Adam Driver is a man among Girls. As Lena Dunham‘s main love interest on her hit HBO series, Driver is raw and intense—two words that could also be used to describe him in real life. Speaking with WWD’s M magazine for its summer 2014 issue, the actor, 30, recalled starting his own fight club in high school, enlisting in the Marines after 9/11, and inadvertently making people cry as a student at New York City’s prestigious Juilliard School.
Born in San Diego, Calif., in 1983, Driver later moved with his mom to Mishawaka, Indiana, where he indulged his rebellious side by climbing radio towers, trying to set things on fire, and dumpster diving for potato chips outside an old chip factory. In high school, he co-founded a fight club with some friends—just because.
“I think we probably came up with some rules,” he told M mag. “No hitting in the balls, a good rule. There was a guy that rode by on a bike one time. He said, ‘What are you guys doing?’ So I fought him.”
After high school, he made one failed attempt to move to L.A. and make it as an actor, only to end up back home a few days later. He was directionless—until Sept. 11, 2001. Not long after the Twin Towers fell, Driver enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps and found an outlet for all of his pent-up energy and ambition. He never shipped out, though, because he broke his sternum in a mountain-biking accident shortly before his scheduled deployment to the Middle East.
Following his medical discharge, Driver returned to Mishawaka, where he struggled to reintegrate. “In the Marine Corps, everything had a purpose…And then you’re thrown into civilian life and suddenly that structure isn’t there,” he explained to M. “And people are doing crazy s–t, like wearing clothes untucked, and you’re just like, ‘Look at these people who have no meaning to anything!’ And that’s a hard transition.”
One thing that served him well was his newfound sense of confidence. As a senior in high school, the Star Wars actor had auditioned for and been turned down by Juillard. After he left the Marines, he decided to take a risk and try out again—and this time he got in.
“When you get out of the Marine Corps, you feel like you can do anything. That was part of why I went to re-audition for Juilliard. I thought, ‘Worse comes to worst, I know how to live. I’ll live in Central Park or something. I’ll survive,'” he said. “You feel like all civilian problems are meaningless and small, which is a complete illusion, but you have this confidence. You’ve been torn down so much—physically, emotionally, verbally—you feel like you’re indestructible.”
His fellow students weren’t quite so thick-skinned. “I made people in my school cry because it was just the way I was used to talking to people,” Driver admitted. “I felt like I wanted to do it! Really hard! Whatever it was! And I needed to calm down a little bit.”
Or not. Driver graduated from Juilliard in 2009 and promptly started getting TV and stage work. His character on Girls was only supposed to appear in the pilot, but Dunham and her executive producer were so smitten that they expanded his role. Now he’s preparing for parts in three upcoming movies, Martin Scorsese’s Silence, Noah Baumbach’s While We’re Young, and J.J. Abrams’ Star Wars: Episode VII.
It doesn’t seem likely that the offers will dry up anytime soon, but if they do, Driver is prepared. “I trained myself, whenever I walk into auditions, to hate everyone in the room,” he told M magazine. “That way, if it doesn’t work out, I can be like, ‘I f—ing didn’t like those people anyway!'”
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