Adam Driver: “Marriage Story? I bring my personal life in this role”

Our interview with the actor of the year on the emotional portrait of a marriage breaking up

Marriage Story

NEW YORK – Marriage Story is Academy Award nominated filmmaker Noah Baumbach’s incisive and compassionate portrait of a marriage breaking up and a family staying together. Nominated for six Golden Globes, including Best Motion picture, we joined a talk with film star Adam Driver

Adam Driver
Adam Driver is Charlie Barber in Marriage Story

This is the fourth film that you’ve made with Noah Baumbach. How much flexibility do you have when you go in to work on a film with him?
He just sets different boundaries. Some directors like it when you mess with the script or you do something in the moment, for us we’ve talked it through ad nauseam much before we’ve started and it’s so clear and lean from the beginning. When I first read the script it didn’t seem to be a scene that was interchangeable or that the whole thing as a whole survived without it which is always a good sign. Every scene felt like the stakes were high, which is rare, but he just sets boundaries similar to what theater and if it’s with good writing, it opens up your imagination to different ways of doing it or maybe something happened before you go in the theater that makes something about what you’re reading that line sense in a way that it didn’t before; plus he gives you the benefit of a lot of takes to keep exploring intention so in that sense it’s completely freeing and I find that helpful. He’ll put you an environment that’s so filled with details that there’s nothing to go inside to generate, it’s all in front of you he’s very meticulous at everything so you don’t have to retreat and you just have not to get in the way of the language.

Noah Baumbach, Scarlett Johansson, Laura Dern and Alan Alda on Marriage Story’s set

This relationship is already falling apart, how do you set that up for yourself particularly with your co-star Scarlett Johansson?
We did have the luxury of rehearsal especially in bigger scenes we would rehears it similar as you would a play at some like windowless overly lit room in a basement somewhere in LA. We taped everything out on the floor and we would experiment with the scenes just reading it and walking it through, and then again for bigger moments we would get on the set before we could with anything, no equipment or technology, just figuring out what makes the most sense and it’s just one camera pushed everywhere. To answer your question, it’s all in the script, in the actors and in its ritual or repetition of doing it a lot. Every time you do it you become more open to another detail and Noah’s a great director so he’s giving you thoughts along the way plus he’s an incredible audience member and a good actor… he’s acting it kind of with you. It’s it’s a collection of a lot of elements.

Adam Driver
A special present. A scene from Marriage Story

I did want to ask you about that fight scene…how did you do that?
It just kind of evolved into that. I think Noah wanted that there to be a breakdown at the end but I think it maybe was even just scripted as that he loses it or something, but we don’t know what that is until we kind of get there. Then even as we do it again because we’re given the luxury of takes, which is the great thing about acting, the conscious and the subconscious, and we’ve mapped out a lot of the conscious parts of it, where to go and what it is we’re saying and then hopefully you’re open to another idea or something Scarlett says hits you in a different way that just happens and you’re not in control over. That impulse doesn’t mean it’s the right answer, maybe it’s just a version so let’s try it again a different way because we all know there’s no right way to play a scene. This is what we did on that day, what we were feeling when we shot it. Maybe if we did it now I’d have a different thought but in that moment that made sense… I couldn’t analyze it nor did I try to.

Adam Driver
Adam and Scarlett in Marriage Story

I know that you were born and you you spent your early years in San Diego. Then your parents split up and you moved to the Midwest. How did that inform your experience of playing this role?
Maybe in some ways but then it’s also so different than anything else that I’ve done. You always bring your personal life to all of your roles, it’s just this one is maybe more relatable than something like Star Wars. It’s less obvious how you bring your personal things to it but I don’t work on at any different, you still have to break up into million pieces and solve those things and not really worry about what it adds up to, but I don’t think you necessarily had to have gone through a divorce or been a child of divorce to play that part. However, it definitely makes homework easier where I was that exact age when my parents split up so you can’t help but look at that and you project things. Then again that doesn’t necessarily mean it’ll be better because it’s not my job to have a feeling about what I’m doing rather it’s to convey a feeling for the audience. I don’t get so analytical about it, it just kind of comes up in the moment and then I forget about it.

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Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson in Marriage Story

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