Adam Driver Interview: On 65‘s Prehistoric CGI Dinos and Watching Himself on Film

Movies Features Adam Driver
Adam Driver Interview: On 65‘s Prehistoric CGI Dinos and Watching Himself on Film

Peruse actor Adam Driver’s resume from just the last five years and it’s a little mind-boggling to tally the caliber of directing talent that’s he worked with, including Spike Lee, Leos Carax, Ridley Scott, Jim Jarmusch, Michael Mann and frequent collaborator, Noah Baumbach. Not to mention that he’s just wrapped playing the lead in Francis Ford Coppola’s decades in the making passion project Megalopolis.

Considering this, Driver’s decision to take a chance on new(ish) directors Scott Beck and Bryan Woods for their sci-fi dinosaur epic 65 is interesting. Known for writing the mega hit A Quiet Place, the duo parlayed that success into directing indie slasher film Haunt and then got Sony to invest a sizable budget for an original story that’s essentially a two-hander with feral dinosaurs.

The high-concept premise casts Driver as Commander Mills, a pilot whose ship crash lands on a dangerous planet teeming with very hungry reptiles—one revealed to be Earth, 65 million years ago. The only other survivor is an orphaned little girl named Koa (Ariana Greenblatt), who gives Mills a reason to get them both off the planet alive.

While Driver’s cinematic releases since closing out his part in 2019 as Kylo Ren/Ben Solo in the Star Wars sequels have all been dramas, he was persuaded to jump back into the genre mix pretty quickly in the fall of 2020. Beck and Woods tell Paste Magazine they were dead set on getting Driver as their leading man for 65, convinced he would have the gravitas and chops to pull off their “popcorn movie about grief.” They put together an elaborate, polished pitch video featuring images, early production design and concept art with the help of producer Sam Raimi. It worked. “One of the best days of our life was when we heard he was interested in a meeting,” Woods said.

Then they did a Zoom meeting with the actor they were convinced they tanked. “Our hearts sank because it was a video meeting during the pandemic, and he was looking [away from] his laptop the whole time,” Woods remembers. “We were talking and—in our heads because we’re anxious, nervous writers and filmmakers—we’re like, ‘Oh, no! He hates us. He’s not even listening.’ What we didn’t realize is his camera was just off screen from his computer, and he was listening very intently. And then we got the call that he wanted to try this movie.”

Paste Magazine had our own Zoom interview with Driver to ask him what swayed him to give these guys a chance, how he gets such great performances out of his kid co-stars and how this film changed his stance on watching himself on screen (maybe).

Paste Magazine: First, let’s go back to your childhood, where in an interview you once said you got a lot of your media literacy watching your grandfather’s library of VHS tapes. Was there any seminal sci-fi in there that you really bonded over or influenced your taste for the genre?

Adam Driver: Wow. You know, I don’t remember a lot of sci-fi movies from that. It was mostly like action movies that were taped off VHS. So it was like the edited version of Die Hard where he just says, “Yippee Ki Yay!”, you know. [Laughs.] But, Jurassic Park was a big one when I was younger; the first one in the movie theaters. [Star Trek V: The Final Frontier] was a big one, and I think was the first movie that I saw in a theater with my parents, which is the one with the fake god. And this really isn’t sci-fi—it’s more of a monster thing—but Jaws, I did see with my grandpa. He had all of them, like Jaws IV.

Ah, the one where the shark came after the family…

Driver: Yeah, like where the shark follows you. [Laughs.] I would say that’d be the closest one, was Jaws when I saw it on TV for the first time.

Now take me back to lockdown 2020, where you have to ask yourself, “Do I want to go out and do a project?” Did this come to you just as a script or did directors Beck & Woods do a full Zoom pitch to persuade you?

Driver: You’re exactly right. It was in the first wave of the lockdown, or it had been going on for a couple of months. And I was in the middle of shooting something and just at home. No one knew what it was going to be [like] going back. They sent me this video of them pitching the project that I watched. They were very earnest and obviously had a passion for movies. And [with] this one, the metaphors were obvious. And I’m sure that everyone says this because of the things that they got during COVID, you can’t help but make a comparison, or draw from life. But it was a family movie about a guy, and the dinosaurs and space guns and spaceships were kind of ancillary. That was the scale of it, which was exciting. So it was big, and it was a family movie.

But it was also about these two people, from completely different backgrounds, who were facing this common thing that they had no precedent for, which obviously was resonant because of COVID. And you have to take care of this kid in the midst of it, where you can’t help but draw those comparisons. And that through grief—because of this thing that they have never faced before—they create a found family. But only in the last moments of the film. That seemed like a unique blend of a lot of different things and it was for a big audience to hopefully do something nuanced, so it seemed rare. And there was no prequel. It wasn’t a sequel. There was no precedent, so it seemed like a unique project.

Your character, Mills, gives off some reverse gender Ripley vibes, especially with her maternal instinct for Newt, and Mills’ paternal instincts in this film. Was that immediate for you or did that maybe come up later?

Driver: Totally. Alien was a big part of it. And we did talk about Harry Dean Stanton in Alien specifically, which is a weird connection, I know. But just the idea that being a pilot in this society is a job. I’m sure you gotta go to school and there is training involved, but it’s on par with operating a forklift or driving a truck. So, not approach it with any kind of preciousness. There’s a formality that we tried to get rid of.

You really have a gift working with young actors, from Marriage Story to White Noise. What’s interesting to you about working with younger actors? What do they bring to the table as a scene partner that either you know how to respond to really well, or it just makes you happy working with them?

Driver: Oh, thank you very much. They’re great scene partners because on the whole they’re not self-conscious. And they’re completely unpredictable. Like the actors in this, Ariana Greenblatt and Chloe Coleman, they’re not watching themselves “act” when you’re with them. They are totally focused on what you’re saying and it’s easy to be invested in their innocence. I can’t help but be moved by that. It’s obviously a common theme of a guy and a small child, or a father/daughter in this instance, but it also kind of speaks to that nerve from parenthood [akin] to when you buy a car and there’s a lot of things to learn about it. You get a kid and you just don’t want to fuck it up. [Laughs.] That kind of helplessness and fear is obviously a universal thing. But to answer your question about working with kids, they couldn’t be more unpredictable and a great reminder of not coming in with a plan.

You’ve worked with a swath of really amazing directors in the last couple of years. Beck & Woods are great writers starting in their directing career. Was there something about their angle, or their kind of collaboration that made you go, “I’m gonna give these guys a try”?

Driver: I didn’t know them. But they had an earnestness and obvious passion about what it was they were doing, and their earnestness was a big draw. You could tell right away that they had a passion for films, which seems like, well, there’s lots of people that have a passion for films. But when you talk to them, it’s really tangible. And this video that they made in particular, that they sent me, it was hard not to get inspired by their idea because they were obviously coming from an inspired place.

When you did the Star Wars sequels, they built a tremendous amount of physical sets and props for you to play against. You never had to play against a main antagonist that was just CGI, per se. And since you aren’t fond of watching your work, did you have to change that up on 65, even just in the beginning, like watching dailies just to get a sense of whether your performance was working or not?

Driver: Yeah, I didn’t do that while we were shooting. I try not to watch dailies. I’ve never seen dailies of whatever it was. I will say that afterwards, when we were putting it together, it evolved to be really clear about the father and daughter dynamic in a way that brought a lot more emotion to it. Also the editor, Maryann Brandon, really pulled a lot of great things out of it. So in this movie, I watched it. Along with trying not to be set in a specific way, I might just do that for a while just to see what it’s like and then realize that’s a terrible idea, then go back to not watching again. [Laughs.] But when we’re shooting it, there was a lot of trust, especially when you have a guy in a green thing with a tennis ball. They’re like, “Trust us, this is cool!” And I’m like, “Really? Because it doesn’t feel cool!” It feels humiliating in front of people and you’re filming it. [Laughs.]

Well, it worked.

Driver: Ok. Good, good. [Laughs.]

Do you know what you want to do next? Maybe back to theater?

Driver: No, I’m gonna take some time off just to be home for a while. I finished my part of Megalopolis this morning, at four o’clock in the morning in Atlanta. So, I’m not operating on full capacity. I don’t have a set plan. But I’m gonna take some time. I’m sick of myself and I know other people are. They tell me all the time on the street. That’s not true. [Laughs.] But Megalopolis is one of the most exciting things that I’ve ever been a part of, with Francis [Ford Coppola] in particular. It’s one of the best shooting experiences I’ve had. And the things that he’s made, there’s no frame of reference for it. It’s so unique and inventive and hopefully accessible by everyone. That it’s not so elusive that it’s for a certain audience, it’s for everyone. And he is everything that you hope he will be. I know his movies so much more because it’s impossible to not watch them and see him in all of them. He’s so courageous. He made it himself so he would have control over the thing it was. He kept pushing it to be as inventive as it could be.

This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Tara Bennett is a Los Angeles-based writer covering film, television and pop culture for publications such as SFX Magazine, Total Film, SYFY Wire and more. She’s also written books on Sons of Anarchy, Outlander, Fringe, The Story of Marvel Studios and The Art of Avatar: The Way of Water. You can follow her on Twitter @TaraDBennett or Instagram @TaraDBen

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