he appeared opposite Scarlett Johansson. And Driver was gaining significant Oscar buzz at the time for his performance.
For example, The Hollywood Reporter’s Jon Frisch wrote that Driver delivered a “brilliantly inhabited and shaded portrait” of a man in the midst of a difficult divorce. The Academy Awards panel seemed to agree as well. That’s because just a year after landing a Best Supporting Actor nomination at the Oscars, Driver was recognized in the Best Actor category.
In fact, the only individual who appeared to have any problem with Driver’s performance was the man himself. And the star made his dissatisfaction all too clear when he walked out of his NPR interview. Here’s a look at the actor’s sudden rise to fame – and the reason behind his surprise strop.
Driver was born in the Californian city of San Diego in 1983 but relocated to Indiana aged seven with his mom and older sister. Driver found it hard to fit in with his peers and later admitted to M magazine that he would often cause trouble during his adolescent years. In fact, after seeing a certain cult movie starring Brad Pitt, as a youngster he once decided to form his very own fight club.
Following his graduation, Driver took various jobs. He had posts at both a construction company and a waterproofing firm, for example. He also sold cleaning products for a while. But following the 9/11 atrocities, Driver decided that his skills would be best put to use in the U.S. Marines.
Driver subsequently became a mortar operator for nearly three years and was promoted to lance corporal. After suffering a dislocated chest bone in a biking accident, however, he left the military on medical grounds. And Driver then switched his attention to the world of acting.
Indeed, following a brief stint at the University of Indianapolis, Driver landed a place at New York’s prestigious Juilliard School. Once again, though, he found it tough to connect with his fellow students who reportedly perceived him as unstable. Nonetheless, Driver persisted and completed his degree.
Driver subsequently had a series of parts on Broadway before making his screen debut in a 2009 episode of The Unusuals. Moreover, just two years later he had the chance to work with Clint Eastwood in biopic J. Edgar. And his big break came in 2012 when he was cast as Adam Sackler in the zeitgeist-defining dramedy Girls.
Driver went on to pick up several Emmy nominations for his turn as Hannah’s on/off boyfriend. During his six-season stint on the HBO show, he was also cast in Steven Spielberg’s presidential biopic Lincoln. He then joined forces with Noah Baumbach for the first, but certainly not the last, time on dramedy Frances Ha.
Striking while the iron was hot, Driver also showed up in Gayby and Not Waving But Drowning. He also received rave reviews for his turn as Cliff in a New York staging of Look Back in Anger. And then the Coen brothers came calling, casting Driver as folk singer Al Cody in their musical period drama Inside Llewyn Davis.
A year later Driver reunited with Baumbach when he co-starred as a wannabe movie director in While We’re Young. He later added to his filmography with parts in This Is Where I Leave You and Hungry Hearts. And then Driver’s career went into the stratosphere when he landed a major role in one of the world’s biggest franchises.
Driver first played the villainous Kylo Ren, aka Princess Leia and Han Solo’s son Ben, in 2015’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens. He returned to the character for The Last Jedi two years later and 2019’s The Rise of Skywalker. Moreover, Driver’s performances were hailed by many critics as one of the best things about the trilogy.
And Driver’s purple patch continued in 2016. He impressed in the Spielberg-esque sci-fi Midnight Special and as a priest in Martin Scorsese’s meditative 17th-century drama Silence. He also picked up glowing reviews across the board for his leading turn as a poetry-writing bus driver in cult director Jim Jarmusch’s Paterson.
After briefly showing up in another Baumbach effort, The Meyerowitz Stories, Driver added Steven Soderbergh to his impressive list of collaborators with a role in Logan Lucky. He was then cast as a cop in Spike Lee’s dramedy BlacKkKlansman. Driver once again received widespread praise for his turn and bagged his first ever Oscar nomination in the process.
Driver didn’t have to wait long for his second Academy Awards nod, either. Just a year later he was recognized in the Best Actor field for his turn as soon-to-be divorcee Charlie Barber in Marriage Story. This was the fourth time that Driver had worked with auteur Noah Baumbach.
By this point Driver had shown up in The Man Who Killed Don Quixote as well, Terry Gilliam’s much-troubled adaptation of the classic novel. He’d also appeared in Sundance hit The Report and teamed up with Jarmusch again for horror comedy The Dead Don’t Die. Driver had picked up his first Tony Award nomination for his turn opposite Keri Russell in Burn This, too.
And Driver shows no signs of slowing down, either. The actor will next appear in drama Annette alongside Marion Cotillard before working with Ridley Scott on historical thriller The Last Duel. He will then share the screen with none other than Sylvester Stallone in a movie also directed by the action hero, Tough As They Come.
Driver has been able to enjoy his gradual rise to fame with his actor wife Joanna Tucker. The pair walked down the aisle together in the summer of 2013 and later welcomed a son into the world. He and his family reside in the Brooklyn Heights area of New York and like to keep a low profile.
Indeed, it seems fair to say that Driver isn’t a fan of the fame game. Not only does he keep his personal life as private as possible, but he’s also developed a reputation for being a slightly prickly interviewee. And in 2019 he made headlines once again for what many considered to be diva-like behavior.
So what exactly prompted Driver to cut short this particular interview with one of NPR’s flagship programs? Did the interviewer bring up something from his private life? Criticize one of his performances? No, the radio show had simply played an excerpt from the very film that Driver was there to promote.
Driver reportedly became uncomfortable when the show played him showcasing his vocal skills in Marriage Story. In Baumbach’s semi-autobiographical tale, Driver’s Charlie bursts into “Being Alive,” a show-tune from the much-loved Company. But the star didn’t appreciate the choice of segment and walked out of the room before it had even finished.
Danny Miller, the executive producer of Fresh Air, was left baffled by Driver’s behavior. “We don’t really understand why he left,” he told Variety. “We knew from our previous interview with Adam Driver that he does not enjoy listening back to clips of his movies. That isn’t unusual – a lot of actors feel that way.”
Indeed, this wasn’t the first time that Driver had expressed his insecurities with the Fresh Air staff. In 2015 the star agreed to remove his headphones while a segment from his movie While We’re Young was being played. Producers may therefore have concluded that such an arrangement would suffice once again. However, this wasn’t the case.
Host Terry Gross and the Fresh Air team were in Philadelphia at the time of the interview recording, while Driver was in New York. Consequently, the show’s team had to be told by a technician working on the Big Apple side of things that their celebrity guest had gone AWOL. “We still don’t understand why Adam Driver chose to leave the interview at that point,” Miller told Variety.
And Driver still hasn’t clarified what made him walk out of the studio, either. Nonetheless, during his 2015 chat with Fresh Air he did explain why he finds it difficult to watch or listen back to his performances. “I don’t want to hear the bad acting that probably was happening during that clip,” he admitted.
“I’ve watched myself or listened to myself before, then always hate it, and then wish I could change it,” Driver continued. “But you can’t. And I think I have, like, a tendency to try to make things better or drive myself and the other people around me crazy with the things I wanted to change or I wish I could change.”
When asked by Gross whether he’d ever seen any of his appearances in Girls, Driver’s reply was emphatic. “No. No, I liked, like, doing it then, when we’re working on it in the moment,” he said. “And then it’s done, and we do it. And then I try to surrender as much control as possible.”
“It’s so collaborative to me that, you know, you can act in a room,” Driver added. “But if no one’s there to light it right or hair and makeup and the director, like it’s what you were creating right then in the moment. I don’t think of it as like a done, set thing that people watch and they may have their opinions about it.”
This inability to reflect on his own performances was also an issue that came up during a 2019 interview with The New Yorker. Driver recalled the horror he felt when he saw his performance as Adam Sackler in Girls. “That’s when I was, like, I can’t watch myself in things,” he admitted. “I certainly can’t watch this if we’re going to continue doing it.”
Although he did manage to pluck up the courage to watch himself sing backing vocals in Inside Llewyn Davis, Driver admits that he still hated what he saw. And, as a result, he swore he’d never watch himself on the big screen ever again. Unfortunately for Driver, though, his Star Wars commitments ensured that he’d have to renege on such a promise.
Driver recalled going “totally cold” after being forced to attend the premiere of the eagerly awaited The Force Awakens in 2015. “I knew the scene was coming up where I had to kill Han Solo,” he stated. “And people were, like, hyperventilating when the title came up.” Driver admits he almost threw up at the time.
However, Driver has received sympathy over his apparent phobia from several directors he’s worked with. Steven Soderbergh, who worked with the star on Logan Lucky, was certainly understanding. “I think he’s rightly concerned that he would become conscious of himself in a way that would be harmful to his acting,” the director told The New Yorker in October 2019.
“It was very, very happy” was how Spike Lee described Driver’s experience of watching BlacKkKlansman at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival. The man himself has a very different story, though. Driver in fact spent the majority of the screening outside the auditorium and came back in only when the movie had finished.
Moreover, the social media response to Driver’s 2019 walkout was decidedly mixed. One of the star’s defenders tweeted, “Y’all need to leave Adam Driver alone. He experienced some mental discomfort during an interview and removed himself from the situation. He took care of himself in that moment. He didn’t insult or offend or hurt anyone. We shouldn’t stigmatize mental health like this.”
Monica Lewinsky was one of the more high-profile names who leapt to Driver’s defense. “Good for Adam Driver,” she tweeted. “I also walked out on Fresh Air 20 years ago… same with an onstage interview last year. Self-care is always an OK choice, especially if the interviewer has violated an agreement.”
And Charlotte Clymer, an activist for the LGBTQ community, agreed with Lewinsky’s sentiments. “Adam Driver respectfully declined to listen to himself act in his last interview with Terry Gross due to anxiety,” she wrote. “Mental health should be accommodated like any other disability.” However, while some believed that Driver had been well within his rights to walk away from an uncomfortable situation, others argued that he’d been out of order.
For instance, Perez Hilton, one of the world’s most famous gossip bloggers, tweeted, “Star Wars star Adam Driver is such a diva! He didn’t have to storm off from this NPR radio interview!!” “How do you get through years of embarrassing mask work at Juilliard and yet be so precious you can’t listen to yourself next to Terry Gross?!” tweeted another detractor.
Soledad O’Brien, an American broadcast journalist, also blasted Driver for his lack of professionalism. Addressing the actor directly, she wrote, “Take the headphones off and promote your movie.” Of course, Driver isn’t the only Hollywood star to suffer from such an affliction. Julianne Moore has also claimed that she hasn’t watched any of her movies.
And, according to The Guardian, fellow Academy Award-winner Reese Witherspoon once argued that she would “spiral into a state of self-hate” if she ever watched herself on screen. During an appearance on Chelsea Lately, Witherspoon said, “It’s torture. Why would you want to watch yourself being stupid and pretending to be somebody else?”