Adam Driver: 50 Shades of Pale
By any other name, Adam Driver’s character Pale in Lanford Wilson’s “Burn This” would be Stanley Kowalski, which was played with the brute force of an unbridled Marlon Brando, both on Broadway and on film. Slightly upgraded from Kowalski’s blue-collar status, Pale manages a restaurant in Montclair, New Jersey, but without any hint of manners or professional decorum. He snorts cocaine, spews profanities, launches into brandy-fueled diatribes about parking spots or expensive shoes that pinch the feet—in general, threatening to incinerate all who cross his path.
But that’s how Pale grieves. He just lost a brother in a bizarre boating accident and winds up finding more than solace in Anna (played by Keri Russell), his dead brother’s friend and roommate. Voilá! Suddenly, “Burn This” (playing at Broadway’s Hudson Theatre March 15 thru July 14) is a love story.
To negotiate the extremes of this character isn’t easy. But actor Adam Driver, who first captured the public’s attention as Lena Dunham’s boyfriend Adam Sackler on the hit HBO show “Girls,” plays the sexy, semi-sinister Pale well. Born Nov. 19, 1983, in San Diego, a genetic mix of Arkansas (dad) and Indiana (mom), he was a Baptist choirboy who, inspired by the film of the same name, co-founded Mishawaka, Indiana’s own (and only) “Fight Club.” The tragedy of 9/11 turned him into a Marine, and he put in two years assigned to the First Battalion Weapons Company before being medically discharged for a mountain-biking mishap.
Driver took jobs as a vacuum-cleaner salesman and telemarketer, but was always interested in acting, landing at The Juilliard School in 2005. At first, classmates were standoffish, finding him more intimidating and severe than he really was. That was the Marine training. “I was used to talking in a different way. We were in the military. Stakes were high, and we needed the information fast. I wasn’t used to civilian ways,” he observes. But that worked for his big role there: Enter Pale, round one. “‘Burn This’ is always the play that I learned about at Juilliard,” he says. “I’d always known of Lanford [Wilson]’s work, and I loved this play in particular. Pale is pretty singular. He’s not reflective. He’s very much at the front of your feet at all times. He’s somebody you can constantly mine stuff out of—just this idea of an unexpected loss and not having the ability to articulate it or find comfort in someone who’s a complete stranger to you and couldn’t be more opposite. You two have a loss in common and can’t articulate it. I love that aspect of the play.”
Driver graduated in 2009, but got more than a degree out of Juilliard. He got a wife, Joanne Tucker (they married in June 2013). They’ve co-starred a few times as well, including a couple of movies: 2012’s “Gayby” and “The Report,” which is scheduled for release later this year. In 2016, director Jim Jarmusch capitalized on Driver’s contradictions by casting him in the movie “Paterson,” a film about a bus driver who writes poetry. Driver also nabbed Golden Globe and Oscar nominations this year for his role in Spike Lee’s “BlacKkKlansman.” Four other Driver films will also be vying for your movie dollars in 2019: “The Man Who Killed Don Quixote” from Monty Python’s Terry Gilliam; a yet-to-be-titled Noah Baumbach project; “The Dead Don’t Die” by Jarmusch; and Driver’s third foray into “Star Wars.” Critics of “Star Wars” installments VII (“The Force Awakens”) and VIII (“The Last Jedi”) have called Driver “gorgeously cruel, spiteful and capricious” in the role and ranked his menacing creation “among cinema’s most fascinating human monsters.”
Running alongside these high-profile, big-buck projects for Driver is the nonprofit he founded, Arts in the Armed Forces (AITAF), which brings theater to all branches of the military. “It’s nuts that we just had our 10th anniversary. When it first went up, we had enough to do basically one performance a year. This past year, we did 12, and we already have 15 on the books for next year,” he notes. “My wife and I kinda take a repertoire of great contemporary American plays that have nothing necessarily to do with the military—things like ‘Fences’ or ‘Lobby Hero’—and we travel to different military bases around the country and around the world. We just did a ‘True West’ [reading] on Broadway in honor of Veterans Day. That’s the one New York performance we do.”
Driver also created the AITAF Bridge Award, a $10,000 grant passed out annually to an amateur playwright who has served in the U.S. military. Winning entries are chosen by Pulitzer Prize winners Suzan-Lori Parks and Tony Kushner.
When they’re not circling the globe doing theater or film, the Drivers live in Brooklyn Heights with their dog, Moose (a Rottweiler-Pitbull mix, naturally enough). “I really love this neighborhood,” Driver confesses. “There’s a place in Brooklyn called the Brooklyn Women’s Exchange that I always enjoy going to. You can get a bunch of wrapping paper—not that I’m a wrapping-paper aficionado, but they have a lot of things there that I really like. Then, there’s this coffee shop called Two for the Pot, run by this guy named John, and it has the best coffee that I’ve ever had in New York. Restaurant-wise, Noodle Pudding in our neighborhood is really good.”
Driver seems to have at last accepted himself as a New Yorker. “When I first got here, the natives were, like, ‘Oh, you can’t be a New Yorker till you’ve been here 10 years.’ Then, when I got to the 10-year mark, they were saying, ‘Oh, you’re not a New Yorker till you’ve been here 15 years.’ Well, I’m here, and I very much consider this home.”
And where does he most like to hang out? Like a true, new New Yorker: “My home.”
“Burn This,” Hudson Theatre, 139-141 W. 44th St., btw Sixth & Seventh aves., 855.801.5676, burnthisplay.com