Adam Driver
Class and humility can be hard to find in Hollywood, but Adam Driver shows us that it's not dead. (Illustration by Natasha McDonald, Columbia College Chicago)

The Mystique of Adam Driver: A Different Kind of Celebrity and Actor

The actor evokes old Hollywood nostalgia while representing a stunning model of modern masculinity.

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Adam Driver

The actor evokes old Hollywood nostalgia while representing a stunning model of modern masculinity.

To many, Adam Driver brings up memories of a bygone era when leading men were actors first and celebrities second. Of course, movie stars have always been prominent figures in the public eye, but the lifestyles of famous actors and actresses have changed drastically. They can no longer solely focus on being artists, but instead are now expected to be their own public relations and customer service at all times. Driver, whether it is intentional or not, rejects many of the norms that we have come to expect of a leading man. He is handsome, but not in the traditional sense. He does interviews, but they are usually limited due to his shy nature. He has a broad scope of work that he’s done over the past decade including the blockbuster “Star Wars” sequel trilogy, but he was trained classically at the renowned Juilliard School in New York City. There isn’t anyone quite like him right now.

Despite his major star power, Driver’s path to fame was not a straight one. After graduating high school in Mishawaka, Indiana, he promptly sent an application to Juilliard in New York City to chase his dreams of being an actor. The 9/11 attacks struck shortly after his application was rejected. Motivated by his renewed sense of patriotism, Driver enlisted in the Marine Corps; however, a broken sternum forced him to drop out after basic training. He resolved to apply to Juilliard one final time, and thankfully for all of us, he made it.

Since his graduation in 2009, he has starred in many prominent films; however, his portrayal of Adam Sackler in Lena Dunham’s HBO series “Girls” cemented his status as a young actor to watch in Hollywood. Between “Girls” and “Star Wars,” Driver generated enough momentum to work with iconic directors like Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese and Spike Lee. His work in “BlacKkKlansman” and “Marriage Story” have each earned him Oscar nominations, while his stint on “Girls” earned him several nods from the Emmys.

Besides the release of “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker,” Driver has also been in the news recently due to an incident with NPR host Terry Gross. During a recent taping of her popular radio show, “Fresh Air,” Gross interviewed Driver on his critically-acclaimed role in “Marriage Story.” Even after Driver made it clear beforehand that he did not like listening to or watching clips of his work, Gross insisted, which caused Driver to exit the interview. While Driver is certainly not the first actor to abruptly walk out of an interview, he is the first to face little to no backlash. No matter how justified an interviewee’s sudden exit is, they are often labeled as a diva or a snob. However, when Driver stormed out, people were forced to pause and consider his side of the story.

Regarding the NPR incident, the general reaction from both the public and the media seemed to assume that Driver was in the right because he does not come off as high maintenance. He is simply committed to his craft. While it might just be that wholesome Midwestern vibe that has everyone swooning for him, Adam Driver is just extremely likable. His slight awkwardness in interviews has only slightly improved over the years, but it comes off as endearing, not off-putting. With black hair, a pale complexion and a towering physique, Driver seems like a brooding figure, but in reality he’d rather talk about his nonprofit Arts in the Armed Forces or the nuances of character acting. He’s not good at the silly stuff.

For example, in a 2017 interview on the “Late Show with Stephen Colbert” in anticipation of “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” Colbert playfully quips in his usual fashion about Driver’s outfit and lightsabers and whatever other kooky bit he has prepared. Driver is a good sport, but he mostly just sits there and giggles, seemingly not knowing what to say. The interview spirals into further absurdity when Colbert pulls out two action figures and they play along the host’s desk. Even though this is all in good fun, Driver just isn’t in his element in this kind of setting. While Driver is a tough egg to crack, it is not impossible. See Vice’s 2015 mini-documentary that covers Arts in the Armed Forces for a completely inverted version of the actor in which he is charismatic and enthusiastic about his passion project.

All these things considered, Driver strikes people as authentic and as someone who has simply stumbled upon fame. In a world that seems dependent on image and status, he feels like a breath of overdue fresh air. Driver is noticeably absent from social media and does limited interviews when promoting his films. Whether it be due to some degree of social anxiety, distaste for his celebrity status or whatever other reason, it’s hard to tell. Being reserved, passionate and a little bit quirky is what makes Adam Driver so endearing to audiences. It might be his captivating performances and unconventional appeal, or it could just be that we’re watching to see what he does next. Not only is Driver the in-demand actor of the moment, but every role he snags is different from the last. He can’t be type-casted. Struggling divorcee, 1970s cop, intergalactic supervillain … What’s more is that with every role, he brings a vulnerability that is both new and old, modern and reminiscent of a bygone era.

In this way, Adam Driver represents the modern leading man. He is sensitive and passionate, but also agile and skilled. He is all these things, but is still a veteran and gives back to the cause that he cares about. His acting chops are so great that he managed to make Kylo Ren, a genocidal maniac, the most loved character of the “Star Wars” sequel trilogy. Audiences can only hope that Driver is not one of a kind. Hollywood would benefit from more slightly awkward yet passionate players.

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