Leave Adam Driver Alone
‘This is anxiety, plain and simple — which, if you have anxiety, you know it’s anything but plain and simple’
Before you even start with me, let me be very clear that until Marriage Story, the only thing I knew about Adam Driver was that some internet cats looked like him. And Star Wars something something I don’t know. I stopped watching Star Wars back when there was exactly one Star Wars movie and it was called Star Wars. Net net: I am not carrying water for Adam Driver. Fine, I loved Marriage Story and I will argue with you about that at another time.
But to the task at hand: I watched the Fresh Air, “Adam Driver storms out…” debacle explode across Twitter and I did what every Twitter scrolling idiot does, I clicked. And I clicked and I clickety-clicked. I felt outrage! That’s what we do on The Twitter! I! Am! Very! Somehow! Outraged! About this thing! That has existed! In my awareness! For seven whole seconds! How dare a famous, rich, handsome (?) person of the arts behave like a spoiled child? Especially to, of all people, the appropriately-bespectacled (quirky, not too flashy) Terry Gross? What kind of monster, etc. etc. etc.
But look past the headlines and the huffy tweets to, say, this profile in the New Yorker from October and you will find…
The first time Driver saw himself in Girls, on Dunham’s laptop, he was mortified. “That’s when I was, like, I can’t watch myself in things. I certainly can’t watch this if we’re going to continue doing it,” he said. Many actors decline to watch themselves, but for Driver that reluctance amounts to a phobia. In 2013, he watched the Coen brothers’ Inside Llewyn Davis, in which he has one scene, singing backup on a folk song called “Please Mr. Kennedy”: “I hated what I did.” He swore off his own movies, until he was obliged to sit through the premiere of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, in 2015. “I just went totally cold,” he recalled, “because I knew the scene was coming up where I had to kill Han Solo, and people were, like, hyperventilating when the title came up, and I felt like I had to puke.”
The directors I spoke to sympathized with Driver’s aversion. “I think he’s rightly concerned that he would become conscious of himself in a way that would be harmful to his acting,” Soderbergh said. When I spoke to Baumbach, he was still “in a discussion” with Driver about watching Marriage Story. Spike Lee told me that Driver did see BlacKkKlansman, at Cannes (“It was very, very happy”), but Driver corrected the record: he had hidden out in a greenroom and returned for the closing bow.
As others have already pointed out, he had made similar (more muted) claims in an interview on Fresh Air back in 2015. This is anxiety, plain and simple. Which, if you have anxiety, you know it’s anything but plain and simple.
There is an extensive and ever-growing list of performers who struggle with varying levels of anxiety and panic: Bill Hader, Jennifer Lawrence, Ryan Reynolds, Adele, and famously (so to speak) Barbra Streisand and Carly Simon, among many, many others. These are some of the most visible performers in culture. And if you read Live From New York: The Complete, Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live your jaw will unhinge, drop off your face, and roll away given the degree to which cast members have struggled with crippling anxiety while working in arguably one of the most public, intense, unforgiving, jealousy- and insecurity-soaked workplaces on the planet.
When I first heard of Barbra Streisand’s severe stage fright many years ago, I remember thinking, “How on fucking Earth can you be a famous performer and not be able to get on stage? That’s stupid.” This is the thought process of a person who doesn’t have anxiety. At least, that’s the thought process of a person who doesn’t think she has anxiety.
A trip through a panic attack and spending five years fighting my way back out of it gave me a much different understanding. Sometimes the thing you are good at, the thing you are called to do, is not friends at all with the other required components of that thing. Like? Like doing readings or performing live or promoting your work. One of the therapists I saw in preparation for my book tour told me that the majority of her professional experience working with people who have severe anxiety was split between two groups — those in refugee camps and professional performers. So.
“Adam (I call him Adam) is probably being just about as reasonable as a very famous person with intense promotional duties and intense anxiety can manage to be.”
When I read the transcript of that 2015 Fresh Air interview through the lens of a person with anxiety, I take it in differently. Because to me, it reads like a person who is trying to minimize and make light of what can actually be a debilitating problem. It reads like what most of us do all the time, make fun of our plight, try to make it seem like it’s not a big deal, try not to be a pain in the ass.
Let me be clear, if I had the kind of power Adam Driver currently possesses, I wouldn’t even entertain doing interviews, period, until a fresh-faced NPR intern delivered six boxes of Trader Joe’s Candy Cane Joe-Joe’s and a quart of milk that was flash chilled as soon as it exited a hormone-free cow’s teat and served in a frosty glass. In comparison, Adam (I call him Adam) is probably being just about as reasonable as a very famous person with intense promotional duties and intense anxiety can manage to be. I mean, isn’t he simultaneously promoting three things? Marriage Story, that Star Wars something or other, and a third thing? Let me know the next time one of you huffenpuffers is on that kind of promo schedule, being asked *dumb ass* questions from *dork ass* superfans and get back to me re: your very, very stable mental health.
In the meantime, I’ll tell you what every anxious person — someone testifying before Congress with shaky hands as they hold their prepared statement, the co-worker who is on the verge of throwing up before a big (or small) presentation, the mom at the school concert who is going to *freak the fuck out* if she doesn’t get out of that overcrowded hell space — dreads most. It’s seeming difficult. Seeming unreasonable. Seeming like we don’t care about our colleagues or the people who work for us or the public who comes to see us or even just compromising the everyday experiences of the people in our regular ol’ boring lives. None of us want to seem, not to put too sharp a point on it, crazy.
Those of us with anxiety are often taking the steps — the typically completely invisible steps — to keep our heads together. We don’t want you to think we are about to *lose it*. (We are always about to lose it.) No matter how nonsensical some of these strategies may seem to someone who doesn’t have anxiety, we are doing the best we can to function. I, too, have walked out of something public without warning and seemingly without reason. The reason was that I was freaking the fuck out. A lot of people don’t like reasons like that. But sometimes you get a peek behind the curtain and that peek will be disappointing. But I think I speak for everyone with anxiety when I say, “You know what? That’s life, bitch.”
So instead of taking the path of we give you our money and Twitter attention and we demand you dance for us, remember that people struggle. Even the richest, the most famous, and the most handsome (?) among us.
When I shared this exploding story with a friend of mine yesterday — a friend who has also dealt with anxiety and has a kid on the spectrum with anxiety — this was the message I got back: “Well, my kid is obsessed with phobias so I asked him what phobia that would be and he instantly responded ‘phonophobia.’” When she told her other child that Kylo Ren probably has anxiety and might, just might, have phonophobia he was wide-eyed and had a million questions.
It proved that there are ways, sometimes invisible and accidental ways, to still be a hero.