If you need a break from hating Kylo Ren, check out ten of Adam Driver’s best roles.
The Star Wars franchise has been heavily memeable since way before the term “meme” was part of the internet’s lexicon. There’s Yoda-speak, the classic “NOOOO!” scream, and Jar Jar Binks’ entire existence, to name a few. So far, the most fertile meme ground in the newest trilogy has been Kylo Ren. Adam Driver’s angsty bad guy has gotten a bad rap from the beginning; the swift emergence of the Emo Kylo Ren Twitter account made him tough to take seriously, and a recent poll showed that he’s–no joke–even less popular among fans than Jar Jar.
But what if Kylo Ren isn’t such a terrible character? No, not because I really want him to go down a Prince Zuko-style path of redemption before the third film (I do, though), nor because he must be interesting if so many people aggressively ship him with Rey, even though they could be cousins. No, the answer is more basic than any of that: Kylo Ren is worth paying attention to because he’s played by Adam Driver.
Driver may have been unknown to mainstream audiences before taking off his helmet in The Force Awakens, but he’s been putting in work on the indie scene for years, often playing strange, charming characters; always stealing scenes and leaving an indelible impression. He’s an impressively humane actor who often utilizes his whole body and soul on screen, lending emotional depth to even the most unlikable characters. Rian Johnson surely knows this as well, which means we probably shouldn’t assume Kylo’s a dud just yet.
For the uninitiated and curious, here’s a list of ten other roles Driver has totally nailed. This is a starter kit of sorts, beginning with Adam Driver 101 and ending with Advanced Adam Driver, but, unlike Star Wars, you can actually watch these in whatever order you want.
Saturday Night Live, “Undercover Boss: Starkiller Base”
Back in January, Driver hosted SNL for the first time. This prerecorded sketch, in which he plays an even more awkward and sulky version of Kylo Ren, is the night’s most memorable. It works well by skewering the sillier points of the CBS reality show–the cheesy, see-through disguises and moments of contrived emotional connection–while also playing into the idea of Ren as a self-conscious, overly-emotional dude (“He said that Kylo Ren was shredded”). Plus, it proves to those who only know him as ultra-serious Ren that Driver can actually be funny.
Soderbergh’s latest is like the story of a less glossy Ocean’s Eleven retold by a long-winded but pleasant Southern grandma. Whether or not that’s your cup of tea, Driver’s character is a standout. He plays Clyde, a bartender, Iraq war vet, and brother to Channing Tatum’s down-on-his-luck Jimmy. Clyde is stoic and quietly funny; he cares about his bar, his siblings, his prosthetic arm, and seemingly not much else. Driver sports a distinct southern accent that’s a spiritual successor to Tim Blake Nelson’s O Brother, Where Art Thou? twang, and his character’s earnest simplicity makes him easy to root for as the family is drawn further into a complicated heist plan.
Bob’s Burgers, “The Bleakening”
Just this week, Driver guest-starred on the big-hearted animated series’ hour-long Christmas special. The timing of his guest role would make more sense if it were in any way tied to Star Wars, but it seems to be just a happy coincidence, resulting in a random but fun entry in his filmography. When someone steals Linda’s tiny Christmas tree and homemade decorations, the family goes to great lengths to uncover it, including interrogating Driver’s character, Art the Artist, as he poses for a nude painting. Also, it’s a musical episode, so they sing about it. As with most of Bob’s Burgers, it’s a slight, sweet story, but the show’s holiday specials always tend to be above par, and this one’s no exception.
While We’re Young
This underseen film is quintessential Noah Baumbach, and the director gives frequent collaborator Driver room to play in the role of a too-cool-to-be-true hipster who, along with his wife (Amanda Seyfried), brings excitement back into the life of an aimless middle-aged couple (Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts). On a very basic level, it’s Adam Driver playing a heightened version of the public perception of Adam Driver at that time: an artsy, indie fellow who’s charmingly offbeat. But the character goes far beyond that as the film starts engaging with the prickly question of how much space there is (and should be) for truth in art. Driver plays his vinyl-collecting, highwater-wearing character with a straight face, and Baumbach successfully keeps viewers guessing about whether his dreamy lifestyle is authentic or contrived until the end.
This is Where I Leave You and What If?
These two films are both romantic comedy-dramas, both 2014 adaptations (the former of the book of the same name, the latter of the play Toothpaste and Cigars), and both feature casts whose combined talent far outweighs the material they’re given. Driver also plays a freewheeling supporting character in both films, showing some comedic chops while playing opposite the straight man (Jason Bateman and Daniel Radcliffe, respectively). Looking back, these lighter roles feel significantly different than anything else Driver has done, and while the films themselves never quite come together in a satisfying way, they contain enough individually great performances from actors you probably love that they’re worth checking out.
Yes, Adam Driver is great in this movie, but let’s get one thing clear: in Baumbach’s acclaimed 2013 film, it’s Greta Gerwig’s world and we’re all just living in it. Frances Ha is a warm, emotive portrait of a 27-year-old girl (Gerwig) living in New York that practically vibrates with verisimilitude. Driver plays a fairly minor role as Frances’ on-and-off roommate Lev, but the story–about losing and finding yourself, and other existential scenes from a quarter-life-crisis that might never end–is so lovely that it’s impossible not to be fond of him anyway. Plus, here he gets to play against type as an unabashedly cool guy. In Frances’ eyes and therefore ours, he’s not offbeat or gawky; he’s a friend of a friend who might buy a motorcycle, and who makes you feel special when he says “You’re a lady.”
Martin Scorsese’s latest, adapted from the book by Shūsaku Endō, is a rigorously made, emotionally taxing epic with a runtime that clocks in at close to three hours, but it’s worth every minute. Andrew Garfield leads a stellar cast (Yosuke Kubozuka is another standout) as Father Rodrigues, a Jesuit Portuguese missionary who, along with Driver’s Father Garupe, travels to Japan during a time of horrific Christian persecution in order to recover a priest who has gone missing. Garfield and Driver wear their characters’ pain, fear, and holy pride on their bodies, which deteriorate physically before our eyes, even as their faith refuses to fully fade. The two actors shed many pounds and spent a week in silent meditation to prepare for the film, and while going Method doesn’t always pay off, in this case, every frame is enriched and each scene made more profound by Garfield and Driver’s unmistakable commitment to this story.
Lena Dunham’s HBO series is triply remarkable for Driver: it’s his breakout role, his best work to date, and also his most controversial. As Lena’s main love interest Adam Sackler, Driver is emotionally volatile, sexually aggressive one moment, and tremendously gentle and comforting the next. Depending on the scene and season, he’s off-putting or wise, tender or animalistic–yet somehow Driver manages to make these feel less like a scattershot collection of traits, and more like pieces of a puzzling but coherent personality. As the seasons pass and the titular quartet of friends become more involved with their own neuroses, Adam begins to seem less despicable and more reasonable, but nearly a year after the last season aired, the jury is still out on whether he can be redeemed.
If Adam Sackler is Driver at his most chaotic on screen, the titular character of Paterson–a peaceful small-town poet–is the diametric opposite. Jim Jarmusch’s latest is in many ways a slight movie, but it never feels small. In it, Paterson drives a public bus, gains inspiration from William Carlos Williams, and chats about his day with his wife (Golshifteh Farahani). Those aren’t the only things that happen, but they set the tone for a film that’s so dreamy and mild that its biggest surprise–a welcome one, given its release date at the apocalyptic-feeling end of 2016–is that nothing horribly tragic happens to any of the characters. This calm never crosses over into boring, thanks to Jarmusch’s ability to find poetry in the every day, and Driver’s ability to deliver it with reverence.
A quietly terrifying Italian drama, Hungry Hearts marks Driver’s first time getting top billing in a feature, a responsibility he was more than capable of carrying after two years on Girls. What starts out as a breezy romance–with a nightmare meet cute involving being locked in a public bathroom together–quickly deteriorates into a psychological stalemate when Driver’s character Jude impregnates Mina (Alba Rohrwacher), who becomes increasingly paranoid postpartum. As Mina attempts to secretly starve the couple’s newborn child in order to purify him, Jude desperately attempts to make her see reason and keep the baby safe. It’s a heavy plot, and the film is gravely serious, but with Driver and Rohrwacher as the toxic couple at the story’s core, it’s impossible to look away.