IN THE DRIVER SEAT
Adam Driver is a fan of actors keeping it real, so to play Paterson’s poetic bus driver he went out and got his bus driver’s license
dam Driver prefers not to see the films and TV shows he’s in, a policy that he grants he’s taken a little far.
“I haven’t seen Lincoln and I have, like, the smallest part in Lincoln,” Driver says, chuckling. “It’s not called Samuel Beckwith the Telegraph Operator, it’s called ... Lincoln. I should watch it.”
Even though he stars in two of the better films of the year, Jim Jarmusch’s Paterson and Martin Scorsese’s Silence, Driver won’t see either. It’s too excruciating.
“I try not to because I’ve seen things I’ve been in before and it’s terrible,” says Driver. “I think it’s bad and it’s film and film is forever. I want to change things. I kind of drive myself nuts and everyone around me nuts. It’s mostly about control. You really have no control, so I try to surrender it.”
Driver’s attitude isn’t uncommon among performers, but it hints at what distinguishes him as an actor. For him, it’s about the experience of building a role, inhabiting it and then letting it go. To play the poet-bus driver of Paterson, he got a bus driver’s license. To play a Jesuit priest in 17th century Japan for Silence, he lost 51 pounds.
“It does turn into stuntsounding because you have to talk about it so much,” Driver says.
“But it is part of your job, I think. Why not investigate as much as you can in the short amount of time that you have? It’s only three or four months.”
With his laconic, lanky presence, staccato line delivery and baritone voice, Driver has quickly become one of the most electric energies in movies, and possibly the most arresting actor of his generation.
While better known for the explosive volatility of his Kylo Ren on The Force Awakens or on HBO’s Girls, Driver’s underlying sweetness is more on the surface in his pensive performance in Paterson.
He plays Paterson, a bus driver and poet. N.J. Jarmusch’s film is a quiet marvel, full of repetition and patterns that steadily accrue quotidian beauty.
Paterson goes about his day-to-day life while composing poetry in his head or jotting it down in his notebook. “Paterson listens” dots the script.
“A lot of acting is reacting,” Driver says.
“You have to listen. It’s the key ingredient. For me, I love having a lot of scenes where I don’t have to talk and I get to listen to other actors.”
A former Marine raised in Mishawaka, Indiana, Driver embodies much of Paterson’s duality.
He grimaces whenever he thinks he sounds too much like an actor and blanches when the phrase “collaborative spirit” accidentally escapes. Twice during a friendly conversation at a Manhattan hotel he stood up to close a door to keep the chat private.
But while Driver shies away from broadcasting his more thoughtful feelings about making art, he has already assembled a rich and varied gallery of artist portraits: the poet of Paterson, his aspiring filmmaker in Noah Baumbach’s While We’re Young, an intrepid photographer in Tracks, a cowboy hat-wearing folk singer in the Coen brothers’ Inside Llewyn Davis, his Broadway actor on Girls.
At 33, Driver has already worked with a startling array of directors: Scorsese, Jarmusch, Steven Spielberg, the Coen brothers, Clint Eastwood, Jeff Nichols and Baumbach.
More recently he shot Steven Soderbergh’s return to feature filmmaking, Logan Lucky.
“He found a way to do it where it’s on his terms and he has the control that he wants,” says Driver.
“His setups move so fast that there’s no momentum lost. There’s no time wasted, so it almost feels like a protest.”
Naturally, Driver won’t be seeing Logan Lucky. He helped make it; the rest is out of his hands.
“When I start thinking too much, that’s when things get stalled,” he says.
“The making of it is really fun and beyond that it’s not my responsibility. It’s not my story. It’s the director’s story. I’m there just to do that part and then peace out.”