In the forty-five minutes I spend with Adam Driver in some dumbly beautiful café in dumbly beautiful, cobble-stone-street Brooklyn Heights, the subject of staying holed up indoors comes up no fewer than three times. Driver has every right to fear leaving his apartment. Since his breakthrough role in Lena Dunham’s hugely successful HBO series Girls, he has been getting recognized on the street—every New Yorker’s nightmare.
“I feel like people think that they’re being subtle, but they’re not,” he says. “It’s just the way our culture is. Everybody likes things to happen so immediately. Facebook and Twitter and all that stuff scares me because it gives people no room to fuck things up, to be a human, to try things out and fail. I don’t want to participate in that, the idea of just giving everybody everything. There’s no privacy in it.”
Driver has a physical presence like some bird of prey. His arms are long. His fingers are long. Even sitting down he exudes largeness, largeness folded into itself. His hands are massive. I keep my hands hidden beneath the table because I am scared that I will reach out and caress Driver’s fingers, unknowingly, nodding along to his answers.
“The funniest thing was,” Driver continues, me nodding along to his voice, rubbing my hands against each other beneath the table, “this one time I was about to get on the train and this guy came up to me and he was like, ‘Yo, when you pissed on that girl that was like the best thing ever!’ People are watching these characters on TV, sitting at home in their underwear, so suddenly they feel like they have a close connection to those people.”
Driver is referring to a frequently discussed scene from the first season of Girls, by which I mean frequently discussed on the Internet, by people on the Internet writing about TV, writing articles about TV that people on the Internet read who like to watch TV and then read about what they’d just watched. The character he plays, also named Adam, surprises his girlfriend Hannah, played by Dunham, like a creep, in the shower. After smearing shampoo in her hair (“It’s for your split ends,” he says), he starts peeing on her, laughing like a total creep. It’s one of TV’s great moments. I mean that seriously. In fact, most of the best scenes in Girls have Driver in them. Both his acting style and character are unpredictable.
“There’s an ongoing conversation as to what it is we’re trying to do,” Driver says. “People do things for different reasons, but when you can actually feel like what you’re doing is having an effect—there’s nothing better than being a part of those kind of projects. People get so flustered by [Dunham] because she has an opinion and a point of view—I feel that’s something that gets lost so often. It can be very polarizing but it starts a dialogue.”
One of the reasons people still talk about the peeing scene is because, in a way, it’s indicative of the way the characters in Girls live in a post-porn world. Peeing on girls in the shower used to be the kind of thing you’d have to troll around Eastern European websites to see. Now, it’s on TV.
“I remember when porn wasn’t so easy to get to,” Driver says. “Like, right when I was in high school things were transitioning. I remember you would have to draw your own porn. Or someone would have it because they stole it from their brother and they would bring it to school and pass it around or have it stashed in their closet. I remember internet trading websites. Porn is so much easier to get to now, it’s obvious. Being in the military, and being around a bunch of guys, porn is traded around like baseball cards.”
Driver has the kind of backstory that PR teams are paid to create. He grew up in the crusty old Midwest and enlisted in the Marines after 9/11 where he narrowly missed deployment due to a mountain-biking injury. A year later he auditioned for and was accepted into Julliard. In the last few years alone, Driver has gone from being a student to working with industry heavyweights like Spielberg and the Coen Brothers. With the latter, he’s in the up-coming feature Inside Llewyn Davis alongside Carey Mulligan and Justin Timberlake. Shortly after that you’ll see Driver paired up with Mia Wasikowska in the film Tracks, about a woman and a photographer who cross the Australian desert on camels. Grueling, physical stuff.
“The military informed me in a big way,” Driver says. “It showed me how precious time management can be. I couldn’t wait to be a civilian, to do all these things that before my military life I didn’t have the motivation or the courage to do—like acting. I was interested in it before, but I didn’t feel like I had the confidence to do it. And then suddenly, in the military, you’re given these responsibilities at a very young age and told to handle them. I felt like I almost started to hate civilians because I was envious.”
I ask him if he’s disappointed that he didn’t see combat.
“Hugely disappointed. As soon as I got out, my first couple years of Julliard, I made people cry in my class because I was being a dick. I wasn’t adjusted to being a civilian, having to explain myself, or use words to express my feelings. Through acting, actually, I found a way to articulate feelings I had from being in the Marine Corps and putting words to those emotions and experiences was one of the most therapeutic things that could have happened. I was suddenly using language to express myself—and not just brute force.”
When our interview is over and we shake hands and go our separate ways in the street, I’m tempted to turn around and maybe follow Adam Driver for a few blocks, see where he lives, maybe wait for the sun to go down and his lights to turn on. I’ll go get a sandwich and sit on the trunk of a parked car across the street, watch his life unfold. But by the time these plans come together in my head, I’m already walking up the subway steps near my apartment, miles away from Brooklyn Heights. Instead, I settle for watching clips of Adam on YouTube in my underwear. I watch the scene of him peeing on Hannah in the shower. I watch it again. Later, I send the link to a friend on Gchat—“u seen this?” I write—and wait to read his response.