TORONTO (AP) — It comes as something of a shock to be talking with Adam Driver and hear so little cursing. Nothing is thrown. No explicit sexual act is performed.
Lena Dunham’s “Girls,” has obviously colored impressions of the 30-year-old actor, as has the kind of language often used to describe his performances — words like “primal,” ″animalistic” and “raw.” But the gulf between Driver and his “Girls” character (also named Adam), is surprisingly — and impressively — vast.
Unlike the intense, unpredictable urban hedonist he’s played for three seasons and counting on HBO’s “Girls,” Driver is plainly serious, thoughtful, erudite and even slightly hesitant. If he’s aggressively electric on screen, he’s almost timid off it.
“As a person, I naturally want to overthink things and analyze what it means — not only acting, but, like, the meaning of life,” says Driver. “It’s probably the nature of my job, constantly trying to spy on things and take them in. But I have a constant battle in acting where I almost have to fight that impulse.”
It’s a battle he’s been winning. Driver’s live-wire spontaneity, his unusually lanky, 6-foot-3 presence, and his seemingly direct tap to unfiltered emotions have made him one of the most magnetic actors of his generation. This Friday, two of his films will open: Shawn Levy’s ensemble comedy “This Is Where I Leave You,” adapted from Jonathan Topper’s novel, in which he plays the youngest and least mature sibling of a family gathered for a funeral, and the Australian desert drama “Tracks,” where he plays a National Geographic photographer trailing the camel-trekking Robyn Davidson (Mia Wasikowska).
The films — one a studio comedy, the other an elegant indie — are clear proof of Driver’s versatility. Further expansions are on the horizon. He flew into the recent Toronto Film Festival from the London set of “Star Wars: Episode VII,” a movie likely to boost his fame considerably. He brought two other films to Toronto, too: Noah Baumbach’s generational comedy “While We’re Young” and Saverio Costanzo’s family drama “Hungry Hearts” (which won him best actor at the Venice Film Festival). He stars in Jeff Nichols’ next picture, “Midnight Special,” and this fall he’ll shoot “Silence” with Martin Scorsese.
“I think of who I was four years ago and I can’t imagine that person now,” says Driver, who married actress Joanne Tucker last year. “Suddenly your kind of anonymity goes away. Your relationships around people change a little bit. You just calm down more. Your nerves calm down and suddenly your first impulse isn’t anger. You hope it’s rational thought.”
Driver used to have more anger. Raised by devout Baptists in Mishawaka, Indiana, he joined the Marines at age 18 after Sept. 11, but a broken sternum from a mountain biking accident ended his military career.
Instead of going to Iraq, Driver went to Julliard.
Driver had been coming to the realization that he wanted to be an actor, and when he got to Julliard, he pursued acting with the dogged determination of a Marine.
“Suddenly, I wasn’t intimidated by anything,” says Driver. “I thought that acting could be pretty simple. When I happened to get into school, I felt like I could approach it as aggressively as things in the military.”
That rare combination — soldier and thespian — represents the curious contradictions of Driver: a classically trained Marine.
“There is no Adam Driver type,” says Levy. “He’s singular. He’s weird and beautiful and primal. And you literally don’t know what he’s going to do or say next. ... The second I say ‘cut,’ he’s out of his chair he’s literally just stalking, prowling.”
Driver was already 27 when cast in “Girls,” but his ascendance has been swift. He quickly drew the interest of Steven Spielberg (“Lincoln”) and the Coen brothers (“Inside Llewyn Davis”). “Tracks” director John Curran looked him up after reading a “Girls” review that hailed him as “one of the oddest, funniest, strangest new faces.”
“He’s got the ability to be really playful in front of the camera, but he thinks about it quite a bit,” says Curran. “His sexiness is his anti-vanity. He’s clued into being absolutely present without editing himself to look better.”
It will be interesting to see how “Star Wars” director J.J. Abrams utilizes Driver, who inevitably stands out. “It’s the most difficult thing I’ve ever done,” says Driver of the lengthy, big-budget production. “But you still have to approach it like any other thing and J.J. has made it so you can.”
Follow AP Film Writer Jake Coyle on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/jakecoyleAP