Adam Driver: Drinking marathons in Ireland? ‘I can neither confirm nor deny this’

The House of Gucci actor plans on ‘taking a break’ after starring in 17 roles since 2016

Matt Damon, an actor known for reinventing the action hero in the Bourne cycle, an Academy Award-winning screenplay for Good Will Hunting and his trusty SuperValu bag, famously found himself locked down in Dalkey during the production of Ridley Scott’s The Last Duel.

Today, on the eve of the London premiere of the same director’s House of Gucci, Damon’s Last Duel co-star Adam Driver finds himself (somewhat) similarly stuck, albeit mid-conversation, while recounting his various Irish-based shoots.

“Making a film during Covid,” he says of The Last Duel, “you miss the camaraderie and the marathon drinking sessions”.

He pauses. “The marathon drinking sessions that I don’t do.”

So. . . during the entire Star Wars trilogy, for example. . . he’s never experienced a marathon drinking session during any of his various Irish-set projects?

Maybe I break the character, but I don't break the mood in between takes. For me, with this character and Gucci, staying in character wasn't something that lent itself to what I had to do

“I can neither confirm nor deny this,” he says, with a deadpan expression that is, frankly, wasted for not being projected on to a large screen. “I don’t know why I walked into these waters. But I realise that the water is cold. I should just back up. I’m backing up.”

House of Gucci is an odd pick for the dazzlingly-talented Driver, not least because of the film’s eccentric convention of using hand gestures and accented English recall a certain 1980 hit by Joe Dolce.

An expensive, soapy, true-life murder drama, Scott’s second feature of 2021 concerns the backroom manoeuvrings at the fashion imprint of the title. More specifically the film chronicles the marriage of Gucci scion Maurizio (Driver) and Patrizia Martinelli (Lady Gaga), a relationship that ended with the hiring of a hitman and a sensational trial.

“I knew nothing about it until Ridley sent me the script,” says the actor. “I was too young when it happened to be aware of it. It wasn’t something that came up in my life. He sent me the script while we were working on The Last Duel. I loved working with him. So it was I who was eager to do it again immediately.”

For Lady Gaga’s first film role since A Star is Born, the performer went all-out Stanislavski. “I lived as her for a year and a half,” she told Vogue magazine earlier this month. “And I spoke with an accent for nine months of that.” Speaking to this newspaper in 2016, Driver recounted the “terrible” poems he wrote during Jim Jarmusch’s Paterson, a film about a bus driver with a creative bent. It’s as close to method acting as he’s ever come. How was the experience of sharing scenes with someone who stayed in character for 18 months?

“Yeah, I wasn’t staying in character,” he says. “You know, it kind of depends on the thing and the character? Obviously, we all have different ways of working. There’s no right way to get into a scene. Also, for the crew, as an example, if there’s like a scene, where there’s nudity, or there’s an argument or something really vulnerable, they respond internally. They are more focused. They are softer in their movements even though they’re lugging around all this mechanical s**t and have to do things at a pace. Everyone’s racing the clock, and I like being available to those people between scenes.

Against Driver's successes, his illustrious screen gigs and various glamorous product ambassadorships, he remains an intensely private person.

“Sometimes I will prepare but for information. I got a bus driving licence for Paterson because his physicality is very much who that character is. And it let Jim [Jarmusch] get better shots because I was driving. It’s about context. Maybe I break the character, but I don’t break the mood in between takes. For me, with this character and Gucci, staying in character wasn’t something that lent itself to what I had to do.”

Raised in Mishawaka, Indiana, Driver enlisted in the Marines after a failed attempt to get into The Juilliard School. He was honourably discharged as a lance corporal after two years following a mountain biking accident that left him a dislocated sternum. He successfully applied to the New York school on his second attempt. He quickly began working on (and off) Broadway before transitioning into a wildly successful movie career, one that has garnered the Venice Film Festival Volpi Cup for Best Actor, as well as nominations for a Tony Award, two Academy Awards and four Primetime Emmy Awards. He didn’t see any of it coming.

“My relationship to acting is changed since I first started,” says the 37-year-old. “Everything has changed. My biology has changed. I’ve gotten older and my priorities have shifted. And the opportunities have changed. Before all I wanted to do was theatre. I loved the old school repertory theatre. I hoped to be one of those actors that got to travel around or do plays on Broadway. I loved working on one character in the morning and doing something else in the evening or switching plays.

Everybody is a potential paparazzi because they can just pull out their phone and take a picture. It makes it hard to move around the world and live

“I had no dreams or plans other than to make a living as an actor. And then film started happening. And you know, there’s a loss of anonymity but suddenly there’s access to all these great people. And the more you do films, the more you’re aware of the technical parts of film-making. So, I try to get more economical about how I am on set. Hopefully, I’m getting better. Hopefully, I’m not wasting energy and time and I’m accessible. So that’s an example of how things have shifted.”

Driver insists that he never had a career plan, that it’s all been a series of happy accidents. His résumé, nonetheless, reveals a guiding auteurial influence. From his earliest supporting roles in Clint Eastwood’s J Edgar (2011), Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln (2012), Noah Baumbach’s Frances Ha (2012) and the Coen Brothers’ Inside Llewyn Davis (2013), his work – save for a little stint as Kylo Ren in the latest Star Wars trilogy – has been characterised by name directors.

In the past decade, he has worked with Jarmusch (The Dead Don’t Die), Martin Scorsese (Silence), and Steven Soderbergh (Logan Lucky). His two Oscar nominations to date were in the supporting actor category for Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman and a best actor nod for Baumbach’s Marriage Story.

“Yeah, okay,” he smiles. “I said I didn’t have a plan. But it’s a film-maker’s medium. So it just makes sense to me to work with film-makers. Not movie making by committee, you know, where it’s people in an office somewhere making decisions. With a film-maker, the person that’s making the movie is in front of you, and you’re having a conversation with them about the journey of the character. To me, that’s how things should be made. It’s a conversation that happens. And then they go and do what they want, and they have control, and you know where the decisions are coming from. That’s what makes sense to me.

“If you’re a tennis player, I imagine you want your coach to be someone who’s really good. It’s the same with film. The person giving you advice and helping to guide you is there because they have experience and the quality of their work speaks for itself.”

Driver proved instrumental in the making of Terry Gilliam’s long-doomed, 29-years-in-the-making The Man Who Killed Don Quixote when previously attached leading men – including Johnny Depp, Robert Duvall, Michael Palin, and John Hurt – faltered.

The actor worked tirelessly behind the scenes – and arguably put in a career-best performance – to help get Leos Carax’s beautifully demented, Sparks-penned rock opera Annette to Cannes earlier this year.

'I just try to keep the keep my family and private life separate from work. Honestly? My private life is boring. No one wants to hear me talk about that'

“I like producing,” he says. “I loved helping to produce Annette. I love knowing the obstacles in the process and getting past them. And I like pairing people together. Because I’ve worked with all these great people, I like the idea of cherry-picking a crew of people who are great. Let’s put the great sound guy with this great camera operator.”

Against these successes, his illustrious screen gigs and various glamorous product ambassadorships, he remains an intensely private person. He somehow managed to conceal the son he had with wife Joanne Tucker from the press for almost two years. How?

“I’m careful of how I move around,” he says. “I need to protect people in my life who haven’t signed up to be an actor. I also feel that there’s – I don’t know – a vibe that I give off that lets people know I’m uninterested in that stuff. I actually think it’s detrimental to doing your job. An actor is supposed to be anonymous. But now more than ever, I feel that as an actor, your privacy is in jeopardy. Everybody is a potential paparazzi because they can just pull out their phone and take a picture. It makes it hard to move around the world and live. I know my problems are nothing in comparison to other people’s or whatever. So it’s not that I don’t put it in perspective. It doesn’t make it harder to do my job, in that I’m not thinking: oh, I’m going to what will this mean for my privacy? I just try to keep the keep my family and private life separate from work. Honestly? My private life is boring. No one wants to hear me talk about that.”

I kind of want to take a break from it for the foreseeable future. You know: to be at home. I try to be at home as much as I can even when I'm shooting. So more at home

Driver has already completed work on the science fiction thriller 65 and on Baumbach’s keenly anticipated adaptation of Don DeLillo’s White Noise. Post-Gucci, one of the movieverse’s most prolific talents plans on “taking a break”. It seems almost inconceivable for a man that has chalked up some 17 film credits – mostly leading roles – since 2016 while finding time for the 2019 Broadway revival of Burn This. And for what he describes as the “military operation” of keeping his fatherhood secret.

What does “break” mean in this context?

“Well, that’s a big question. I like working. But I am taking a break. Also, I worked a lot because Covid kind of packed up everything in the schedule. I’d already committed to things in advance. And you don’t want to back out of your word. Plus, the idea of working when a lot of people didn’t have that opportunity felt like a gift. Now I kind of want to take a break from it for the foreseeable future. You know: to be at home. I try to be at home as much as I can even when I’m shooting. So more at home.”

House of Gucci opens on November 26th

Tara Brady

Tara Brady

Tara Brady, a contributor to The Irish Times, is a writer and film critic