"This kid is going to be one of the most formidable actors of his generation."
Director Shawn Levy has high praise for Adam Driver, star of the upcoming movie This Is Where I Leave You and GQ's September 2014 issue. Driver, who found fame via HBO's Girls, is dismissive of such praise. "That's nice of Shawn," he says. "He's, like, the kind of person who believes things will turn out good."
Whether he believes it or not, Driver is currently one of the most sought after actors in Hollywood. The actor, 30, will next appear in Jeff Nichols' Midnight Special, Noah Baumbach's While We're Young and Martin Scorsese's Silence. Oh, and Driver's been cast in J.J. Abrams' top-secret Star Wars: Episode VII.
Not bad for a kid from Mishawaka, Ind.
Driver's dichotomy makes him all the more intriguing. The son of devout Baptists, he sang in the church choir but also ran a fight club. He's reluctant to talk about his upbringing, however. "If I can, I'll skip the parents stuff," the actor says. "We have different views on the world. They have their life; I have mine."
He didn't tell his parents about Girls until after the second season.
"What was I going to tell them?" he says, laughing. "'I just masturbated on some girl's chest?'"
Shortly after the 9/11 attacks, Driver decided to enlist in the armed forces. "It just seemed like a badass thing to do, to go and shoot machine guns and serve your country," he recalls. Driver was shipped off to Camp Pendleton in California. "It's hard to describe," he says of his rigorous Marines training. "You're put in these very heightened circumstances, and you learn a lot about who people are at the core, I think. You end up having this very intimate relationship where you would, like, die for these people."
Driver never made it to war, however. Two years into his training, he broke his sternum on a mountain bike. As a result, he was medically discharged. To this day, being sent home early "f--kin' kills me," Driver tells the magazine. "To not get to go with that group of people I had been training with was...painful."
He moved back to Indiana but yearned for "a challenge."
Though he'd been rejected before he enlisted, he reapplied to the Juilliard School in New York City. "The Marine Corps is supposed to be the toughest and most rigorous of its class," he says. Similarly, Juilliard offers a highly competitive program. "Obviously the stakes are different," the actor admits. "You have the risk of getting shot or killed in one and just embarrassed in the other. I thought, 'This will be easy.'"
After his classes began, he drifted apart from his friends in the Marines. "We all got together in Texas; a friend of ours had passed away," the What If star remembers. "And I was trying to explain to them what I was doing at Juilliard. And I'm like, 'Yeah, we wear pajamas, and we talk about our inner colors, and there was this exercise where we all gave birth to ourselves...' And they're like, 'What the f--k are you doing?'"
What do the Marines think of his foray into acting? "They were like, 'So, I saw your f--kin' show,'" Driver says, imitating his pals. "'And you're f--kin' naked a lot. So, OK. Tell me when the next thing comes out.'"
Of course, the Marines are close to his heart. With the help of classmate Joanne Tucker, whom he later married, he created Arts in the Armed Forces, which deploys actors to perform at military bases. Driver continues to operate the organization today, as he knows how difficult life can be for those in service.
Since childhood, Driver's pragmatic attitude has served him well.
"Here's the thing: Life's s---ty, and we're all gonna die. You have friends, and they die. You have a disease, someone you care about has a disease, Wall Street people are scamming everyone, the poor get poorer, the rich get richer—that's what we're surrounded by all the time. We don't understand why we're here, no one's giving us an answer, religion is vague, your parents can't help because they're just people, and it's all terrible, and there's no meaning to anything. What a terrible thing to process! Every. Day. And then you go to sleep," the actor tells GQ. "But then sometimes, things can suspend themselves for like a minute, and then every once in a while there's something where you find a connection."
GQ's September issue is available nationwide Aug. 26.