It’s only been a half dozen years since Adam Driver played his first noteworthy movie role, as the wealthy sculptor Lev in writer-director Noah Baumbach’s “Frances Ha.” Since then, he hasn’t had much of a rest - singing in “Inside Llewyn Davis,” killing off a rather important character in “Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens,” mixing cocktails with one hand in “Logan Lucky,” going up against white supremacists in “BlacKkKlansman.” On his way up to his current rising star status, he also appeared in two more films for Baumbach, and is now costarring - opposite Scarlett Johansson - in yet another, “Marriage Story,” the sad, insightful tale of a marriage that isn’t working out. Driver, just on the cusp of turning 37, recently took part in a conversation about the film in New York City.
Q: The movie is about divorce and, in the case of these two people, what has led up to it. Were you ever thinking about them being symbolic of real people going through something like this?
A: I don’t know how symbolic (the film) is. I didn’t think of it as a symbol, because it’s not a playable action. I can’t play symbolic. So, I don’t. I don’t think of it as an end result that way. You’re too busy getting lost in the minutia of filmmaking when you’re shooting it, and it turns into like “I need to stand in and need to say the right thing and mean it,” and all those things. I think if it comes across to you as a symbol of this thing, if anything, it’s just a testament to Noah’s writing that he did this kind of impossible trick of writing something that’s really specific and having it be resonant to a large audience.
Q: There’s some deeply personal stuff going on, and your character is often very frustrated by the events he’s going through. Was it a difficult part to play? Could you draw from any of your own experiences?
A: There is ambiguity in it, which, again, I think is a testament to Noah’s writing. I feel like that it’s more true to life. We don’t live in a genre. Things aren’t always centered around an obvious climactic thing. And with everything, you bring your personality to it or you try to make everything personal regardless of what it is. But it’s not really my job to have a feeling. It’s to convey feeling or to tell the story and for the audience to have a feeling. So, I don’t remember specifically thinking about ambiguity. That’s a hard thing to play. Noah has filled the script with a lot of things that are easy to make personal, even though they’re not always centered around the divorce, if that makes sense.
Q: Without giving anything away, let’s just say that there’s one specific scene, between you and Scarlett, that goes on for a while, and gets really intense. Was it also an intense experience doing that scene?
A: Yeah. It was intense. We shot it over the course of two days. We realized that on the second day, we couldn’t just jump in the end of it, that we kind of had to start from the beginning. So, every time we did the scene, we did it from the start all the way to the finish. And it felt very much like theater doing it that way. Noah gave us a lot of takes, so there were a lot of opportunities to try different things within the boundaries of the languages and the blocking. So that was incredibly freeing.
Q: Were you at all nervous about doing that scene, about being able to pull it off?
A: There are always scenes in a movie that you dread in the schedule. And they always seem like they’re too soon for one reason or another, if it’s physically exhausting or emotionally exhausting. They all seem too soon in the schedule. And every scene in this movie kind of felt that way to me. Even with ones that seemed pretty innocuous, it always took on a new meaning when you were with great actors or you’re saying the language and having to mean it out loud. It just takes over. So, that one was really difficult, but more just because it was longer. It was 10 or 11 pages. It was more exhausting (than other, shorter scenes). But you’re not really thinking about it. There are conscious decisions that you’ve made and then there’s the unconscious decision that you have to kind of let go when you’re shooting it. So, it didn’t really hit me until later when it was over.
“Marriage Story” opens on Nov. 22.
Ed Symkus writes about movies for More Content Now. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.