Adam Driver Has Put Everything He’s Got Onscreen


Adam Driver has resting sphinx face.

I don’t say this because of his memorably unusual features, though a long nose, full lips, and paintbrush flick of moles and freckles certainly help give Driver an outsized countenance. It’s more that he has a manner so resolute that when some emotion does manage to escape — whether through a glint in his eyes or the unpredictable undulations of his voice — that transgression can’t help but take you by surprise.

This remains true no matter how often you watch him, and in 2019, you may have watched him quite a bit. In the spring, Driver could be seen simultaneously in “Burn This” on Broadway and Jim Jarmusch’s zombie film, “The Dead Don’t Die,” and three more of his movies spilled forth in the last two months: “The Report,” in which he played a Senate staffer investigating the government’s use of torture; “Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker,” featuring his third and final appearance as the tormented Kylo Ren; and “Marriage Story,” which cast him as a theater director navigating a custody dispute with his soon-to-be ex-wife.

While Bobby, the never-married protagonist of “Company,” would seem at first blush to have little in common with the divorcing Charlie in “Marriage Story,” Driver found both men had a stubborn unwillingness to really confront themselves. When “Marriage Story” begins, Charlie’s wife, Nicole (Scarlett Johansson), has moved on and is moving out, but it takes Charlie ages to realize that things will never go back to normal, and that he is now shouldering a significant loss.

“He can’t name the thing, he can’t express it,” Driver said. “Only through an abstract way can he process it and grieve.”

That involves the indirect path of epiphany through Sondheim, though there is also the more time-tested model of a particularly brutal screaming fight. For most of the story, we have watched Charlie and Nicole talk in a furtive, curtailed way about the things that really bothered them — broken promises, an infidelity, a partner’s blinkered selfishness — and instead rely on their lawyers to do the real mudslinging.

But late in the film, when the two of them are alone in his apartment and resume a familiar roundelay of arguing, the fight gets nastier and nastier until the levees finally break and Charlie screams at his ex-wife such breathtakingly awful things that he falls to his knees, shaken by how vicious his feelings have become. I was startled, too: In the scene, Driver reaches a state of rage so apoplectic that it seems to push beyond the boundaries of the film. His placid face, now reddened and twisted by anger, had contorted to a point where I felt I should look away.

Driver is happy to talk about how the character arrives at such a moment, but he’s less eager to talk about how he pushes himself to such an intimate place as an actor. “We said it in the thing,” he said, meaning everything he’s got is all up there on the screen. “So what would I add that would make it better? Nothing.” He laughed. That was the end of that sentence.

WHEN JENNIFER LOPEZ announced that Driver had won the Gotham for best actor, his mouth fell open for a millisecond, and then he rose, buttoning his suit jacket, and made his way to the stage.

“This means a great deal to me,” Driver said, before thanking his wife, Joanne Tucker; Baumbach; and Laura Dern, a co-star of “Marriage Story” who had received a tribute earlier that night. He also used his speech to give shout-outs to character actresses like Julie Hagerty and Martha Kelly, who add welcome texture to the movie but are too far down on the call sheet to be thought of for awards, or even invited to such a ceremony.

Not much later, “Marriage Story” itself won best film, and Baumbach made his way to the stage, trailed by Dern and Driver. At a certain point in Baumbach’s acceptance speech, he cast about, trying to find the next thing to say, and he looked back at his leading man. Driver was standing against the wall, his hands in his pockets, clearly in no hurry to supplant Baumbach at the microphone. Still, he seemed happy.

“Why are you pressed against the back?” Baumbach asked him. The sphinx just smiled.



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