Tue. Sep 29th, 2020

Santa Barbara Film Festival: Marriage Story’s Adam Driver on collaboration, “Being Alive” and what’s next

Day 3 of the 35th Annual Santa Barbara International Film Festival presented by UGG featured a heartening tribute to 2020 Oscar nominated actor Adam Driver, who received the Outstanding Performers of the Year Award presented by Belvedere Vodka. Driver was recognized for his critically acclaimed work in Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Story

Two-time Academy Award nominee Adam Driver had to go solo tonight (no pun intended) as he was supposed to be accepting along with his Marriage Story co-star (and fellow Oscar nominee) Scarlett Johansson, but Johansson had to cancel at the last minute due to sickness.  On shooting the dramatic “fight scene” in Marriage Story with Scarlett Johansson Driver commented, ”We were supported by a very clear backbone of what we were doing. It was very carefully choreographed. We worked on it very similar to a play…because it was so well-written, blocking came really fast…When we were shooting it, it didn’t feel very dissimilar to what it’s like when you shoot a love scene with everyone naked. Our boom operator is holding the mic, but he’s kind of looking away. There’s such focus given to what we’re doing, and there’s not a lot of conversation in between…there’s two people trying to be as naked as possible.”

“Acting to me is many things. You know, it’s a craft. It’s a political act. Unfortunately, it’s a business, and it’s a service. I think that acting is a service industry. I’m there in service of the director, the actors and the crew, and the story overall, which is more important. I very much believe in that. I believe in the potential effect of great collaboration. I think movies and films and art can lead people out of the dark.”

Adam Driver

After a video montage of clips from Driver’s already-prolific career played to the sold out audience at the Arlington Theatre, moderator Anne Thompson of IndieWire delved deep into Driver’s career, getting him to talk about everything from his days at Julliard compared to being a Marine, acting didn’t seem like it would be too hard. “It’s the best acting training…the structure is exactly the same. I mean, the end result is much different, and in one you’re pretending the stakes are life and death, in the other they actually are,” Driver said, to his audition for Girls (he admits he thought TV was evil, but his agent talked him into it), to his adventures with Bill Murray on the set of Jim Jarmusch’s The Dead Don’t Die (who escaped together in a prop police car and ended up at a convenience store), to his experience filming Martin Scorsese’s Silence (“I was very hungry”), to his deeply collaborative and successful friendship/partnership with writer/director Noah Baumbach (Driver says they just clicked from day one). “It was on our first day of working together we clicked right away…His scripts are very to the letter and feel very much like theatre to me, which I found immediately comforting. I like that he just sets different boundaries than other directors. The lines are the lines. Don’t change them. And how you interpret them is up for grabs,” he said.  

Speaking on one of audiences’ favorite moments of Marriage Story, when Charlie sings “Being Alive,” Driver had this say: “It’s a song that he knows very well. By heart…he’s seen the YouTube clips and probably has the soundtrack. Maybe he even directed a production of it in high school. He knows it implicitly…for the first time he starts to process not the loss of love but love transitioning into something else.”

Driver, who may sometimes come across as ultra-serious and pensive, looked relaxed and at ease, even displaying his expansive and under-appreciated sense of humor on several occasions, eliciting big laughs from the adoring crowd.  He even nailed the perfect art of the tease as he told Thompson how excited he was for his next film, from elusive director Leos Carax (Holy Motors), a musical drama co-starring Marion Cotillard and Simon Helberg.  He couldn’t say anything else about it and admitted even he has no idea when it will be coming out.  After the discussion with Thompson, festival executive director Roger Durling presented Driver with his award saying, Adam Driver, in my humble opinion, your acting as Charlie is the best performance by a male in 2019 by far. You bare your soul in this film. You do not rely on makeup. You don’t rely on wardrobe, nor dramatic weight changes. Instead, you wear your emotions on your skin and dig deep.” Driver graciously accepted, noting how special his experience with Marriage Story has been and how amazed he is by how it continues to resonate and connect with people.  Driver accepted on behalf of Johansson as well, as everyone wished her a speedy recovery.  The SAG Awards are on Sunday, after all.

The Santa Barbara International Film Festival runs January 15 – 25th. Watch the entire conversation between Driver and Thompson below.

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