Adam Driver may be propelled by the might of a lightsabre in the upcoming Rise of Skywalker movie, but as the American actor explains, it was more likely a higher power that helped him pursue movie-making excellence.

Adam Driver is probably the last actor one might have expected to find himself entrenched in the recent Star Wars trilogy.

The likeable star, who recently celebrated a decade in Hollywood, sauntered almost unnoticed into, literally, alien territory in 2015 when he was named as Kylo Ren in Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

Following that up with The Last Jedi two years later furthered what was a major diversion for an actor who made his mark in Girls, the Lena Dunham TV series about urban emotional slackers. But Star Wars director J.J. Abrams saw an element of menace in Driver needed to play the villainous Kylo Ren in the highly-anticipated return of the space saga. It proved a life-changing role for the former Marine who admitted the whole experience was surreal, and a project he was completely in awe of.

In this latest slab of fantasy adventure, Driver is joined again by Daisy Ridley, Lupita Nyong’o, Domhnall Gleeson, Mark Hamill and others, as the surviving Resistance faces the First Order. It promises to be another epic battle that will have fanatics queuing up for midnight showings upon the movie’s global release on 19 December.

Between elation and reflection

This new dawn as an actor is merely just the latest step along the line of a life that has ebbed and swayed between elation and reflection. From working in the U.S. Marine Corps following the 9/11 attacks, to being deployed for duty in Iraq, Driver broke his sternum in a mountain bike accident and never had a chance to see active military duty. However, he later founded Arts in the Armed Forces, an organisation which stages theatre productions for military personnel and their families, and from there his diversion has only ever been towards dramatic accomplishment.

As Driver says, rather fittingly, even though his reference is to Star Wars: “How great is that to get to work on something that has so much humanity in the midst of it? I feel like that’s everyone’s goal, to balance those two… art and humanity. In this world, we have to contribute something, and it’s not a thing to be taken lightly.”

The quote reveals Driver as a deep thinker, and for a long while his faith existed prominently as a guide. A Baptist, he attended the church in Mishawaka, Indiana, at which his stepfather, Rodney G. Wright, was a minister. Life revolved around church activities and events, and he grew up singing in the choir.

Previously, his father, Joe, has been a Baptist youth counsellor, and although in his teenaged years, Driver rebelled somewhat against the structure the church imposed on him, it did at least give him the value of acceptance and respect, something he was taken forward into his career.

“I think the notion of forgiveness was something I always held very strong. I liked the idea of people being able to make up for mistakes, because sure as hell I knew I would make a few along the way,” he laughs.

“My interpretation of religion that grew over the years gave me a way of looking at and understanding people and humanity, and I’d like to feel that, in itself, has made me a much better actor.

“Put another way, I don’t feel that any character ever feels good or bad in absolute terms, and in interpreting them I try to show all sides to their personality,” he says. “I don’t like labelling people. That also applies to heroes: the Marines, for example, are people who are facing extreme situations, sometimes they win and other times they do not.

Hope and adventure

“Overall I like to think people will always be drawn back to the universal themes of hope and adventure. A lot of movies – and especially Star Wars – deal with fundamental themes of family, father-son relationships, loss, as well as moral issues revolving around loyalty, friendship, betrayal, and trust. Those are the things that we connect to just as much as allow our imaginations to wander.”

Driver, who lives in New York with his wife of six years, Joanne Tucker, certainly brings a very measured approach into his film-making. While you sense he is probably one of the most professional people on set, he’s arguably one of the kindest too.

“I always feel I have a responsibility to others,” he says, “and whether it’s the Marines or Army or any part of the military, you have to treat that responsibility as a matter of life or death. As an actor, my job is to pretend it’s a matter of life or death, even though it never is. What’s more interesting is that you have to learn to work together with people you’ve never met before. You train to play a character to help tell a story just as you would train for a mission. You know your role and you also need to understand the importance of working as a team. I see many parallels between acting and military service.”

Certainly, the strength, discipline and self-confidence the actor shows has a base in the church and the experiences he has enjoyed so far.

My faith helped me”

“It got to a point when I was young where I realised I was leading a very aimless kind of life. I was desperate to find an outlet and although my faith helped me to believe it was there, it took me a while to really apply myself to something.

Sure enough, in an incredibly such a short space of time, Driver has risen from indie also-ran to assuming one of the highest echelons of big screen drama. “With good faith and good applications I started to think about things in a way that cleared up a lot of the garbage that just drifts around inside your head.”

In a galaxy far, far away

In The Rise of Skywalker , directed again by J.J. Abrams, Driver once more looks perfectly polished as Kylo Ren, dominating scenes with more than an imposing nod to Darth Vader, his grandfather.

“I’ve put so much of myself into the movie and it’s something I’m very proud of. I’m probably too involved sometimes with the work and I drive myself and sometimes the people around me crazy,” he laughs. “I’m very hard on myself and I know I probably go too far wanting to make every scene better.

“Honestly, I’m trying to be more relaxed and less intense because I know it’s just too exhausting otherwise!”

Despite the fact Driver’s career is exploding upwards, the actor doesn’t rule out a return to the brand of indie films that made him a sleeper hit mainstay.

“At the end of the day I don’t have any plan other than to do interesting work,” he says. “It doesn’t matter to me whether I work on big or small projects, I always approach each film from the perspective of what the story has to offer. Sometimes a movie with a bigger budget will be telling and very intimate, or it will give you a chance to explore a character just as intensely as a low-budget film.

“I look at every project through the eyes of the character and what kind of meaning I can bring to the role, and in life I have similar morals. What can I do to help people around me? What is my role in the grand scheme of things? I’ll work it out one day, I’m sure!”

Danny Bowman is a UK contributor to Insights Magazine

Danny Bowman

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