Adam Driver interview: ‘Is there an authentic way to work on something? I think about that all the time’
Hey man, how you doing?
I’m good, I’m good, how are you?
Not too bad thanks. Congratulations on Logan Lucky. I enjoyed it, particularly your delivery of the line: “Yep”.
“Yep?” [Laughs] Thank you very much.
I was talking to A Ghost Story director David Lowry recently and he said Casey Affleck accepted the film before he read the script; he just text him like: “Wanna be in a weird movie?” and Casey replied “Yeah”. Is there an element of that for you with someone like [Logan Lucky director] Steven Soderbergh, you don’t really need to see the script because you’re just excited to work with them and you trust their creative vision?
Yeah, I mean it’s always good to read a script so you can connect with the character and you can help, but yeah, there is a bit of – even if you don’t understand it and it’s a total failure for yourself, at least it’ll be an interesting failure.
Did he talk about the unorthodox strategy for producing and financing the film early on?
He did, in one of our first meetings, which I thought was interesting. It was just an extra layer of interest though, he was what initially interested me about doing it – that he had total control over how it was marketed and how it was released and who was paying for it just made it all the more intriguing.
This was the first time you worked with him right? How did you find it, what are his idiosyncrasies on set?
I loved it; I don’t know about idiosyncrasies, but certainly the pace in which he works, where he’s operating the camera, he has a general lighting idea that’s basically just using what’s in the room – and because of this the pace with which he controls the set is so fast. Almost every day was like, “Let’s break for a lunch and that’s a wrap”. We would finish four or five hours early because he’s so economical in the way it works, so there’s not a lot of time wasted, which is good for the actors because there’s a good momentum created on set. It’s also just… this is a very boring word but I keep going back to it: economical. When you compare it to other sets you’ve been on they seem almost wasteful in a way.
In terms of moving between the different set-ups?
There’s a lot of time wasted with people doing different [things]; you need a crew obviously, and his crew is very good. There’s nothing in excess, it makes it feel like more of a job and easier to stay focused. You don’t have to do as much work finding the groove you went into before lunch or after lunch when everyone’s full of meatball sandwiches or whatever and not as focused. He creates a great momentum and also in the cast, because it’s an ensemble and there’s not a lot of time to get know each other beforehand, everyone’s already staying on set anyway so the camaraderie that’s created on set works its way into the movie.
I guess it helps that he’s so hands-on, like with the camera and everything; he’s involved in every aspect.
Yeah and he’s weirdly aware of everything that’s going on but extremely focused. He’s one of the few people I’ve met that can very easily balance both, where there’s so much chaos going on around him but he’s very much like the centre of the storm and at the same time aware of everything that’s going on. Not that it’s a better way, it’s just an interesting way.
The thing I liked about your character Clyde is that you expect him to be skeptical of his brother’s plan but he’s just like, “fuck it, let’s do it”. What was it you liked when you were reading the script, what drew you to the character?
I liked his thoughtfulness against Jimmy’s [Channing Tatum] impulsiveness, that was funny. He seemed very much like he needed to think a lot before he could actually do anything.
He’s about as close as a Logan Lucky character comes to wise I guess.
And how did it work with the arm [Clyde has a prosthetic]?
There was a lot of different versions of it. When it was just the outsized hand then it was my hand underneath it and they had to take a cast – everything is hard plastic on top then a latex hand that they put on top that you just have to pretend is solid. Then there’s another for the actual arm when I take it off; they have a green sleeve which I wear all the way up to my shoulder and then there’s a prosthetic that bends at the elbow that extends from where my elbow would be, because he’s a transradial amputee. So it’s like a green sock, then a sleeve that goes over that’s like a prosthetic. You have to act with this big tumour-feeling thing hanging out.
I was gonna say, it must be hard to work around and make it look authentic that you’re missing an arm?
Yeah, you have to make it look like you don’t just have one hand randomly in the air, but it’s all good it was very helpful.
I was thinking about your acting style which I think is very defined and feels quite spontaneous – which is obviously a quality at the core of acting really. Your characters often seem kind of surprised by the lines they’re being hit with and look somewhat dazed. I wonder if that’s something you’ve honed or is just hardwired in you?
I don’t know, I always feel that with acting – this sounds like actor school me saying this – but it’s a lot of reacting. If you’re working with a lot of great people then for me the most fun thing is not doing as much work as you can, and then getting on set and trying to forget everything and be surprised. Even take-to-take you have to flush out all thoughts, all responsibilities, everything has to be drained – and then it’s another take and you have to drain that. So yeah, I don’t know, it’s always good to be surprised on set and I always like when actors seem to be discovering it for the first time in front of me.
To that end, do you do a lot of your preparation long before, so when you’re literally in your trailer coming out onto set you’re allowing your mind to wander?
It kind of varies from thing to thing but yeah I always do try to do as much homework as I possibly can to know as much as I possibly can; if anything just to calm down my nerves so I show up on set prepared and available for everybody else. You can have an idea of how a scene is going to go but it’s not usually not just a scene by yourself and they have their ideas and they could be even better, so I feel like I can’t come onto set thinking how it’s supposed to be and trying to push everybody else into my direction. You can only know so much and then you have to be willing to let it go, even if all the homework you have done is useless. You have to be prepared for that, you’ve done all this work, you know how to make a Martini with one hand, in this instance, but then you didn’t take into consideration that the bar is a different height. All that work you did at one level you just have to be comfortable to let go of.
Did you spend a lot of time practising making Martinis so it felt natural when you were doing it?
Yeah, he’s been a bartender with one hand for a while. We had to tell a lot of history in that two months we had to shoot.
I was listening to an interview recently with Edie Falco from The Sopranos – amazing actress.
Recently and she was talking about preparation, and how sometimes there can be too much preparation with a scene partner and that she doesn’t actually want to talk about all their motivations and “how did they get here?” and stuff. What’s your relationship with that?
Again, it depends on the thing. I like both and I try to do whatever everybody else is doing – I’m very much a follower in that sense, along with the idea of – just because I’ve done a lot of work doesn’t mean I can impose that on somebody else. If they like to work a different way then I adapt to it.
In this instance, there was hardly any talk about how we were doing it, even take to take there’s not a lot of talk. Everyone just does their job and then goes home, there’s not a “what’s my motivation?”. Everyone was very prepared and professional, but there wasn’t a lot of dialogue surrounding it – even leading up to it. The first time we heard ourselves talk as our characters really was on set. There was little rehearsal at all beforehand. I like both versions.
Then there’s someone like Noah Baumbach, he’s the first person who comes to mind, where it’s take after take and you can do 40 takes of a scene. There’s also immense freedom in that, where there’s a very strong structure but you still have a lot of room to interpret the lines. The lines are the lines, but how you mean them, there’s infinite ways, there’s no right answer and it’s not my decision what the final call is. But this is very much like first impulses, first takes. I’m not sure if it made it in but there’s a scene where I’m talking to Jimmy when the money goes everywhere in the cave and there’s a bunch of oners in that – driving the car through the convenience store, that was one take. First impulses are also an interesting way to work. I have no set way, I guess.
I love that movie you made with Noam Baumbach, While We’re Young, I try and watch it periodically, it puts me in a good creative mindset.
Oh good. He’s really great. A lot of his movies are very much process driven, he doesn’t sacrifice his ideas for really great characters and story but there’s a lot of creative process in his movies. Even While We’re Young I thought was very subtle.
The themes of growing up and coming to realisations are strong in his movies.
That, and also – I guess we’re talking about a preciousness of an older generation or not even an older generation but a way of working where you can get – in Josh’s case in that movie with Ben Stiller’s character – you overanalyse the shit out of everything you’re working on. You’re almost handicapped by it, you’re working on the same fucking thing, you’re stuck in the same rut because you’re making it too precious. Then there’s the Jamie aspect [Driver’s character] which is maybe less authentic, where he appropriates everybody else’s hard work but at the same time is able to churn out work faster. There’s still talent but is there an authentic way to work on something or is there not? I think about that all the time.
Yeah. Talking about getting stuck in the process, that’s obviously something that happened a little to Steven [Soderbergh] because he a few years ago was saying “I can’t get in the van and scout locations anymore”, he’d just hit a wall with it and retired.
But then he got past that. Obviously, you’re still relatively early in your career but is that something you worry about or you try to prevent so you stay excited about acting?
Taking time off is always good. I’m in the middle of time off from set right now and it’s really great. It’s valuable for me – it’s maybe a bougie problem to have because maybe people don’t get to have fucking months off work – but taking time away and being a person again is valuable. On set there’s an illusion of reality, it’s people getting you things you need, you can focus on what it is you’re doing, kind of, but then there’s a lot basically directly working against you to do your job. It’s strange but I think time away from it is good.
I was going to ask you about that actually, it sounds like a bit of a Marie Claire question on the surface of it but, how do you relax? What do you enjoy doing when you’re not on set? I find I have to spend so much time around the internet for work that I like to get away and do carpentry or something…
What does time away look like for you, I guess?
I don’t know. I get out of the city as much as possible. I don’t know what I do; right now it’s cooking because I’m trying to learn as I feel I should know how to cook certain things – I don’t know, like meatloaf. That’s my new thing.
Everyone should be able to make a good meatloaf. I don’t have that skill yet but I intend to get there.
You should give it a shot, It’s surprisingly very simple and involves a lot of ketchup, which I didn’t realise! So cooking lately, but all sorts of shit – same stuff that you probably do.
Steven religiously keeps a list of everything he watches, I’d like to do that but I think I’d be ashamed because there’d be so much trash in there I wouldn’t wanna make that public.
[Laughs] Right right.
If you did one of those what would be on it? In your viewing habits is it about watching the work of people you might want to be involved with, or is it an education thing – what are you looking for?
I think it’s an interest thing. If it’s a director I’m interested in then I’ll consume everything, like Michael Powell, I’m on a Michael Powell kick right now. I hadn’t seen any of his movies and then I worked with Thelma Schoonmaker – she was married to Michael Powell, she’s Scorsese’s editor – and she gave me all these Powell movies to watch. I’ve seen a lot of movies but there’s some classic directors that I don’t know much about their films, so that’s been really fun to address. There’s a whole list, there’s like 60-something movies of his I haven’t seen. I just watched The Red Shoes, that’s an amazing movie if you’ve never seen it.
It is kind of random. I’ll follow one person and that’ll lead me to somebody else, maybe an actor and then I’ll follow them for a while.
There’s something quite nice about watching an entire ouvere and seeing how the director or actor develops and changes and where their interests lead them.
Right and I came at it indirectly with [Powell’s] Age of Consent, I was talking to a friend of mine and he was like: “That’s like discovering The Beatles through a latter Paul McCartney album”, it’s a weird way to come into someone’s body of work but it’s still been really interesting. Starting from that and then going to The Red Shoes is – it’s what you’re saying, it’s interesting to see how someone’s developed over time.
I just finally just wanted to talk a little about Paterson which was one of my favourite movies last year. It was quite medicinal for me and I think for a lot of people I speak to who like it – with everything in the world and the way we live at the moment being so overwhelming, the film was like a cool glass of beer…
Was that part of the attraction for you, apart from the fact it’s working with Jim fucking Jarmusch?
That was it, He [Jarmusch] sent me the script as kind of a formality but when we first met I was like “whatever it is I’m totally on board”. He said “just read first and tell me what you think about it”. He sent it to my house and I read it as soon as I got it then I called him like “yeah let’s do it”.
Were you familiar with William Carlos Williams and Ron Padgett’s poetry?
Only “This is Just to Say”, but not Ron Padgett or poetry overall – I think I got the college version of poetry where everyone reads it very earnestly and is very self-aware that it’s poetry and so it has to be read with some kind of reverence, or slam poetry sessions where it’s all about a mole on an ass cheek that is the shape of Texas or something. I think I got that part of it.
Reading poetry aloud is hard.
It is, yeah. It’s hard to listen to sometimes as it is often read with that tone of “as you know this is a poem and it’s very important”. For me, every time I hear sentiment it’s like an allergy. I don’t believe it or I don’t buy it when someone tells me it’s supposed to be precious. They don’t let me have the experience of it, they’re telling me how to feel about it… What was your question? I feel like I’ve gone on a tangent about poetry! Oh, I wasn’t familiar with his poems, no no, not until that point.
Those kind of imagist poems shouldn’t be read all grandiose and solemn anyway, I guess, because they’re just about the small, simple moments in life and it’s not about reading too much into them but just accepting them –
Yea, it’s the same thing with acting, whenever an actor tells me how I should feel about it it takes me out of the equation as an audience member. They’re telling me how I should be feeling, at least that’s my fucked-up idea of things that I like watching. What I remind myself of as an actor is that I’m here but it’s not really about me or my feelings about it, it’s about telling the director’s story – so it’s not my job to feel it, it’s the audience’s to feel it, so hopefully that comes across. But Jim is a brilliant filmmaker.
For sure. Alright thanks so much Adam.
Thank you! I’ll think of more things to do, I have no life outside of this job!
I should cook more I can get on board with that.
Yeah, bring a meatloaf next time!
The Independent | Christopher Hooton | September 15, 2017