Adam Driver said he’s ‘aware of the challenges of being married’ and does everything ‘humanly possible’ to keep his family out of the spotlight.
Two years ago, Driver was the star who kept the birth of his son, with actress wife Joanne Tucker, a secret. Until someone spotted his child’s head in a relative’s Instagram.
He doesn’t much like being in the limelight, which is tricky when your roles include the troubled warlord Kylo Ren in the Star Wars movies, plus a string of other hits including last year’s BlacKkKlansman, directed by Spike Lee; and the Washington thriller The Report.
Adam Driver (pictured alongside Scarlett Johansson) delved into pain of his parents’ split for his upcoming divorce drama Marriage Story
But the biggest noise is being made about Noah Baumbach’s sizzling masterpiece Marriage Story, in which he and Scarlett Johansson play a couple — Charlie and Nicole — whose union is unravelling.
‘She’s already made the decision to end the marriage,’ Driver said of Johansson’s Nicole, a one-time teen screen star who transplanted from Los Angeles to join Driver’s Charlie in New York.
He’s a former actor, too; but now a celebrated director.
Charlie has not been paying attention, while his spouse’s dissatisfaction has led her to up sticks and move back to LA with Henry, their seven-year-old son (played by Azhy Robertson).
Nicole’s so bitter she won’t listen to the letters both have written about the other, as part of a marriage conciliation programme, and is way ahead of Charlie in the divorce stakes.
Driver and I discussed the movie briefly, up in the mountains at the Telluride Film Festival. However he was much more comfortable in London, which has been a second home during the six years shooting the Star Wars final trilogy at Pinewood Studios.
Marriage Story (pictured) will have a limited cinema release in the UK from November 15 and then stream on Netflix from December 6
Marriage Story from Netflix (which has become the go-to studio for many top-flight directors) is the fourth picture Driver and Baumbach have made together — and their most successful collaboration.
It’s so beautifully written, directed and acted that it does have some kinship with 1979’s Kramer v Kramer, the Oscar-winning divorce drama starring Meryl Streep and Dustin Hoffman. I think, though, that Marriage Story is more personal. Much of it comes from Baumbach’s own split from actress Jennifer Jason Leigh, and from lengthy conversations with his stars.
‘Noah and I had been talking for months about what we wanted to work on, and we were throwing out ideas,’ Driver told me. ‘And then one night he said he’d been working on this for a while, but there wasn’t a script.’
Baumbach was talking to Johansson, too; and Laura Dern, who plays Nicole’s ferocious LA divorce lawyer.
Driver said Baumbach wanted to ‘play with audience allegiances’.
‘You start with one character, and then at a certain point, you have an opinion about another person. And by the end of the movie, you’re not sure who to root for.’
Watching Charlie and Nicole grapple with the end of their relationship is heartbreaking. But because their performances are so outstanding, and their dialogue so sublime, you can’t take your eyes off them.
At times, Driver looks so wounded I wondered how he summoned up that level of pain. ‘My parents were divorced,’ he volunteered. ‘I was seven when they got divorced.’
He leaned forward, and said that some of the scenes are ‘so edgy that it’s hard not to bring yourself to it’.
‘Knowing what it’s like to be almost the exact same age as Henry is, in the film, when his parents divorce. And to know the things my parents did, or didn’t do, in trying to do the right thing by me.
‘I look at them, as humans, in the midst of it, trying their best to figure it out.
‘So you think about all of those things, and you can’t help but draw on that.’
The break-up of Driver’s parents’ marriage changed his life. His mother moved him from San Diego to her hometown of Indiana, where she married a Baptist minister.
The actor will almost certainly be nominated for his extraordinary portrait of a man drowning in divorce. There’s one scene in particular which is a revelation. It’s to do with the Stephen Sondheim song Being Alive, from the musical Company – which he sings.
‘For me, it’s the first time in the movie that he [Charlie] begins to process the loss of love,’ Driver mused, before correcting himself: ‘not even loss of love, because there’s still love, but transitioning.
‘Throughout the course of the song he shifts. He sings about wanting someone to ‘crowd me with love, who will always be there’, even though for years he’s said to himself that’s not what I want at all.
‘It was such a beautiful moment for Charlie to say, in the midst of losing love, that this is what he’s feeling — and this is what he wants
‘Sondheim’s able to channel emotion and psychology through music in a way no one else can.’
Driver, who sang in the choir at church and school, is shooting a film musical at the moment with director Leos Carax and Marion Cotillard. He plays a conductor; Cotillard is an opera singer. Songs are by the LA band Sparks (brothers Ron and Russell Mael).
Marriage Story will have a limited cinema release in the UK from November 15 and then stream on Netflix from December 6.
The final Star Wars picture The Rise Of Skywalker is out on December 19.
‘It’s the last one, and I’m sad to leave — not just playing the character, but the people you work with,’ he told me, adding that one of the things he’ll miss is the peace of walks on Hampstead Heath. ‘People have the most well behaved dogs there!’ he said, laughing.
I tell him he hasn’t seen my two!
Driver has a Rottweiller-pitbull mix but is sad he’s never been allowed to have the pooch with him here. ‘It’s because the anti pit thing is huge here,’ he said, looking momentarily crestfallen.