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Adam Driver Draws Parallels Between Acting, Military Careers

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Before becoming a famous actor, Adam Driver was a Marine. He turned 18 just two months after the 9/11 terrorist attacks and said the attacks motivated him to serve.

A Marine poses for a photo.
Adam Driver
Adam Driver poses for his official photo as a Marine in 2002.
Photo By: Marine Corps
VIRIN: 020814-O-D0439-001M

Joining the Marine Corps "was one of the things I'm most proud of having done in my life," he said during a 2015 "TED Talks" address.

"I found I loved the Marine Corps the most for the thing I was looking for the least when I joined, which was the people — a weird motley crew of characters from a cross section of the United States that on the surface I had nothing in common with.

Over time, all the political and personal bravado that led me to the military dissolved. And for me, the Marine Corps became synonymous with my friends."

After boot camp, Driver was assigned to Weapons Company, 1st Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division at Camp Pendleton, California, as an 81mm mortar man. 

He served for two years and eight months before fracturing his sternum while mountain biking. He was medically discharged with the rank of lance corporal.

An actor poses for a photo.
Adam Driver
Actor Adam Driver attends the Japan premier of "Star Wars: The Last Jedi" in 2017.
Photo By: Dick Thomas Johnson
VIRIN: 170814-O-D0439-791M
Actor poses for photo.
Adam Driver
Actor Adam Driver attends the premier of "Paterson" at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival in Cannes, France.
Photo By: Courtesy of Adam Driver
VIRIN: 160814-O-D0439-001M

He later said that he missed the discipline, rigor and camaraderie that comes with being a Marine.

In a 2015 interview on WHYY's "Fresh Air" with Terry Gross, he opened up about his medical discharge: "It was pretty devastating. It took me a long time to get over it. … It's really about the people, this small, intimate group of people that you are lucky enough to get to serve with. And it's about them. Then, not going because you hurt yourself was pretty embarrassing and terrible."

Despite his injury, he tried to stay with his platoon, but the injury became even worse after a force march with a 90-pound pack, forcing him to be hospitalized.

At the time, his unit was slated to deploy to Iraq. 

In the "Fresh Air" interview, he said: "I wanted to go so much. I mean, you were training to do this job for two years with these people. The idea of not going, someone else going in your place or not being there, is not really an easy thing to sit with."

Actors stand on a stage and read scripts.
Adam Driver
Actor Adam Driver, a Marine veteran and founder of Arts in the Armed Forces, center left, performs with other actors,during a tour of U.S. Army Garrison Humphreys in South Korea, Aug. 14, 2016.
Photo By: Ryan Noble, Army
VIRIN: 160814-O-D0439-791

Following his discharge from the Marine Corps in 2004, Driver attended the Juilliard School for drama, graduating in 2009.

He appeared in a number of Broadway and off-Broadway productions. His first TV role was in 2009 in the final episode of "The Unusuals;" he played a repentant witness and reluctant accomplice to an unsolved assault. In 2011, he made his film debut in Clint Eastwood's biographical drama film "J. Edgar."

Driver went on to play Ben Solo and Kylo Ren in the Star Wars sequel trilogy: "The Force Awakens" (2015), "The Last Jedi" (2017), and "The Rise of Skywalker" (2019).

He also played detective Flip Zimmerman in "BlackkKlansman" (2018), for which he received an Academy Award nomination for best supporting actor. Another Academy Award nomination soon came his way — this time for best actor — for his work in "Marriage Story" (2019).

Driver was also honored for his work on the stage and television, appearing in:

  • The 2012 HBO comedy-drama series "Girls," as the emotionally unstable Adam Sackler, the boyfriend of Hannah Horvath, played by actor Lena Dunham. Driver received three Emmy Award nominations for the outstanding supporting actor in a comedy series for his role.
  • Two critically acclaimed films — as telegraph and cipher officer Samuel Beckwith in Steven Spielberg's historical drama "Lincoln," and as Lev Shapiro in Noah Baumbach's comedy-drama "Frances Ha." 
  • The off-Broadway play "Look Back in Anger," in which he portrayed Cliff, a working-class Welsh houseguest and won the Lucille Lortel Award for outstanding featured actor in a play.

More recently, Driver:

  • Played Daniel J. Jones in the political drama "The Report," which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in Utah.  
  • Returned to Broadway to play the role of Pale in "Burn This," receiving acclaim for his explosive performance and a Tony Award nomination for best actor in a play.
  • Starred in the musical drama film "Annette," which premiered at the 74th annual Cannes Film Festival. 

Driver is currently starring in Ridley Scott's historical drama "The Last Duel." He also stars in Scott's upcoming "House of Gucci," which will cover the assassination of Maurizio Gucci.

Similarities Between Acting and Military

The military and acting are actually very similar, he said during his 2015 "TED Talks." "You have people trying to accomplish a mission greater than themselves."

A man speaks to an audience.
Adam Driver
Actor Adam Driver talks about his time in the Marine Corps during a 2015 "TED Talks" address.
Photo By: Marine Corps website
VIRIN: 211018-D-D0439-001M

Every film or play has a director, just as every military unit has a leader, Driver said. Also, in the Marine Corps, people are forced to be intimate with complete strangers in a short amount of time, and that's the same in films.

As a result of his own experience, Driver decided to create a venue for veterans who aspire to become actors. He founded Arts in the Armed Forces, a non-profit that provides free arts programming to U.S. active-duty service members, veterans, military support staff and their families worldwide.

"I thought, how great would it be to create a space that combine these two seemingly dissimilar communities that brought entertainment to a group of people that, considering their occupation, could handle something a bit more thought provoking than the typical, mandatory fun events that I remember being 'voluntold' to in the military," he said.


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