His resume speaks volumes about his talents, but many still don’t know who he is.
Another day, another outstanding role for Adam Driver. The Force Awakens antagonist has signed on for a new picture by Holy Motors director Leos Carax. It is one of his many upcoming appearances; other projects have him working with directors Jim Jarmusch, Martin Scorsese, Steven Soderbergh, and Rian Johnson. That doesn’t include the features and opportunities he has gotten already in his career. Why isn’t Adam Driver a household name? Few of his contemporaries have even an ounce of his range and ability. Perhaps it is his uncanny ability to organically weave into a picture and leave a lasting impression wherever he appears.
Driver first arrived on televisions with 2012’s HBO comedy Girls. He was this detestable, gross, and emotionally unstable character. Playing opposite show lead and creator Lena Dunham, he elevated the role to something far grander. When speaking with Newsweek in 2013, Dunham said “Without Driver in the role, Adam the character would never have become as central to the show as he is now.” His performance in the show would eventually lead to multiple Emmy nominations.
2012 would also be the year Adam Driver made his feature film debut (he had a small part in J. Edgar in 2011) with Frances Ha. He actually won the part before he even appeared on Girls and Noah Baumbach saw the talent right away. “You can almost see him, when he’s shooting, hurl himself into everything,” says Baumbach. “Adam seems to me like the best version of trained and instinct. He knows exactly what he’s doing, but he also knows he doesn’t always know what he’s doing, and that’s what makes a great actor.” While Driver was getting small parts he was still making a large impression.
After working with Steven Spielberg for 2012’s Lincoln, Driver would land a part that gave him a truly memorable scene. 2013’s Inside Llewyn Davis, directed by the Coen Brothers, followed the story of hopeless folk singer Llewyn Davis. During his travels, he records a new single with characters played by Justin Timberlake and Adam Driver. The sequence, while brief, is without question one of the signature moments of the film. Driver was able to channel all of his characters’ peculiar tendencies within a single song.
For many actors that would be the extent of where their star could take them. Adam Driver was just beginning to show the range of his talents. While 2014 wouldn’t put him on the map much in the public eye, critically he was staking his claim. He won the Venice Film Festival prize for Best Actor, the Volpi Cup, for his performance in Hungry Hearts. Appearing in Shawn Levy’s This is Where I Leave You, might be his first misstep when vying for mainstream audiences, but he wasn’t the problem with that film. That same year he also re-teamed with Noah Baumbach for While We’re Young. This would be another large role for him, in a similar capacity to his role on Girls, but proved he could hold his own against big name talent. The film would become widely successful for Baumbach, his highest grossing film ever.
The total of $17m might have been a lot of money for a Baumback film, but it isn’t a lot of money for studio pictures. The biggest reason Adam Driver remains an unknown for many theater patrons is the projects he selects. Outside of the obvious exceptions of Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Lincoln, the biggest grossing picture Driver has appeared in was This Is Where I Leave You with an extremely modest gross of $37m. He continues to build his resume with strong roles, letting the directors and the source material speak louder than his talents. There’s no question of the box office draw of J.J. Abrams or Spielberg, but he is happy working with a vast array of directors that can only elevate him to the next level.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens was unquestionably Adam Driver’s biggest opportunity. Millions of new eyes were going to witness his talent and he delivered a multilayered antagonist. Kylo Ren, as portrayed in The Force Awakens, is neither good nor completely evil. His character is still battling his demons and contemplating the scope of his decisions. When his pivotal scene with Harrison Ford’s Han Solo arrives late into the picture, it isn’t just the death of a beloved character, but passing the torch to the new generation. Driver’s career is also similar to Ford’s, in that they have both had opportunities to work with some of greatest directors of their time.
Beyond Star Wars: Episode VIII, Adam Driver has a prolific slate of features over the next 18 months. He will continue to work with some of the most talented directors and appear in films he feels strongly about. This year alone he will appear in Jim Jarmusch’s Paterson and Martin Scorsese’s Silence. His talent is unquestionable and is not the reason he remains unknown to many. Adam Driver is content with the projects he has chosen and it is up to audiences to discover just what he has to offer.