Minnie Driver has held many occupations: she’s been an actress, a musician, and even a purveyor of jeans. But now, the actress adds one more title to her résumé: memoirist. In Driver’s new book, Managing Expectations, she takes readers along for the ride, detailing her at-times unconventional upbringing in England, her journey to motherhood, and her winding career path, from the first big film she booked to the moment she was cast in what would become an Oscar-nominated role in Good Will Hunting (without naming names of the screenwriters—one of whom she was involved in a public relationship with for some time after the film was released in 1997). She shares the story of her life in ten honest, emotional, and erudite essays, charmingly proving that she was born to be a storyteller, no matter the medium.
Just before the release of her first book, Driver spoke to W over the phone, calling from her home in Malibu after a morning of surfing in the Pacific Ocean. She got into her writing process, her favorite authors, and whether or not she’ll write some more books in the future.
Many people know you as an actress, musician, and also as a podcast host. But how did you know you were a writer?
My English teachers were the reason I became an actor. I started to understand plays and character through writing and reading an enormous amount. So I feel like I’ve always written loads, just not in this form. I’m a huge letter writer and journal keeper. I wrote music. When you are better known for something else, it feels like an adjunct, but it’s actually always been part of the centrifuge. Covid created a massive space for one to explore in that great pause.
The stories you tell of your childhood, growing up as a precocious child in England with your sister, your mom and her husband, and later visiting your dad in the Caribbean, were fascinating. You remember so many funny details, like your hilarious description of a flight attendant who helped you when you were a child traveling solo to Miami. How did you recall all of those little moments?
The reason I chose those stories to write about is that they’re etched so deeply into my memory. I come from a storytelling tradition in my family, an oral tradition. I’ve been telling that story for many years—maybe in not as much detail, but I remember that woman! I remember that her bosom looked like it was tucked into the waist band of her skirt: it literally started just underneath her chin and then was tucked into her skirt! It was bananas. These snapshots stay with you, and then when you sit down to write about them, it becomes hilarious.
In the book, you share your perspective from when you were a budding movie star, and how unstable the job can be. Do you look back on those periods of time when you were feeling uncertainty about the future and feel a sense of closure or acceptance now that you’ve had success?
I wish that I did. That major theme of that runs through the book—of there being no there there—I feel that so hugely. I’m sitting here this morning, looking at the ocean. I surfed early this morning; my body is strong and works. I come back and I knew I was gonna be speaking to you about this book that I love, and I just can't believe I actually wrote a book! All these things are so amazing—my beautiful boyfriend, my amazing kid—yet I’m sitting here going, Why the fuck don’t I have an acting job? What is gonna happen? It's over. It’s like being haunted by a ghost that you have chosen to fucking live with, and it doesn’t ever go away. I was haunted by it when I was first starting out and it has never changed. It is common to every actor, no matter how successful you are. It's absurd, but you always think your last job was your last job.
The final chapter of the book is a beautiful ode to your mother, who passed away last year. You mentioned wanting to publish the book before Mother’s Day—were you trying to make that deadline as a way to honor her?
When I first signed a publishing deal, they said there are two times during the year that are really great for releasing books. One is the autumn and one is around Mother’s Day. It seemed like a good target. I wanted that to be the focus, then when mommy died, I couldn’t really write for two months. All I could write about was her dying. It was just awful, but it was all I could do. I, in that time, thought, The book is fucked. There's no way I'm gonna be able to finish this book because I'm stuck in this eddy of sadness and grief. Then, weirdly, writing through that, and still believing I could make that date gave things a focus. Her death and writing that chapter about her really reframed the rest of the book, and in a way helped me go back and edit a lot more keenly. It really created a shape for a book that had been a bit more wayward.
Will you write more books? I’m asking because I’m curious, but also because I’m pleading for you to write more.
Thank you so much. I definitely will write more. I’d really love to write a novel. I’ve broken the seal on this.
What are some other books that you’ve read recently that you really liked?
I’m really crazy about this very young British writer called Saba Sams. She wrote a book called Send Nudes, and she’s an extraordinary talent. I’m just halfway through The Sellout by Paul Beatty and this Elif Batuman book called The Idiot, which is brilliant. I’m crazy about Deborah Levy, she’s probably my favorite memoirist of all time. She does these things called living autobiographies where they’re literally autobiographies, but they’re about her life now.
What television shows are you watching?
I’ve been a Killing Eve fan, Jodie Comer is a goddess. I’m a big Sex Education fan as well. I love the writing on that show. I’ll watch anything with Julia Garner in it. She was amazing in Inventing Anna.
Your podcast Minnie Questions with Minnie Driver features such a wide range of guests, from celebrities to your collaborators to your son. What other podcasts do you like to listen to?
I really love Elizabeth Day’s podcast, How to Fail. It’s such a useful, brilliant kind of repository for human frailty and humor. I know it’s old school, but genuinely, This American Life is still just as genius as it was from its inception. I’m not really into the true crime, murder thing, because it scares me sad, but I did love Serial. They’ve just put out this podcast called The Trojan Horse Affair, which deals with apparent “Islamification” of schools in Birmingham, England. And while that sounds heavy, and it is, it is so brilliantly made. There is so much humor and wonder from the two men that made it.
There’s an essay in your book where you write about the summer after you graduated from drama school, and you weren’t really able to find work as an actress, but you did spend a lot of time going to raves in fields. What’s the last concert you attended?
It was such a long time ago, before Covid. I took my son to the Greek to see Bastille because he’s a really big Bastille fan. We were at the very front; it was my son’s first big concert. It was pretty great, but mostly because I was watching it through Henry’s eyes.
What’s the last song you’ve had on repeat?
PJ Morton’s cover of “How Deep Is Your Love.” It is, dare I say it, as good as the Bee Gees’s version. It’s truly beautiful, so vibey and incredible.
What is the last thing you do before you go to bed?
You know, I still think about my mom. I still say goodnight to her. I look at the sky, and it’s really clear in Malibu, there’s not a lot of light pollution. I look at the stars and I think about her and I really try and feel good about it as opposed to sad about it. If I’m feeling sad, I’ll stand there until I feel good about it. It definitely still helps as part of the grieving process to think of her with a smile before I go to sleep.