How serving as a Marine prepared Adam Driver for 'Star Wars' and success

Actor Adam Driver attends the Los Angeles premiere of 'Star Wars: The Last Jedi' at The Shrine Auditorium on December 9, 2017 in Los Angeles, California.
Axelle/Bauer-Griffin | Getty Images
Actor Adam Driver attends the Los Angeles premiere of 'Star Wars: The Last Jedi' at The Shrine Auditorium on December 9, 2017 in Los Angeles, California.

In the latest "Star Wars" trilogy, Adam Driver dominates as Kylo Ren, the angst-y villain who steals the show. Off-screen, Driver is just as tenacious — but he's no miscreant.

Growing up in the small town of Mishawaka, Indiana, Driver sang in the choir and acted in high school plays. His interest in theater led him to audition for Julliard during his senior year. He didn't get in, but, after graduating from high school, Driver decided to give acting a real shot in Los Angeles.

"I did that Hail Mary L.A. acting odyssey that I always heard stories about, of actors moving to L.A. with, like, seven dollars and finding work and successful careers," he said on stage during a live TED Talk. "I got as far as Amarillo, Texas, before my car broke down."

Driver eventually made it to Santa Monica. After 48 hours on the beach, he headed home to Mishawaka, where he had been living in his parents' garage for $200 a month.

When 9/11 happened shortly after his cross-country adventure, a 17-year-old Driver felt compelled to do his part and join the Marines. With no job and no direction, it seemed like the logical choice. And it's one he's glad he made.

"I loved being a Marine," he says. "It's one of the things I'm most proud of having done in my life."

Driver served with the USMC for two years but, a few months before he was set to deploy to Iraq, a mountain-biking injury made it impossible for him to continue. Thrust back into civilian life, Driver decided to give acting another shot.

"I thought all civilian problems are small compared to the military," he says. "I mean, what can you really b---- about now, you know? 'It's hot. Someone should turn on the air conditioner.' 'This coffee line is too long.'"

Driver's military experience put his failures into perspective and provided him with a newfound sense of perseverance. "I was a Marine, I knew how to survive," he says. "I'd go to New York and become an actor. If things didn't work out, I'd live in Central Park and dumpster-dive behind Panera Bread."

But Driver didn't fail. He auditioned for Julliard again and got in. After graduating in 2009, he started garnering roles on- and off-Broadway and in films such as "J. Edgar" before getting his big break: He was cast as the troubled but alluring love interest Adam Sackler in HBO's "Girls" in 2011, opposite the show's creator and star Lena Dunham.

From there, Driver's career exploded. "If it appears Driver was discovered all at once, that's because he pretty much was," Vulture reports. "In the two-year span of 2012 and 2013, Driver worked with Steven Spielberg ("Lincoln"), the Coen brothers ("Inside Llewyn Davis"), and Noah Baumbach ("Frances Ha"), at the same time he was appearing in the freshman and sophomore seasons of 'Girls.'"

Looking back, Driver says his time in the military was crucial to his success as an actor.

"The Marine Corps is some of the best acting training you could have," he told W. "Having that responsibility for people's lives, suddenly time becomes a really valuable commodity and you want to make the most of it. And for acting, you just have to do the work, just keep doing it."

"The military and theater communities are actually very similar," Driver said during the TED Talk. "You have a group of people trying to accomplish a mission greater than themselves; it's not about you. You have a role, you have to know your role within that team."

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