Julliard is a rather obvious breeding ground for acting talent. The Marine Corps? Less so. Yet Adam Driver, currently starring opposite Frank Langella in the Roundabout Theater production of Man and Boy at the American Airlines Theatre, claims his military background was in many ways as crucial to his current thespian success as his dramatic schooling.
“The Marine Corps is some of the best acting training you could have,” he says. “Having that responsibility for people’s lives, suddenly time becomes a really valuable commodity and you want to make the most of it. And for acting, you just have to do the work, just keep doing it.”
Driver has been doing just that since he graduated from Julliard in 2009. He had roles off-Broadway in Angels in America and The Retributionists and was on Broadway last in Mrs. Warren’s Profession with Cherry Jones.
Man and Boy, opening this Sunday, pits him against Langella, who plays his estranged father Gregor Antonescu, a once highly successful international financier, now the source of a huge scandal as the world crumbles into the Depression (sound slightly familiar? You wouldn’t be the first person to mutter the word “Madoff” while watching the play unfold). Gregor seeks refuge in his son Basil Anthony’s (Driver) circa 1934 Greenwich Village apartment in the hopes of striking a last deal that could save his neck—though it threatens his already tenuous relations with Basil.
And yet, despite actions that might make the audience recoil, Basil remains loyal to his seemingly Machiavellian father.
“Say you hate the person so much, but once they’re there you have an almost uncontrollable desire to seek their attention and their approval,” explains Driver of Basil’s filial piety. “It’s something that always made sense about me and my father—however pissed I would get at him, whenever they walk into the room, you can’t help but physically be a little kid. It’s hard to kill that father-son bond.”
Such paternal ties are an ever-present theme in the play, but its title suggests they are not the only lens through which to view Gregor and Basil’s connection.
Driver and Frank Langella in Man and Boy
“The Man and Boy has different meanings for me different weeks…after we’ve been running it for a while I think Gregor is the Boy and Basil, because he is willing to love another human being and have a moral compass, is really the Man…It’s ever malleable, the title,” says Driver.
“I wouldn’t say it was discouraged, but in a small town in Indiana, thinking of making a career as an actor isn’t the most realistic goal,” says Driver who did a couple of plays in high school but not much because “I was grounded a lot for grades.”
After graduation, he did some odd jobs—selling vacuums, working at a fairground, mowing lawns—and then 9/11 came along.
“All my friends said they were going to join [the military] and I was the only asshole that did,” he says. “I was feeling patriotic, but it was also getting out of Mishawaka.”
Driver was in the Marines for three years, and was almost deployed to Iraq, but was deferred by a broken sternum that eventually required him to be medically separated. Beyond that, a particularly scary training experience put him on a post-military path towards acting.
“I had this, not come to Jesus moment, but made a vow to myself that when I got out in the civilian world I wanted to be an actor,” he says, elaborating, “You feel this overwhelming confidence to do anything, so I was like, I wanted to smoke and be an actor. I kind of tried to stop smoking and tried to be actor.”
His confidence—and talent—got him into Julliard and have propelled him since. He has a small part in the upcoming film J. Edgar and will soon shoot Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln. And while his experiences in the military may have left him with a perspective and tough exterior lacking in many of his colleagues, Driver admits he is not immune to some actorly self-esteem struggles.
“I’m young and male and in my twenties, so it doesn’t take a lot piss me off,” he says with a laugh. “I’m still human and with every good or bad review or hearing the slightest that someone didn’t love your performance, it’s like insecure actor bullshit, Oh god, then I’m the worst thing ever.”