Adam Driver Wasn’t Afraid to Swim With Horses for His Burberry Hero Ad

Adam Driver photographed by Mario Sorrenti. Grooming by Amy Komorowski. Production by 24/7 Productions.

There is so much to say about horse girls. But let’s hear it for the horse boys (men?), too. A man and a horse is all Burberry needed when casting a campaign video for its new fragrance called Hero. That man in question was Adam Driver, the strapping, tall, oft-memed actor who once again harnessed the attention of the Internet when he appeared in the ad as a man who turns into a centaur, to the tune of “Two Weeks” by FKA Twigs. Subtle yet strong, spicy yet also woodsy, Burberry Hero is creative director Riccardo Tisci’s first fragrance for the London-based luxury brand—and it’s all about parsing the contradictory experience of being a modern, masculine man while maintaining a balance with nature.

Driver spoke to W just hours after the New York premiere of House of Gucci, in which he plays the fated Maurizio Gucci, the Italian head of the fashion house who was eventually murdered at the behest of his wife, Patrizia Reggiani (Lady Gaga). “I’m surprised that people want to hear what I have to say,” the charming actor said with a laugh after revealing his opinions on being the face of a fragrance, swimming with horses, and his earliest scent memory.

What does Burberry Hero smell like to you? What does it remind you of?

I learned that a big image was this burnt tree that was hit by lightning. It is not something we talked about. This is just something I learned recently. But the smell of burnt cedar is a part of this. I find it very subtle but also strong. By happenstance, burnt wood on the beach is one of my earliest memories. I was born in San Diego and every Friday we would go to the beach and have a big bonfire. It was a revolving door of people. I don’t know if it’s full-circle in a way, but it’s good to talk about something that you actually like.

It’s funny that you almost have a pre-conscious memory of this scent, and had never discussed that with the brand.

I think that’s a more elegant way of describing it. Advertising cologne is not something anyone really plans for. I mean, maybe people do, but for me, it didn’t seem like it was something that was in my world. I kind of learned early to be open to things that you’re not familiar with. It’s the whole basis of being an actor, really. To advocate for a character that’s different than you are. And same thing with ways of working or processes. A sense of smell is something that I think I appreciate, but haven’t really thought of. That was an exciting thing about this. I find that when you follow impulses, things just turn out. Not always, but they have a way of fitting. You find something poetic about it or beautiful to you, or maybe you just latch onto an idea, and suddenly you’re exposed to someone else’s way of working. Empathy is a huge part of being an actor. It’s what I love about it.

Adam Driver photographed by Mario Sorrenti. Grooming by Amy Komorowski. Production by 24/7 Productions.

What would you say is your ideal fragrance or scent? What do you like to smell like? Floral, woodsy, herbal?

I don’t know. It wasn’t something that I had a preconceived idea of. I know this is something that I like, so I would say [Burberry Hero], and it would be obvious. But what I like about this in particular is its subtlety; it doesn’t seem imposed onto the natural world. Not to give the impression that this is just what I would sweat, because I feel like numbers in sales would just drop dramatically. [Laughs.]

It is sold in the men’s department but doesn’t necessarily feel masculine or feminine—or associated with any gender, in my opinion.

That’s what I liked about the making of it, too. It leaves it ambiguous. People have asked me a lot about masculinity, and honestly, it's nothing that we really talked about it. I feel like the images we created are more human than specific to masculine or feminine. That’s what’s great about horses—they’re beautiful and elegant and strong and fast and mercurial. They're not all one thing. As are people. As is how I look at the world. I don’t think of it as so clearly defined in a certain category.

What was going through your mind when you filmed that commercial and had to ride a horse in the water? Was that a new experience for you? I’m very curious about that process.

As was I! I’m glad they just threw me in the water. My main goal was not to get bit by the horse there. We had a lot of ambitious shots. The one that sticks out to me is where they wanted me to grab the mane and then use the mane to get on top of the horse and ride him onto the shore. The shot really only picks up when it passes me and I grab the mane. I had to swim in the ocean and tread water, and the horse starts on the shore and it forms a shoe horn shape around me. When it comes back around on the other side to my left, I grab the horse and I ride up onto the shore. Then we can reset—and they grab a different horse, because they can only do it so many times, and they all have different relationships to water.

What was your favorite part of that experience?

My favorite part was very private because no one could see it from my perspective and I was the only one in the water. Watching a horse swim by me and I can only see the back of his head. And then him turning with the wildest fucking eyes and his mouth open, charging at you because he just wants to get on shore! Of course, I’m personifying him as if he’s pissed, or I’m just assuming that he’s pissed, and he’s coming at me with an open mouth, just kind of biting at the air. That image was a challenging one, because you have to be close enough to grab his mane, but obviously not grab his molars or his mouth! And not get eaten and lose a hand!

Was that your first time riding a horse?

I’ve ridden horses before, at various times in my life. The horse trainer on this was the same horse trainer on this movie I shot with him called Don Quixote. There was a familiarity with him and his team. They’re all Spanish-trained and very dialed in, so I wasn’t really worried about the horses so much. I was more worried about them being in a different environment. Horses can swim really fast, it turns out. Especially if they’re chasing you!

What do you like most about this new fragrance?

The subtlety and that it doesn’t feel artificial. It feels like it’s coming from the natural world. That’s ambiguous, but that’s the best way I could describe it. I do feel excited that the images we made match the emotion they were going for: it’s subtle but has a strength.

It is difficult to talk about fragrances, I feel like images are often a better vocabulary for communicating what something smells like.

Right. Same thing with film. People tend to ask, “What do you want people to come away with when watching the film?” We’re all different, so it’s really impossible to say what you would come away with. We have different experiences, and smell is connected to memory, so it’s hard to know what it evokes for a different person. Nor would I want to short change it and tell you “This is the right answer, and you’re getting it wrong,” because you’re right just as much as anybody else is right. That’s what makes it subjective and exciting.