Adam Driver on How Theatre Can Help Heal Some Wounds of War


Alan: 00:00:00 Adam, this is so great. I’m so glad to be able to talk to you today. There’s two things I don’t want to do. I don’t want to embarrass you and I don’t want to hurt your performances, because you got to do a performance on stage tonight, but I just got to tell you how spectacular I feel you are as an actor. I mean, just amazing.
Adam: 00:00:19 Oh, thank you. As you know, it means a lot coming from you. I love you.
Alan: 00:00:24 Well, we’re a little late, so good night, folks. I saw you in one week in two performances, one that you’re doing on the stage now in New York, Burn This, and then I saw you in the movie that we’re in together that’s not coming out till the end of the year.
Adam: 00:00:50 Oh, yeah. You saw Noah’s movie.
Alan: 00:00:51 Yeah, Noah Baumbach’s new movie, which doesn’t have a title yet as we speak and they’re two completely different characters that you play. And if somebody hadn’t seen the other character, they’d say, “Yeah, he’s wonderful, but of course, that’s who he is. He’s just playing himself,” and yet you found yourself in these two opposite people.
It looks like it’s really you, but it’s so spontaneous and full of life and the other … There’s two reasons that I don’t want to barrage you with this too much, is that I don’t want to embarrass you, and I also don’t want to hurt your performance, because sometimes praise hurts more than criticism. Do you find that?
Adam: 00:01:33 Yeah, yeah, if someone’s like, “Oh, I really liked that moment when you did that thing,” then when you’re doing it again, you can’t help but think of like, “Oh, this is a good moment, I’ve been told.”
Alan: 00:01:42 And from then on, it stinks.
Adam: 00:01:43 Yeah, yeah. Right. Then it loses its … You think of it on the outside as opposed to why you’re doing it to begin with, which is all very internal.
Alan: 00:01:52 And you have an interesting beginning to your acting career, it seems to me. I always noticed that actors who started acting around the age of 40 or after, like Sydney Greenstreet, the great character actor from the ’40s of Warner Brothers, didn’t start acting until he was 40.
But he was so authentic because it seemed to me he brought a lifetime of experience to his work. Now, you’re way younger than that, but you came to acting after a life in the Marines.
Adam: 00:02:28 Yeah, yeah.
Alan: 00:02:29 Did that give you experience that you wouldn’t ordinarily have had?
Adam: 00:02:34 Oh, totally. I mean, it’s a kind of ultimate actor training in a way, especially for that time in my age, because you’re with 40 guys who are in very heightened circumstances all the time. So behavior is very, everything else is heightened. There’s a threat of death, kind of, even when you’re training.
Alan: 00:02:57 What, wait a minute. They shoot real … you have to crawl under real bullets at one point?
Adam: 00:03:02 Yeah, you do, you do, and the-
Alan: 00:03:04 What the hell is the point of that?
Adam: 00:03:07 It’s all just making it real. Like, there’s a difference between firing blanks and firing real bullets, so suddenly, you’re like, “Oh, okay, the weight of …” Not the physical weight, obviously, but the weight of what it is we’re doing, suddenly the temperature goes up, and how do you respond to that under pressure is part of it.
And then just training, actually, and you’re firing live rounds. People are firing rounds over you. It’s in training so people sometimes get it right and sometimes get it wrong and if you’re there when they get it wrong, then it can be a disaster.
Alan: 00:03:39 So you have that pressure.
Adam: 00:03:41 Yeah.
Alan: 00:03:41 Are you saying it’s like a pressure of being on a stage in front of a live audience where you don’t know what’s going to really happen next?
Adam: 00:03:50 Not the same, not the same. One, you’re pretending the stakes are life and death, and the other one they actually are. It’s not constant, but the threat of … It just makes you, I think, appreciate life more at a very young age.
Where in the civilian world, you’re not really put in that opportunity a lot where you’re with your civilian friends, hanging out, and something happens. When you’re in a military environment and something bad happens and you watch people rise to the occasion and protect you, you don’t really get that a lot in the civilian world. It’s very bonding in a short amount of time, and that’s exactly what acting is, to make an external comparison.
You’re forced to be intimate with complete strangers in a short amount of time and keep nothing back, and it kind of makes strange bedfellows. You have somebody from Texas, you have somebody who’s trying to get their green card, or some from Indiana, in my case. All together doing this job, who outside of the military have nothing in common.
But because of this job that they’re doing, they’re like brothers. And you have one guy who’s leading it, you have a director or a squad leader, and sometimes they’re smart and know what they’re doing, in the case of Noah, or sometimes they don’t. And what you’re doing feels dangerous and a waste of time and energy.
There’s a lot of discipline required, there’s self-maintenance, there’s working as a cohesive unit to accomplish a mission that’s bigger than any one person. You have one role and you have to do your role really well so everybody else can do their role really well.
Alan: 00:05:20 But you’re very much aware of being part of a group.
Adam: 00:05:23 Yes, yeah. The ensembleness of being in the military was great training for me as far as being on a film set or being in a TV show or especially in theater.
Alan: 00:05:34 Some theatrical training, it seems to me, doesn’t produce that understanding that you’re part of a group, because very often, you’re taught this is how you get into your own circle and this is how you concentrate, and it’s all up to you to produce this character and these emotions.
Whereas I’ve always enjoyed what you’ve just described, which is the sense of group, and the connection with the other people is what makes me feel I’m alive in that situation.
Adam: 00:06:07 Yeah. When it works well, it’s kind of life-affirming. I was lucky to go from that. It’s like almost have that idea be fortified going to Juilliard because they’re very much a group mentality. You’re identified by your group. I was group 38.
Alan: 00:06:25 That’s like a science fiction movie.
Adam: 00:06:26 I know, I know. And then you meet people from, I think Patty Lapone is group 1 and Kevin Klein is group 2 or 3. You meet these different groups and there’s an immediate connection.
Alan: 00:06:39 So what is it, the group is numbered by the year since they began?
Adam: 00:06:43 Yeah, exactly. Yeah, the year of the drama program. Because it started later at Juilliard.
Alan: 00:06:48 But what’s interesting is, is it the experience of being almost hazed in the Marines that makes you a group? Because I was surprised when you told me that you felt a sense of group before you ever had a chance to experience it in battle.
I always thought that the battle experience, where real bullets were really aimed at you, was what brought you all together.
Adam: 00:07:15 Yeah, sure. I’ve never had that experience, but I think it happens way before then. You’re in boot camp and everyone’s away from their … It starts there, where you’re away from everything that’s comfortable to you, everything that you’ve known.
And suddenly this grown man who’s huge is yelling at you and making you do all sorts of things you don’t want to do. It’s stressful. Then you go from that you SOI, School of Infantry, in my case, or you go … I can’t remember what if you’re not infantry, what the school is called. But then you’re suddenly training with live rounds, mortars, M16s, SAWs, you’re doing all that stuff.
Alan: 00:07:15 SAWs?
Adam: 00:07:59 The squad automatic weapon. It’s a machine gun, it’s like in a fire team. I think it’s in the back or front, I can’t remember now.
But it’s just these, you’re handling all this stuff, Humvees. It’s stressful and inevitably things go wrong and you, again, when you’re stressed, or you are … Like, for example, you’re doing … I forget. I’m trying to remember all this terminology now.
You have to do a hike at one point that’s like 28 miles or something, like with a 90-pound pack, depending on what your job is in the military.
And a lot of times, the genetics of people are not fair. You have someone who’s 5 feet tall. In my case, 6’3″. It’s easier for me to carry a 90-pound pack than it is for someone small, but we all have to finish. So everyone will rally and take their gear.
You know, it’s moments like that that you’re inevitably bonding and you’re just with each other all the time.
Alan: 00:08:58 When we talked once about this, I was surprised to hear that, and I shouldn’t have been because you went through this experience you just described, but you had an accident and weren’t able to be deployed with your teammates and you were regretful about that.
Adam: 00:09:19 Oh, yeah, no, I really wanted to go. All the politics that I had before I joined the military, which I didn’t really know much about anything, they kind of go away once you’re in the military. I think, I felt … I can’t speak for everyone else, but for me, whatever was going on outside our nucleus, I didn’t take it in very much.
I wanted to go because you want to be with the guys that you’ve been with since the beginning, and to not do your part and have someone else fill it in is a terrible feeling.
Alan: 00:09:51 You joined the Marines because of 9/11?
Adam: 00:09:54 Yeah, shortly after. Yeah.
Alan: 00:09:56 Yeah. And you were young. How old were you?
Adam: 00:09:59 18? 18? It was 9/11 and also that I felt this sense of, like most people I think are my age at that time wanted to do something and get involved, but also there wasn’t a lot of opportunities where I was in Indiana.
Being an actor, I was interested in it, but it didn’t seem like a realistic thing that I could actually do at the time. I was working odd jobs. So it was a collection of things, but that was the initial push, was 9/11.
Alan: 00:10:30 Working odd jobs and doing something as intense as the military before you really get serious about acting really seems like a valuable thing to do.
Adam: 00:10:40 Oh, totally.
Alan: 00:10:41 I mean, I value having driven a cab and been a doorman and coloring baby pictures to try to make a living-
Adam: 00:10:49 Where’d you drive a cab?
Alan: 00:10:50 New York City.
Adam: 00:10:51 Really?
Alan: 00:10:51 Yeah. And a couple of times, I thought my life was in danger.
Adam: 00:10:55 Really?
Alan: 00:10:56 Yeah. I’m not sure it was, but I was a little scared a couple of times.
Adam: 00:11:01 Why? [crosstalk 00:11:02]?
Alan: 00:11:02 Well, you had to shape up to get a cab, which meant you came into the place where the cabs were and you sat on a bench, waiting until they assigned you a cab. Sometimes that would take an hour or two.
So, while I’m waiting the first night, there were two very experienced cab drivers sitting in front of me. They must’ve been doing it for 30, 40 years. One says to the other, “I knew it was a holdup the minute he got in the car,” and the other guy said, “How do you know?” He says, “Well, he held his gun to my head and said, ‘You got change of 20?'” So, that helped.
Adam: 00:11:42 Yeah, that’d make me nervous.
Alan: 00:11:46 What was your accident that kept you from going overseas?
Adam: 00:11:49 I was in a mountain biking accident. I bought these two mountain bikes and a friend of mine went to go PT on her on on this huge mountain that was-
Alan: 00:11:57 PT?
Adam: 00:11:57 Physical training, but on your own, because we had a different briefing that morning, so we missed PT with the rest of the platoon. And we were going up this huge mountain.
I’d had no experience in riding mountain bikes and went down this hill at, like, Mach speed and hit a ditch and the handlebars went into my chest and dislocated or broke my sternum. So then I had to walk down the rest of the mountain, because I wasn’t even though-
Alan: 00:12:23 Holding your sternum in one hand.
Adam: 00:12:25 Yeah, yeah. And because of that, it was like a whole series of … Because it takes a long time to heal. You can either have them fix it for you or it’ll heal naturally and I’m like … So I, you know-
Alan: 00:12:37 So, what did you do?
Adam: 00:12:38 I just let it heal naturally but it takes time. So, they dropped me to a different unit and from there I was medically separated.
Alan: 00:12:45 I found when I was in the infantry, but in the reserves so it wasn’t really serious, they tried to teach me how to be an officer twice. Once in the Reserves and once on active duty for six months. And I did learn stuff that I use to this day.
Adam: 00:13:02 Or did learn stuff?
Alan: 00:13:03 I did. Organizing, because they were trying to help me learn how to be a leader. And I used that when I directed a … I directed a movie called Sweet Liberty where I had 200 colonial soldiers in a battle scene.
That could take days to shoot, but I organized it because I had learned to organize things. I had seven stunt men each teach a group of these soldiers in seven different operations, seven different events, battle events.
Adam: 00:13:42 Huh.
Alan: 00:13:44 Then I put them on the fields so no two were the same, next to one another. It was seven things happening many times over down the line. And with seven cameras, we had this battle scene that took only two hours to shoot instead of days.
And that was because I been accustomed to organizing, so I can understand how service has so many applications in real life that we don’t imagine.
Adam: 00:14:15 Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Alan: 00:14:18 Other than causing someone else to stop breathing.
Adam: 00:14:22 Right. Oh, yeah, yeah. And it comes up in different times in your life, kind of like you’re saying. I think that’s also what’s hard to convey to the civilians about the military is think of it as a group that’s just drills and discipline and pain. But it is this organization that’s run by people and those people have families on top of these incredibly stressful jobs.
That’s why it’s always great to hire a veteran, because you’re going to get someone on the whole, not always, obviously, but who’s just more organized, who’s used to being given responsibility at a very early age. Who’s told to just execute this whatever, whatever mission or plan or agenda and it’s going to be done thoughtfully.
Yeah, that’s kind of infinite. For me, it was very helpful. Maybe not for everybody, but for me, it was helpful.
Alan: 00:15:27 I heard you say once. I don’t know. You did a really interesting Ted talk. Maybe it was in that talk. You said when you went to Juilliard and started studying acting, you said you were becoming less aggressive and learning to put words to feelings. What was that about?
Adam: 00:15:51 Well, I mean, no disrespect to where I was from, but I wasn’t raised where language was an avenue to express yourself. Theater wasn’t a part of my diet, really, in Indiana.
And I feel like one of the powerful things about theater is watching it live. For me, coming out of the military, reading True West, the Sam Shepherd play, suddenly you have a play about brothers who really could be about two sides of the same person. Being tied to your genetics, or maybe you’re different from your acquired family and your actual family.
All these themes that I noticed in that play, or lots of plays that I was reading at that time, all these great contemporary American plays, were articulating my military experience better than I could have. And when you suddenly are finding words to those feelings that you have, especially as a male in your 20s, just angry about everything anyway. I mean, maybe that’s just me. That’s just me, but-
Alan: 00:17:14 Well, that was me, too.
Adam: 00:17:14 Yeah. That you suddenly being able to use words to articulate it by people who are a lot smarter than you was really powerful. Then suddenly, it’s like, “Okay, I know what this is. I can label it now.”
Alan: 00:17:27 Was that, do you think, an impulse that led you to creating arts in the armed forces?
Adam: 00:17:33 Oh, totally. That’s a direct … Yes. Yeah, it was finding all these characters and playwrights and plays that were articulating that time for me and what it was, life in general. Like, why is it this not part of a military diet, and it was-
Alan: 00:17:57 Why isn’t art a part of a military diet?
Adam: 00:17:59 Yeah, obviously, there’s a-
Alan: 00:18:02 That’s really good to talk about that. Why should it be?
Adam: 00:18:05 Well, because I think there’s an advantage of watching someone live articulate a feeling. Like with our nonprofit, we do contemporary American plays for a military audience, and we pick plays that I … Like, we’ll do Lobby Hero or Fences or plays that are contemporary that have a lot of energy.
It’s not Shakespeare, so right away, we’re not setting up an environment that it’s going to be … Nothing against Shakespeare, but-
Alan: 00:18:33 It’s not alien. It’s in the modern language and contemporary problems. I saw you do True West, it was fantastic.
Adam: 00:18:40 Oh, that’s right, yeah. You did [inaudible 00:18:42]. Yeah.
Alan: 00:18:42 Yeah, it was amazing. I couldn’t believe you had got together that afternoon.
Adam: 00:18:46 Yeah, that’s what we do. We get together the day of. Usually, we go to a military base and they do a training exercise with us where they show us around the base, and we put on a flak jackets or do a flight simulation.
Then at night, we will read a play with little to no rehearsal. We’ll maybe have gone through it once and we’ll just read it, no sets or costumes or lights, to show that you don’t need a conventional theater to create-
Alan: 00:19:09 You got to have actors who are used to improvising. Not that you’re improvising the dialogue, but that you’re finding your way through the play almost for the first time and finding one another.
Adam: 00:19:18 Totally, yeah. We just use theater actors that are friends of ours or people that we’ve heard of or people that we’ve always wanted to work with, but they always have a background in theater.
Alan: 00:19:27 And you’re bringing together the civilian world with the military world. What happens when you do that?
Adam: 00:19:35 Well, just immediately, there’s … Like Laura Linney came to one of our first events and she said afterwards, “My only association with the military’s the F-troop, and that’s what I thought it was going to be.”
And suddenly when you’re like, “Oh, right, I get it. There are these peoples,” and it’s a completely diverse audience who’s not used to going to plays, on the whole, and there’s no artifice. They haven’t seen every version of Hedda Gabler or … I’m trying to think of plays that I haven’t said before.
But they’re not used to it, so suddenly you’re taking theater out of New York and it becomes a weapon again. Or it becomes powerful in a way that I think you can kind of get immune to in more of a metropolitan area.
We did our first one when I was still at Juilliard. I tried to reach out to different people or pre-existing organizations that did troop entertainment and kept getting the response that, “No, that doesn’t fit a military demographic. They’d rather see the Dallas Cheerleaders and …” You know.
Alan: 00:20:41 Who were you getting that response from?
Adam: 00:20:43 Well, I don’t want to say, because I don’t want to start any bad blood. Because I think it’s good for … Support the military, great, but I feel we were just getting resistance. So we just decided to create our own project where we’d have creative control over what it was we were doing.
Alan: 00:20:43 I see. Yeah.
Adam: 00:20:57 Not editing the material, not talking down to an audience, and not picking plays that are steeped in the military. All My Sons is kind of on the fence. It’s about so many other things. But it’s not Streamers, it’s not plays like that where it’s obviously a military-theme play.
We pick things that have almost nothing to do with the military and, as you know, half of a theater experience is what the audience brings to it. So we don’t want to lead them and say it’s about, like a mental health initiative or it’s, “This play is about this.” They, in a way-
Alan: 00:21:32 They discover what it’s about.
Adam: 00:21:33 Right, exactly.
Alan: 00:21:35 You also have a program where you encourage members of the military to write their own stuff, their own plays. Is it a playwriting …
Adam: 00:21:45 Yeah, it’s called The Bridge Award. We’ve just announced, actually, our second winner.
Alan: 00:21:49 The Bridge Award.
Adam: 00:21:50 The Bridge Award. Kind of playing on the idea of bridging the military and theater or civilian communities, where we ask anyone in the military to write, veteran or someone who’s currently serving, to write a play about anything. It doesn’t have to be military-themed at all.
Our first one was called War Stories by this guy named [Vinnie Lyman 00:22:08] who read about it in the New York Times. He’d never written a play before. He’s a teacher and just sat down and wrote a play. We give him a $10,000 grant. We bring him to New York, have a reading of his play, then a workshop, and then a staged reading. We did it at the Public.
Our next one, that we just announced a couple of days ago, is called Tampons, Dead Dogs and Other Disposable things. It’s great-
Alan: 00:22:33 What a title.
Adam: 00:22:33 I know. It’s something that we kind of started to branch out of what the, really investigate what the … Our organization is called Arts in the Armed Forces, but we’re branching out of what the “arts” part of the Arts in the Armed Forces mean.
It is branching out from theater. We also do film screenings where I invite people to come and pick a movie that they’re not in and talk about it. Steven Soderberg will come and we had a conversation about Jaws.
Alan: 00:23:02 That’s interesting. What’s the idea to talk about a movie you didn’t have anything to do with?
Adam: 00:23:06 Well, I think it just opens people up in a way that you’re watching someone talk about something that’s inspiring to them, so it’s already going to be kind of … I don’t feel like you get that often. It’s mostly people talking about the things that they’re in.
I feel like they can speak more freely. I mean, Soderberg talking about Jaws is, like, I could listen to that all day because he’s a director. And he knows that subject so well because that was a movie that influenced him to be a director.
Alan: 00:23:34 He’s more likely than the real director to say, “Look at this, this is great.”
Adam: 00:23:38 Yeah, right, right, right. Ben Stiller did one, The Taking of Pelham 123 and Jerry Stiller was in that. So it was to get his perspective of being in the back of a cab while they were shooting a scene. Obviously just opens the movie up in a way that I think you don’t often are exposed to. And the military audience comes to them.
The talk-back afterwards, I should say, that’s also something that we work in that’s so much better than the performance.
Alan: 00:24:09 When you do a reading for the military?
Adam: 00:24:10 Yeah, we’ll have a talk-back afterwards where we ask the actors a couple of questions, then we open up to the audience. And people’s responses to the play, it’s the most inspiring part.
Alan: 00:24:21 I wanted to ask you about that. What kind of things do you hear from people? I mean, are they experiencing a play, many of them, for the first time?
Adam: 00:24:29 Yeah, a lot of them are, “I’ve never seen a play before. I’ve never seen a play on Broadway. It’s too expensive.” Our events are free. “I didn’t know theater could be like that.” Things that you’re like, “Oh.” That’s what you hope to hear. Something about-
Alan: 00:24:46 It made a difference in my life, somehow.
Adam: 00:24:48 … Yeah, something about seeing it live is different than watching it on a movie. Seemingly simple things, but that’s pretty powerful.
Actually, we’ve been really lucky with Burn This. I tried to go out and sign for people after the show and talk to them a little bit. And I feel like … I don’t know if it’s just every show on Broadway and I just haven’t done a play in a while. But the response of people saying, “I’ve never seen a play,” or, “This is my first time being to the theater,” has been a lot for our play, which has been really exciting.
Alan: 00:25:22 You’re in this nice position, probably, of drawing people because of the success of the Star Wars picture.
Adam: 00:25:30 Maybe.
Alan: 00:25:31 Or drawing people who may not have thought of going to the theater in the first place.
Adam: 00:25:36 Yeah, whatever it is, I’ll take it. It’s exciting. I mean, this is one of my favorite mediums. I have seen things in theater that are so long-lasting and exciting and scary, that you just can’t get with other, film or television.
Alan: 00:25:57 How do you feel about the difference between acting on the stage and acting in a film? The experience of the performance.
Adam: 00:26:06 I’d also be interested to hear what you think about this, too. They’re just totally different to me. Even film kind of feels like theater to me, but just for a smaller audience. You know?
Alan: 00:26:17 Yeah.
Adam: 00:26:18 The benefit of doing theater is you get more satisfied in that if you don’t get it right, you have another shot.
Alan: 00:26:26 The next night.
Adam: 00:26:26 Right. I have a really bad remorse sometimes when you’re shooting a movie, if you feel like you haven’t … You always go back to the hotel or whatever and you just think about it all night.
Alan: 00:26:36 I’ll never get another chance to make that better. I wanted to make a short once about a camera looking into the windshield of a car and an actor is driving. He’s just come from an audition and he does the one-minute scene over and over again.
Adam: 00:26:53 Yes, that’s exactly it. Yeah.
Alan: 00:26:55 We can’t let go, you know?
Adam: 00:26:59 That’s one hundred percent true.
Alan: 00:26:59 Yeah. The thing I love about the stage, probably the most, is the, I call it the ecstasy of the experience that’s uninterrupted. The curtain goes up and for the next two hours, you’re in that white-hot moment that if it goes wrong, you can’t take it back for that performance.
You can make it better the next night, but it’s happening live. Your experience is heightened by it and you have final cut. You have the responsibility of having final cut and you have the freedom of having it. That’s all very exciting to me.
Adam: 00:27:43 Yeah, and you’re on this quest for perfection that’ll never get there.
Alan: 00:27:48 You never get there and you have to learn eventually that it is what it is. I mean, I second-guessed my performances probably for 50 years.
Adam: 00:27:58 Oh, yeah.
Alan: 00:27:58 And then I thought, “It’s over. It’s done with.” The reality is, that’s what happened and next time, it’ll happen a different way, and I can’t decide to make it better. It’s going to get better by itself, I think. That’s the way I tend … Did you have any experiences improvising? Did you ever work with Viola Spolin’s improv exercises?
Adam: 00:28:22 Mm-mm (negative). No. I mean, we did a lot of improvising on this TV show I did called Girls that we did for like six years. We would improvise a lot on that. I’m trying to think of …
Alan: 00:28:31 Viola Spolin had this set of games called theater games. Sometimes they’re taught in acting school, but maybe not at Juilliard. That’s the only training I ever got.
Adam: 00:28:44 Oh, really?
Alan: 00:28:44 Yeah, and I really think it’s extremely valuable, but you’ve achieved it. You’ve found how to do it on your own somehow. I mean, you’re so spontaneous.
Adam: 00:28:56 Oh. Oh, thanks.
Alan: 00:29:01 Right there, just now.
Adam: 00:29:07 Yeah, I don’t know. The audience makes it kind of that too every night, because they’re a different audience. The collective intelligence is always different every night. So …
Alan: 00:29:18 Isn’t that interesting how that happens?
Adam: 00:29:18 Yeah.
Alan: 00:29:22 They develop a personality, a group personality.
Adam: 00:29:24 Right, exactly.
Alan: 00:29:26 Sometimes, it’s because of a simple reason. Like, I was doing Our Town in London on the stage, and there are a lot of-
Adam: 00:29:35 [crosstalk 00:29:35]-
Alan: 00:29:35 I love Our Town. I did it just because I wanted to sit offstage and listen to the language every night.
Adam: 00:29:40 Oh, you were the narrator?
Alan: 00:29:42 Yeah. I was the stage manager.
Adam: 00:29:43 Oh, stage manager.
Alan: 00:29:44 The character of the stage manager.
Adam: 00:29:45 Yeah. Yeah.
Alan: 00:29:48 There were a lot of laughs in that show and one night we weren’t getting any laughs. And I thought, “Well, I know audiences have different personalities, but this is ridiculous. What’s happening here?”
Turned out the entire theater came by bus from Poland. It was an extreme example.
Adam: 00:30:09 We had a night like that like a month ago where everyone seemed very tired and I was like, “What’s going on?” And afterwards, there was a problem with the air conditioning and I guess in the house it was just really hot.
Alan: 00:30:19 Yeah. I did a play about Richard Feynman called QED. Richard Feynman was a great American physicist and he helped developed the atomic bomb and got very depressed after it was used.
In the play, as Feynman, I talk about sitting in a place in a restaurant in Times Square and imagining how much death and destruction would occur how many miles out from Times Square, if the bomb were to explode there.
When we did it in California, there was silence in the audience when I got to that speech. When we did it in New York a few months later, it was three weeks after 9/11.
They were more silent. It didn’t seem possible that they could be even more silent. We talked about it afterwards and the director said, “I think I know what it is. Tonight, they weren’t even breathing when you talked about that.”
It just, because the event had made such an impression on everybody, that to call up the image of an explosion again was so powerful. And to be aware of that when you’re on the stage, when you have this awareness that something is happening to these people and not just laughter.
But very often you can hear them when they’re weeping. You can hear them reaching into their pocketbooks for handkerchiefs. There are all kinds of clues you get. Or it’s utter silence, and that’s an example of communication between the artist and the audience that isn’t explored much, I don’t think.
Adam: 00:32:17 Isn’t explored much where? Like in the …
Alan: 00:32:20 In the culture. We don’t think much, and I think we don’t think much about how it’s getting into the other person’s head.
Adam: 00:32:29 Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Alan: 00:32:30 We think about the creation as if it’s a lonesome act and I don’t think it is so much.
My friend Eric Kandel, who’s a Nobel-prize-winning brain scientist, is very experienced at reading, writing and thinking about the art experience and quotes a guy from a hundred years ago, roughly, who talked about the beholder’s share when a painting is hanging on the wall.
The person looking at the painting is having an experience that completes the artistic act. It’s not really art until it lands on the other person one way or another. It’s the idea.
And I’m sensing that you have that experience too and I don’t mean to say that you’re performing for the audience’s reaction. I don’t think that’s in the forefront of our minds when we act.
Adam: 00:33:41 No. No, not at all, because everyone brings … I mean, even just what you were talking about about that story. It’s what’s also interesting of giving that speech post-September 11th, is the circumstances that have happened outside the theater so obviously in that example are affecting what’s going on inside the theater
And a smaller level, that’s the same thing that happens every night, is everyone brings their stuff inside. No one lives there. I heard Tony Kushner say this articulately once, and I’m going to butcher it and try to claim it as my own, but-
Alan: 00:34:16 Once you butcher it, you can.
Adam: 00:34:17 Yeah, yeah, right.
Alan: 00:34:18 In fact, you have to.
Adam: 00:34:19 Sure. So, I had this thought the other day. No one lives inside the theater. Everyone, it’s like we go outside and we get divorced or pay our taxes or get married or something good happens.
Then you bring it all inside the theater and we all collect. Even the actors, they get stuck in traffic or the bus doesn’t come or whatever, had food too close to their vocal cords.
Anyway, we all bring it in and meet for two hours and have this almost archaic version of communicating, where it’s one guy or a couple of people in front, screaming out this story that has to be urgent. And whatever they bring to it, they pull a detail that you wouldn’t had a thought of because you’re not from Queens or you’re not from Florida or wherever, whatever they’re bringing in their life.
And they pick a moment or a costume or a lighting effect that they aren’t conscious of or a line of dialog that maybe doesn’t mean anything to you, but suddenly opens something up for them. So, why …
It’s beyond your responsibility. Your responsibility is just to say it. Not even to feel anything, but just to mean it and tell the truth, and whatever that effect is maybe alleviates stress that it’s not your responsibility.
I think that kind of …
Alan: 00:35:44 Do you get together with the other actors at all before the performance, or do see them for the first time onstage?
Adam: 00:35:50 No, we actually have a fight call where … Because we have a fight, as you know, and [crosstalk 00:35:55]-
Alan: 00:35:55 Yeah, and it’s really well done. Wow.
Adam: 00:35:56 Oh, good, yeah. It’s a stage fight.
Alan: 00:35:58 I once had a minor version of that in a play.
Adam: 00:36:03 Oh, really?
Alan: 00:36:03 And all I had to do was walk up to the guy and grab him by the lapels, and I hurt my little pinky finger.
Adam: 00:36:11 Yeah. We used to have this moment in Burn This where I grab a pillow and slam it on the couch and we have this massive fight, as you know, and that’s always been fine. But when I, one time, early, when were in previews grabbed this pillow and stubbed my finger. It was like-
Alan: 00:36:27 Thank you. I’m glad to hear that.
Adam: 00:36:28 Yeah, and it was swollen for two months. It’s still kind of swollen.
Alan: 00:36:33 Nobody knows what going to happen. The smallest thing can get you.
Adam: 00:36:38 Right. Meanwhile, we’re like WWF wrestling.
Alan: 00:36:41 So you have the fight call every night and that brings you together?
Adam: 00:36:44 Yeah, that’s kind of turned into our … The fight call lasts like maybe a minute and then we spend the rest of the nine minutes talking about what we did that day. That wasn’t the plan, that just kind of-
Alan: 00:36:58 I think that’s so great. I learned that when we were doing MASH. Instead of going to our dressing rooms between shots, which can take an hour sometimes or two hours while they light the next set, we would sit around in a circle and make fun of each other and just laugh.
Adam: 00:37:16 Very much like the military.
Alan: 00:37:18 Yeah. Right. And we’d take that togetherness that we had established off-camera and just carry it right into the next scene, so that we still had that same contact, but now it was in terms of the lines of the scene. I love to hear examples of people who found similar ways to do that same kind of creation of a connection.
Adam: 00:37:41 Well, Noah does that, I feel. Well, also because the one we were shooting, the trailers were so far from where we were actually shooting, we had to-
Alan: 00:37:52 Right. We had to stick together.
Adam: 00:37:53 … you kind of had to stay together. But Soderberg is another example of that. Steven Soderberg, because he moves so fast, there’s no time to go back and do whatever. I can’t do anything on sets anyway. I’ve tried to, like, “Oh, I’ll read a book.”
Alan: 00:38:06 Yeah, I tried to write a screenplay once and it was really crappy. You can’t think of two things at once.
Adam: 00:38:13 Yeah, I can’t at all. And they were like 12-hour, 14-hour days, so you can’t … But for Soderberg sets, they break for lunch and that’s the end of the day. He moves so quickly that he’ll … Because usually on the set, as you know, there’s the camera operator, the director. But he’s doing all of it, so everyone-
Alan: 00:38:33 Oh, he does all those jobs?
Adam: 00:38:34 Yeah. He is operating the camera, he’s figuring out the lights. It’s all pretty much practical lights [crosstalk 00:38:39]-
Alan: 00:38:39 Oh, that’s great. But you don’t rehearse much?
Adam: 00:38:41 Not a lot. Not a lot. Now, we’ll run through it, and he’s like, “Oh, is that what you’re going to do? Okay.” He’ll come in and be like, “Okay, that’s fine. I’ll build it around what you’re doing.” He’ll have an idea here and there, but it’s very silent and focused.
And often, what you’re talking about has nothing to do with the scene at all. So he’ll pick it up. Everyone’s kind of following him, seeing what he’s going to do. And all the conversations that you’re used to seeing between the director and the …
Alan: 00:39:09 He’s having it in his head.
Adam: 00:39:09 He’s having it in his head. So, he’ll just grab a beanbag and put it down and just set it down, and that’s the cue for everyone to be like, “Okay, it’s right there.” And then the same time, everyone’s just kind of … But he’ll stop a scene, like, “No, you don’t need the-”
Alan: 00:39:21 The beanbag is what he puts the camera on?
Adam: 00:39:22 Yeah, yeah.
Alan: 00:39:23 I see.
Adam: 00:39:24 He’ll just set it down and he’ll stop you in the scene where he knows he’s going to cut. He’s like, “No need to go further. I’m just getting it for this.”
Alan: 00:39:30 Oh, wow.
Adam: 00:39:32 And that’s it.
Alan: 00:39:33 So it’s cutting it in his head already.
Adam: 00:39:34 Yeah, yeah. He’ll look at a scene for a long time. Then suddenly, I’ve talked to him about this a lot, so I feel fine speaking for him, but if he can’t figure it out, he’ll think about it for a while. But as soon as he sees it, it’s like he can’t shoot it fast enough.
He likes the momentum and because of which, the actors, no one goes anywhere. Everyone’s staying on set and often you don’t get a lot of time, as you know, to meet some of the actors before you start working on the film.
Alan: 00:40:03 Right. I got introduced to two actresses on the first day of a Woody Allen movie. Two actresses. One was supposed to be my sister, and the other was supposed to be my mistress. I said, “Hello,” and they said, “Okay. Ready?”
Adam: 00:40:21 Right. And you’re lovers.
Alan: 00:40:22 Yeah, right. But that thing of getting to know other people, getting to know the people you’re going to act with, seems to me to be so important.
I once read that Kurosawa in Japan thought that the most important part of preparing for a movie was to take the actors out to dinner. Not just once, but repeatedly, so they could get to know one another. That interests me a lot that people discover that in different ways all around the world.
Adam: 00:40:55 Yeah. Yeah, I love that idea. It just feels like a company. I feel like all those Cassavetes movies where all, I imagine they’re, Gena Rowlands and Peter Falk, all just around eating dinner. Then someone has a camera and suddenly they’re doing it.
Alan: 00:40:55 Right.
Adam: 00:41:11 It just creates a lot of … I mean, that’s what I feel like also when you’re with people. I always have the tendency, especially with directors, if you’re having like a private thing or if there’s a personal thing that a scene opens up for you, I feel like you’ve got to share it. You have to-
Alan: 00:41:11 What do you mean?
Adam: 00:41:29 I feel like you have to make it as personal as possible, and to keep it to yourself seems like it doesn’t really help the scene. Maybe. Maybe there’s a conversation that you can have that makes it just more personal, that makes it deeper. If you’re having a-
Alan: 00:41:48 I think that connection, so much comes out of that. Do you agree with this? Maybe you don’t, that even if you’re playing antagonists of one of you is the villain and the other is being exploited by the villain, one theory is that you don’t talk to each other on the set.
You treat each other almost like the enemies that you are in the play. I don’t think so. I think you can trade looks and trade innuendos much better if you’re used to picking up cues from, clues from, the other person’s face and voice and that kind of thing.
Adam: 00:42:31 Right.
Alan: 00:42:32 Then when both of you enter into the circumstances of the play, you’re committed to that and your imagination, but you’re able to deepen the connection between you, if you’ve been partners offstage, off-camera, before that.
Does that strike a bell with you or do you think it’s better to keep it going, keep the animosity alive off-camera?
Adam: 00:42:59 I don’t know. I think it … I don’t know. I don’t have an answer. I like the idea of that. I like the idea that you’ve established trust and if you trust the other person because you found something that you bond over, then when you trust someone you feel comfortable to fail in front of them. Just to go as deep as possible. I feel that as a general rule.
Alan: 00:43:23 I would say it’s a little like if you’re doing a wrestling match. And it’s all you throw each other into the air and hit them in the face with your feet and everything. It’s really a lot safer if you know how this guy behaves before you get in the ring with him.
Adam: 00:43:40 Right. Right. It could be done the other way. It just maybe won’t be as effective.
Alan: 00:43:44 I might wind up with a broken neck.
Adam: 00:43:46 Right. Right. Right. Yeah, I can definitely see how people could be contentious offscreen and no one would know. That’s what goes on behind the door. It’s kind of like it doesn’t really matter, I guess.
Alan: 00:43:57 Sometimes that reads as really good cooperative playing, ensemble playing. Diana Sands and I were very competitive onstage. We were in a two-character play together called The Owl and the Pussycat a long time ago.
Adam: 00:44:12 Uh-huh (affirmative).
Alan: 00:44:12 And we were so competitive. We had improvised together in an improvising company a year before. We knew each other really well, but each one of us was trying to take over the play from the other. It’s not something I recommend.
But we were so on one another’s case onstage, that people said, “Wow. What ensemble performing.”
So, we have to end this wonderful conversation. It’s been wonderful for me. I hope it’s been fun to listen to.
Adam: 00:44:42 Yeah.
Alan: 00:44:43 The way we end our shows, I don’t know if you know this, is I ask you seven quick questions hoping you’ll give seven quick answers.
Adam: 00:44:49 Oh, boy. Okay.
Alan: 00:44:50 It’s not painful. It’s roughly to do with communicating and relating.
Adam: 00:44:54 Okay.
Alan: 00:44:55 We’ll see how the hell it comes out.
What do you wish you really understood?
Adam: 00:45:03 My job.
Alan: 00:45:03 Oh.
Adam: 00:45:06 I mean, that’s a long list.
Alan: 00:45:08 I saw you in your job. You know, you don’t need to know much more.
Adam: 00:45:13 Need to know a lot. Even like older actors who I met or worked with, I always saw them be like tortured by what it is they’re doing. I’m like, that’s both comforting and terrifying that you never figure it out.
Alan: 00:45:30 Yeah, well, that’s true. I agree with that.
What do you wish other people understood about you?
Adam: 00:45:34 Ooph. Understood about me. Nothing. I’m good. I’m good.
Alan: 00:45:45 What’s the strangest question anyone has ever asked you?
Adam: 00:45:50 Ooph. Strangest question anyone’s ever asked me. Ooph. I know that there’s really strange questions that …
Alan: 00:46:03 Maybe it was too strange. What’s the second strangest question?
Adam: 00:46:06 Second … Well, the other day I came out because I took a shower after the show, because it was a two-show day. And someone asked me, “What were you doing?” Like, “Why did it take you so long to come out?” I’m like, “How did I get into this?”
Alan: 00:46:22 Like get out of it.
Adam: 00:46:23 Yeah. I was a little sticky, so I took a shower and …
Alan: 00:46:26 I mean, here’s one. How do you stop a compulsive talker?
Adam: 00:46:34 How do you stop a compulsive talker? I don’t know. How do I stop a compulsive talker?
Alan: 00:46:41 Do you even try?
Adam: 00:46:43 Yeah. If you know they’re a compulsive talker, you have to look for an exit, I think, as soon as they start talking.
Alan: 00:46:49 Yeah, right. Right.
Adam: 00:46:51 Or fake a …
Alan: 00:46:52 Fake a heart attack.
Adam: 00:46:53 Fake a heart attack. That’s …
Alan: 00:46:58 Is there anyone for whom you just can’t feel empathy?
Adam: 00:47:05 Anyone I can’t feel empathy for?
Alan: 00:47:06 Considering it empathy, the way I’m thinking of empathy is what drives the person? What’s going on in their head? Why are they behaving that way?
Adam: 00:47:21 I mean, it’s hard to not be general, I guess, with that because I feel like I try to find something empathetic about people but I don’t understand organized hatred.
I can’t understand groups, and this is speaking generally, I know, but who persecute against another group because of something they don’t understand. They could be lots of different groups.
I know it’s a general, but I just don’t understand that. I feel like that’s such a missed opportunity. To know something different other than …
You know, travel is an amazing thing and it makes you so aware of we’re alive for such a short amount of time.
Alan: 00:48:06 Right. Why waste it and [crosstalk 00:48:07]-
Adam: 00:48:07 Why waste it sitting in the same room doing the same thing feeling like you’re right?
Alan: 00:48:12 It’s a little bit like one person’s answer to that question, which was “I have no empathy for people who have no empathy.”
Adam: 00:48:20 Right. Yes. That’s a great, that’s a better answer.
Alan: 00:48:23 And I said, “No, you explore that idea a little bit.”
How do you like to deliver bad news? In person, on the phone or by carrier pigeon?
Adam: 00:48:32 By person, person.
Alan: 00:48:33 You like it.
Adam: 00:48:34 Yeah. Yeah. I think it’s rare and I always appreciate it, especially if it’s a hard conversation. I feel straight up and to the point, I feel.
Alan: 00:48:42 All right. Here’s the last one. What, if anything, would make you end a friendship?
Adam: 00:48:51 What, if anything, would make me end a friendship?
Alan: 00:48:55 It’s important for me to know.
Adam: 00:48:57 Yeah. Podcasts.
Alan: 00:49:04 Okay, well this one’s over. Thank you so much. What a great talk. I enjoyed talking with you.
Adam: 00:49:09 Yeah. I love talking to you.
Alan: 00:49:11 That’s great.
Is Graham on the line?
Graham: 00:49:14 Yes, I am. [inaudible 00:49:14].
Alan: 00:49:17 Yes. Can you hear Graham?
Adam: 00:49:18 Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Alan: 00:49:19 Yeah. Go ahead. Graham, the producer, is in Boston right now.
Adam: 00:49:22 Oh, okay.
Alan: 00:49:23 Go ahead, Graham.
Graham: 00:49:24 That was great. The only thing I’d like to request is [inaudible 00:49:35].
Alan: 00:49:24 Right.
Graham: 00:49:39 [inaudible 00:49:39].
Alan: 00:49:39 Yeah. I noticed that too. That was my fault. Sorry.
Graham: 00:49:43 Set it up [inaudible 00:49:44].
Alan: 00:49:43 Okay.
Adam: 00:49:44 No, I think it’s also my …
Alan: 00:49:46 No, no. It comes out of having a conversation and not worrying about form.
Adam: 00:49:51 Sure.
Graham: 00:49:57 [inaudible 00:49:57].
Alan: 00:50:00 You cited this wonderful organization called Arts in the Armed Forces and I’ve seen it at work a little bit. Tell me a little bit more about that.
Adam: 00:50:10 Yeah. It started in my second year at Juilliard where I’d just come from the military and suddenly it was in this artistic acting environment and there could not seemingly be two polar opposite things.
For the first time was really discovering plays and playwrights and characters that had nothing to do with the military at all but were somehow articulating my military experience. And just being in a life, in general, in a way that I hadn’t been able to articulate myself before.
Kept thinking of the troop entertainment that I was exposed to when I was just in the military because I just came from that environment. Which was all well-intended, but I felt like played to the lowest common denominator.
And if there was one community that I felt like could benefit from being exposed to a new means of self-expression, would be people that we’re asking to protect our country, who are given this stressful-
Alan: 00:51:03 So, you would bring them plays?
Adam: 00:51:04 Yeah. So we-
Alan: 00:51:05 With nuance and dense experiences.
Adam: 00:51:08 Yeah, so we just decided to pick a cultivated group of plays that we would bring with no sets, no costumes, no lights. Just reading the material and perform them for a military audience and have a conversation afterwards about their thoughts on it.
We did our first one, actually, as a collection of monologues. We just picked a cross-section of monologues that had nothing to do with the military and just read them.
We went to Camp Pendleton, where I was stationed at, because every military base basically around the country has a group space that they use for training. And in Camp Pendleton’s case, it’s a movie theater that is empty. Well, they play movies, but it’s also this amazing stage that is unused as a theatrical space.
Alan: 00:51:08 Ah.
Adam: 00:51:54 So, we literally went and passed out flyers and try to get in contact with the MWR, which is Military Wellness something. I’m forgetting the acronym right now. But who helped kind of cultivate performances on base and a lot of people came skeptical of what it is we were doing. They didn’t understand what monologues were or are they actors, do they write the plays themselves?
Anyway, we advertised and like 100 people came. We had Laura Linney. My friend, Jon Batiste, who plays for Steven Colbert now, he came. They played jazz along with all these other actors. David Denman and Tracie Thoms, my classmate Gabe Ebert, myself.
We just read these monologues and the connection was immediate. They understood immediately what we were going for.
And plays that I picked because I thought they were funny that, for example, we picked this one monologue from this play called China by Scott Organ, where it’s an employer reprimanding her employee for not wearing a bra, for not following a dress code. I picked that because I thought it was funny.
And it is really funny. The male Marines were leaving the audience being like, “I thought that was great. The whole thing was good to go. I thought that one monologue was kind of an indirect attack on why we do things in the military. But there’s a structure and a uniform in place for a reason.”
And all the female Marines …
Was that my phone?
Alan: 00:53:19 I don’t think it’s me. Oh, it’s over.
So, just go back a little. There was a-
Adam: 00:53:27 Yeah. The male Marines were leaving the audience being like, “I thought that was an indirect attack on why we have structure and uniformity in the military. There’s the reason why you’re supposed to respond in snaps.”
And the female Marines were leaving that performance being like, “I thought the whole thing was good to go, especially that monologue because I know what it’s like to be a female in a male-dominated organization. I have to wear my hat under my cover. I have to hide any kind of sexuality. A very shapeless uniform.”
So, it was all, that’s so exciting. That’s what theater can be. It can piss you off. It can make you laugh. So, we decided to try to keep doing this in our spare time.
Juilliard’s a conservatory, so we would literally go to class in the 15 minutes we were supposed to transfer to the next class, go down to the computer lab and try to send Hail Mary emails to actors that we loosely knew to see if we can organization this thing.
Over time, over the 10 years that we’ve been doing it now, it went from one performance a year to the 15 that we’re already doing this year, where we travel to different military bases.
From Germany to Kuwait to a performance on Broadway, which you came to, our 10th anniversary, to Walter Reed Medical Center. We’re going to Fort Meade in a little bit. We’re to Marine Corps Mountain Training in California in the next couple months.
We just read these monologues without a kind of … We don’t lead them to say what it’s about. We don’t say it’s a mental health initiative. We’ll read the play, Tape, sometimes, by Stephen Belber, which is centered around a rape but we don’t say it’s about sexual assault in the military. They kind of pull what it is.
We don’t advertise it as some kind of mental health initiative. It’s just reading the best of contemporary American plays for an audience.
And the idea that they wouldn’t understand that, which is what we were told by different military organizations that I reached out to to try to help us fund this, that that doesn’t fit the demographic of the military, just made me enraged. So we created our own organization that did that.
Alan: 00:55:32 So now is it easier for you the raise funds? Now that you’ve proven that it works?
Adam: 00:55:35 Totally. Yeah. It’s a lot easier. And the actors, for the first time we have people basically just reaching out to us to come, because the word of mouth has kind of spread. And actors reach out to us all the time. We’ve been so lucky with the actors that we get to go to these bases and just read these plays.
And the response is exactly what you want, I think, in doing, in theater. We were talking about it a little bit, but that, “I’ve never seen a play before. I didn’t know theater could be this way. Something about seeing it live is more dangerous and exciting.”
I feel like we’re exposing them to this new way of expressing themselves, potentially. And for the civilians that we bring, it’s exposure to a culture that they never would’ve been exposed to.
Alan: 00:56:24 Yeah.
Adam: 00:56:24 So, right now, immediately the humanity and misconceptions between both communities goes away, centered around this story.
Alan: 00:56:35 Yeah.
Adam: 00:56:36 And the talk-back afterwards, that was mandatory in the … or not mandatory, but it’s mandatory for us to have, is the best part of the whole thing because the conversation that certain plays that we do spark is, it’s the most exciting part about getting to be an actor.
Alan: 00:56:56 That’s great. That should satisfy your need, Graham, right?
Graham: 00:57:00 [inaudible 00:57:00] something [inaudible 00:57:03] was wondering if we could do a quick [inaudible 00:57:08].
Alan: 00:57:11 If you could join us, we would join us at the, yeah.
Next on Clear and Vivid, I talk to someone I respect so much as an actor and as a person, Adam Driver. Adam, I can’t wait to talk to you on the show.
Adam: 00:57:27 I can’t wait.
Alan: 00:57:30 We actually already recorded the show, so we don’t have to wait too long.
Adam: 00:57:33 We did. So, the part where I was supposed to vamp and say, “Hello,” I screwed up. This is going to go great. Get ready for an hour of pain.
Alan: 00:57:45 Me and my pal, Adam Driver.
Graham: 00:57:49 Thanks a lot.
Alan: 00:57:50 All right. That’s great. That’s so good. It’s so funny on a thing like this, spontaneity counts so much more than the exact right thing said in a stale way.
Adam: 00:58:04 Yeah. That’s true. Michael, actually, he did this thing where we decided to pick zones, you know, like in the stage. Like I just have to end up over here at this certain part.
Alan: 00:58:16 Oh, that’s interesting.
Adam: 00:58:16 But then specific blocking stuff, he let me find it every night.
Alan: 00:58:22 Did he do it differently every night?
Adam: 00:58:23 Mm-hmm (affirmative). I don’t think most people would probably notice if they came a couple times, because I’m at the same spot for the different, or mostly the same spots at the different, but …
Alan: 00:58:34 We had an interesting experience when we did The Owl and the Pussycat. The guy who directed was called Arthur Storch, who had a background in the Method, but he seemed to value improv, and she and I had improvised a lot together.
So, we had a three-week rehearsal for a Broadway show. Two of those weeks were just sitting at the table reading the play.
Adam: 00:58:59 One week of staging it.
Alan: 00:59:01 And the staging consisted of this. He said, “Okay. Put the scripts down. You pretty much know it by now. Get up and move around wherever you feel like you want to go. And if you can’t remember it, make up the line. Just get through the play.”
That became the staging with very few adjustments. It was interesting. But there were only two of us.
Adam: 00:59:26 Right. Right. Right. Right. Yeah, we kind of did that with Scene Two, when I come in. That whole thing. We had three weeks of rehearsal. We said we kind of had to come in off the –
Alan: 00:59:38 That’s not much.
Adam: 00:59:39 No, I know. It wasn’t. So, like a lot of it we were finding in previews. And every time, we’d like, “Okay. It’s not clear enough. It’s not clear, because there’s so many things going on.”
He’s on coke. He’s drunk. His brother is in the background. He’s noticing everything for the first time. His clothes, shoes messed up. His pants are messed up. He’s hot. He’s taking things off.
It’s just like a lot of things to juggle where the blocking was getting in the way. And then there’s the pillars and you’re behind a pillar. And it’s a really small stage when you’re up there. It looks bigger from the audience.
Alan: 01:00:17 It’s raked a little bit.
Adam: 01:00:18 Uh-huh (affirmative). Yeah, yeah.
Alan: 01:00:19 But the stage is raked too much, it makes me crazy. I’m always afraid I’m going to fall down.
Adam: 01:00:24 Right. Right. Right. Yeah, but it was really scary for me because it was so many things. Not the raked stage, but that we were getting late in the game and still not …
Alan: 01:00:36 Yeah. Yeah.
Adam: 01:00:38 But also, like for True West, it’s like we just come in and read it and like-
Alan: 01:00:42 Well, I saw you doing improvisational things.
Adam: 01:00:46 Right. Right. Right.
Alan: 01:00:47 And I thought you had rehearsed them.
Adam: 01:00:49 Right. Yeah, I know.
Alan: 01:00:52 Like when you kicked the water bottle.
Adam: 01:00:54 I kicked the water bottle, yeah.
Alan: 01:00:58 I thought, “What a good idea. How does he manage to do that every night?”
Adam: 01:01:03 Right. Yeah.
Alan: 01:01:05 Well, then we’ve got to record more stuff, so I don’t want to hold up the gang. Thank you so much for coming.
Adam: 01:01:11 No, of course. Thank you so much for having me.
Alan: 01:01:12 Who’s with Jack now?
Adam: 01:01:13 Huh?
Alan: 01:01:14 Who’s with Jackass?
Adam: 01:01:16 Our nanny. Our nanny. Yeah. She’s with him and then because Joanne’s out of town, Nanny’s got a four and then …


This has been Clear + Vivid, at least I hope so.

My thanks the sponsors of this episode. All the income from the ads you hear go to the Center for Communicating Science at Stony Brook University. Just by listening to this podcast, you’re contributing to the better communication of science. So, thank you.

For more information about the Alda Center, please visit

As a United States Marine, Adam Driver trained at Camp Pendleton … and as an actor, he trained at Juillard – both are grueling in their own way and certainly helped to shape the accomplished person he is today.

I admire Adam greatly – both for his talent and for his commitment to the service of others.

Adam is the founder and guiding force behind Arts in the Armed Forces. This non-profit serves all branches of the US military at home and abroad. The team of actors and volunteers chooses creative works and content that features diverse themes, so there is always something relatable for the audience to experience.

And, most importantly, after each event, the artists interact with the audience through a question and answer session – so the powerful, emotional experience of theatre can be understood and shared.

To learn more about Arts in the Armed Forces, please visit:

You can see Adam in a number of recently released films including Rian Johnson’s Star Wars: The Last Jedi, and Steven Soderbergh’s Logan Lucky, as well as The Man Who Killed Don Quixote directed by Terry Gilliam, and Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman.

Adam and I will also be in a movie together that gets released in the fall … the film is by Noah Baumbach’s and it also features Scarlett Johansson.

So, look for us both – together again – later this year!

This episode was produced by Graham Chedd with help from our associate producer, Sarah Chase. Our sound engineer is Dan Dzula, our Tech Guru is Allison Coston, our publicist is Sarah Hill.

You can subscribe to our podcast for free at Apple Podcasts, Stitcher or wherever you listen.

For more details about Clear + Vivid, and to sign up for my newsletter, please visit

You can also find us on Facebook and Instagram at “Clear and Vivid” and I’m on Twitter @alanalda.

Thanks for listening. Bye bye!