Adam Driver on entering the fast lane

You may know him as Kylo Ren, but in real life, his name is Adam Driver, and his career is moving into the fast lane. Tracy Smith has our Sunday Profile:

Adam Driver was the brain-probing bad guy in last year’s “Star Wars” mega-hit, “The Force Awakens.”

He was intense and malevolent, sure. But his Kylo Ren was also kind of, well, vulnerable.

Clearly, Driver is no “Star Wars” villain, but he might be just as complex.

Before he ever picked up a lightsaber, Driver was best known as Lena Dunham’s boyfriend in the hit HBO series, “Girls.” The role seems tailor-made:  He plays an actor named Adam, who lives in Brooklyn.

Dunham: “You’re not being that nice to me. I don’t really understand why you want to have me around.”
Driver: “When you love someone, you don’t have to be nice all the time.” 

But his latest film is a bit more of a stretch. In Jim Jarmusch’s “Paterson,” Driver is a bus driver who really wants to a port. It’s not your typical Hollywood movie, and isn’t meant to be.

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Adam Driver as a bus driver-poet in Jim Jarmusch’s “Paterson.”

Amazon Studios

Was Driver worried about doing a movie about poetry?

“I mean, it’s kind of a joke that we talked about on set -- that, you know, ‘Dozens of people are gonna watch this movie, so we really gotta make it good! Like, a bus-driving poet, that’s gonna be really action-packed! They’re gonna be lining up to see this!’”

So far at least, critics have been lining up to praise it.

The film does have a few surprise turns -- and that’s pretty much the story of Adam Driver’s life.

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Adam Driver in his senior year production of “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying,” at Mishawaka High School, Mishawaka, Ind.

Seth Poppel/Yearbook Library

Raised in a middle-class home in Mishawaka, Indiana, he was a slacker student who liked drama and not much else.

“I auditioned for Juilliard when I was a senior in high school,” Driver said. “I didn’t get in. So, I’m like, ‘Okay, then I just won’t go to college.’ I didn’t apply to anywhere else. That was my genius plan! And if didn’t get into that school, which I heard was, like, a good school to go to for acting, then I just won’t do it, you know?”

After Juilliard turned him down, he lived at home, sold vacuum cleaners, and pondered his future.

It all came to him in a flash in 2001, on September 11th. “I feel like probably most people in the country did at the time, just shock and horror and anger. And wanted, like, retribution and to do something,” he said. “I’m at the age where I can. Nothing is holding me back here.”

“Was that actually the cognition, that, ‘Hey, I can help out here’?”

“Yeah, it was part of it. And joining the military seemed like a good idea.” 

So Adam Driver enlisted In the Marines.

“Was there a moment where you thought, ‘What did I do?’” Smith asked.

“Yeah!  These huge dudes, also with shaved heads, are yelling at you. These grown men, you know. And you’re just, you’re alone I guess, essentially.”

But after a few weeks, he learned to love it. He became a rifleman, highly-trained in ground combat and small arms. But just before he was to ship out for Iraq, he broke his sternum in a biking accident, and was medically discharged from the Corps.

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Adam Driver and his rescued terrier, Moose, with correspondent Tracy Smith, in Brooklyn, New York.

CBS News

Heartbroken and unemployed, Driver re-applied to Juilliard. This time, he got in -- and had to learn to be a civilian all over again.

“Not that I was spitting on the ground or dragging my knuckles, but like, you know, just used to being very direct,” he said. 

“So you had to tone yourself down a little bit? For the sensitive actors?”

“Tone it down, yeah, well, maybe. Yeah. I mean, which is all probably hiding some kind of insecurity in myself, you know? ‘Is Adam crying in the corner again?’ I mean, I didn’t cry. Crying is for weak people. No!”

Kidding aside, Driver found that theatre helped him cope, and figured it could also help his brothers and sisters in arms. So he co-founded Arts in the Armed Forces. The group puts on bare-bones theatre productions for service men and women.

When asked if he formed the arts group because he felt a kind of “survivor’s guilt,” for not going overseas with his fellow Marines, Driver said, “I think there was initially, maybe a high level of guilt that I didn’t get to complete my service. I didn’t get to go overseas and do the job I trained to do with the guys that I trained to do it with. 

“So what better audience than the people that are protecting our country? Acting is a service industry? Why not service the ultimate service industry, which is being in the military?”

Once out of school, his acting career took off, with parts in ever-bigger productions, including Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln,” the Coen Brothers’ “Inside Llewyn Davis,” and Noah Baumbach’s “Frances Ha.”

And not long after he was cast in the mother of all franchise films.

Smith asked, “So when you found out you were going to be the bad guy, what did you think?”

“It’s way better. Costumes are better. Lightsabers are better.”

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Adam Driver as Kylo Ren in “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.”

Lucasfilm/Disney

There’s one person who can disarm Adam Driver: his non-profit co-founder, Joanne Tucker, whom he married in 2013. They’ve booked military gigs well into the New Year.

In the meantime, you can see him in another role he really hungered for. In the new Martin Scorsese film “Silence,” Driver is a Jesuit priest who, with Andrew Garfield, is on a dangerous mission to find a lost colleague in 17th century Japan.

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Adam Driver in Martin Scorsese’s “Silence.”

Paramount Pictures

Driver physically transformed himself for the role, losing 51 pounds.

“That was important to me, to get down as much as we could in the time we had to hopefully tell that story.”

“And then after you told that story did you -- “

“Ate a lotta food, yeah!”

He’s not exactly a starving actor anymore: Life on his home turf in Brooklyn is pretty good. And he’ll return to the Dark Side for “Star Wars: Episode VIII” next year.

And after that? Like every good Marine, Adam Driver knows to be ready for anything.

Smith asked, “Were you worried when you found out that you’d be the guy who would kill Han Solo?”

“Yeah,” he replied. “That took a lot of -- I had to think about it for a while. And I also have an allergy to, like, big blockbuster Hollywood movies.

“There is no guidebook to how you’re supposed to be in your career, the projects that you’re supposed to pick. It’s just follow the things that are personal and interesting to you, and apart from that, everything will fall into place.”

        
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